Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Questions asked over Towner Art Gallery Trust proposals

Eastbourne's Lib-Dem run Council have been quizzed over plans to transfer the New Towner Art Gallery into a trust. At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, Chairman of Scrutiny, Cllr Patrick Warner questioned Cllr Carolyn Heaps the Cabinet Portfolio holder for Tourism about the plans.

Cllr Warner said "given this Council's poor record at managing it's property portfolio along with concerns over the original build of the new Towner Gallery and the deteriorated state of the adjacent Congress Theatre which remains covered in expensive scaffolding, can Cllr Heaps advise us what steps have been taken to ensure that the building will continue to be maintained properly and regular inspections carried out once the transfer to trust takes place". Cllr Warner also added "given the exciting plans to redevelop the Devonshire Complex and restore the Winter Gardens, can Cllr Heaps assure us that rushing ahead with moving the Towner to trust early will not make the wider complex less attractive given that it was first muted that the entire site could be managed by one trust?".

A red faced Cllr Heaps seemed unusually lost for words as first the Leader of the Council sprang to her defence, followed by the Senior Officer responsible for Tourism who admitted that further work needed to be done in this area but that it was possible the Council would retain responsibility for the buildings and that the Towner trust might be able to be rolled into a larger trust or operated as a separate entity within a larger organisation at some stage. 

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Warner said "I was not convinced that the Cabinet Member had strong grasp of her brief in this area and whilst I accept that trust status could open up opportunities for the flagship art gallery, I will be maintaining a close interest in developments both as Chairman of Scrutiny and in my role on the cross party Strategic Property Board which was tasked with restoring confidence in the management of the property portfolio following the Asset Management Fiasco that surfaced shortly after the 2011 local elections".

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Britain finally deports Abu Qatada to Jordan after decade long saga

Britain deported radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan on Sunday to face terror charges, ending a nearly decade-long legal battle to expel the man once dubbed Osama bin Laden's deputy in Europe.

The Palestinian-born preacher, 53, was taken from prison in an armoured police van to a military airfield on the outskirts of London, where he boarded a privately chartered jet that lifted off into the night sky.

Britain was finally able to expel the father-of-five after the two governments last month formally approved a treaty guaranteeing that evidence obtained by torture would not be used against him in any retrial.

Home Secretary Theresa May said his departure proved that the government's efforts to deport him had been worth the £1.7 million ($2.7 million, two million euros) legal bill and would be "welcomed by the British public."

"This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country," she said in a statement released seconds after Abu Qatada's plane took off.

Handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of Abu Qatada (left) at RAF Northolt  in West London boarding a private flight bound for Jordan.
Handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of Abu Qatada (left) at RAF Northolt. Photo: PA

Jordanian officials said they expected him to arrive in Amman later Sunday morning, with the flight taking around five hours, although they have not said what they will do with him when he does arrive.

British newspapers said he would be taken straight to jail near Amman.

Television pictures showed Abu Qatada dressed in a white robe as he boarded the aircraft at the RAF Northolt base in west London. He had earlier left high security Belmarsh jail in southeast London in a blue armoured police van flanked by three police cars.

Abu Qatada was condemned to death in 1999 for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks including on the American school in Amman but the sentence was immediately reduced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

In 2000, he was sentenced to 15 years for plotting to carry out terror attacks on tourists during the millennium celebrations in Jordan.

Under Jordanian law, Abu Qatada faces retrial for the offences on his return, because the original convictions were made in absentia.

The radical cleric has been in and out of British prisons since 2002, although he has never been convicted of any crime, and London has been trying to deport him since 2005.

British and European courts blocked his expulsion on the grounds that evidence might be used against him that had been obtained by torture.

But after years of legal battles his lawyers unexpectedly said in May that he would return there once the fair trial treaty was ratified by the Jordanian parliament.

"I am glad that this government's determination to see him on a plane has been vindicated and that we have at last achieved what previous governments, parliament and the British public have long called for," May said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had previously said he would be "one of the happiest people in Britain" when Abu Qatada was finally deported.

Abu Qatada's wife and five children are expected to remain in Britain, where he first came in 1993 seeking asylum.

Born Omar Mahmud Mohammed Otman in Bethlehem in the now Israeli-occupied West Bank, Abu Qatada is a Jordanian national because the town was part of Jordan when he was born.

Videotapes of his sermons were allegedly found in the Hamburg flat of 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta while top Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon once branded Abu Qatada Osama bin Laden's deputy in Europe, although Abu Qatada denies ever having met the slain al-Qaeda leader.

Jordanian Salafist leader Mohammad Shalabi, who is better known as Abu Sayyaf, told AFP this week that his followers were hopeful Abu Qatada would be allowed to go home instead of returning to jail.

"God willing, he will be declared innocent after a fair and quick trial," Shalabi said.

Theresa May, the fifth successive home secretary to try to expel Abu Qatada, announced the so-called "Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters" with Jordan in April after months of negotiations.

The treaty was then ratified by the British and Jordanian parliaments. It does not specifically mention Abu Qatada, but gives guarantees for cases like his.

Edited by Steve Wilson for

Ministers to seize back 100 powers from Brussels

Around 100 powers are to be permanently seized from Europe in a dramatic move this week.

In the first part of efforts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union, ministers will announce plans to claw back the powers.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will give MPs details of proposals to opt out of 133 EU measures covering justice, home affairs and the police — including the controversial European Arrest Warrant — by next spring.

Some of the measures that are seen to be in the national interest will then be opted back into, in a complex process, but “more than two thirds” will disappear permanently from British law, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

The move follows last week’s unanimous Commons vote in favour of moves to hold an “in-out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017.

David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum after a major diplomatic drive to redefine the terms of Britain’s relationship with the 27 other countries in the union.

Senior government sources said the announcement on the mass justice and home affairs opt-out, which is expected on Tuesday, should be seen in this context, while Tory Eurosceptics, who originally wanted all 133 measures to be dumped permanently, said that the move was an “acid test” of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation strategy.

It could also open up a new rift with the Liberal Democrats, who oppose Mr Cameron’s referendum plan.

Tuesday’s announcement will be made after months of intense internal wrangling between Tories and Lib Dems over which justice and home affairs powers should be kept and which should be permanently dropped.

Conservative ministers want to exploit Labour’s confusion over whether it will make its own referendum pledge, as well as the party’s wider difficulties surrounding the row over attempts by the Unite union, its biggest paymaster, to influence the selection of parliamentary candidates.

Other flagship coalition measures likely to appeal to Conservative supporters will be spelt out in detail this week — including the new curriculum for five- to 14-year-olds that will see Winston Churchill restored to history lessons and plans for the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Mrs May is expected to tell MPs that the process of opting out of the EU’s justice and home affairs measures by the end of May 2014 — as Britain is entitled to do under the terms of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty — will be followed by a process of opting back into some laws that it is in the national interest to retain.

The most controversial is the European Arrest Warrant, which senior Conservative sources say gives rise to “concerns” — including the fact that Britain currently hands over many more suspects to other countries than it receives to face justice here.

Other concerns include the length of time suspects can be held without trial in some other EU countries and the apparently trivial offences for which British police are asked to arrest people so that they can be sent abroad.

Ministers have been pressing for the warrant to be “reformed”, amid signs that it could be one of the measures that is eventually retained. The Lib Dems are key supporters of the warrant.

Other measures among the scores from which Britain is expected to opt out include DNA profiling and fingerprint checking, some co-operation on cross-border crimes and plans for an EU-wide driving ban.

One plan Britain is particularly keen not to be part of is that of a European-wide public prosecutor with sweeping powers of investigation and arrest across member states.

Although some laws will remain after the “opt back in” process, Conservative sources welcomed the symbolism of the announcement of a major opt-out of EU powers just days after plans for an in/out referendum got a 304-vote unanimous backing in the Commons.

Dominic Raab, a Conservative MP, said: “This is a crucial opportunity to put British law enforcement ahead of Brussels’ thirst for political control and an acid test for the wider Conservative strategy of renegotiating terms with the EU.”


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Grant Shapps MP makes joint appearance with Caroline Ansell inEastbourne Town Centre

Grant Shapps MP makes joint appearance with Caroline Ansell in Eastbourne Town Centre

The Right Honourable Grant Shapps MP,Conservative Party Chairman, today joined Caroline Ansell,  Prospective MP for Eastbourne & Willingdon at Bankers Corner in Terminus Road where they conducted a canvass of public opinion ahead of the vote on James Wharton's Private Members Bill, committing an EU Referendum to law. Voting takes place in Parliament on 5th July.
Caroline said:
“The referendum could be one step closer. The sitting MP has the opportunity on Friday in Westminster to play his part in securing a vote for the 70,000 voters in Eastbourne and Willingdon. If he were to vote in favour that would seem like a good day’s work to me. Our membership of The EU is arguably the biggest political question of our time and we really need to have a national conversation, in a responsible and balanced manner, that for once people can have a direct say in …why deny us that chance?”
Later in the afternoon Caroline Ansell presented the result of at the canvass to the office of sitting MP Stephen Lloyd, urging him to vote in favour of an EU referendum when the bill comes before  parliament tomorrow.
 ‘Independent’s Day’ for Traders
Following the street canvas, Caroline and Grant visited the Enterprise Shopping Centre to tour this example of success story of independent traders in the converted railway building.
“What a pleasure to show Grant around The Enterprise Centre on what is now known Independent’s Day’. The great character and nature of the place was so evident and everywhere we stopped there was a hugely warm welcome. Shopping here is so much more than a transaction, it's an experience”
They then visited The Old Print Works, Wharf Road nearing the completion of its renovation to see a ‘Back to Work’ Seminar in progress and to see how this new premises is providing an opportunity for business start-ups and a new home to Cohub.
After the visit Caroline said: “I was so impressed with the transformation going on at The Old Printworks where they are creating a really exciting workspace and great opportunities for local entrepreneurs”