Sunday, March 20, 2005


The column today – the first story, at any rate – is a labour of love. Having dragged himself from his sickbed to write it, Booker nevertheless enjoyed the opportunity of tacking one of the most odious politicians in Nu Labour's ranks – and that is saying something – the egregious environment minister, Elliot Morley.

Last week, Morley made the mistake of having published in the Sunday Telegraph a letter attacking fly-tipping as an "anti-social and potentially damaging crime". He was not prepared, he said, to tolerate the criminals responsible for it any longer.

What made this outburst "curious", Booker writes, leading the reader gently to gave at the elephant trap about to be constructed for the minister, was that Mr Morley himself recently authorised one of the most glaring examples of fly-tipping in the country. This was the granting of a licence for a further 200,000 tons of rubbish to be dumped this year in one of the most beautiful bays in Cornwall.

The local community along the shores of Whitsand Bay, south-west of Plymouth, is outraged by Mr Morley's agreement that the Ministry of Defence should be allowed to use their bay to dispose of vast quantities of spoil being dredged to clear a channel in the nearby Tamar estuary. Video evidence shows that this includes rubber tyres, metal offcuts and piles of assorted man-made rubbish, which has already turned the clear waters of the bay into a dirty fog, inflicting serious damage on the seabed and marine life.

The protesters, who include local politicians, such as Tory county councillor Sheryll Murray and Lib Dem MP Colin Breed, scientists, GPs and representatives of tourist businesses, are baffled as to how Mr Morley could have agreed to the dumping without a proper environmental impact assessment.

The highly-respected Marine Biological Association nearby has offered to assess the scheme, but – amazingly - Morley preferred to rely on his own officials from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture, whose report is still not available months after the scheme was given the go-ahead.

What makes the Whitsand Bay dumping scandal even odder, adds Booker, is the contrast it provides with the fate of the Cornish Calcified Seaweed Company, forced to close at Christmas when English Nature refused to renew its licence to dredge for the dead remains of calcified seaweed off Falmouth, for use as a valued organic fertiliser.

A scientific report had shown that commercial dredging was doing much less damage to the seaweed deposits than natural wave action. But English Nature - which has not objected to the Whitsand Bay dumping - ended the licence to meet its targets under EC legislation.

Now work to clear a channel to Falmouth harbour will require the dredging of 174,000 tons of calcified seaweed. But when the company asked whether it could buy this for use as fertiliser, English Nature ruled that the seaweed remains - worth millions of pounds - must be dumped at sea.

Morley's letter last week was, of course, a reply to Booker’s item reporting that the cause of the current epidemic of fly-tipping is the deluge of EC environmental directives which have recently made it much harder to dispose of waste legally.

Since Mr Morley – like the BBC - astonishingly, denied that there is any connection, Booker suggests he sends for last year's special issues of Your Environment, published by the Environment Agency, which focussed on how "waste experts fear new waste rules could see illegal dumping soar this summer".

Here he would see his own officials predicting that new EC rules greatly extending the categories of waste classified as "hazardous", combined with their massive reduction in the number of sites licensed to take such waste, were about to create a waste "nightmare", with "criminals dumping it illegally" in an epidemic of fly-tipping.

Morley's officials have proved to be spot on. Yet his only response is to write petulant letters to the press, making claims he surely must know are not true. To compound this strange behaviour, he himself authorises perhaps the most reckless example of fly-tipping anywhere in Britain.

Why minister like Morley are so keen to parade their environmental credentials, and support the EU’s dire laws, defeats me.

Anyhow, for Booker's second story, he recounts how a year ago today he was talking to Hans-Martin Tillack, a German journalist. At six the previous morning he had been woken by six Belgian policemen, who came into his flat, held him prisoner for 10 hours, then confiscated his computers and all his papers.

This was done at the behest of the EU's anti-fraud unit, the "Office européen de lutte anti-fraude" or "Olaf", following what turned out to be a wholly fabricated charge that Tillack had paid for evidence to be used in articles exposing EU corruption in Stern magazine.

When Mr Tillack went to the European Court of Justice to prevent his papers being handed over to Olaf, the ECJ last Christmas found in the EU officials' favour, even though it was shown that the evidence on which they had ordered his arrest was concocted, and that the judgment was in clear breach of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that a journalist has the right to protect his sources.

Mr Tillack's ordeal fitted in only too neatly with what has now become a classic pattern. Anyone in Brussels who gets too close to the corruption rife in the Commission will face ruthless attempts to bully and intimidate them into silence. The list of whistleblowers subjected to this treatment grows ever longer, from Bernard Connolly and Paul van Buitinen, the auditor whose revelations forced the resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999, to Marta Andreasen, the Commission's former chief accountant.

Miss Andreasen, who was appointed to clear up the irregularities in the EU's accounts, was sacked last October for doing precisely what she had been hired for. All her efforts to improve the system had been rebuffed, not least by Commissioner Neil Kinnock, supposedly responsible for making the Commission more honest.

Booker then picks up the story we ran on this Blog, commenting on the Muis story broken by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Daily Telegraph.

He draws the same conclusion as us, pointing out what a far cry the commission’s behaviour is from the other face of the commission presented by Margot Wallstrom, its vice-president charged with selling the EU to the peoples of Europe.

Last week, Booker reminds us, she regaled readers of her weekly internet "blog" with a toe-curling account of a recent visit to Ireland, where she described looking in on "a training centre for people with mental disorders", meeting representatives of organisations ranging "from churches to aid workers, to anti-poverty, to environment", and being moved by the sight of a young girl to think sadly that she is too old to have any more children.

Quite what this touchy-feely stuff has to do with the arguments for the European Constitution, Booker writes, is not very clear. But then the two contrasted faces of such omnipotent institutions - the one bullying and the other soppily sentimental - are far from unfamiliar.

For his final story, Booker is definitely “off topic” when it comes to the EU. He describes how he read with particular sympathy how Michael Howard's wife Sandra found her beloved old banger so comprehensively trashed in a station car park that it was a write-off.

Four days earlier, he had had the same experience, finding my 16-year old Fiesta XR2 in a "Euro Car Park" near Bath station smashed in such an identical manner that today's vandals seem to be working to a manual.

Mrs Howard had to deny reports that the police had arranged for her car to be taken to a breaker's yard. Like her, Booker obtained the statutory crime number from the police (before the RAC with their usual efficiency took my own wreck away).

The only consequence was a letter from Avon and Somerset's finest three days later offering Booker their counselling service, joined in the same post by a council tax demand showing that charges for our "police service" had again risen at twice the rate of inflation.

The thought occurred, writes Booker, that we might be better off handing over chasing criminals to the RAC, while renaming the police the Crime Number Issuing Agency. At least, if they are writing crime numbers, they are not locking people up for not paying their council tax, I suppose.

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