Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

The Blair Years Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 20 2016 where it was given the title Saviour or Serpent.

Colman's Column3

Tony Blair has announced that he may return to British politics. This is somewhat surprising considering the universal loathing that is today felt for the man following the repercussions of the ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his more recent sordid quest for riches, a quest which has led him to consort with many dodgy dictators.


An examination of Blair’s rule may be enlightening for those masochistic Sri Lankans who believe that this island nation’s polity is supreme in its incompetence, inefficiency and corruption and its politicians unrivalled in their practice of the dark arts of Machiavellian manipulation.




I for one have not forgotten the euphoria which greeted Blair’s election. On the bright morning of 2 May 1997, I wandered down to the Imperial War Museum. A complete stranger, a very tall man conducting a poll for MORI, embraced me, shouting “Isn’t it great”. I was as enthralled as he was. I even got a job with MORI. This was like a new dawn after 18 years of Tory rule. Blair introduced the longest-lasting non-Tory government since 1762.





In 2006, when Blair made his final speech to a Labour Party conference, a MORI poll put the public’s ‘satisfaction’ rating of Blair at 20 per cent, lower than Thatcher on the eve of her fall. There had been a time during Blair’s premiership when approval ratings surged to levels of surpassing those conjured up in totalitarian regimes.


I voted for Labour in that 1997 election and felt that I had personally achieved something. Many of us were drunk with joy. It was a sobering experience to walk around the Imperial War Museum and to see the remembrance of so many lost lives. My grandfather had fought in the First World War. I wonder if my father’s experience in the Second World War had truncated his life so cruelly. Little did I suspect on that morning at the museum that Blair would be complicit in so many needless deaths.


Dawn and Disillusion


Professor Anthony King described the Labour landslide, as being akin to “an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth”. Blair entered Downing Street on a wave of optimism and good will, promising to restore trust in politics and breathe new life into Britain’s tired institutions.


Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of what became known as the “sleaze factor”. There was what seemed like an endless succession of sex scandals. It was later revealed that boring old Major himself had had a four-year affair with health minister Edwina Currie. During Blair’s stewardship sleaze continued and the tired institutions continued to languish.


“Our mission will be the renewal of our public services. There is nothing more important to making Britain a fairer and stronger country.” Did he succeed?


I was working as a management consultant in the NHS when Conservative Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke introduced his “reforms”. The “internal market” introduced in 1991 split health authorities (which commission care for their local population) from hospital trusts (which compete to provide care). GP fundholding gave some family doctors budgets to buy care on their patients’ behalf.

Critics saw this as creeping privatisation but Clarke claimed that his reforms prevented Margaret Thatcher from abandoning the NHS. Nevertheless, he brought in many people from the business world and the giant accountancy firms. My boss was the redoubtable Sheila Masters (now Baroness Noakes), a foul-mouthed gorgon imported from Peat-Marwick. Trade journal Accountancy Age described her as “the country’s most high profile accountant”. I had a report published by HM Stationery Office which showed that the reforms seemed to require an army of accountants and managers to implement them. Doctors and nurses felt that money that should be going towards patient care was being wasted on management.

Old Structures, New Labour Words

The Labour victory encouraged hope that the internal market would be abandoned. However, the key element, the purchaser/provider split – was retained, but, typical of New Labour, words were spun: purchasing became commissioning; contracts became service agreements. GP Fundholders became Primary Care Trusts. Hospital Trusts were allowed to continue.


The public and NHS staff had high expectations that things would improve quickly. When that did not happen there was anger and despair. Blair’s first Health Secretary was Frank Dobson (his successors were Alan Milburn, John Reid, Patricia Hewitt and Alan Johnson). Dobson was allowed to stay in such a high profile job, for which he was poorly qualified, as a sop to old Labour. In those early days, the spin meisters were careful to avoid words like “competition” and “choice”. which might alienate ant socialists still lurking in the party, preferring to stick with the vague concept of “modernisation”.

Dobson was eventually forced to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London and was replaced at Health by Alan Milburn, an old Trot who became converted to the market in health and today makes a good living from private health care. Initially, Milburn called for extra money to resolve the NHS crisis, but rejected using the private sector. “That”, Milburn declared, “would be a Trojan horse for privatisation.” Later, he resurrected competition and advocated reintroducing the Tories’ internal market. Blair did not understand Milburn’s reorganisation.


The government persisted with PFI (Private Finance Initiative) as a method of financing building in the NHS and other public services despite repeated demonstrations of its costliness and other disadvantages.




Civil servants did not dare mention their foreboding. Milburn’s successor Patricia Hewitt knew that Blair “did not do detail”, but she was unprepared for quite how patchy his knowledge was.


Nigel Crisp was appointed as Chief Executive of the NHS and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health on 1 November 2000. He was the only person so far to combine these posts. Blair was described as “muddleheaded” –  he could not describe a coherent and complete model of what he wanted to achieve. So he could not explicitly tell Nigel Crisp what to do.



Expensive Poor Outcomes


By 2005, the NHS was costing £43 billion a year more than in 1997. The country’s health had improved but, in terms of the number of doctors, the use of technical equipment, the number of patients being treated and the cure rates for cancer and heart disease, Britain still ranked near the bottom of the international league tables. Compared to other European countries, Britain’s premature death rates were higher and clinical outcomes worse. The government was embarrassed when Robert Winston, IVF pioneer, medical doctor, scientist, television presenter, said: “We gave categorical promises that we would abolish the internal market. We have not done that. Our reorganisation of the health service was . . . very bad. We have made medical care deeply unsatisfactory for a lot of people.” Funding, he said, was “not as good as Poland’s”. Note that he said “we”. Winston was a staunch believer in New Labour, a Labour peer and the chair of the Lords’ select committee on science and technology. His This Is Your Life on TV had featured a guest of honour appearance by Tony Blair. At the 2006 BMA conference, not only the nurses but also the doctors damned Labour for causing “a real and imminent danger to the NHS”.


Hyperactive Lack of Substance

The incoming government had made a pledge to stick with Conservative spending plans and not raise income tax levels. Even when large amounts of money were promised, Chancellor Gordon Brown refused to release them because of his feud with Blair. There is no space here to go into the detail of the new government’s twists and turns and changes of mind about what to do about the NHS. There was a plethora of new initiatives, the government appearing hyperactive, unable to allow one new scheme to settle down and produce some results before introducing a new one.


The triumph of style over substance, lack of concentration, poor management of human resources and avoidance of confrontation is common to Blair’s approach to all the major issues that he had intended to tackle. The war between Blair and Brown cast a gloomy cloud over the entire Blair premiership. More on that next week.


Identity Crisis Part Three

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 13 2016 under the title Licence of Anonymity

Colman's Column3

My G-Mail accounts were hacked at the end of July. The hacker, pretending to be me, sent out messages to my contacts asking for money and prevented me accessing my own accounts. He did the same with my Facebook account.




One real-life friend decided to test the hacker out by introducing false information. PH (my Personal Hacker) responded to the testing by becoming petulant: “I am surprised with the way you have been making a joke of a very serious situation.” My friend knew that I would not write like this, especially if I were asking him for help. He speculated that PH was “not a native English speaker.” Another real-life friend came to the same conclusion after receiving a nasty message from the PH saying “mind your business”. “I reckon the person is someone who speaks English as a second language.”


I had wondered if PH was a Sri Lankan.  To one real-life friend he wrote: “I want to ask if you can len­d me a­bout €850 to make up the little mo­ney lef­t with me so that i will be able ­to sort out a­ few bills and make the nec­essary arrange­ments to return home. I wi­ll r­efund ­you­­ the money in full as­ s­oon as i get b­ack.”  He makes the point that it is difficult to transfer money abroad from Sri Lanka – which is true. My wife believes the English in some of his messages is too good for a Sri Lankan but in those he has been copying from my e-mails.


PH showed his character when he approached someone I have never met in real life but whom I have known online since 2008. She showed the goodness of her heart by immediately offering to help ‘me’. She thought he wanted 50 euro and asked how she could send it. He suggested MoneyGram but stressed it was 850 euro that he wanted. She said she was struggling on a severely limited income and it would cause her hardship even to send 50 but she would try. He said “can you send 400”? What kind of person is this?


The inimitable Donald Trump imagined a typical hacker as “someone sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.” A comment from a real-life friend about my PH was more succinct: “A vindictive little shit”.


Remote Control Valour

Way back in the last century, I studied Balzac’s Le Père Goriot for my French ‘O’ Level. A small passage from that has stuck in my mind ever since. Rastignac and Bianchon are discussing Rousseau, “Do you remember that he asks the reader somewhere what he would do if he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin somewhere in China by mere force of wishing it, and without stirring from Paris? …  Pshaw! I am at my thirty-third mandarin”.


In the 1949 film The Third Man, Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, is at the top of the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel looking down: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man.” This displays Lime’s amorality, his lack of interest in the children who are victims of his diluted penicillin, brain-damaged as a result of meningitis.

I have always been uncomfortable about the way movies glamorise snipers and professional hit-men. Snipers certainly have to develop an impressive skill, as do hackers. Snipers are shooting at people a long distance away. The longest shot ever was over 2400 meters; snipers are shooting at people who are hit before the sound of the shot even reaches them. Navy Seal Sniper Chris Kyle had over 150 confirmed kills. He was himself killed on a firing range by a former Marine with PTSD. Is it moral or ethical to shoot somebody from over a mile away? Somebody who has no warning, can’t even see you or have any chance to shoot back?



Keyboard Warriors

Drones, killing machines that can be operated from thousands of miles away from a keyboard with no danger to the killer, have killed far more people under Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama than under GW Bush.


The anonymity of the internet allows PH to bully with impunity total strangers who have never done him any harm, and are in no position to kick him in the nuts. Tough guy!  In Plato’s Republic, there is the tale of a shepherd named Gyges who finds a ring that makes him invisible. He has sex with a queen, kills her king, and takes his throne. The impunity of invisibility is corrupting. Physical invisibility only occurs in fiction but the internet has granted the license of anonymity and trolls and hackers operate under a cloak of invisibility to behave in a way they would not contemplate if they were visible in the real world. They are unaccountable.

Digital Savvy versus Wisdom

PH dropped all pretence of BEING ME when he wrote TO ME! Signing himself as “Fishbird” he wrote: “I am sorry for all the problems i have caused you this past few days. However, i want you to know the follwing (sic): I don’t know you nor have any particular personal motivation for taking over your mailbox other than looking for little money to survive on. I am willing to hand you all i have taken from you if you will help me with very little money to enable me settle my school bills. I know i have wronged you but please i need your help. I will let you know how to prevent future hacks as creating new emails is not the best line of action.”

If he is clever enough to cause so much disruption and unpleasantness, surely it would have been more intelligent to just send me an e-mail in the first place asking for my help. As he has been grubbing through my personal correspondence he will have gathered that I am an elderly person surviving on a modest pension. He will also have seen that am always giving money away, so I probably would have helped him. How often do these scams bring in any money?


Mat Honan is digital savvy enough to write regularly for Wired magazine. “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my Apple ID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”

Matt Honan managed to establish some contact with his hacker and asked him why he did it: “His answer wasn’t satisfying. He says he likes to publicize security weaknesses, so companies will fix them.” Pull the other one!


I readily admit that PH is much cleverer than me when it comes to the intricacies of IT. He is sadly deficient when it comes to moral or ethical intelligence. Why is PH going to all this trouble? There is a strong sense of cognitive dissonance. He is lying to himself. He seems to be angry with me just because I am trying to get on with my life, in which I try to do good rather than harm. Somehow I seem to have failed him because he is being frustrated in his project of doing harm rather than good. How does he sleep at night?



Identity Crisis Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 6 2016

Colman's Column3

Someone is begging for money using my name. Some people really believe he is me. On several occasions, I have had to answer some testing questions from people I have known for a long time in real life. This is reasonable enough and I could easily convince them that I am the man they know.

It is not so easy to convince Facebook and on 27 September I was expelled from that community. Dealing with Facebook and Google one enters the world of Kafka.


Der Prozess

In The Trial by Franz Kafka, Joseph K is arrested by two warders “one fine morning,” although he has done nothing wrong. The German title, Der Prozess, connotes both a “trial” and a “process”: the machinery has been set in motion, and the process will grind toward conclusion. The examining magistrate tells K that he has seriously damaged his own case by his behaviour. Everyone who knows K also knows about his trial. From his point of view, the entire universe finds him guilty. He is taken to a quarry by two men who stab him to death. At least my unfair trial by Facebook only led to this: “We’ll get in touch with you at the email address you provided after we’ve reviewed your ID. You will now be logged out of Facebook.”


I am grateful that, on this “fine morning”, I am not a corpse in a quarry, merely a live one in a quandary.




Positive and Negative

The experience of having a faceless stranger’s grubby fingers rifling through one’s life is very distasteful. There have been some positive aspects, however. I have reestablished contact with a lot of real-life friends from whom I had not heard for a long time. Thank you for that Mr  PH (Personal Hacker). Soon after I was alerted that I had been hacked, I started receiving many supportive phone calls – from Ireland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the US and the UK. Two different bank managers called me. One real-life friend in Sri Lanka telephoned and was surprised when I answered the phone. She really though I was stranded in Cyprus and had been making arrangements for her daughter in the UK to send ‘me’ a payment. I was touched by this but puzzled that an astute professional could be so gullible. When I met her last week she showed me the e-mails the hacker had sent.

I understood why she had believed the hacker. One e-mail said “Dear B, Can I call you on this line (he quoted her office phone number) X (that’s my wife) extends her sincere greetings and gratitude for all your concern and assistance”. Another e-mail to B gave details of our attempt to purchase a property and to dispose of our current home. There were enough errors in his e-mails to indicate that the writer was not me. Nevertheless, it is creepy to be aware that he is obviously ploughing through my personal correspondence and putting together a faux persona that convinces some.


Customer Service

My real-life and virtual friends responded sympathetically to my plight but many were far too optimistic about how easy it is to deal with such a situation. People told me that the first thing to do was to report the breach to Facebook and Google because those organisations have solid systems in place to handle account hacking. I would certainly expect them to have solid systems in place but I was not able to utilise them.

If my credit card were stolen I would be expected to notify the provider immediately. I have found it impossible to notify Google or Facebook that my identity has been stolen. I have attempted the cumbersome recovery procedure several times. I am told it has been successful but then I have to enter a verification code sent to my mobile phone. I cannot do this because my friendly neighbourhood PH has replaced my mobile phone number with his.

Horse Bolted. Lock the Stable Door

The Google and Facebook help pages confine themselves to giving useless advice about preventing future hacks rather than dealing with the specific hack that has already happened. I had anyway followed the advice. I never share my passwords with anyone, even my wife. I had recently changed my passwords several times. There is nothing personal in the passwords. They are rated as ‘strong’ because they are totally random and contain mixtures of letters, digits and symbols. I could not hope to remember them myself, so I do not understand how anyone else could guess them.

Who Cares about Customers?

This kind of scam has been going on for many years. I have received many such messages myself. The modus operandi is to send an e-mail to my contacts asking why the hacker posing as me has not received a reply to a previous (non-existent) e-mail. He has got my friends’ addresses from my G-Mail accounts which he has hacked. However, he does not use my G-mail  addresses to write to my contacts. He has set up new accounts with addresses that differ from my addresses by just one character.  The recipient generally does not realise the discrepancy and even if they do they dismiss it as an error.

One friend wrote to me: “Surely G-Mail have some idea who he is and where he is from these newly created accounts?” I would have thought so but experts advise me that Google would not seek such information without a court order. The perpetrator’s human rights get more protection than the victim’s. It is impossible for me to report this to G-Mail. I just get sent around in a loop and fail at the end. I am reminded of those so-called “impossible constructions” by MC Escher, such as Ascending and Descending and Relativity. There appears to be a lot of information on the G-Mail and Facebook help pages but there is no e-mail address or telephone number. There is at Google or Facebook no human being with whom to discuss the identity theft. This kind of scam has been the subject of numerous articles over the years and the boffins at Google and Facebook must be clever enough to stop it. They haven’t stopped it because they don’t care. It is not harming profits.


You Are Who?

While many pooh-poohed the idea, I wondered from the outset whether this hacker had some personal grudge against me. Like the pooh-poohers, I had seen many examples of this kind of scam before. Nevertheless, I was surprised at his persistence. The messages have been going out for three months and, at the time of writing, show no signs of stopping.


A real-life friend tried to engage with my PH and got a threatening response. All pretence of being me was dropped: Using the name “Spitfire” he sent this message: “Maybe you should just mind your business because your email might be next.PS: tell your friend that this is what happens when he tries to recover the email i already hacked into. If he tries recovering it with any other email then he looses that one too!”

In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump visualised a stereotypical hacker: “It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.” One of the hackers who recently intruded on President Sirisena’s official website was a seventeen-year-old boy. Mat Honan is digital savvy enough to write regularly for Wired magazine-  but he still got hacked: “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed”. Honan managed to establish some contact with his hacker whom he calls Phobia. Phobia was 19 years old.

A real-life friend speculated about the identity of my PH: “This smacks of an IT support type person who has had an opportunity to either get third party access to your hardware or even direct access during a mend or upgrade.” I followed up on this line of thinking. My desktop PC was indeed in a shop being repaired when the hacking occurred. It would have been easy for one of the technicians to log into my G-Mail accounts because the system remembered the passwords. Once in, he could change my passwords because he knew my mobile phone number. He could then use two-step authentication to override my mobile phone number.

I went to the shop and explained to one of the managers and a technician what had happened. They said it could not have happened there. Three brothers have been running the business for 15 years (they have always been helpful to me and are often reluctant to charge for their service) and they said they had never experienced anything like this before. Their technicians have been with them a long time and are completely trustworthy – they would say that wouldn’t they? The technician showed no sign of guilt and told us about a CID unit that investigated this kind of hacking. We had expected the messages to stop after letting the shop know that we knew. In fact, incidents gathered pace.

Next week I explore the psychopathology of the hacker. Why on earth do they do it? What kind of moral universe do they inhabit?

Identity Crisis Part 1

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 29 2016

Colman's Column3

There has been some peculiar activity on my G-Mail and Facebook accounts.






Have you ever been burgled? It has happened to me on three separate occasions. Twice in Manchester, and once in London. The first time in Manchester, I was actually in my home when it happened, shut up in my room suffering a terrible bout of flu. My flatmate, who had helpfully left the kitchen window on the ground floor open, had nothing stolen. I lost a jacket and an overcoat. Dealing with the police was not a pleasure. I was also close by for the second Manchester break-in, although I had been away in India, Nepal and Thailand for three weeks. We arrived home by taxi to find the front door open and a wind blowing through the house. There was a photo on the front room window ledge. The burglars were in the house when we arrived and watching out for us. When they saw us they escaped through the back door. Again, the police were not helpful. They went through the house taking fingerprints but one sensed that it was futile. A constable stared at me philosophically for a long time before saying :”If nothing appears to be missing, sir, how do you know you have been burgled”. I reminded him that we had returned home after three weeks abroad to find the front an d back doors open. My Wimbledon house was broken into when I was working away and my wife was in Paris with her mother. The intruder may have thought he had found drugs, because scattered about were chunks of Moroccan Mud, a shampoo that could have been mistaken for cannabis resin. He would have been very disappointed if he tried to smoke it.


On July 24, 2016, Gazala Anver, editor of Roar.LK, the Sri Lankan on-line news site, contacted me to warn me that I had been hacked. My G-Mail account was being used to send a message that I was stranded in Cyprus and in urgent need of funds to get back to Sri Lanka. I have never been to Cyprus in my life and have not set foot outside Sri Lanka for ten years. This is a very common sort of scam that has been going on for years. Over the years, I have received many similar messages purporting to be from my friends. Many articles have been published in the press about it. I was inclined to ignore it, thinking nobody would take it seriously, and move on but my own PH (Personal Hacker) seems to be prepared to go that extra mile to discommode me.

One of the many downsides of G-Mail is that it tries to organise one’s e-mail experience to suit Google rather than the individual punter. One of the most annoying things it does is to remember the e-mail address of every entity that one has ever corresponded with. My PH  was using this unwanted-by-me facility to annoy everyone in the world who had ever communicated with me online. My immediate reaction was to contact all my friends and family to let them know that I was OK and not in need of funds. This proved impossible because the hacker was sending his lying message to hundreds of people and had blocked my access to my own G-Mail account. The address book I had compiled for myself contained only a small proportion of the addresses he was targeting. He proceeded to do the same with my second G-Mail account. Then he moved on to my Facebook account.

As I write, he is still sending out that Cyprus scam to my Facebook friends and I cannot access my FB account.


People who received the scam message reacted in a variety of ways. I have to this day avoided engaging with the PH although he has written directly to me as well asking for money. Some did engage with him. Most people saw that it was a scam and knew that the message did not come from me. Some chided him, some teased him. Some thought the whole thing was amusing.

It was hard for me to see the funny side. I had used G-Mail for my work, for managing my finances and for communicating with friends and family all over the world. I used it to collect and store a lot of material. All this is now lost to me because my PH somehow got past my Gmail passwords (which had been classified by Google as ‘very strong’) and proceeded to deny me access to my own accounts. I have recent evidence that he has been carefully studying my e-mail correspondence.

Returning to the burglary analogy – the break-ins I experienced did not result in major financial loss or damage to property, but that did not mean they can be treated lightly. Scholarly studies have indicated that in some cases the after-effects of burglary are similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Emotional problems can include: feeling guilty for not preventing becoming the victim of a crime; a loss of faith in a society where such crimes could occur; feelings of mistrust, isolation, fear and vulnerability; fear of a repeat burglary; an obsession with home security.

In my case, the strongest feeling was of violation – an uninvited and malicious stranger had contaminated the sanctum of my home and had been rifling through my personal possessions. I am not talking about property, materialism or commercialism. The intruder had scattered around disrespectfully things that had personal value to me, including a collection of postcards that my grandfather had sent to my grandmother during the First World War.

This hacking aroused similar emotions. A malevolent stranger is, as I write, for no discernible rational purpose, rifling through my personal correspondence on G-Mail and using the information gathered to try to convince people that he is me. How hilarious is that!

Victim as Perpetrator

My Wimbledon burglar did not employ a very subtle technique. He gained ingress to the back garden from an alleyway that runs between the rears of the parallel terraces of houses. He then proceeded to batter down the kitchen door and go about his business. I was surprised that no-one heard him and called the police. When I asked the old lady next door about this, she said she had indeed heard it and it was a terrible noise. She did not think of calling the police but was, in effect, blaming me for the inconvenience she had suffered.

I detected something similar in responses from some of my virtual acquaintances. One Facebook friend, to whom I had thought I had explained the situation, still seemed to think I was asking her for money and said, “I wasn’t born yesterday!” Someone who had been an online friend since 2008 wrote to me recently saying, “Hope you were able to find the help you needed the other day. I’m truly sorry I couldn’t help.” I responded that I had sent her an e-mail explaining that I was not in Cyprus but had been hacked. She said, “I genuinely thought it was you needing help.  It was over Facebook messenger so I did think it was you.  The idea of a hack or scam occurred to me briefly, but because it was a live conversation, I really did think you needed help. His story was really rather believable.”





There have been a number of movies about mistaken identity and identity theft. Unknown (2011), starring Liam Neeson and January Jones, is about Martin Harris (Neeson) waking from a coma to find his passport missing, his wife (Jones) denying knowing him and Aidan Quinn claiming to be him. Nobody believes Harris is who he says he is. In John Boorman’s The Tiger’s Tail (2006), Liam O’Leary (Brendan Gleeson), is an Irish property developer of humble origins who has become rich and powerful during the “Celtic Tiger” Irish economic boom. The Irish bubble burst and O’Leary is under stress as his overreaching seems to be leading him to his ruin. He begins to be haunted by his own Double who is sighted around Dublin, ordering suits and flash cars on Liam’s credit card and behaving in a scandalous manner. Liam’s mental condition is not helped by having to convince people he is Liam and the doppelgänger isn’t.



There is something particularly nightmarish about trying to convince sceptics that you are you, when a doppelgänger about whom you know nothing is trying to convince them that he is you.


More about doppelgänger nightmares next week.






Islington Child Abuse Part Three

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 22 2016.

Colman's Column3



In previous articles I tried to address the conundrum of why the UK media are taking so little current interest in Jeremy Corbyn’s dereliction of duty during the Islington care homes saga. I worry at the question further in this article.





Derek Sawyer





Derek Sawyer was a Labour Islington councillor until 2006 and was council leader at the time of the inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse of children in care homes in the borough. These allegations had been brought to light by social workers, particularly Liz Davies.  Dr Davies is now Emeritus Reader in Social Work at London Metropolitan University.  At one time, Sawyer served as Corbyn’s constituency agent. Sawyer was a friend from university days and business partner of Derek Slade, who received a 21-year prison sentence in 2010 for brutally abusing twelve boys at St George’s, a military boarding school, in Norfolk, which Sawyer helped him found. Slade wrote English language school text books, under the name “Dr Edward Marsh”, which were published by a company which he set up with Sawyer.




Derek Slade


In 1986, Slade was convicted of brutally beating a boy at a Sussex prep school. Sawyer provided the character evidence that kept Slade out of prison. Four days before the Ian White Report on sexual abuse in Islington care homes was published, Sawyer and Slade co-founded a company, IBEP, to set up schools and orphanages in India and Africa. Slade left them all under a cloud.  The Daily Mail published a story on this but dropped it from the paper’s website after a libel threat. However, Roger Cook was not sued when he did a BBC programme on it, Abuse of Trust.

Abuse survivors at the Indian orphanage were planning to sue him in London’s High Court but the case was mysteriously dropped.

Journalists have been careful not to accuse Sawyer of taking part in abuse or of knowing what Slade was up to.

Sawyer Today

Sawyer achieved key positions on bodies running London’s police, magistrates and probation services. He represented all London’s councils on the Metropolitan Police’s Public Safety Board. He was chair of the London Region Courts Board. He was made trustee of two crime prevention youth charities. He was recently community representative on Islington SNB (Safer Neighbourhood Board).

The difficulties of squeezing information from Islington council are described in detail here:

Corbyn Was Told


No one is accusing Corbyn of perpetrating child abuse himself, but why did he do nothing? If he was such a good constituency MP, (I am a former civil servant who worked in many government departments and can vouch that he was an assiduous letter writer on behalf of his constituents), it beggars belief that he could have been unaware of the horrors that were going on in Islington on his watch.


In fact, we have the testimony of several people that Corbyn was informed of the horrors going on in his constituency. Five social workers visited him and journalist Eileen Fairweather contacted him separately. Some of the victims said that they told Corbyn what was going on and that he promised to do something but didn’t. At the time of the allegations, I was a ministerial advisor on child protection at the Department of Health and saw files which indicated that Corbyn had been told of the abuse.


Matthew Collings asked why the mainstream media were not covering Corbyn’s lack of action on the child abuse. I shared the most recent article I could find. It was published on 31 July 2015 and written by Guy Adams. It gave an excellent summary of the situation and allowed Liz Davies and Eileen Fairweather to state quite categorically that they had told Corbyn “everything” about the child abuse in 1992. Corbyn had said that he had heard similar things from constituents and promised to take action. Davies recalls, “There was no letter. No phone call. I never, ever saw him speak about it.”


Because the article was published in the Daily Mail, Corbyn supporters, some of whom proudly boasted that they had not actually read the Mail article or my article, aggressively and abusively asserted that it must be lies.


These people were, in effect calling Liz Davies, Eileen Fairweather, former victim Demetrious Panton and myself liars for claiming that Corbyn had been told about the abuse and did nothing about it.


Just because You’re Paranoid…


I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are times when people really do conspire to cover up evil deeds. Particular areas which are prone to this are paedophile rings, military intelligence and Northern Ireland. All those ingredients are mixed up in this brew together with the peculiarities of Labour politics of the 1970s, which shaped the Corbyn we have today. Labour politics at that time allowed PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange, which advocated making sex with four-year-olds legal) to infiltrate the bien pensant community. It is difficult to avoid speculation when the perpetrators are indeed involved in a conspiracy to do horrible things and cover them up. It is unlikely that the establishment is protecting Corbyn himself. However, knowledge of what happened to Colin Wallace (who served six years in prison on a cooked-up manslaughter charge) may induce caution among journalists. I have been in communication with five different journalists who continue to take an interest in this issue. Let us see if they publish anything.


Brick Wall
I have heard speculation that Corbyn may have been stopped from pursuing the matter by people more powerful than himself. I have been told that attempts were made to get stories about the Islington abuse “into the mainstream press last year and earlier this but hit that curious Islington brick wall…. again.” Islington has had more coverage than some other scandals but little is being said about Corbyn’s role.


It is unlikely that the media will take up this story again if there are no new developments. There is not much to add to the Mail article.  Is there a sense of child abuse fatigue? All of the media right now is obsessed with Brexit, terrorism, and the migrant crisis. The Islington embarrassment began over 30 years ago. People felt guilty about letting Jimmy Savile get away with such horrors and then the authorities went too far in the other direction and seemed to be persecuting elderly national treasures. Many allegations turned out to be false.

There are so many worrying aspects to the Corbyn situation that the media has an uphill task covering them all. John Mann MP issued an open letter to Corbyn on July 23 2015, in which he said: “The extent of the abuse was only uncovered through the tenacity and bravery of whistle-blowers, journalists and survivors which led to a number of independent inquiries and the damning Ian White report in 1995”. The gist of John Mann’s argument is that Corbyn is not fit to lead the Labour Party at a time when much attention in Parliament and the media will be generated by the inquiry into historic sexual abuse of children.

No one, except John Mann (who was called an opportunistic fascist pig for bringing it up) seems to care that Corbyn effectively lied to the House of Commons.


“Perhaps most worrying of all are the implications of your question to the Home Secretary on November 3rd 2014. You stated that ‘Finally in my own borough of Islington there have been complaints about Islington children’s homes in the past and the council has investigated them.’  This statement at first glance is non-contentious. However, on reflection it is an extraordinary statement considering the representations made to you in the past that the council was in fact covering up abuse and not listening to the survivors, issues you were challenged on at the time.”

“Your carefully worded excusing of Islington Council in the House of Commons equally demonstrates why it is inappropriate for you to attempt to lead the Labour Party at the critical time of the Goddard Enquiry, as child abuse is the issue that will haunt this Parliament.”

Liz Davies does not agree with everything I write. She does not want conflict with Jeremy Corbyn and would hope to work with him to improve the lot of today’s children and of those now adult survivor of Islington. She told me that what she feels is important right now is assisting survivors in looking for their files, most of which are completely missing, piecing together some of their histories from other evidence, and seeing if any action legal or criminal can be taken or if current children need protection. Let us hope that Jeremy Corbyn does not disappoint her.






Islington Child Abuse Part Two

Colman's Column3


A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 15 2016.



Last week I began to look at the question: why have the English media not given more prominence to allegations that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did not assist, and may indeed have obstructed, the investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of children in care homes in his Islington constituency?

Liz Davies was a social work team manager in the London Borough of Islington where she exposed wide scale abuse of children within the care system. Dr Davies is now Emeritus Reader in Social Work at London Metropolitan University. For several months in 1989, she had been talking to groups of children she suspected were being abused. She and her co-workers heard of sinister adults preying on children who were lured into private houses or abused in care homes. One house in the community was known to be used as a “brothel” for abusing children. The social workers became convinced a paedophile ring was at work in the area.

This is not the place to go into the details of the scandal. Much useful information can be found on Dr Davies’s blog: There is also a wealth of information here:  The Islington survivors network is currently collating new evidence with more survivors and witnesses coming forward.

Morris Fraser

I noted in last week’s column that particular issues were prone to conspiracies-paedophile rings, military intelligence and Northern Ireland.

Dr Morris Fraser was the senior psychiatric registrar at the Royal Victoria Hospital’s child guidance clinic in Belfast. He also wrote the book Children in Conflict, about how the Troubles in Northern Ireland affected children. In 1971 he had sexually assaulted a member of his Belfast boy scout troop in London. The Metropolitan Police failed to inform the Royal Victoria about his London conviction which also went unreported in the media. Another conviction in New York in 1974 on several counts of sodomy on children went unreported.


Fraser was a member of the Paedophile information Exchange (PIE), which was granted ‘affiliate’ status within the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), a pressure group which was later renamed Liberty. At the time, the NCCL was being run by Patricia Hewitt, the future Blairite Health Secretary now making a fortune from private health care. Also prominent in the NCCL at the time were Harriet Harman, the Labour Party’s acting leader before Corbyn’s election, and her husband Jack Dromey, also now a Labour MP. Henry Hodge, the husband of Margaret Hodge, leader of Islington Council,  a resident of Islington,was chairman of the NCCL when the PIE was granted affiliate status.


PIE was mainly based in Islington and had its international office there. Fraser sent boys to Kincora and took a Kincora boy to his home in Islington to be abused.

In 1988, Fraser co-founded the Azimuth Trust, which gave sailing holidays to dozens of vulnerable boys in Devon and Cornwall as victims for a paedophile ring. He was also one of eight men charged in New York as part of an organised abuse network. Fraser continued to have access to vulnerable children and to sexually abuse them for a period of about 20 years.


A study into Fraser’s activities was recently produced by Irish academic Dr Niall Meehan. Meehan said: “It must be surely assumed that Fraser was allowed to continue his work in return for providing some form of services to the authorities.” It is understood a Freedom of Information request regarding Fraser was turned down for reasons of national security.

Paedophile Information Exchange

Although he was never officially implicated in abuse at Kincora, there seems to have been organised child sexual abuse occurring wherever Fraser lived or worked. A former Kincora resident alleged that he was abused by Fraser, who had extensive links to paedophile groups in England and was close to Peter Righton, the former director of education at the National Institute for Social Work, and a consultant for the National Children’s Bureau.



Righton was a founding member of PIE, which wanted the age of consent reduced to four. Both men contributed to the book   Perspectives on Paedophilia. That book is still available from Amazon ( with a positive review. “An amazingly open and detailed description of a
sequence of pedophile relations, extentively (sic) illustrated with photos.”

Tom O’Carroll is a former chairman of the now disbanded  PIE. In 1981, O’Carroll was convicted for conspiracy  to corrupt public morals because of the contact ads in the PIE magazine and went to jail for two years. A barrister in the case, Peter Thornton, later a QC and senior circuit judge, wrote about it the following year in Rights, the NCCL newsletter. Thornton was critical of the charges, which he said had been “too remote from any tangible misdemeanour” and he suggested that O’Carroll had been convicted on little evidence. In 2002, a nine-month sentence given to O’Carroll for evading a prohibition on the importation from Qatar of indecent photographs of children was overturned by the Court of Appeal. On 20 December 2006, he was jailed for 2½ years conspiring to distribute indecent photographs of children – these were obtained from his co-defendant Michael John De Clare Studdert’s vault of 50,000 pornographic images of children. In December 2015 O’Carroll faced charges of indecent assault and gross indecency against two brothers aged nine and ten and pleaded guilty to one count of indecently assaulting one boy and one of gross indecency with the other. He was given a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years, placed on the sex offenders’ register for ten years and made the subject of an indefinite sexual harm prevention order. O’Carroll joined the Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn became party leader in September 2015. He wrote a creepy article about child mascots at sporting events. He said they “must look the part… be lean, well-proportioned, athletic and good-looking”, with “every suggestion” that they have “been favoured by the gods.’” After a series of complaints from anti-paedophile activists, O’Carroll, now aged 70, was expelled from the party only in February 2016. John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, who has campaigned against child abuse, and criticised Corbyn for his inaction on the Islington child abuse, said: “I led the calls this morning for Tom O’Carroll to be immediately kicked out of the Labour Party. Which local branch let him in?”



Former army officers Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell, who tried to expose the abuse at the care home, have expressed their disquiet at the refusal of Northern Ireland police to reveal what they knew about Fraser. Wallace tried to expose a paedophile ring involving loyalist paramilitaries and politicians in the 1970s, which included him authoring an army memo naming alleged abusers in 1973.

Islington Connections

Fraser lived in Islington in 1990, at a time when paedophile networks had infiltrated Islington children’s homes. This may just be coincidence as he was working at University College Hospital. However, it would not be uncharitable to suspect that he had seen an opportunity to abuse children in Islington. He had also travelled to Turkey, Holland and Denmark to abuse children. In 1993, he was convicted for possession of child pornography.

Another PIE member, Peter Righton, is connected to Islington via the Islington-Suffolk Project, which sent children in care on holidays to Lord Henniker’s estate in Eye, Suffolk. Righton and his partner were invited to live on Lord Henniker’s estate after Righton’s 1992 conviction for importing images of child abuse. (Although there have been no allegations of child abuse on the Thornham Magna estate in Suffolk).

In 1979, John Rea Price,  Islington’s Director of Social Servicesand Peter Righton sat on the same steering committee to establish a course for training staff to work with disturbed young people. Righton went on to become governor of New Barns school working with disturbed young people, and Islington Council were one of the local authorities to place children there. New Barns school was the subject of a major child abuse investigation after Righton’s arrest. Righton lectured on social work at North London Polytechnic in Islington in 1970.When Social Work Today reported Righton’s arrest there was no mention of the fact that he had long been associated with the magazine and had written dozens of articles for it. The magazine also downplayed the connection between the National Children’s Bureau and Righton. In April 1992, just two months before the article was published, John Rea Price was appointed as Director of the National Children’s Bureau, having recently resigned as Director of Islington Social Services after 20 years in post. In October 1992, not long after his departure, the Islington Children’s Homes scandal became public.


White Report

The White Report on the Islington child abuse scandal concluded that there was a culture in Islington council that tolerated sexual relationships between care staff and teenage boys. It also blocked the investigation of people from gay or ethnic backgrounds. “This is a recipe for disaster,” the report said. The report concluded that the ultimate responsibility for the disaster within social services lay with the council and senior officers. The buck ultimately stopped with Margaret Hodge, who had been council leader since 1982.

Corbyn and Hodge

We have the testimony of several people that Corbyn was informed of the horrors going on in his constituency. Five social workers visited him and journalist Eileen Fairweather contacted him separately. Some of the victims said that they told Corbyn what was going on and that he promised to do something but didn’t.

Although Corbyn was the local MP when Hodge was council leader and they were both Labour Party members, they were not close. In June 2016, together with Ann Coffey, she submitted a letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party chairman requesting a vote on a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. She said she was tabling the motion because Corbyn had failed to convince Labour voters to vote remain in the European Union referendum and that he “had failed a test of leadership”.


I knew her husband Henry Hodge quite well in the early 80s when he was a prominent left-wing human rights lawyer. Unusually for a solicitor, he later became a judge. He died in 2009. I found him a very likeable companion and agree with an obituarist’s view: “He was a genial, very affable man, with an amused twinkle almost always in his eye. AIT (he was President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal) stakeholder meetings and the like were made all the more bearable by his self deprecating and humorous chairing.” There was much criticism when Margaret Hodge was appointed the UK’s first Minister for Children in 2003. The Hodges were neighbours and friends of the Blairs and would not share much of Corbyn’s political philosophy. Nevertheless, Islington council was noted for the kind of ‘political correctness’ condemned in the White Report and which Corbyn espouses today.

Although Corbyn said little about the allegations of abuse at the time, Hodge described Eileen Fairweather’s exemplary and courageous investigation as “gutter journalism” and described victim Demetrious Panton as mentally ill.  Panton is now a highly respected lawyer and Labour Party advisor.

A senior media executive alleges that Margaret Hodge has for years used her wealth (although her Oppenheimer family steel fortune has dwindled rapidly because of the attention of vulture funds), influence and patronage, as chair of the powerful Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and a source therefore of many other stories of interest to journalists, to buy off papers or broadcasters who start to look into Islington. It is interesting to note that Margaret Hodge’s son-in-law, Joe Caluori, is now chair of the Islington social services committee.


More next week on lack of media attention to Corbyn and child abuse.

Islington Child Abuse Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 8 2016.

Colman's Column3


An article I published in Ceylon Today last August has been shared by a few people recently. The article dealt with current UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of action during the Islington care homes scandal which erupted in the late 80s. Corbyn is facing a re-election contest. Despite the fact that most of the parliamentary Labour Party have deserted him, it seems likely that he will remain leader because he has the backing of Labour Party members outside parliament.


Matthew Collings (a British art critic, writer, TV presenter, and artist) raised the pertinent question on Facebook: given his unpopularity with journalists, why have the English media not given more prominence to allegations that Jeremy Corbyn did not assist, and may have obstructed, the investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of children in council-run care homes in his constituency of Islington in north London? Collings said that he took a particular interest in the matter because he himself missed secondary education, receiving therapy instead at the Finchden Manor Community, a haven for disturbed teenage boys. I have canvassed a number of people in ‘the media’ and done some digging around.


There are still many unanswered questions about the Islington scandal. Islington was not on the agenda of Judge Goddard’s historical abuse inquiry because no one submitted it to her. Goddard has now resigned and been replaced by Alexis Jay, who led the official inquiry into the Rotherham scandal, which found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013. She is the fourth person to head the inquiry. How long will she last? The satirical magazine Private Eye has referred to the passing of the baton by Britain’s top female relay team.


An informed source told me that a senior political figure claims that the cross-party silence on allegations about Westminster paedophile rings stems from the involvement of the security services in relation to Northern Ireland. There are connections between Kincora and Islington.


The Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast was the scene of serious organised child sexual abuse and an attempted cover-up. Allegations of abuse first surfaced in 1977. There were credible allegations that the state colluded in a cover up. On 3 April 1980, three members of staff at the home, William McGrath, Raymond Semple and Joseph Mains, were charged with a number of offences relating to the systematic sexual abuse of children in their care over a number of years; they were all convicted.

In April 1990, a writer called Robert Harbinson (aka Robin Bryans) stated in the Dublin-based magazine Now that Lord Mountbatten and others were involved in an old-boy network which held gay orgies in country houses, as well as at the Kincora Boys’ Home. Another writer, Stephen Prior, in his 2002 book War of the Windsors, claimed that rumours had “linked (Lord Mountbatten) with the notorious scandal surrounding the Kincora Boys’ Home…”.“(Lord Mountbatten) was also said to have an interest in what homosexuals call ‘rough trade’ and to be particularly attracted to working-class boys in their early teens.” Mountbatten was murdered by the Provisional IRA in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland  on 27 August 1979.

The Kincora case has become live again because the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) began examining allegations relating to Kincora on 31 May 2016, including claims that there was a paedophile ring at the home with links to the intelligence services. Sir Anthony Hart, chairman of the HIA said possible “systemic failures to prevent such abuse” will be investigated. He said that a number of state bodies will be examined, including the RUC. He also confirmed that MI5 and MI6 will be investigated and both will be legally represented at the inquiry. The then Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said that all state agencies would co-operate with the inquiry. James Brokenshire was appointed Northern Ireland Secretary of State by Theresa May on July 14 2016. We will await news of Brokenshire’s performance on Kincora.

Many years ago, Private Eye alleged that high-ranking civil servants and senior military officers were sexually abusing boys at Kincora. Former army intelligence officer Brian Gemmell said a senior MI5 officer told him to stop looking into claims of abuse at Kincora. He said he presented a report on the allegations to the officer in 1975. “He bawled me out. He was rude and offensive and hostile.”

Another former Army officer, Colin Wallace, suffered worse than rudeness. Wallace said he received intelligence in 1973 to say that boys were being abused, and claims his superiors refused to pass on the information.


Wallace was wrongly convicted of manslaughter in 1981, for which he spent six years in gaol. The conviction was later quashed in the light of new evidence. Paul Foot, in his book Who framed Colin Wallace? suggested that Wallace may have been framed for the killing to discredit the allegations he was making.  During the appeal hearing, a Home Office pathologist, Dr Ian West, admitted that some of the evidence that he had used at Wallace’s trial had been supplied to him by “an American security source”. In June 1998, a former Special Branch officer who was familiar with the Wallace case wrote to Paul Foot saying: “I sincerely believe that Colin Wallace was ‘fitted up’ by corrupt members of the Establishment embarrassed by the events described in the early part of your book”. Alex Carlile  QC (now Lord Carlile), then the SDP–Liberal Alliance’s Legal Affairs spokesman, issued a statement saying: “It is clear that Colin Wallace, a principled man, knew too much about the Kincora Boys’ Home scandal.”

In 1987, a former senior Ministry of Defence civil servant (once described to me by another mandarin as a “tough cookie”), Clive Ponting, said that he had attended high-level meetings with MI5 officers to discuss Wallace. “There was never any suspicion that Wallace was making these stories up or that it was totally unfounded and very easy to rubbish. It was very much a matter that, OK the story was being contained at the moment because he was in jail, but that in a few years’ time he would be back out again and could be expected to start making the allegations again and then that would be a serious problem.”

In the House of Commons, in 1990, the Government admitted that Ministers had “inadvertently misled” (code for “lied”) Parliament over Wallace’s role. Mrs Thatcher wrote: “I regret to say that a re-examination of departmental papers has brought to light information which shows that there were a number of statements in my letters, and in other Ministerial statements and official correspondence, which were incorrect or require clarification.”

In his 1999 book The Dirty War, Martin Dillon claimed that McGrath (convicted of child abuse at Kincora), who was also the leader of an obscure loyalist paramilitary group called Tara, may have been employed by MI5 since the 1960s and was being blackmailed into providing intelligence on other loyalist groups.

The Belfast News Letter reported that files on Kincora were “conspicuously absent” from the routine January 2013 release of 1982 government papers by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) under the 30-year rule.


In a recent item in Private Eye (issue 1425 September 1 2016), it was revealed that thousands of historic files remain suppressed long after the 30-year rule should have released them. This is because the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives is dominated by former diplomats, senior police officers and civil servants and shadowy figures from the world of espionage.


As well as ignoring the Islington abuse, the Goddard Inquiry also set aside the Kincora boys’ home case. Some campaigners had wanted Kincora to be investigated as part of the wider Westminster inquiry into historical child abuse, which they argue has more powers than the devolved HIA inquiry.


I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are times when people really do conspire to cover up evil deeds. Particular areas which are prone to this are paedophile rings, military intelligence and Northern Ireland. All those ingredients are mixed up in this brew together with the peculiarities of Labour politics of the 1970s, which shaped the Corbyn we have today.


More about Labour Party history next week.

Corbyn and the Tamil Tigers




A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 1 2016.That  article was written for a Sri Lankan audience which did not need to have the awfulness of the Tamil Tigers explained to them. This version for a foreign audience gives more illustrations of Tiger crimes. Presumably Corbyn is aware of those crimes, just as he must have been aware of the atrocities being perpetrated on children in his constituency.

Colman's Column3

Part of the dissatisfaction with Corbyn arises from his tendency to espouse causes which have little to do with the reality of practical politics in the UK itself in 2016. As recently as April 2016, Jeremy Corbyn said he fully supports Tamils in their struggle to achieve self-determination in Sri Lanka.

Corbyn Supports Freedom Fighters

To a certain western mind-set everything is black or white, minorities are always oppressed and discriminated against, governments must be bad, and rebels must be romantic freedom fighters. I recall that in the 1970s, my own trade union in the UK was contributing funds to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers) because they were obviously “freedom fighters” defending the oppressed Tamil minority.

In 1983, Jeremy Corbyn became an MP. In Sri Lanka, 1983 is remembered  with horror for the pogrom known as “Black July”. Thirteen soldiers were killed by the LTTE. Anti-Tamil riots ensued and lasted for ten days with property being destroyed and up to 3,000 people being killed and 200,000 displaced.

Action and Reaction

Over many years before 1983, there had been incidents where ill-disciplined police or military had carried out savage reprisals, rather in the manner of the Black and Tans in Ireland, on innocent Tamils after atrocities by the Tigers – action and reaction. July 1983 was a paradigm shift in terror.


These horrific events left an indelible mark on the Tamil psyche. Atrocities were perpetrated on innocent Tamils all over the country and many fled to the north for refuge. Those who could afford to fled abroad, from where they provided ongoing financial support for the LTTE.

Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian and anthropologist looked back on these events:” The militant movement for separation gathered thousands of new Tamil recruits and a rejuvenation of commitment among most SL Tamils, as well a wave of support in international quarters. Sri Lanka also received pariah status on the world stage.”

Many SL Tamils fled to Tamil Nadu, where those of a militant tendency were trained and armed by the Indian government. Many who might not want to engage in violence themselves fled to Canada, Australia and Europe. Many of them prospered and supported the armed struggle vicariously by providing funding. Many Tamils who remained in Sri Lanka were disillusioned at the futility of trying to defend their interests by peaceful means within the existing state apparatus.

Tiger Atrocities


The LTTE was guilty of many crimes over the thirty years of the conflict. They assassinated former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lanka President Premadasa in 1993. An attempt on the life of President Kumaratunga in 1999 failed but she lost an eye. In that attempt, 23 civilians were killed.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, right, is overcome by emotion at her residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka Wednesday December 22, 1999 after winning a second term in office. Kumaratunga survived a suicide bomb attack on Saturday during her final rally of the election campaign. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In 1985, LTTE gunmen shot dead 146 Sinhalese civilians and injured 85 others as they were praying at a sacred Buddhist shrine in Anuradhapura. A further 18 people fleeing from that massacre were shot dead in Wilpattu forest. Later in the same year, in Dehiwatta village, 100 LTTE men hacked to death 15 women and children as they were sleeping.

In 1986, an LTTE bomb exploded aboard an Air Lanka flight carrying mainly French, British and Japanese tourists killing 21 (including 13 foreigners –2 British, 2 German, 3 French, 2 Japanese, 1 Maldivian and 1 Pakistani) and injuring 41.


Throughout 1988 and 1989, there seemed to be an LTTE massacre of innocent villagers every day. In June 1990, the LTTE marked the breakdown of ceasefire talks by overrunning police stations throughout the north east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE killed 600 police officers who had surrendered. On June 10, over 400 unarmed police officers were shot dead in police stations across eastern Sri Lanka.

On August 3, 1990, 30 Tigers attacked four mosques in the Kattankudy area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Speaking to the New York Times, Mohammed Ibrahim, a 40-year-old businessman said, “I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels started shooting. The firing went on for 15 minutes. I escaped without being hit and found myself among bodies all over the place.” Mohammed Arif, a 17-year-old student who also survived the massacre said: “Before I escaped from a side door and scaled a wall, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger.” I do not want to post disturbing pictures of these atrocities but they are available on the internet.



Killings continued on a daily basis over the years. In 1994, presidential candidate and opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake (we know his son-in-law) was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber who exploded herself at a campaign rally in Colombo. Fifty others were killed in the blast and a further 75 were seriously injured.

The deadliest LTTE attack on a civilian target in the history of the group’s operations occurred in 1996. The Central Bank (located in the twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Centre) was bombed and 90 people were killed and 1,400 injured. In 1997, another bombing at the WTC killed 13 and injured hundreds.


In 1998, a Black Tiger squad drove an explosives-laden truck into the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, a major Buddhist shrine, killing seven and injuring 25. The attack took place just days before foreign dignitaries were expected to attend celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Sri Lankan independence at the temple.

Later that year the LTTE shot down a plane with 55 passengers (including 48 Tamils) and crew while it was flying over LTTE held territory. Everyone onboard was killed.

In 1999, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, a Tamil, who was working on a constitutional package aimed at ending the decades-long conflict, was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber.

In May 2000, the LTTE celebrated the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar, Vesak Poya, by detonating a bomb hidden inside an ice-cream box on a bicycle killing 20 people and injuring 75.

In 2001, a 14-man suicide squad attacked an air force base and the adjoining international airport. They destroyed many aircraft, crippling the country’s economy and reducing tourism.

In 2006, the award-winning author Nihal de Silva and seven Sri Lankan tourists were killed by an LTTE land mine in Wilpattu National Park.

In the same year, The LTTE bombed a bus carrying 140 civilians in the north east. The blast killed 68 civilians including 15 school children, and injured 78 others. It was caused by two claymore mines placed side by side which sprayed the packed bus with millions of ball bearings upon manual detonation. Survivors, including school children, of the blast were shot as they ran away.

In the same year, several civilians were killed in an attempt on the life of defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. A suicide bomber in a truck killed 103 sailors on buses going or returning from leave at a transit point and wounded 150 other sailors.  Two people passing the site were killed and 14 others wounded, mostly civilians.

There are many more instances of LTTE cadres hacking to death unsuspecting villagers at home or at prayer, or on buses or trains (often using multiple bombs in several carriages) on the way to work or school.

The LTTE proved efficient at destroying any other Tamil groups that threatened to undermine their dominance. Elements of the “international community” were able to build a false picture of the LTTE as romantic freedom fighters. That is far from reality. The LTTE had always employed forcible recruitment; every family had to sacrifice a child to the cause of Eelam. This gained pace as defeat loomed in 2009 when Corbyn was trying to save the LTTE.  Children under twelve were recruited. Civilians who resisted were executed.

No Ban

As far back as 1998, Jeremy Corbyn was offering support to these butchers. At a pro-LTTE rally in London on February 1, 1998, Corbyn was one of the keynote speakers from the British Parliament and delivered a strong condemnation of the Sri Lankan government. The rally was led by a life-sized poster of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and was followed by LTTE flags and people shouting pro-LTTE slogans.

In 2001, Corbyn was one of only 17 MPs who voted against banning Al Qaeda from Britain just six months before 9/11. Corbyn, then a backbencher, voted against banning 21 militant groups from entering Britain. The Tamil Tigers were on the list as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.

In 2005 Jeremy Corbyn helped create a petition aimed at lifting the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. “The Sri Lanka government is carrying out an undeclared war against the Tamil people who have been struggling for more than two decades for the legitimate right to self-rule.” Corbyn was guilty of a conflation here that was also indulged by the BBC, the Independent, the Irish Times, the New Statesman and Le monde diplomatique. The Sri Lankan government was not fighting “the Tamils” it was fighting a brutal terrorist organisation that was oppressing Tamils.

Cease Fires

In 2002, I came to live in Sri Lanka. We had decided it was safe because a cease-fire was in operation. As today, there was a prime minister from the United National Party and an executive president from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The prime minister then was Ranil Wickremesinghe and the president was Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Today Ranil Wickremesinghe is once again prime minister. The peace in 2002 was an uneasy one – there were checkpoints, soldiers and armed police everywhere. Norway was invited to help with the peace process.

Corbyn explained himself thus: “Twenty-one organisations are due to be banned from operating in this country, causing a great deal of disquiet in the Islamic, Turkish and Tamil communities. That is not because people support terrorism, but because they want to encourage a peace process. They recognise that some of the organisations are currently engaged in ceasefires in their own countries, and are actively engaged in the search for long-lasting peace that will bring about the resolution to conflict.”

The LTTE constantly broke the cease fire. They used the “peace process” to regroup and re-arm. Sections of the Tamil community abroad funded the terrorism.

Constructive Ambiguity

Martin McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”. Despite the efforts of Corbyn and McGuinness and other members of the international community there was a resounding military victory. Peace still prevails. There has not been a single terrorist incident since May 2009.

To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved in Northern Ireland because of exhaustion on all sides and through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993, after Bill Clinton listened to Sinn Féin. On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. Corbyn voted against the Good Friday Agreement.

No Surrender


Prabhakaran never had any intention of compromising. The LTTE fought for 30 years for a separate Tamil nation. A separate state was Prabhakaran’s bottom line which Corbyn still supports today. In May 2011, Jeremy Corbyn addressed a rally that also featured Tamil Diaspora organisations. Also present were Father SJ Emmanuel of the Global Tamil Forum, Ravi Kumar of the British Tamils Forum, Bairavi Ratnabal of the Tamil Youth Organisation and Jan Jananayagam of Tamils Against Genocide. The rally featured swathes of LTTE flags and condemned the Sri Lanka government. Corbyn’s current enemy, John Mann MP, also attended the rally.

There were accusations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan Army.The army claimed that civilian casualties occurred because the LTTE were using them as human shields.

The numbers game and reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Lobbyists for and against Sri Lanka

It is interesting to read the Hansard record of a debate in the House of Commons on 8 Jan 2013. All the usual anti-Sri Lankan suspects were there – Siobhain McDonagh, Paul Burstow, Barry Gardiner, Gareth Thomas, Lee Scott and Robert Halfon.

However, there were some interventions more supportive of Sri Lanka. Aidan Burley questioned McDonagh’s knowledge: “… when did she last visit Sri Lanka and see for herself—at first hand—some of the things that she is alleging are happening there?” She had to admit that she had never been to Sri Lanka: “Just as I have not been to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and—it has to be said—most countries in the world”.

Ian Paisley Jr told the House: “I have visited Sri Lanka on a number of occasions, both as a private individual and with constituents who had business there, as well as on a cross-party parliamentary trip. My experience was very different from what I have heard from propagandists not in Sri Lanka”. Paisley continued: “I have met both Tamil and Sinhalese families, and their united wish was to present a picture of hope for their country, not a picture of division. It was a community that wanted to move forward.” Paisley described how his Sinhalese and Tamil guides embraced each other and spoke about how they were now new brothers in a new land. “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.”

Adrian Burley had, unlike McDonagh and Scott, actually visited Sri Lanka: “British politicians should understand Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and help it to demine, so that communities can move back to their own lands. I saw that happening with my own eyes; I saw the minefields being cleared through the HALO Trust, and I saw houses being rebuilt and crops being grown on the old minefields.”

James Wharton agreed with Paisley that people he had met in Sri Lanka did not want to talk about the horrors of the past but were more interested in securing their future. “The tone of debate in the House too often worries me, because we focus on what we can do to punish the Government of Sri Lanka…Such things will not damage the Government of Sri Lanka; they will damage progress towards peace and the prosperity of the people who live in Sri Lanka. The tone of the debate here needs to change. We need to work constructively with the Government of Sri Lanka to put pressure where it is due and, where we can, to deliver improvement.”

Corbyn was not interested in the future. He has never been to Sri Lanka and preferred to reminisce about demonstrations he had taken part in thirty years previously. Burley chastised Corbyn and McDonagh and urged them to talk to people living in Sri Lanka rather than their own constituents: “I found a country at peace with itself. That is what we should be debating and supporting: helping Sri Lanka to build a better future for itself, rather than letting extremists in the UK divide it.”



This wedding took place at Kilinochchi on January 27, 2012, The groom was EMD Sandaruwan, a former member of the Gajaba Regiment of the Sri Lankan Army. He had participated in the defeat of the LTTE .The bride was, Chandrasekaran Sharmila, an ex-LTTE child soldier, who had since been a participant in a government rehabilitation programme. There are many such stories to tell. It is not easy to get the western media to listen to them.

Regime Change

Stressing that human rights abuses have not been fully addressed in Sri Lanka despite regime change, Corbyn announced as recently as April 2016: “We as a party, are very committed to the issues of human rights and justice. We are very committed to the rights of peoples, the Tamil people in this case to achieve their self-expression and their self-determination.”

Jeremy Corbyn is proud to have participated in the London rallies in May 2009, demanding that the international community intervene to end the war. “I remember to this date and I am still angry about the utter silence of the majority of the British and world’s media to the demonstration as well as the cause and the issue.”

Child Brothels in Corbyn’s Constituency

Corbyn did not feel interested enough to take action when he was told that children were being cruelly sexually abused in his own constituency of Islington North. In fact, he made a complaint to the Speaker in 1986 when another MP tried to draw attention to the abuse. In his Spartist agit-prop fantasy world, it seemed more important to him to interfere in the way sovereign state thousands of miles away was dealing (successfully) with its domestic terrorist problem. Unlike the UK Labour government, Sri Lanka did not invade other countries.


Gun Control Part Three

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 25 2016.

Colman's Column3

More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all the Americans who were killed in combat during the Second World War.

The Right to Bear Arms

We think of the argument that citizens have the right to bear arms as a particularly American thing revolving around debates on the Second Amendment to the Constitution. “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

However, this was also an issue in British history in the 17th Century. One of the grievances against James II was that he had caused “several good subjects, being protestants, to be disarmed …”.  Gibbon, in the next century, wrote that “[a] martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.”

Over 4,000 imported pistols and revolvers were submitted for proof at the Birmingham Proof House in 1889; and 37,000 British pistols were submitted in 1902. For centuries, in Britain, there has been no good reason for citizens to arm themselves in order to overthrow the government, although the current crop of British politicians inspire little trust. The right to bear arms for personal defence was nonetheless jealously preserved, and still exercised into a time almost within living memory. Ninety years ago, it was possible for anyone in Britain, regardless of age or capacity, to walk into a gunsmith’s and buy as many guns and as much ammunition as he could afford.

The Right to Make Money

Paul Jannuzzo, a former chief of American operations for Glock, the Austrian gun company, told Evan Osnos of the New Yorker: “You know that every time a bomb goes off somewhere, every time there’s a shooting somewhere, sales spike like crazy”. Suspicion of impending stricter controls also boosts sales. On January 5th, President Obama announced stricter background checks and the share price of Smith & Wesson, rose to $25.86, its highest level ever. After the attack in Orlando, shares of Smith & Wesson rose 9.8 per cent.

The concept of making money from selling guns to private individuals has an innate flaw: guns last a very long time. Therefore, the industry constantly needs new customers or innovative methods of selling more guns to people who already have some. Americans have accumulated three hundred and ten million firearms. Each American gun owner now has an average of eight guns. Osnos writes: “The right-to-carry movement, by unbridling the presence of firearms in American life and erecting a political blockade against efforts to qualify it, has transformed the culture and business of guns.”

The number of people buying guns for hunting declined rapidly so the industry used fear as a marketing ploy. They managed to make a success of this in spite of the fact that America was becoming much less dangerous because of a sharp decline in violent crime. In defiance of facts, during the mid-two-thousands, almost seventy per cent of Americans were convinced crime had risen in the previous year. In 1997, Massad Ayoob published an article in the magazine Shooting Industry urging dealers to exploit the new concealed-carry laws: “Defensive firearms, sold with knowledgeable advice and the right accessories, offer the best chance of commercial survival for today’s retail firearms dealer.”

How the NRA Changed

Karl Frederick, then president of the National Rifle Association testified to Congress in 1934: “I do not believe in the promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan told reporters that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”

The character of the NRA changed in 1977 when the leadership was wrested from the old guard, who were interested in recreation and rifle-training, by activists who used politics to create a gun rights movement. In 1987, the new-style NRA persuaded the Florida legislature to relax the rules that required concealed-carry applicants to demonstrate “good cause” for a permit.

Guns Don’t Kill People

Prince Philip alienated many when he publicly opposed stricter controls in the UK following the Dunblane massacre, in which 16 five-year-olds were killed by Thomas Hamilton with guns he legally owned. In his inimitable style the prince said that “if a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?” Incidentally, Nigel Farage, one of the architects of the UK’s exit from the EU, recently called for a repeal of the laws passed after Dunblane.

Guns may not kill people, but the gun culture that pervades American society is lethal. Wayne La Pierre, deputy CEO of the NRA, often tries to shift the blame for mass killings onto the media, video games, or Obama’s budget. In doing this, he acknowledges that Americans are influenced by their environment and their environment is dominated by guns. People with guns kill people.

Self Defence

NRA Director Charles L Cotton blamed the Reverend Clementa C Pinckney, the murdered pastor of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, for the deaths of eight of his parishioners because as a South Carolina state legislator Pinckney supported stricter gun control. The NRA’s slogan is: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” There is no evidence for this. There is evidence to the contrary. An FBI study found that in 160 incidents an armed civilian stopped the bad guy on only one occasion. Professor John J Donahue III found that permissive concealed-carry laws led to “substantially higher rates” of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder.

A study published by the American Journal of Public Health concluded that a state’s rate of gun-related homicide consistently went up and down as a function of its levels of gun ownership. The USA, with 88.8 guns per 100 people, had a gun-death rate of 10.2 per 100,000 people. At the other extreme, Japan, with less than one gun for every 100 people, has a gun-death rate of 0.06 per 100,000, and the Netherlands, with 3.9 guns per 100 people, has a gun-death rate of 0.46 per 100,000 people. The link between gun ownership and gun-related homicide was consistent from 1981 to 2010. That relationship held even after the researchers–led by Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel–adjusted for state-to-state variances in factors that influence gun-related homicides, such as urbanization, youth population, crime, alcohol consumption, unemployment and poverty rates, educational attainment, and prevalence of hunting licenses.

One is more likely to be killed by lightning than by a mass shooter. The chance of being shot in one’s own home doubles if there are firearms in the house. Disputes that might have naturally faded away are given a different and more dangerous context if there are lethal weapons close at hand.


One does not expect consistency, “the hobgoblin of petty minds”, from Donald Trump. However, it is still a surprise to find that in 2000 he supported a ban on assault weapons and a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases. He now needs the support of the NRA and its membership and makes gun-ownership another issue on which to hector the “elites”. Hillary Clinton should disarm her security detail if she wishes to restrict the rights of less privileged people to own guns.

Whether he wins or loses in November, Trump’s fostering of paranoia will have made America an even less safe place. He has widened the gap between “them” and “us” in so many areas including those with what Evan Osnos calls a “combat mind-set” and those without. In the USA there are guns enough for nearly every person (though only a little over a third of Americans own guns).  There are angry gun stock-pilers who are convinced that Armageddon is nigh and they are willing to face it armed and ready. Trump’s supporters will be triumphalist if he wins and angry if he does not do what they want. Many of Trump’s supporters will be very disgruntled if he loses. Many of the disgruntled are heavily armed and belong to militias. Many of them talk openly of their duty to overthrow an elected government if it seems to them to be undermining the constitution.

Many Republicans sought to distance themselves from Trump’s campaign after he told a crowd in Wilmington, North Carolina that if Hillary Clinton won the election and “gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although, the Second Amendment people – maybe there is”. This was a step too far for many – a call to nullify election results at gunpoint.

Gun Control Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 28 2016.

Colman's Column3

There has been a great deal of smugness in Europe about the epidemic of mass slaughter in the US. The recent shootings in Munich remind us that such things to do not only happen in the US. Recent horrors in Europe did not depend on assault weapons – the weapon in Nice was a truck, in Munich an axe bought from a hardware store. The Munich shooter, Ali David Sonboly, used a Glock automatic.

However, just because mass slaughter can be achieved by mentally disturbed people without assault weapons, that is no argument for allowing mentally disturbed people to have access to firearms. Mass shootings are not unknown in the UK but they are so rare that they cause shock and outrage and usually lead to a tightening of gun control.


On 19 August 1987, in Hungerford Berkshire, Michael Ryan shot 16 people dead, including his own mother, using a handgun and two semi-automatic rifles, before committing suicide. Shortly after midday on 19 August, Ryan approached Susan Godfrey, who was picnicking in Savernake Forest. He marched her away from her two young children and shot her 13 times in the back. During Ryan’s rampage, a police officer died and many people were injured. 15 other people were also shot but survived.

No firm motive for the killings has ever been established.  Dr John Hamilton of Broadmoor Hospital and Dr Jim Higgins, a consultant forensic psychiatrist for Mersey Regional Health Authority, both thought Ryan was schizophrenic and psychotic. Hamilton stated: “Ryan was most likely to be suffering from acute schizophrenia. He might have had a reason for doing what he did, but it was likely to be bizarre and peculiar to him.”

The police saw no reason to deny Ryan his firearms certificates in spite of the fact that many people described him as odd. Everyone who knew him thought he was a fantasist who told stories about a non-existent military career. Ryan did labouring work dressed in combat fatigues and was obsessed with guns. He carried his guns in his car and took pot shots at road signs. Given a job clearing footpaths in the town, Ryan would turn up carrying his rifle.

After the massacre, there was an immediate demand for a tightening of the law controlling the possession of guns. “The existing legislation is wholly inadequate …” said the General Secretary of the Police Superintendents’ Association. “There are too many guns in circulation and a lot of people who have guns clearly should not be in possession of them.” The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was passed in the wake of the massacre. The Act bans the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricts the use of shotguns with a capacity of more than three cartridges (in magazine plus the breech).

At the time of the massacre, Ryan legally owned a Zabala shotgun, a Browning shotgun, a Beretta 92FS semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, CZ ORSO semi-automatic .32-caliber pistol, Bernardelli .22-caliber pistol, a Type 56 7.62×39mm semi-automatic, aM1 carbine .30 (7.62×33mm) semi-automatic rifle (a rare “Underwood” model).

Why would a school caretaker need such weapons?



On Wednesday 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, drove his van to Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, in Scotland. He cut the telephone cables around the school  and made his way to the gymnasium carrying four legally held handguns — two 9mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers. He was also carrying 743 cartridges of ammunition.

Why would a shopkeeper need such weapons? Why would the authorities grant him a licence to have any weapons at all?

He shot dead sixteen five-year-old children and one teacher before killing himself.

Hamilton seems to have been a paedophile. There had been complaints to police regarding Hamilton’s behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs he ran. Claims had been made of his having taken photographs of semi-naked boys. He claimed in letters that malicious rumours about him led to the failure of his shop business in 1993. In the 1980s, George Robertson, a  Labour MP, (later General Secretary of NATO and Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, of Islay in Argyll and Bute) who lived in Dunblane, had complained to the local Conservative MP Michael Forsyth about Hamilton’s boys’ club, which Robertson’s son had attended. Robertson acted as a spokesman for the victims’ families. He was also a key figure in the campaign that led to the ban on handguns in Great Britain.

The Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane massacre recommended that the government introduce tighter controls on handgun ownership and consider whether an outright ban on private ownership would be in the public interest. There was a great deal of public and media pressure to totally ban private gun ownership. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee agreed with the need for restrictions on gun ownership but ruled that a handgun ban was not appropriate.

In response to this public debate, the Major government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales. Following the 1997 General Election, the Blair government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, banning the remaining .22 cartridge handguns in England, Scotland and Wales.


On 2 June 2010 a lone gunman, taxi driver Derrick Bird, killed 12 people and injured 11 others before killing himself in Cumbria, in north west England. The first killings were of people Bird had a personal grudge against, starting with his twin brother and moving on to the family solicitor and then rival taxi drivers. He then drove through several local towns, firing apparently at random, and calling a majority of the victims over to his taxi before shooting them, many of them in the face. After Bird killed himself, police confirmed that two weapons (a double-barrelled shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle with a scope and silencer) had been used by the suspect in the attacks and that thirty different crime scenes were being investigated.

Bird had held a shotgun certificate since 1974 and had renewed it several times, most recently in 2005, and had held a firearms certificate for a rifle from 2007 onward.

How did the firearms legislation allow a taxi driver to have these licences? Why would he need guns?

Gun Crime in the UK

Less than three per cent of firearms offences in the UK result in a serious or fatal injury. For 2011/12, police in England and Wales recorded 541 offences as homicide, of which 42 (eight per cent) involved the use of firearms — a rate of 0.1 illegal gun deaths per 100,000 of population. The number of homicides per year committed with firearms in England and Wales in the ten years to 2011/12, averaged 56 per year. During the same period, there were three fatal shootings of police officers in England and Wales, and 154 non-fatal shootings, an average of 15.4 per year. Britain has some of the strictest gun regulations in the world. As of the middle of last year, there were 1.8 million licensed guns of all kinds in the country, according a report by the UK government. The UK’s population is just under 65 million.

Britain is proud of its record on gun control but why should there be 1.8 million licensed guns in the country? I can never get my head around why ordinary people should be allowed to have guns at all. The three cases described above show that severely disturbed people were allowed to legally possess firearms when they had no need of them.

A small group, known as the Gun Control Network, was founded after Dunblane. Bereaved families and their friends also initiated a campaign named the Snowdrop Petition to ban private gun ownership. The petition achieved 705,000 signatures and was supported by some newspapers, including the Sunday Mail, whose petition to ban handguns had raised 428,279 signatures within five weeks of the massacre.

The UK legislation that was passed had bipartisan support. Even after the killing of Jo Cox MP, political rivals came together in their grief and shock. One cannot imagine Obama and Trump getting together after a shooting the way Cameron and Corbyn did. This is not because British politicians are necessarily morally superior to their US counterparts. I would argue that British legislation is morally superior on this particular issue.

Next week – the right to bear arms.


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