Friday, 25 January 2013

Guernsey Watch

I thought today I would take a brief look across at unfolding news in our sister Island, to see what has been happening there of note. The first breaking story was one on autism:

CLAIMS from a bio-medical businessman that his company could cure cancer and autism sparked a passionate debate at a Chamber of Commerce seminar yesterday. Immuno Biotech CEO David Noakes suggested that the use of GcMAF could repair  the body's immune system and act as a 'rifle-shot' to cure the diseases. Mr Noakes claimed that more than 50 research papers had shown GcMAF, which is extracted from healthy human blood, could cure the diseases. One doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, criticised the evidence presented by Mr Noakes. 'You've cherry-picked the research to support what you're saying, and the  journal that has been published is very poor quality, whereas you have  Cancer Research UK saying "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is",'  he said. But Mr Noakes responded: 'Cancer Research is a front man - it's rubbished  the research saying it all depends on one person, but there are 119 other eminent scientists who have done their own research too.' (1)

Autism is a peculiar condition in that its causes, while having a strong genetic component, are by and large unknown, so that it is described and diagnosed in purely behavioural terms. There are a number of theories which associate it with some kind of compromised immune system, most notably a compromise of a genetic weakness by childhood vaccination, but the immune link is unproven and autism remains defined by behaviour.

As a result, there may be a cluster of different causes which converge to produce similar behaviours, which would explain why anecdotal evidence of "cures" often seems initially strong, yet becomes bafflingly elusive when applied to all autistic children. From a brief survey of the literature, so far this product has only small scale studies done, and some anecdotal evidence in forums indicates improvement, and others increased challenging behaviour. As one might expect, even the increase in challenging behaviour is cited as "evidence" of increased normal functioning, so I would say the evidence for the claims to date is relatively poor. Parents of autistic children are often desperately trying to find a cure, which is why they latch onto the slightest change in behaviour as proof that a new cure is working.

COMMERCE and Employment could have a solar power plant up and running in three months if it were not for planning laws, its minister has said. Deputy Kevin Stewart, pictured, explained his department was currently  working with Environment to advise it of the strategic opportunities that creating a photovoltaic panel site would have. He had announced previously at an Institute of Directors presentation that the department had already identified a disused vinery site that could be used as a test bed solar power plant, but this change was blocked by planning laws. 'It's bonkers that we cannot set up a pilot project that will give a 6-7% return on capital employed because we cannot do it under the laws,' he said at the time. (2)

A "green" story, but blocked by problems with Planning. Given the current state of the weather - increased cloud cover and rainfall last year, I would be interested to know just how much power could be generated by a solar power plant. But it does show that Guernsey - like Jersey trying to get wind speed trials on the Ecrehous - is serious about  alternative forms of energy to fossil fuel. Ironically, in Jersey, it is some conservationists who are blocking progress; in Guernsey, it is their planning department.

CT PLUS has backed down over its rota changes to avoid mass industrial action. Bus driver representatives met yesterday with the company and Unite regional  officer Bob Lanning to continue discussions about a compromise. Speaking afterwards, Mr Lanning, pictured, said that the company and drivers had agreed to hold regular meetings to avoid any further upset.  'It's all peaceful now,' he said. 'What they were upset with was the loss of the four-day weekends and cuts to the signing off and signing on time. That has been put back to what it should be.' (3)

CT Plus seem to be getting a well known in Guernsey for changing bus routes, buses missing stops, last minute alterations not adequately conveyed to the public. They've had the bus company there since last April, so you might expect any "teething troubles" to be over!

Unlike Jersey, Guernsey bus drivers terms and conditions were not published online, so we have no idea how they compare, or if there are limits on weekly working hours. CT Plus have been remarkably coy about mentioning that, which is strange, considering their criticism of working hours in Jersey; you might expect them to say - well, we have done it in Guernsey too. In Jersey, I hear they have been messing about with shifts too, and I may post further on that later. One thing which also seems to be the case is that the time allotted to "turn around", for instance with the Corbiere bus stopping and waiting at Corbiere, has been radically cut, so that when there are delays due to traffic, this vital period to enable to bus to catch up to timetable is diminished, making it more likely that the bus will be late.

Deputy Lester Queripel has been writing about a sex offenders register:

WRITE to endorse the sentiments expressed by Sharon Munn in her excellent letter (Guernsey Press, 20 December), under the heading, 'Still no sex offenders register?' In her letter, Ms Munn was seeking clarification as to whether or not we  actually have a sex offenders' register. Also, if we do, why don't the public have access to it? 'After all, don't we have a right to know who our neighbours are?' was the essence of Ms Munn's letter. I agree with Ms Munn because, in my opinion, we have every right to know if  our neighbours are convicted sex offenders or not. However, after undertaking extensive research, I have now been informed that type of 'freedom of information' is unlikely to be made available to the public. There appears to be two main reasons for this, which are:

1. Sex offenders' rights.
2. The fear that vigilante groups might persecute the families of convicted sex offenders.
My response to those two points is as follows:
1. Didn't a sex offender forfeit their rights when they destroyed someone else's life?
2. Would it not perhaps be an idea for a family to publicly disown a relative who is a convicted sex offender? Surely by doing so they would then eliminate the possibility of the family being persecuted.

The law, as it stands, offers protection, counselling and rehabilitation to a convicted sex offender. I can understand that to a certain extent in the case of a 'first offender'. But a 'repeat offender' is such a danger and a continued threat to the community that surely it's only logical they should be treated as such? So, even though I have been informed that it is 'unlikely' that the current law regarding public access to the sex offenders' register will ever be amended, I will continue with my research. I will do so because the word 'unlikely' means there is still at least a semblance of hope. It is not a lost cause.

In tandem, I will also continue my attempt to amend certain conditions within the Common Travel Area law, which allows convicted rapists and pedophiles to travel freely between the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, without having to inform the relevant authorities of their intention to travel, or their destination. I see it as my duty as a deputy to campaign for issues such as these, in an attempt to ensure the wellbeing and safety of the community. The wellbeing and safety of the community is, of course, the responsibility of any government throughout the world. And even though it could be said that many governments fail miserably regarding that responsibility, it doesn't mean that we have to follow their example. Or even simply do as they  say. We have human rights as well. (4)

I'm still not sure whether the legislation (which was approved by the States of Deliberation) has actually been passed yet. It was approved in 2011, but there may have been a need for a period of consultation, which as we all know, can be slow. It would certainly, as in Jersey, rule out the USA's "Megan's Law", which I think is sensible. The USA has problems with vigilante action there.

However, I can see no mention of the much more limited, but commonsense and prudent approach of the UK which is loosely termed "Sarah's Law".  Following a decision by Ian Le Marquand last year, Jersey has now also adopted that approach. "Sarah's Law" allows restricted access in circumstances such as

a personal relationship (like a single mother and her new boyfriend) or someone who had regular, unsupervised contact with their children, they would be able to contact the police and "register an interest" in that person. The police would first determine whether the person of interest had any child sex offense convictions. If the person of interest was a convicted child sex offender, the police would next evaluate whether he posed a serious risk of harm to the children of the person who registered the interest. If the offender posed a serious risk of harm, the police would subsequently disclose the offender's information to the requestingperson (5)

I notice in the Guernsey decisions about the law that:

The legislation will create a requirement for convicted sex offenders to register with the Police and to keep relevant agencies informed of their whereabouts and other relevant information whilst in the Bailiwick

Wouldn't the introduction of a joint scheme of registration be a good idea? One area, perhaps where the Channel Islands could pool information? As it currently stands, a convicted Guernsey pedophile could move to Jersey where they would have no information on file for the offenses over there, and would have a lower risk. I suspect, however, that someone at police HQ probably keeps a beady eye over the water to Guernsey. 

Given the geographical proximity of the Islands, and the fact that you can cross between the Islands in 20 minutes, wouldn't a more co-ordinated approach be a good start to the Channel Islands working together? Something, perhaps, for Ian le Marquand to consider with his Guernsey counterpart.

And on that subject, would a joint Channel Islands Police Commission would also be a good way for a move away from any suspicion of partisanship, and make a more politically independent body.


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