September 22, 2008

Between the lines: fisking the IPCA report

There was, in the nineties, a very good Brit drama called Between the Lines. A cynical look at official corruption.

It's probably apt to apply a bit of that to the IPCA report on Dunedin Police. A group of senior Dunedin coppers were overheard several weeks ago bemoaning the report as "damning", and the SST repeated the epithet this morning.

TV One and TV3 news were less impressed, but that's the problem with daily journos – they don't read between the lines and they often don't understand what they're reading.

Investigate this morning claimed vindication based on this report, and that's because our allegations about ACC private investigator Peter Gibbons were proven with bells on. Of course, Investigate didn't need the IPCA report for that because we knew it when we published it back in mid-June last year – we had the documents and affidavits. The IPCA had no option but to find that Gibbons had used his son in law police officer to obtain search warrants and the conflict of interest had been appallingly managed by Dunedin Police.

But here's where Investigate and the IPCA differ.

The IPCA says this:

The Authority stresses that, in making this finding, it has found no evidence of actual bias on the part of Constable Henderson, whether in the form of corruption or attempting to pervert the course of justice. Nor is there any evidence of misconduct or neglect of duty by Constable Henderson. It is notable that Constable Henderson himself raised with his superiors the fact that his appointment to the 'ACC desk' would involve direct dealings with his father-in-law. He received assurances that the relationship did not prevent him fulfilling that role.

I'll accept that Henderson was possibly a reluctant participant in the corruption, but let's look at the big picture for a moment.

He is the son-in-law of a corrupt former cop turned private investigator, Peter Gibbons. Gibbons is a bit of a local Dunedin identity, prominent in the local surf club and pub gaming machines in the past. However, as Investigate reported in June 07, he also perverted the course of justice by lying on oath in court – pinged incidentally by court transcripts obtained by Investigate.

The magazine also has affidavits from eyewitnesses to Gibbons – whilst a senior cop – ringing up drug dealers to tip them off about a pending police raid so they could get rid of the evidence before squad cars arrived.

So you are married to the daughter of a criminal like Peter Gibbons. You then find yourself mysteriously assigned, by your superiors, to work on ACC files for, lo and behold, your father in law.

You know three things. Firstly, you didn't ask for the role. Secondly, your bosses put you in the position, KNOWING of the conflict of interest. Thirdly, your bosses used to work for Peter Gibbons when he was in the police.

You raise an issue of potential conflict of interest but are told, don't worry about it, we'll take care of it.

What message do you take from that? As a junior cop, you do what you are told.

Henderson was nothing more than Gibbons' rent boy. The corrupt Dunedin Police old boys network put him there deliberately, as part of their ongoing service to Gibbons, knowing that Henderson was unlikely to squeal.

Gibbons was hiring Dunedin police to work for his investigation firm too, so there was an unspoken advantage for police looking for future career prospects to stay on the right side of the former CIB head.

Now let's look at some of the specifics.

107. Constable Henderson himself raised with his superiors the fact that his appointment to the 'ACC desk' would most likely involve direct dealings with his father-in-law, Mr Gibbons. He told the Authority's investigators he was concerned about the perception of a conflict of interest.

"When I was given the portfolio I was uncomfortable with it at the time purely because people can perceive that he is doing dodgy warrants for his father-in-law."

108. On raising these concerns with Detective Senior Sergeant Croudis, Constable Henderson received assurances that the relationship was noted and did not prevent him fulfilling the 'ACC desk' role.

Now Kallum Croudis is one of those who formerly worked under Gibbons, and Croudis popped up again in the IPCA report as what police internally refer to as "the fireman" – the guy who dampens down potential controversies.

In Croudis' case, having assigned Henderson to work on cases benefiting his father in law, Croudis magically turns up at the beginning, the middle and the end.

10. In August 2006, Mr Gibbons prepared a draft affidavit, in consultation with ACC, to support applications for warrants to search Mr Van Essen's home and two other premises he was connected with. The ACC examining officer then discussed the affidavit with Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis of the Dunedin CIB. Detective Senior Sergeant Croudis noted that no offences were listed in the draft, and that offences would need to be specified.

11. The ACC examining officer then instructed Mr Gibbons to work with police on applications for the warrants.

12. The officer assigned to work with Mr Gibbons and arrange the search warrant applications was Constable Andrew Henderson, who at that time worked in the enquiry section and had responsibility for liaising on ACC matters. He is Mr Gibbons' son-in-law. Constable Henderson's supervisors were aware of this relationship and had sanctioned his involvement with the ACC 'portfolio'.

13. Mr Gibbons showed Constable Henderson the ACC investigation file including the draft affidavit he had prepared, and Constable Henderson prepared an affidavit to support the search warrant applications. The affidavit contained information from Mr Gibbons' ACC investigation file and stated the nature and focus of the proposed search.

14. It stated that, according to an ACC investigation, Mr Van Essen had "been suspected of fraudulent activity for many years" and that the ACC investigation had confirmed business activities through which Mr Van Essen was alleged to be generating income.

15. In relation to offences, Constable Henderson's affidavit stated:

"VAN ESSEN has committed criminal offences punishable by imprisonment. These include making a false statutory declaration, using a document for pecuniary gain."

16. The affidavit further stated: "Making a false statutory declaration using a document for pecuniary gain is an offence punishable by imprisonment under the Crimes Act 1961."

17. Under the Crimes Act 1961, 'making a false statutory declaration' and 'using a document for pecuniary gain' are separate offences. It is not clear from the affidavit whether Constable Henderson regarded the two as separate offences or as elements of the same offence.

18. The search warrants, which were granted on 31 August 2006, similarly stated that evidence was being sought in relation to "an offence of Making a false statutory declaration using a document for pecuniary gain".

19. The affidavit contained no description of any statutory declaration, nor any document allegedly used for pecuniary gain. Nor were any such documents attached to the affidavit as exhibits.

20. No supervising officer appears to have been shown the completed affidavit in draft form.

21. The affidavit was submitted to the Dunedin District Court, and a Deputy Registrar issued three search warrants on 31 August 2006.

So Gibbons, an experienced senior cop, doesn't identify any alleged offences at all in his early draft? Croudis and Gibbons hand file to junior. Junior fails to correctly define offence or even prove there was one, and Croudis pays no attention anyway.

The IPCA is too gentle on these guys. It appears Henderson, after saying something to the IPCA and apparently dropping father in law and his bosses in it, recants in a second interview and becomes the fallguy:

87. Mr Van Essen complained that the affidavit was based on false information.

88. The affidavit does not contain a detailed description of any statutory declaration made by Mr Van Essen, nor of any document Mr Van Essen could have used for pecuniary gain. Nor is any such document attached to the affidavit as an exhibit, and neither of the alleged documents exist in the police file.

89. Constable Henderson initially told the Authority's investigators that he saw a statutory declaration in the documentation Mr Gibbons showed him. Mr Gibbons denied this. He told the Authority's investigators that he had "no knowledge of Mr Van Essen supplying a false statutory declaration", and Mr Van Essen's ACC file contains no such declaration.

90. Constable Henderson later told the Authority's investigators that the reference in the affidavit to a false statutory declaration may have been a "cut and paste error". He made a similar statement to Inspector Lane Todd, who reinvestigated Mr Van Essen's complaint for police.18 That 'error' was crucial to the allegation that Mr Van Essen made a false statutory declaration.

Yeah, right.

The IPCA found that Henderson did not appear to have independently verified the information his father in law – who sat on Henderson's family trust – had given him.

103. Whilst Constable Henderson might well have scrutinised the evidence presented to him, it is not known how much weight he afforded Mr Gibbons' belief that a search warrant was justified, nor the extent to which he applied independent scrutiny to the evidence.

104. Furthermore, there was insufficient independent supervision of Constable Henderson's decision-making.

Why is it still not known how much weight Henderson gave Gibbons' claims? And as for why there was insufficient independent supervision, that one's easy – the bosses were in it donkey deep and were not, themselves, "independent". They paid lip service to managing conflicts of interest:

109. Police did take some steps to manage apparent conflicts of interest in Mr Van Essen's case. These included:

• Detective Inspector Pinkham deciding that Constable Henderson should take no further part in the Van Essen case; and

• Detective Sergeant Inglis declining to undertake the internal police investigation into Mr Van Essen's complaint.

110. However, in other respects, police did not prudently manage apparent conflicts of interest. These included:

• assigning Constable Henderson to the 'ACC desk', and failing to put in place additional oversight or reporting requirements to ensure that any conflict or apparent conflict was mitigated;

• assigning Constable Henderson to take part in the search of Mr Van Essen's home, when Mr Gibbons was also taking part in that search;

• assigning Constable Henderson to handle Mr Van Essen's Official Information Act request (see paragraphs 147 and 148 below); and

• assigning Detective Sergeant Inglis to investigate the theft complaint.

When Bruce van Essen complained to police about the actions of Gibbons, his complaints were basically sidelined by Kallum Croudis and Brett Roberts. Van Essen paints a little word picture

"After I lodged complaints, the Police went through the motions. They found that the Police had done nothing wrong; I believe that they covered up my complaints."

"Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis appointed Detective Sergeant Roberts to investigate the Complaints. This investigation was signed off by Dave Campbell and another Inspector."

"Everyone in Dunedin knows that these people worked under Peter Gibbons in the Dunedin Police in the 1980's and1990's. The report confirms the further potential conflict of interest "when former Police Officers - such as Mr Gibbons – deal on a professional basis with former close colleagues who still work for the Police. In simple terms the risk is that members of the public might perceive that the former officers are being 'looked after by their mates'." (para 113)."

"Mr Gibbons said in an email to the ACC that the Complaints to the Police had been 'disposed of'. Of course he knew this because his mates had looked after him."

Are you starting to join the dots?

The IPCA reported the dots, but didn't have the guts to link them.

111. Because of the personal relationship between Constable Henderson and Mr Gibbons, a fair-minded observer might reasonably question whether Constable Henderson would bring an impartial mind to the applications for the search warrants,21 given his relationship with his father-in-law. 22

112. It is important to emphasise that there is no evidence of an actual conflict of interest or that Constable Henderson had any financial interest in the outcome of the search warrant applications. Nor is there any evidence of impropriety.

Let's take a look at that point for a second. Henderson did have a financial interest in the outcome of the search warrants: Gibbons was the independent trustee on his family trust. Acting adversely to the interests of Gibbons could have had a negative financial and personal impact for son-in-law. Gibbons, of course, had a huge financial interest riding on the outcome of his warrant applications, and Henderson knew it. The IPCA got timid, it appears. It does not appear to have explored the potential financial pressures on Henderson at all.

113. Perceived conflict of interest questions may also arise when former police officers – such as Mr Gibbons – deal on a professional basis with former close colleagues who still work for police. In simple terms, the risk is that members of the public might perceive that the former officers are being 'looked after by their mates'.

127. Either Constable Henderson should have been assigned to duties that would not involve professional dealings with Mr Gibbons, or any professional dealings he had with Mr Gibbons should have attracted additional oversight and reporting requirements. This did not happen.

No, and again the dots are screaming from the page for attention. Henderson was put on the ACC cases by his father-in-law's good mates – his own bosses – who told him not to worry about any conflict of interest issues. Of course not, the old boys network was taking care of it.

It may well have remained undiscovered and undisclosed had Investigate magazine not stumbled on official records disclosing the linkage between Gibbons and Henderson.

Interestingly, the IPCA admits even it had not been told of the conflict.

Issue 8: Why did Detective Sergeant Roberts' report not mention the relationship between Constable Henderson and Mr Gibbons?

131. In interviews with the Authority's investigators, Detective Sergeant Roberts said he did not mention the relationship between Constable Henderson and Mr Gibbons in his report because he did not see it as an issue. He also said Constable Henderson's involvement in the ACC portfolio had been sanctioned by his superiors, and indicated that he did not see it as his role to second-guess their decision.

132. Detective Sergeant Roberts should have reported the close family relationship between the two men. Although the Authority has found no evidence of actual bias, misconduct or neglect of duty on the part of Constable Henderson, his relationship with Mr Gibbons did involve an apparent conflict of interest and was relevant to the investigation. It should have been noted in Detective Sergeant Roberts' report.

And everyone is let off…the IPCA shrinking back from attacking the old boys network in any detail.

On the mysterious theft of a third memory stick, the IPCA again fails to go for the jugular. A police job sheet clearly recorded three memory sticks were seized from van Essen, and only two were returned. Because van Essen couldn't prove which officer or person had subsequently nicked it, the IPCA says the police decision not to take the theft issue further was justified. Even so, there were negative findings:

141. In most respects the theft complaint was properly investigated. The Authority accepts that there is no evidence of theft in respect of any individual, and therefore Detective Sergeant Inglis' decision to take no further action on the theft complaint was appropriate.

142. However, the investigation should have frankly addressed the discrepancy between the record of items seized and the job sheet.

143. This discrepancy also highlights the care that must be taken in recording exhibits.26

144. Finally, whilst it is surprising that Detective Sergeant Inglis undertook the theft investigation having declined to investigate the original complaint on the grounds of a conflict of interest, there is no evidence of misconduct on his part.

Odd, though, that you would feel conflicted handling a complaint, but not conflicted rejecting the complaint. Even odder that your 'investigation' failed to cover the most blindingly obvious piece of evidence at all – the police job sheet confirming three memory sticks were seized.

Detective Sergeant Inglis must be incompetent.

Interesting, too, that police failed to tell the IPCA about the theft complaint:

145. Under section 15 of the Police Complaints Authority Act, police were required to notify the Authority of all complaints as soon as practicable after the complaint was received.27 In this case, the Authority was not notified of the theft allegation when police received it, and only became aware of it upon receipt of Detective Sergeant Roberts' report, which was completed in November 2006.

How many 'mistakes' can happen in the one case before the IPCA calls this waddling, quacking, feathered farce out for what it really is – a duck.

The picture looks even dirtier when you see Detective Inspector Ross Pinkham giving assurances to ACClaim members that info they provided would NOT be disclosed to ACC or its staff, and then the moment the info was provided Pinkham invited Gibbons in:

149. Detective Inspector Pinkham assured members of ACClaim that, aside from information relating to the two offences alleged against Mr Van Essen, no personal information from the computers seized during the search would be made available to ACC or its private investigators. Detective Inspector Pinkham's assurance was consistent with the Privacy Act 1993.28

150. Detective Inspector Pinkham discussed ACClaim's concerns during a meeting with Sergeant Kindley, Constable Henderson and Detective Senior Sergeant Croudis.

151. Mr Gibbons and an associate subsequently spent a day working with an e-crime specialist at Dunedin, viewing and copying material from the computers. The cloned hard drives stayed in police possession. However, no record was made of what Mr Gibbons and his associate viewed or copied. Therefore, it cannot be said with certainty whether information unrelated to the investigation was accessed.

No record was made, it cannot be said with certainty…blah blah. It was just another unfortunate bureaucratic error, in a long list.

Yeah, right.

So to conclude…the factual matrix uncovered by the IPCA is indeed damning. The bureaucratic whitewash tone of its report lessened the impact, but not for those capable of reading Between the Lines.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:03 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2008

The Man Who Sold The World

The Man Who Sold The World

December 2007 issue

In this world exclusive, IAN WISHART has the inside story on the alleged $75 billion plot to bring down the Bank of England, after locating and interviewing the New Zealand 'mastermind' behind it – a man being hunted by Scotland Yard

 

It is a plot that could have been lifted directly from a Robert Ludlum thriller: deep in the throes of World War II, a British government desperate for bullion to pay for its war effort seeks to buy gold from wealthy Chinese families, offering as payment a series of bearer bonds, or promissory notes, worth billions of pounds in today's money. Throw in deep underground vaults in the Philippines full of gold bars, rumours of the lost treasure of the Japanese warlords, and a mighty typhoon that sucked four CIA aircraft – carrying billions of dollars in US bonds – out of the sky and into a Filipino jungle where locals ransacked the loot. If that's not enough intrigue, factor in six anonymous figures known collectively as "The Family", and dwell on the peculiarity that the members of "The Family" are aged between 100 and 116 and claim to be the direct witnesses to a historic event so secret it could shake the foundations of the modern world financial system. Then add in a British Police sting, the arrest of several people bearing £500,000 notes, and a New Zealand fugitive allegedly at the centre of a worldwide manhunt in a $75 billion plot to bring down the Bank of England.

 

Have I got your attention yet?

 

In late October, newspapers around the world carried the story of the Southwark Six, five Asians and an Australian, going on trial on a charge of conspiring to defraud the Bank of England between 1 Dec last year and March 27 this year.

"A New Zealander remains on the run after British police allegations that he is part of a counterfeiting gang that tried to con the Bank of England out of NZ$75 billion," noted the Dominion Post on 29 October. "Six people have been arrested. Their alleged Kiwi co-conspirator is believed to be in New Zealand…identified as Brian [sic] Archer."

Investigate knew where to find him, however, because the "fugitive", Bryan Archer, had been in touch with the magazine since September, offering to tell his side of the story. What follows, then, is a world exclusive, never-before-told. Make your own mind up as to the guilt or innocence of those involved:


IN THE BEGINNING:


With its rogue Buddhist monks, international intrigue and bizarre plot twists, this story could yet be a movie. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Dumb springs to mind, although it might be a trifle unkind and a touch premature. You see, whilst prosecutors in a London courtroom have been keen to portray what follows as "quackery", nagging doubts remain.

It is an investigation that strikes deep into the heart of decades-old conspiracy theories about hordes of lost Nazi, Japanese and Chinese gold, missing US and British bank documents and a worldwide official "cover-up" of the evidence – or so some are claiming. Picture this: it is mid 1941, and your country, Britain, is at war. Locked in a death-struggle with Nazi Germany, which already has caused you heavy naval losses, and in the skies your airforce is so close to spent that if Hitler's Luftwaffe keep up their relentless bombardment for just a few weeks more, Britain will fall to the Third Reich. As the Governor of the Bank of England, you have the unenviable task of finding money to keep the war machine going. The gold bullion reserves you amassed before the war have plummeted from US$2.5 billion worth just two years earlier, to a piddling $115 million today. In short, not only are you running out of planes and warships, you are rapidly running out of gold to keep the "bang" in the whole shebang.

So you do what every desperate treasurer of a major power has done throughout history. You beg, borrow and steal money. Who do you turn to? Someone who already trusts you, like China.

In the mid 1930s, China was invaded by Japan. The Chinese government of Chiang Kai Shek fled inland, and the country's military and economy were propped up by the US, Britain and France – countries with substantial investments in China that they wanted to protect.

A lot of Chinese gold was sent to the US for safekeeping, but much remained in private hands. The currency problem suddenly turned into a Godsend for Britain at the end of 1935 however, when an assassination plus US manipulation of the silver market forced China to introduce its own paper currency, as Time magazine reported in November that year:

"Two days after three bullets put the Premier of China to bed, Acting Premier & Finance Minister Dr. H. H. Kung abruptly "Nationalized" the age-old basis of Chinese money, silver. Chinese could still hoard all the gold they pleased, but Dr. Kung made it treason for Chinese to hold silver which he ordered into the Government's banks. To a nation that has never had any great confidence in paper, the Chinese Government decreed that its paper is legal tender and not redeemable in either silver or gold.

"Significance: As Dr. Kung warned Washington last spring, President Roosevelt's jacking up of the world price of silver (TIME, April 22) could only disorganize the price structure of China and drive her off the silver standard. The question was last week whether Mr. Roosevelt had driven China into the fiscal arms of Britain."

This is a key point – an opportunity for Britain.

"Sir Frederick Leith-Ross of the British Exchequer has been in China for some weeks. He is rumored to have made available £10,000,000 as a "monetary re-organization loan" to Nanking, with Chinese currency to be linked with the pound sterling. This last week could not be confirmed, but British support was immediately obvious in an Order in Council legalizing Chinese paper notes in all transactions with British subjects."

This, then, set the scene for the events now spilling out in a London courtroom. But there's a little more you still need to know. In May, 1939, Time magazine reported that most Chinese investors had managed to move their gold out of harm's way prior to the Japanese invasion of mainland China:

"Wealthy Chinese as well as foreign traders in China have long realized that the safest haven for their transferable riches – jewels, antiques, gold and silver objects, foreign bonds, foreign money – was in the foreign-held concessions and International Settlements, where neither Chinese bandit nor Japanese invader could get at them. In their invasion of China the Japanese have found precious little loot with which to finance their war. Before they retreated the Chinese were careful to strip their cities of wealth, and what they could not take westward with them they hastily deposited in the foreign-controlled zones."

This aspect is important to the story that follows, because it shows the Chinese had clear motive to swap their bullion for Bank of England paper money, not just warm fuzzies.

"The fullest deposit vaults are in the big International Settlement and the French Concession at Shanghai. There are only guesses as to how much wealth (foreign and Chinese) is on deposit there, but if Japan, already forced to tighten her belt to carry on the Chinese "incident," could get her hands on these riches, they would help her in financing the rest of the war," reported Time.

Which brings us back to the early 1940s.

In his voluminous history of the second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a message to his Chancellor of the Exchequer:

"How much gold have we actually got left in this island?"

To give you an idea of how much gold was actually floating around in the world at the time, Time magazine recorded in 1935 the total monetary supply of gold was worth US$22 billion at the time (or nearly US$1 trillion at today's inflation-adjusted prices), of which one-third was stored in America. How much space would $22 billion worth of bullion take up?

"All the world's monetary gold could be stored in a room 15m long, 7.5m wide, 6m high," reported Time.


THE YEAR OF THE 'SKY DRAGON'


There is one man who has seen some of that gold, and photographed it. Enter Bryan Archer, the New Zealander allegedly on the run from Scotland Yard for masterminding what the media have called one of the world's biggest fraud attempts. Fifty-nine years old, silver-haired with calloused hands, Archer doesn't come across as your traditional fraudster. Nor do his actions. Far from fleeing into the mist when his colleagues were arrested en masse in London on March 27 this year, Archer instead went into bat for them, making approaches to Scotland Yard directly through his lawyer, and even writing to British Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

"I'm not hiding out," he scoffs when challenged. "I don't quite know what the police are playing at, it's not as if they don't know where I live. I was just with the police two weeks ago giving them information about what I knew about the Tuhoe camps up there – I took photos of what was up there 20 years ago and gave them to the police in Rotorua, but they didn't want to know about it back then."

Archer is referring to those terror raids in mid October, and says what he saw were "French, Belgian and US weaponry", including automatic weapons and grenade launchers.

In fact, so high-profile is he that on October 15 TV3 News interviewed Bryan Archer on camera about the training camps – although the network has apparently failed to subsequently make the link to the British fraud investigation.

So what is his link to the British case?

"Since 1983 I've been involved in charitable relief aid work, Operation Good Samaritan. I gathered up building materials and we built schools and hospitals in the Pacific Islands after natural disasters, and I've sought funding for that in different places."

That funding has included "some substantial wealthy families in the US" as well as the US Government. "It was through those that I met 'banking people'. One of them called me and said, 'there's this Chinese family that loaned gold to the British, when it was badly in need of gold to finance the war, and they were given notes as receipts which were redeemable'.

"So I started to help them and introduce them to my contacts."


It was in China's remote, northwestern frontier, beneath mist-covered mountains in July 2005, that Archer first met the patriarchs of 'The Family' – a group of six centenarians the oldest of whom is allegedly 116. Archer didn't speak Mandarin; The Family didn't speak English. The Family's other representative, Chin 'Daniel' Lim, a 50 year old Malaysian businessman, was able to translate, however. Lim explained to his elders that Archer's contacts could help realize their dream of cashing in the notes. It was then, in a traditional Buddhist ceremony at a nearby temple, that Bryan Archer was "adopted" as an honorary Chinese 'son' of the Family. He was given a new name, Lee Tian Long, meaning "Sky Dragon" and appointed a "Royal Voluntary Trustee" to transact the deal on The Family's behalf.

Daniel Lim's involvement follows an equally tortuous path. A millionaire businessman in his own right, with several companies in Malaysia including a joint venture with German conglomerate Schaefer Kalk, Lim was shoulder-tapped by The Family in 1996. Documents provided exclusively to Investigate detail what happened.

"The most senior person in The Family and the trusts, whose photo appears on the inheritance document, was a very close personal friend of my grandfather. This senior person had no living children or natural heirs," Lim writes.

"In 1996 I was approached to help The Family in redeeming the various wealth they held. They approached me because of my international connections with the heads of State, business corporations etc due to my business, which involves industrial minerals (resources of countries)."

Lim says that because of his own businesses, and his prominent reputation in Malaysia, he was "very cautious" about taking up the offer to get involved. It took three years of cross-checking, researching and verifying what The Family were telling him before he made his choice, "whereby I was made the heir to the most senior person, and adopted by The Family, thereby becoming the heir to this vast wealth."

But what "vast wealth" exactly?

As Archer tells it, The Family showed him special banknotes allegedly issued by the Bank of England during the war as receipts for gold borrowed from the Chinese. Specifically, he saw and handled 360 notes, each carrying a face value of £500,000. That's £180 million pounds in 1943 currency.


"I had all 360 of these ones in New Zealand at one stage. And I actually had one of them digitally examined to make sure it wasn't overprinted. It was enhanced to the point where you could see what was on the back coming through to the front, and he said 'There's nothing in between'."

He also had a hundred £1000 notes.

Investigate asked the obvious question, did they feel and look like banknotes?

"Absolutely. I couldn't tell it apart from other banknotes from the time."

Weelll, yes and no. There are some discrepancies, and Archer is the first to admit it. Firstly, the Bank of England denies ever printing half-million pound notes, and secondly it claims only 63 of the £1000 notes remain outstanding from the war years.

Archer suspects both of these objections may simply be the Bank of England's way of trying to make the problem go away.

"Now you've only got the bank's word that there are only 63 outstanding. And you've really only got the bank's word that they never issued these £500,000 documents and receipts."

As he points out, would a forger really go to the effort of forging a note that never existed? Then there's the issue of practicality. If you really were selling £180 million worth of gold bullion, you wouldn't really be wanting to transport 180,000 one-thousand pounds sterling banknotes. Far easier to have 360 notes. And as Time magazine again shows in a 1935 report, wealthy Asians were selling gold.

"Since the autumn of 1931, when Britain quit the gold standard, India has exported no less than 29,300,000 oz. – more than the rest of the world has mined in any single year to date. But Indian gold was not mined; it was disgorged from fabulous private hoards. When pound sterling was hitched to gold, the metal was worth about 85 shillings per oz. Indian princes and potentates today receive 140 shillings (£7).

"All India's gold, along with no inconsiderable portion of the recent output of newly-mined metal, went into hoarding in the Western World. It is estimated that nearly US$3,000,000,000 in coin and bullion is now hidden in countries other than India, China and Egypt, the three traditional sinkholes of precious metals. If world gold production had not increased, much of that hoarded gold would have been drained directly from monetary stocks, vastly aggravating the deflationary course of the Depression."

Applying these figures to the transaction at hand is a double-edged sword, however. While it shows that gold transfers were indeed taking place thanks to wealthy "potentates", the Chinese deal we are looking at would be almost equivalent to the total Indian gold sales for the four years from 1931 to 1935 – around 800 tonnes of gold. In today's dollars, that's equivalent to US$23 billion.

No ordinary family of Chinese peasants was ever going to have cash reserves like that. But then again, this was no ordinary family. It all has to do, apparently, with the events surrounding The Last Emperor.

When the Qing dynasty fell in 1911, Buddhist monks and temples stepped up to take control of local affairs in many areas until the new Republican government was fully operational.

"Unlike the old dynasties where you had one man in charge and his word was absolute law," writes Archer in his briefing document, "under the new order of the Kuomintang [republican party] it is a democracy and therefore the ownership of this wealth is entrusted to a body of people (a Family). The Family, by agreement…hand the vast majority of it over to the Monks who can be trusted to keep it safe and not be corrupted by such vast riches."

The Monks, as part of their agreement to hold the funds in trust, allegedly squirreled the gold away, especially when the Japanese invaded in 1937.

"Before Japan could get their hands on the majority of it these treasures were moved and hidden in caves and secret places known only to the monks themselves. Chiang Kai Shek was aware of the Japanese intentions and supported the monks by supplying trusted generals to assist them," writes Archer.

This might explain a Time magazine report from this period revealing one of Kai Shek's generals had managed to abscond to British Hong Kong with US$30 million in "small money".

After World War II, Chiang Kai Shek's problems worsened, with Mao Tse Tung's Communist troops rapidly taking over China.

As historians record, Kai Shek tried to round up all the riches he could and ship them to Taiwan.

"Under the penalty of death all Chinese holding gold or silver would be required to surrender their wealth to the central bank in exchange for the new gold yuan [a paper note]," reports author Stella Dong in her book about the fall of Shanghai.

By the time the fall of Shanghai came, however, Kai Shek's troops had managed to shift the final 14 tonnes of gold out of the Bank of China vaults and across to Taiwan.

As Archer tells the story, however, Kai Shek did not get away with as much as he had hoped for.

"The Most Senior Elder [of The Family] was Chiang Kai Shek's treasurer. Being forced to flee the country in 1949 Chiang Kai Shek begins to move the treasures offshore to Formosa (Taiwan). The Elders of the Family did not leave China.

"The Most Senior Elder, being the Treasurer, was involved in overseeing the move. He, along with the other Elders of The Family are Nationalist, and while having no time for the communists don't want to see the wealth of China go offshore and be lost forever. They move a vast portion of the treasures to protect them from Mao and the Chinese communist party, and from being taken offshore by Chiang Kai Shek.

"One hundred and eight people commit to move this treasure to secret locations and at the end of the task of moving it those 108 voluntarily give up their lives to protect the whereabouts of it."

In assessing the veracity of all this, argues Archer – who's tried to get to the bottom of it himself – you need to bear in mind that unlikely as it all seems, it remains possible. The leadership of the Kuomintang Party, for example, included many of the old warlords and nobles from Imperial times – extremely wealthy individuals in their own rights. As the Communist advance drew closer, some of these people for family or other reasons could not escape with Chiang Kai Shek to Taiwan. It is also doubtful that they would have complied with Kai Shek's last ditch order for all citizens to turn in their gold to his government.

So we are still left with the possibility, however remote, that some of old China's wealthiest individuals sold their gold to the Bank of England during one of the most turbulent periods in world history, and while England was begging for gold, in return for redeemable banknotes.

What about the contrary evidence? Well, that takes us back to the banknotes and those discrepancies we touched on earlier.

They contain spelling mistakes and strange, English-as-a-second-language sentence constructions. On the reverse of the £500,000 notes, for example is the phrase:

"This bank note only for the special use by the officers.The supply mustbe mortgaged with gold by the officers. The supply should be kept andnever altered. Not for circulation. Five hundred thousand pounds sterlingdraft payble to bearer." [Investigate's emphasis]

Several words are run together, one is misspelt.

According to The Family's documentation, the mistakes were "deliberate" on the part of the Bank of England, so as to throw counterfeiters off the scent and to stop any old Joe from simply stealing a note and trying to cash it; part of an elaborate three-step security plan. It worked like this:

Having printed a half million pound banknote promising to "pay the Bearer on demand", the BoE could not afford the risk of such notes being copied as is, especially after the Bernhard forgery scare during World War II when the Germans printed more than a hundred million pounds' worth of top class forged British banknotes, in order to destabilize Britain financially.

By building mistakes into the note, so the conspiracy theory goes, the Bank created a hurdle that anyone presenting such a note would first have to eliminate before they could cash it: is the note genuine? In this way, if half million quid notes started springing up all over the place, of course most people would believe they were forgeries because of the errors.

But to give the Chinese comfort that they were not being duped, says Archer, the BoE created accompanying documentation that would have to be presented alongside the notes as a three-tier security plan. The second tier was an "Explanation" document bearing the alleged signature of BoE Chief Cashier, Jasper Hollum. It reads:

"Explanation of Secret – The Bank had specially set up the English letters by mistake as the drawing evidence for 500,000 pounds, which were the inside code of the Bank, in order to keep secret definitely inside the bank, the bank can't open the code to the outside world. Hereby keeping secret proves."


Ah yes, Grasshopper. The third tier of security was a gold triangular plate, bearing account codes, and a stipulation that this had to be presented with the notes and the explanation.

To add to the confusion, the half million pound notes had apparently been originally issued in 1943, recalled and reprinted in 1953, and the same again in 1963 – the final incarnation. Nor were pounds sterling the only currency. The Family had US notes, French Francs and Deutsche Marks.

All this was explained to Bryan Archer during his "adoption" into The Family in July 2005. By October, 2005, however, he was not a happy camper. Having set up a possible deal with US banking and political contacts – including the US Federal Reserve and representatives from the US, UK and French governments – the rug was pulled out from under Archer by a Family refusal to cooperate.

Part of the problem was The Family's decision to drip-feed documentation to Archer and his contacts, rather than provide all the information necessary for verification.

"I am bitterly disappointed, disgusted and angry that The Family have used me and destroyed my credibility with Bob and the Trust," excoriated Archer in a letter to his "brother" Daniel Lim. "But then, it could be said, why should I expect anything different from a family that I see has bitter internal fighting and greed as the basis of their relationships.

"You and The Family asked me to help them get this 180 package to the right people so this could be dealt with. I have done that, and all I get in return is stubborn, blind ignorance of the world's political climate and a conceited arrogance from a bunch of old people that think they are in control of the world's finances. It's time they woke up and smelled the roses.

"For God's sake, tell The Family to use a bit of common sense and logic…the cash samples are to prove to the Governments that The Family has the real stuff and that it is not like other stuff that has come out of China in the past…

"All you are being asked to do is agree to the following – sign the letter I gave you, which stipulates that you agree to supply samples of the US, UK, FF [francs] and DM [Deutsche Marks]. That means a generous sampling of each currency and a generous sampling of each denomination within the currencies. That includes all the different types of currencies you have from those four nations."

There's an important point that emerges from this letter. Whatever the merits of the Chinese claim, Bryan Archer clearly had confidence the notes were real, and indeed his next paragraph reinforces his belief that the notes will survive "forensic testing" by the US Federal Reserve.

"The samples are for forensic testing to prove to the three nations that the currency The Family holds is real. I say that as I recall once you saying something along the lines of, 'The Family produced at least two sets of fake documents for every real set'. I may have got that wrong as I don't understand the reason for that other than to mislead the rogue members of The Family. The Governments want to make sure they are dealing with the right people before they strike any deals."


Again, this is an important paragraph. It shows there has been some kind of internal discussion within the organization about "fake documents", albeit with the implication that genuine ones exist that they were copied from. It also shows some kind of internal discord so serious that different sides are willing to cheat each other with false documents. If correct, this also implies that somewhere, in the middle of this, might exist a kernel of truth – even if it was only one £500,000 note that has then been copied by forgers.

Archer's next comment to Daniel Lim, however, shows The Family has had dealings with the Federal Reserve in the past:

"The US and the Fed's history with The Family of 12 years ago tell them that The Family doesn't honour their word – that while not being devious they tend to stall and play mind games which they somehow believe is part of the consultation and negotiation process. Nothing will change that image until The Family starts behaving in an honourable way. Whether The Family likes it or not, that rogue member of 12 years ago severely tarnished The Family's image."

In another letter, in December 2005, Archer again tells Daniel that The Family need to get their heads into the 21st century:

"To transact the Notes we have to deal with the four Governments of issue. It has already been established that the payout will be between 10-20 cents in the dollar.

"These four Governments are not waiting around for the family to bring this in. They are not sitting in their offices with open arms wishing it would all come in so the family can receive their inheritance.

"NO ONE is sitting out there losing a second's sleep or wasting a moment's thought on the fact that some Chinese families are being done out of their inheritance. THAT IS REALITY.

"The four Nations of issue don't want to know about it and they are actively seeking it to destroy it without having to pay out a cent.

"The world has changed over the last 60 plus years, it has turned and it will never go back to being what it was or what the family members remember it as. Those who struck the deals with the family are either dead or retired and those that are still alive are under gag orders about what they did.

"The leaders of the day when the Notes were issued did some very foolish things for reasons unknown to those in the money power positions today.

"The Financiers, Chief cashiers, Treasurers, etc of the Governments the four Nations today have never seen this stuff and they have never seen the original documentation. There is not some board in the banks of those 4 Nations where the copies of the Notes are pinned to it with a "what to do check list if one turns up".

"The world of finance today operates on who you know and what deals can be cut and "what in it for me"; it does not operate on the basis of right and fairness or any other nice feelings that the family may have about the bankers and banks and Head of State of the Nations who signed the agreements over 60 years ago."

Archer sounds a warning in his letters that hauntingly foretells the eventual fate of the man he was writing to:

"I have spoken to enough people now who have also seen this asset in the past who also know it is real. But, all have said that getting the banks and the Governments to acknowledge that is another story. For any bank or Government to acknowledge it, it immediately upsets their balance sheet; and often the easiest way to solve the problem is to deny it, destroy their own internal documentation on it and plead ignorance (which amounts to saying The Family are fraudsters), or take an exceptional heavy-handed approach in an effort to intimidate The Family into another 60 years plus of sitting on it until it gets totally lost in the mists of time."

Fast forward nearly a year, to September 2006. Another letter, and still a feeling from Bryan Archer that The Family were not being entirely straight with anyone they dealt with, this time over some of the US silver certificates.

"More recently there were the US silver certificates which, when I had them examined, raised serious questions about their validity. I forwarded you a sample of a real silver certificate that both Treasury and the Fed were willing to acknowledge, and was informed by you that The Family said the sample was one of their set!

"I have a direct link into the Fed…and asked for The Family to come forward with the real silver certificates or provide evidence that their silver certificates are real, and supply the supporting documentation to prove it. That was over six weeks ago and NOTHING has been said back to me – just silence, which makes me look bad in the eyes of those I am dealing with."

One of those Archer was dealing with was Phinias Sichoongue, a bullion trader and banker whose contracts included work for the Bank of England and Canada's Bank of Nova Scotia. He warned Archer of the perils of being wrong about the notes:

"I would propose that Mr Daniel Lim comes here to London, give an immunity that whatever he is carrying, fake or genuine, has nothing to do with me, and I will take him to the Bank of England to meet the Treasury Department.

"Please note, the production of such an instrument or instruments – and if the instrument/s are deemed fake – will land you in jail for the rest of your life, including all entities and individuals that are part and parcel of the said instruments, so be cautious."

Archer mused on it for a day, then passed the warning onto Daniel Lim. He advised Lim to accept the offer, saying the only way to sort the matter out once and for all was to ask the Bank of England whether they could verify the notes.

According to the correspondence, The Family claimed to have run some of their documentation past Professor Charles Goodheart, a banking expert and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics. Archer, through his own banking contacts, was dubious about the truth of this, but told Daniel Lim that if this was true and Goodheart had indeed given them cause for hope, then they should follow through and meet the Bank.

"What more can the family possibly want if they are genuine?" he asked at the end of his letter.


THE PITCH

Unfortunately for Archer, one of his "contacts", Ramona Forster, was about to enter the picture. Archer had met her through one of his charities, and she intimated she had contacts in the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England. She referred in documentation to a member of the House of Lords she named as "Sir Christopher" who was assisting her on The Family's claim, and Archer later noted the name of the Lord was Sir Christopher Jones. It didn't occur to anyone to check and see whether such an individual actually existed (he doesn't).

"I am familiar with the historical currency for gold and other asset exchanges which took part in the early times of the last century between important Chinese families and the countries of USA, Great Britain, Germany and France. These situations are still unresolved and are significant," stated Forster boldly.

Forster made a pitch to handle the deal and on November 17 last year sent an email to Bryan Archer asking him to send key documents and a power of attorney to her.

"I will be travelling France, London, etc in a round robin while I put things together. Sir Christopher sends his regards. He is very old and not very well but he is very interested in your case as well as is the bank."

Over the next few weeks, documents were sent, meetings arranged, and according to Archer, Ramona Forster had already made contact with the Bank of England. In a diary note of their conversation on 17 December 2006, Forster is quoted as saying:

"The BoE has already authenticated the Notes, they were able to do it from the jpeg pictures we sent them. They could even read the magnetic lines in the Notes from the jpegs. The BoE is not interested in the [supporting] documents as they have already verified the Notes. It is a done deal. Tomorrow we will go to the bank."

It was a Sunday night in London, and Forster was at dinner with Bryan Archer and several delegates from The Family, including Chan Kwok Kwong – later arrested as a conspirator. Archer says Chan was the illegitimate son of the Most Senior Elder heading The Family. The dinner became heated, however, when Ramona Forster allegedly argued with members of The Family about how much control of the deal she wanted.

The following day, says Archer, "she commented that this £180 million package was in fact more than 180 million, it was £1.8 billion. When I questioned her on this she was adamant…in the end she conceded she had got it wrong. I was concerned at the lack of study she had done on the notes and I wondered if she had in fact read all the information carefully."

Forster also promised a visit to the Bank of England that day with an escrow officer – a commercial agent who specialises in the transporting of valuable documentation – Monday 18 December, but it didn't eventuate.

"When I saw her in the morning [Tuesday 19th] and asked about what happened to the escrow officer yesterday, she informed me that she had been up during the night talking to her team who were in Australia."

One of the "team" turned out to be Australian lawyer and escrow agent Ross Cowie – another one of those later arrested. Now Cowie is no slug. His business is so sensitive and security conscious that his company has contracts with the Australian Defence Force. In fact, the Defence website actually acknowledges this: http://www.defence.gov.au/dsba/CompanyDetails.asp?CompanyID=700

Additionally, Ross Cowie's company, APPS Escrow Australia, leases office space on the second floor of the Reserve Bank of Australia's note printing facility in Melbourne, Victoria. Explains Cowie: "NPA [the printing facility] carries out for Australia and 17 other countries, including New Zealand, the role undertaken for USA by both its Central Reserve and Fort Knox."

With a security clearance to work from the very factory that prints banknotes for Australasia, you'd again have to ask the question: do the British police really believe Cowie formed criminal intent?

Forster, says Archer, "went on to say that 'the escrow officer will be coming to the hotel to collect the Note and answer your questions'. I informed her that the Notes would not be handed over in a hotel room as The Family needed proof and identification of who was receiving the Notes and that the Bank of England was involved, 'as to date we have not seen one scrap of evidence concerning the BoE, The Bank of New York, Sir Christopher Jones etc'."

When Archer mentioned that someone from the Bank of England known to The Family might shake his hand when he entered the building, "she again raised her voice and said that if we went into the BoE and anyone came up to greet me they would be immediately arrested. That her team had checked and there was nobody in the BoE connected to The Family."

As Wednesday 20 December rolled around and there was still no sign of an escrow officer or a Bank of England visit, Bryan Archer pressed Forster for an explanation. She explained that Australian Ross Cowie was arranging for a security firm to collect a banknote for forensic testing.

"This was…an ageing test to see if the paper was in fact that of 1963," says Archer. "When I brought up the previous things she had said about the BoE having already authenticated and verified the Notes from the jpegs, she was unable to offer an explanation."

It wasn't the only porkie Ramona Forster allegedly told. The documents suggest she had not been upfront about her international travel movements in regard to the project, or about her financial status.

Ross Cowie, meanwhile, was spelling out a perfectly orthodox approach to the problem at hand, finding out whether the notes were genuine.

"We need to have the forensic people nominated by Bank of England to review one of the notes to establish authenticity. This is expected to take up to 14 days."

Hardly the actions of someone trying to pull a fast one on the Bank of England, one would have thought. Bryan Archer's concerns, however, were heightened by the possibility that Forster may have misled Cowie about the totality of the transactions.

"As far as I was ever concerned," says Archer, "the deal was only for £180 million – the 360 half million pound redeemable notes and about a hundred thousand pounds in the £1000 bills. That's it."

In Cowie's email traffic with Forster, however, it is clear Forster has raised the possibility of accrued "interest" on the old notes, which may have been the source of the mysterious reference to a £1.8 billion dollar deal with the BoE.

"Now," responds Cowie to one of Forster's offsiders, "on the matter of the outstanding interest owing to the consortium, I am happy to take that up with them, and an extra few days, considering the problem is over 40 years old, should not make any difference.

"I intend to come to London to settle all of the first stage, 180 and hopefully interest, in the first couple of weeks in January," writes Cowie. "This will be immediately after we get acceptance by BoE that the sample note is approved by their scientific and forensic people."

The documents given to Investigate suggest a sample £500,000 note was delivered to the Bank of England's forensic team on 2 January this year by Brambles Security. Or at least, that's what Forster said. In fact, the note remained in secure storage at Brambles and was not delivered to the Bank. Events moved relatively swiftly after that. Firstly, Ramona Forster was dumped by The Family. Ongoing doubts about her credibility and expertise led Archer and Daniel Lim to cancel her power of attorney in early January. Ross Cowie was invited to pick up the ball and run with it.

"For reasons she never explained to me, nor, I understand, to Mr Archer, Ms Forster instructed…me to present the £1000 notes along with the 180 package. At that stage, not having communicated with Mr Archer personally, I duly advised the Bank and forwarded them a jpeg scanned image of the 1000 note," writes Cowie in a briefing to The Family dated 19 January 2007.

"The result was that the 1000 pound note and the 180 package have both been presented to the Bank but to different departments, and I am happy to report that the 1000 note has received a favourable report, The Bank has issued me the forms to fill out for its collection and subsequent payout following a visual sighting of the 1000 notes and the subsequent forensic testing."


THE STING

In a further email on 24 January, Cowie advised that the Bank of England was happy to see him in early February, "certainly on 1K issues and, with a little bit less confidence, to negotiate further on the 180 redemption. The hesitation on the 180 is not that they doubt the authenticity, but that they are dealing in a matter which has a long history, some of it lost in the mists of time, and nobody wants to be the person making the wrong decision, so are reluctant to make any decision: typical corporate behaviour."

Cowie's contact at the Bank of England appears to have been one Jamie Higgins, who describes himself as a "project analyst" with the Bank on a social website.

Higgins, without having seen a copy of the £500,000 note at all, appears to have kicked for touch, arranging for Cowie and representatives of The Family, including Archer, to meet Bank officials in mid February.

"I had a very interesting discussion with Bank of England last night," writes Cowie to Archer on the morning of January 30 this year, "and they seem comfortable dealing with me, and with the transactions. They have agreed to meet with me, and, if you or Daniel wish it, with one or two members of The Family, on…13th and 14th February."

Cowie's email records that the first meeting would involve the Bank's "legal counsel" and Cowie to set up "the procedures to effect the Exchange and to table the authority documents authorising me to represent The Family. This will take place at the BoE on the first morning."

Following that, the second meeting would table "the 1K's and several of the 500ks. "All persons attending Meeting 2 will need to be carrying identification, at least two items," warns Cowie.

Curiously, he also records senior members of The Family expressing "their desire to be there, as the matter is reaching fruition, and naturally The Family wants to oversee the final steps in this half-century saga!!"

Regardless of whether Investigate or its readers suspects the notes are bogus, it would be strange for people who allegedly knew they were counterfeit to walk into the lion's den clutching the cash.

In a second email late in the evening of the same day, Cowie reports the group's first hiccup.

"I have had a further discussion with BoE, and the conversation was not too encouraging in relation to the 500K."

According to Cowie, the bank officers told him, "We have some serious concerns as to whether the 500Ks are, in fact, genuine. We have no record of the Bank of England ever having issued notes of £500,000 denomination."

Remember that statement, as it will shortly become crucial.

"While we understand your comment that these were a special issue," said the Bank, "and that the notes are supported with documentation, we are not in a position to further discuss these notes until you arrive."

Remarks Cowie: "They had no such reservations about the 1K notes."

Cowie didn't know it, but the men he was now scheduled to meet were not bank officials in the ordinary sense of the word. One of the two men claiming to be bank officials, "William Hickson", was, in fact, an undercover police officer. The second, John Nelson, was a security consultant, not a bank historian.

This, in itself, is strange. One would have thought that before the Bank of England called in police it would first want to touch the money, check it out for themselves, hear the story. It didn't. The Bank of England had no intention of discussing the notes with anyone.

Coincidentally, within minutes of the timing of Cowie's email, the Bank's Jamie Higgins fired through a request, "can I confirm that you will be bringing the appropriate ID on behalf of yourself (including the Power of Attorney) and of your clients visiting the Bank in two weeks' time? I would also be grateful of all names of attendees prior to your visit if possible."

Cowie responded with a confirmation, and added: "I am very concerned, too, that you have doubts as to their authenticity. However, the only way to check these notes is to present them, and we will proceed on that basis, if that's OK."

The ball was now in play, and it is at this point, notes still sight-unseen, that the police stepped in.

"Dear Mr Cowie. I am John Nelson, a Senior Security Officer at the Bank of England tasked with the role of dealing with customers wishing to redeem out of date or damaged currency. Mr Higgins has forwarded me all your correspondence.

"When you and your party arrive at our main entrance in Threadneedle Street, security will direct you to the counter area. The counter staff will then contact me and I will come and collect you. Please confirm your approximate arrival time."

When they did arrive on February 14, it was not exactly a friendly greeting.

"Neither of the two men [Hickson and Nelson] had business cards nor offered any form of identification when cards were being handed around the table at the start of the meeting," remembers Archer.

Attendees included Archer and Cowie, along with Melbourne-based New Zealander Euan Ansley (Cowie's 2IC) and London-based lawyer Kim Ming Teo. Teo had no connection with The Family or the fortune, except to the extent he'd been hired mid-December to act as legal counsel because 1) he lived in London, 2) he spoke fluent Mandarin and 3) he was Malaysian, like Daniel Lim.

Teo, the lawyer, stayed quiet, as did Ansley whose role was purely to take notes. According to Archer, however, bank "official" William Hickson claimed the spelling mistakes on the special-issue notes were not unusual: "We still do that today".

"When I asked what they meant by that," says Archer, Hickson replied, 'The Bank of England covers [underwrites] the Bank of Scotland and rather than cover each denomination they issue special one million pound notes and incorporate mistakes, security measures and codes'."

"This was a relief to me," says Archer, because the spelling problem "was my only real concern" about the veracity of the notes.

In some respects, it almost makes sense. If the Bank of England really did print huge denomination bills, it would not want them being accepted at face value as genuine money. By incorporating glaring errors, it would certainly make them harder to cash, as The Family were finding.

Cowie re-confirmed – although he had already done so in writing prior – that the men were there to offer the notes for forensic examination to see if they were real, under the Bank of England's stated policy on old banknotes, including possible forgeries:

"All old Bank of England bills remain exchangeable for current bills forever. Forgeries however will be retained and destroyed by the Bank (including Bernhard Bills), and it is not therefore advisable to send bills to the bank in order to confirm whether or not they are forgeries. Bills can either be taken in person to the Bank in London…or sent by post at the sender's risk…"

Hickson responded by saying that if the notes turned out not to be real, the Bank would let the men know and ask them to hand over all stock for destruction. Archer says they all agreed with this course of action.


A wad of the half-million pound notes were tabled, and John Nelson took just one note for testing. A hundred of the thousand pound notes were tabled but the Bank did not want to take any of those for testing, choosing instead only to scan one and hand it back. Nelson allegedly told the men there was no problem with the authenticity of the thousand pound notes.

So far, so good, but nine days later Cowie sent an email to bank "official" and undercover cop William Hickson to start arranging the follow-up meeting. At the end of it he wrote something that appears to be at the core of the current trial in London:

"At this meeting, we propose to initiate the second transaction, being a small number (say 500 or so 1000 pound notes) of the Stg28 Billion holdings. That will no doubt prove interesting!"

You can imagine how interesting City of London Police found that email. It is fairly likely that "William Hickson" fell off his chair when he read it.

Where did the figure of £28 billion suddenly come from? For his part, Bryan Archer says he has no idea.

"Look, the deal on the table when I was working on it was the 360 half-million pound notes. Nobody was talking wild figures like £28 billion."

Was this a result of Forster talking up the case, or had someone from The Family been in Cowie's ear? Who's to know? Either way, it was probably the clincher that set in stone the fates of those attending the next meeting, scheduled for March 27 this year, in London.

The Bank of England still had not reported back on the forensic testing of the one £500,000 note they had taken away, with Hickson telling Cowie, "This is a complex instrument, and there are many factors to the transaction. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. Until the whole puzzle is done, with every piece in place, we will not have achieved any success."

Cowie, by all accounts, was really enjoying himself.

"It is truly the most interesting project I have ever been involved with," he writes in an email near the end, ironically headed "Custody arrangements and the way forward".

And the end, when it came, came swiftly.

On the morning of March 27, six men had been selected to meet the Bank of England for the next step in transacting "the deal". They included 50 year old Daniel Lim; 55 year old Kwok Kwong Chan, an alleged son of the Senior Elder (codenamed 'The Dragon'); Chan's 53 year old interpreter Chi Kuen Chung – a Chinese businessman who'd been making enquiries about buying into a New Zealand biotechnology company called Aquaflow after seeing New Zealand's Energy Minister David Parker endorsing it; 56 year old Pin Shuen Mak, representing the Senior Lady Elder (codenamed 'The Phoenix'); 41 year old lawyer Kim Ming Teo; and of course 62 year old Australian Ross Cowie. It had been decided that New Zealander Bryan Archer and Australian-based Euan Ansley did not need to attend, although Archer did get himself placed on standby for an Air New Zealand flight to London just in case.

Archer's last-ever conversation with Cowie was the night before the meeting.

"He informed me that the Bank of England (Mr William Hickson) had made arrangements for a Bank vehicle to take one of them to the safe deposit vault at the Bank where they had kept the items of the package as he didn't want any chance of the Notes being stolen."

The sequence of events that followed has been pieced together from news reports and Archer's conversation with Cowie's wife in Melbourne after the arrests.

On arrival at the Bank of England, the men were greeted by officials. After a couple of minutes, probably just long enough for all the banknotes and supporting documentation retrieved from the vault to be handed over, the men suddenly found themselves under arrest. The six were taken to different police stations and interviewed separately by detectives. The following morning all six appeared in the local Magistrates Court, charged with "Conspiracy to defraud the Bank of England". Apart from Cowie, no one else was given bail.


THE WASH-UP

A criminal charge like conspiracy to defraud requires a key element to succeed at trial: mens rea, or criminal intent. This means that not only must an action be illegal, but the participants must have formed the necessary criminal intent to break that law. Assuming the banknotes are indeed forged, the question is how many, if any, of the arrested men intended to defraud the bank whilst knowing the bills to be false? The Family's lawyer, Teo, is unlikely to have met the mens rea threshold. He had been brought in late to handle any legal paperwork. Like any lawyer, he would only know as much as his clients told him. Then there's Australian Ross Cowie, a lawyer by trade, working in document security with contracts to the Australian military and office space in the banknote printing facility of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Did he know whether the notes were definitely false? Did he try to hide that possibility from the Bank of England or was he open about it?

What about Bryan Archer and Daniel Lim – both ring-ins to help represent The Family because of their banking and business links. Would Lim, a relatively high-profile millionaire Malaysian industrialist with a number of companies and international joint ventures, really have walked into the Bank of England if he'd genuinely believed the notes were a fraud? Admittedly both he and Archer had been let down by The Family on a number of occasions, and both were aware The Family's reputation had been sullied by a previous altercation with the US over redeemable bonds. Even so, the evidence suggests Archer was not knowingly trying to pass bad money but was relying on the Bank of England – the experts – to make the call one way or the other.

Sterling and Peggy Seagrave's 2004 book, Gold Warriors, recounts at one point:

"A journalist at the Financial Times told us: 'It has now reached a point where you can go into one of the big banks in New York, London or Zurich, give them half a metric ton of gold in return for a certificate of ownership, walk around the block for 10 minutes, re-enter the same bank, and they'll deny ever seeing you before and have you arrested for presenting them with a counterfeit certificate'."

What about the Bank of England. Its initial statements were that there had never been a £500,000 note, ever. Even prosecutor Martin Evans took this line in his opening address to the jury:

"It will not surprise you to know there never was a £500,000 note but that there was a £1,000 note – it was issued until 1943 when they were withdrawn," he said.

Suddenly, at the trial in early November, that story changed. The Bank of England's John Keyworth, giving evidence on oath, admitted for the first time that the half-million pound notes did indeed exist.

"Mr Keyworth said the £500,000 notes had never been produced for public circulation in the history of the Bank of England, and were used as a way of banking Scottish and Irish-issue notes to avoid having to print large quantities of bills," one newspaper has reported.

Look at that statement for a moment. They existed, and they were never produced for public circulation. Isn't that exactly what The Family and Bryan Archer have consistently argued?

"What these notes were used for was purely accounting purposes," Keyworth told the court. Asked if the huge denomination notes leave the bank under any circumstances, Keyworth replied: "No, they do not, they are carefully guarded."

So guarded, in fact, that despite being around for decades their existence has only just been publicly revealed.

Another aspect to this that puts some of the outrageous numbers into perspective is the simple arithmetic that lies at the heart of modern fractional reserve banking. Ever since the 1930s, western banks have been allowed to lend out around 20 times more money than they have assets. That means, if a bank has $1 billion in gold or other reserves, it can make loans to the value of $20 billion. Thus, whatever the Bank of England was paying the Chinese for gold, the gold was really worth 20 times more to the Bank of England under western banking rules.


Prosecutor Martin Evans ridiculed the accused by saying that if the counterfeit notes had been genuine, they would have been worth almost 75% of the £39 billion now in use worldwide. At first glance it does seem ridiculous (and he undoubtedly wanted the jury to think that), until you realize that the amount of cash in circulation is only a total fraction of the total amount of money circulating in an economy. In New Zealand, for example, there is generally $4 billion or so of cash in use, yet our total economy is more than $100 billion.

It didn't matter how much gold Britain and the US purchased, it was always going to generate vastly more income than it ever cost, under the rules of fractional reserve banking.

But what if Britain and the US simply used the turmoil of World War II and its aftermath to soak up as much foreign gold as possible, with no real intention of ever paying it back?

The mystery deepens when you join a few more dots together. Back in 1937, while Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek was busy fighting the Japanese invasion and trying to move gold and treasure out of harm's way, assistance came from the Americans in the form of General Claire Chennault. One of Chennault's tasks was to set up an air transport service for Chiang Kai Shek. That airline eventually became Civil Air Transport (CAT), a front for the CIA and later renamed Air America. CAT would take on the risky missions that no other commercial airline would take, and its pilots and crew would be paid commensurately. This much is established, proven history.

As the Seagraves report in Gold Warriors, it became directly relevant in a British court case in 2003:

"Professor Richard Aldrich of Nottingham University, co-editor of the journal Intelligence and National Security, described the strategic situation in 1948 in testimony before a British court in 2003:

"As Chairman Mao's forces advanced through China in 1948, Dr. Aldrich said, Britain and the US dreaded the prospect that one of the world's largest stocks of gold – worth US$83-billion at current prices – would fall into communist hands. So it was decided to extract the gold reserves from China before the communists could seize them. The CIA provided the means for this bullion-rescue mission, flying in B-29 bombers disguised in the livery of its CAT [Civil Air Transport]... CAT flew numerous missions to bring huge shipments of gold out of Mainland China."

As part of this operation, it is believed the US used redeemable notes of its own, called Federal Reserve Notes and Federal Reserve Bonds, with which to buy the gold.

"Where did the FRNs and FRBs fit in?," ask the Seagraves. "Professor Aldrich said they may have been used "for persuading managers of major banks in the interior of China to part with their vast stocks of gold."

"Printing FRNs and FRBs with a face value much greater than that of the gold they were to replace, he said, served to encourage the banks or wealthy individuals to swap their gold for the bonds and notes, which would be easier to hide and later smuggle out of China to be cashed in the West. As Aldrich said, the US almost certainly had no intention of honouring them, anyway.

"Professor Aldrich explained that the CIA was only emulating Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), which printed and circulated massive quantities of counterfeit currency and bonds during the war.

"Foreign Office files also show that the CIA was involved in other currency issues, including the movement of printing plates for Chinese currency," Aldrich testified.

But why were such huge quantities of FRNs and FRBs flown out to China?

"Because of the possibility of operational loss," Aldrich told the court, "surplus amounts of FRNs were required. Regional banks [in China] receiving FRNs in return for their gold were aware that the FRNs were likely to be redeemable for only a proportion of their face value. Therefore a much larger value in FRNs would have been required than the total value of the gold that the Americans and Chinese Nationalists were trying to extract from China."

In other words, there's good evidence that both Britain and the US were donkey-deep in printing anything they could that would transfer Asian gold into the West, and not necessarily with any intention of paying it back. Furthermore, if the value of the notes given to the Chinese far exceeded the actual value of the gold delivered, then that would explain something else: Aldrich's figures – adjusted for gold pricing – suggest the total value of Chinese bullion in the mid 40s was around US$2 billion at the time. Under the banking system's rules, that would be worth 20 times more to the Bank of England or US Federal Reserve, so even if they printed funny money bonds to the face value of $10 or even $20 billion in total back then, they would still be making on the deal from day one. A $2 billion gold base allowed the banks to create a further $38 billion in interest-generating credit. Assuming, just for ease of calculation, an interest rate of 5%, that means the banks are earning $1.9 billion a year in interest. Over 60 years, that's a minimum of $120 billion worth of interest in 1940s dollars. Of course, gold prices have gone up massively since the 1940s when it was only $35 an ounce. It is now topping $800 an ounce, which is more than 20 times higher. As Professor Aldrich testified, the Chinese gold would be worth around US$83 billion today, and in the banking system that's the asset-backing for nearly $2 trillion worth of lending. Suddenly the Chinese redeemable note figures don't look as out of place as they did.

You need to remember the world had just lurched out of the Depression straight into World War II, and now desperately needed cash to rebuild shattered economies. Gold was crucial to that plan.

American airforce pilot Erik Shilling used to fly some of these gold missions for CAT, and told investigative journalists Sterling and Peggy Seagrave before he died in 2002 that he'd made numerous flights from Guam and the Philippines "ferrying FRNs and Nationalist secret agents as far into China as Chengtu in Sinkiang province, and flying boxes of gold out to Taiwan.

"The B-29 had a range suited to long round-trips, and Shilling was skilled at flying the aircraft at 30 or 40 feet [10 to 12 metres] above the ocean to enter and leave Chinese airspace without being picked up by radar."

The Seagraves believe they have evidence that several CAT aircraft involved in this gold-recovery mission crashed in the Philippines carrying precious cargo.

"According to reliable sources who visited the wrecked aircraft and recovered the dogtags of the crew, the truth is as follows: In May 1948, four US Air Force planes on their way from California to Malaysian Borneo, refuelled at Clark just north of Manila, then continued on their way toward Borneo. A typhoon that had been brewing in the western Pacific moved directly into their flight path, and all four planes crashed into the mountains of Mindanao. In the doomed flight were two B-29 Superfortresses of the type that had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus a new modified version of the same plane called a B-50, and a much smaller twin-engined B-26. The lead B-29 had the serial number 7695132. Among the dead aboard were General Frank Reagan, Colonel John Reagan, and crewmen named Colling, Dalton, Johnrey, and Withor. The two B-29s were carrying thousands of Federal Reserve notes and bonds, in boxes from Chase Manhattan and Wells Fargo banks. The B-29s were wearing the livery of General Clair Chennault's Civil Air Transport (CAT), partly owned by the CIA through a front in Delaware named Airdale Corporation.31 In 1948, the CIA was using CAT to fly four million tons of supplies each month to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's forces, which were rapidly losing all of China to the communists.

"These two CAT B-29s loaded with billions of dollars worth of FRNs and FRBs, were on their way to Malaysia on a roundabout route to southwestern China by way of Thailand and Burma."

But it is the fate of the redeemable notes and bonds on board the plane that impacts this story. In 1948, when the planes crashed, they were not found. It was too dangerous for ground search parties because US forces were still fighting units from the Japanese Army in the area who did not believe World War 2 was over. According to Gold Warriors, the jungle quickly claimed the planes, and they didn't resurface until the early 1980s, when the FRNs and FRBs recovered from the wrecks started appearing on the black financial markets.

Faced with every man and his dog across Asia waving Federal Reserve Notes worth millions of dollars marked "payable to bearer", what would you do if you were the British or US banking institutions?

The US sent Secret Service agents down to Manila to assist in tracking the sources of the notes and help arrest anyone caught in possession of them. An Australian private investigator received a warning, quoted by the Seagraves: "If I persisted in pursuing these items, I would most likely receive a visit from some very unpleasant men whose job it is to secure the safety of the USA against any threats to the stability of its economy. I was informed that if I ever tried to redeem them, I would not see another birthday."

Bearing in mind the book Gold Warriors was published in 2004, long after The Family first revealed its notes to Daniel Lim but long before the Bank of England had Lim and the others arrested, the following paragraph from the book is a lightning bolt:

"A fraud that had been used many times by banks all over the world [is that] when a gold certificate was issued in exchange for bullion placed on deposit, embedded codes were used including misspelled words, to 'assure' that the owner's certificate matched the bank records exactly. These misspellings were later easily cited as 'evidence' of fraud."

The practice had been fine-tuned by Japan's Prime Minister Tanaka during the 1970s Lockheed bribery scandal, when he authorized the secret printing of promissory notes that looked completely different from ordinary Japanese bonds. These "57s" as he called them, were used to buy off support from key officials and politicians domestically and internationally, with the proviso being that the bonds were only worth anything if Tanaka remained in power, because their totally unusual design meant they could be cited as counterfeit otherwise.

According to the Seagraves, the Reagan administration responded to the FRN crisis unfolding in Asia as a result of the plane wrecks, by getting the CIA to print obviously fake Federal Reserve bonds and flood the market with them.

"A large number of Fed bonds and gold certificates were printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, on the wrong type of paper, with a comic variety of deliberate errors. Many were engraved with the wrong faces, the wrong mottos, the wrong designs, the wrong signatures…this would be a hilarious disinformation campaign, flooding Asia with blatant forgeries, to make the whole idea ridiculous. It would cut the legal legs off anyone trying to redeem legitimate gold certificates or legitimate Fed bonds. They could be laughed out of court."

Which brings us back to the fate of Australian Ross Cowie, "fugitive" New Zealander Bryan Archer, and the five Asian men arrested and on trial in Britain's Southwark Criminal Court for conspiracy to defraud the Bank of England.

Are they the masterminds of an elaborate forgery? Victims of an elaborate forgery? Or are they perhaps the genuine representatives of a financial deal struck long ago when the whole world was at war and desperation was everywhere? Whatever the answer, it is doubtful the truth will emerge from the impending court verdict.


FOOTNOTE: Five days after this article was published in New Zealand, the case against the Southwark Six collapsed in the London courts. As a result, British police re-doubled their efforts to extradite Bryan Archer from New Zealand, to see if they could make charges stick against him in place of the others.







Posted by Ian Wishart at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2007

The Gun Debate

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GUN SHY
The Firearms Debate Reignites

In the wake of the Virginia Tech killings, fresh questions are being asked about gun control. The answers, however, may surprise you when we put New Zealand’s crime rate up against Virginia’s. IAN WISHART runs the numbers

It’s the names we remember. Not of the people, but the places. Columbine. Dunblane. Port Arthur. Aramoana. Raurimu. Paerata. Virginia Tech. Each synonymous with carnage, terror and emotional trauma. Each with one thing in common: guns...

As news coverage broke of the Virginia Tech massacre last month, it took only hours before the news media worldwide were seeking out the opinions of anti-gun lobbyists like former Fair Go host Philip Alpers, who runs the website GunPolicy.org. Alpers told TV3’s John Campbell that while people would try and blame mental illness, drugs or violent videos, the real issue was guns.

Everywhere you looked, daily media editorials were calling for an end to America’s affinity with guns; the right to bear arms contained in the second amendment. On Newstalk ZB, callers talked of America’s “sick culture of violence”, with many of the hosts nodding in agreement.

“You’ll call me a wussy liberal,” media commentator Deborah Hill-Cone told ZB’s drive host Larry Williams, “but I can’t see why they need guns.”

At one level, you can understand the sentiment. At another, though, it reveals the kneejerk mental conditioning we’ve all been subjected to. America has been awash with guns for more than a hundred years. For the vast majority of that time, school massacres were unheard of. Likewise New Zealand. Apart from Stanley Graham’s rampage 60 years ago, gun massacres were unknown in modern New Zealand until the mentally-deranged David Gray picked up an assault rifle and gunned down 13 people in Aramoana, a remote community on the tip of the Otago Peninsula where few people had guns and critics accused police of letting victims bleed to death over a 24 hour period while they followed a policy of “containment”.

The “wussy liberal” sentiment also overlooks a very fundamental reason for the right to bear arms being enshrined in the US Constitution. In every case in world history, totalitarian regimes have only been able to arise and cement control in the absence of any ability by citizens to fight back. The total disarmament of a civilian population in favour of state police and military may be tolerable in a democratic state today, but it does increase the risk of abuse of power by a future regime.

The question then, is not so much whether a total ban on gun ownership is justified, but whether tighter controls on gun ownership are justified to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain them.

Do guns kill people, or do people kill people? As well as being a bumper sticker, it’s a hot topic of debate right now. Virginia is one of the most liberal states in the US when it comes to gun laws, but the killings actually took place in a gun-free zone, a place where guns are banned. While all Virginians are permitted by law to carry pistols and handguns concealed on their person, Virginia Tech University voted to ban students from bringing their guns to campus several years ago. Administrators told students they wanted people to “feel safe”, and banning all guns would achieve that.

Now, with 32 innocent lives lost during a killer’s two hour slaughterfest, the big question is being asked: if other students had been armed that day, how many people would Cho Seung-Hui have been able to kill?

Ironically, Virginians can point to a similar incident only five years ago, when a gunman burst into a law school and opened fire. He managed to kill three people, but was himself brought to heel by two armed students and an ex-Marine who’d raced to retrieve guns from their cars when the shooting broke out.

The death toll would undoubtedly have been higher, but for their quick intervention. You’d think the trio would be hailed as heroes but, instead, of the 280 news stories about the 2002 shooting, only four mentioned that the gunman had been overpowered by armed students.

Gun advocate John Lott, writing in the New York Post a week after the tragedy, cited “the liberal, anti-gun Washington Post, which reported that the heroes had simply ‘helped subdue’ the killer. The leftist, anti-gun New York Times, not surprisingly, noted only that the attacker was ‘tackled by fellow students’.

"Most in the media who discussed how the attack was stopped said: 'students overpowered a gunman,' 'students ended the rampage by tackling him,' 'the gunman was tackled by four male students before being arrested,' or 'Students ended the rampage by confronting and then tackling the gunman, who dropped his weapon’.”

Media coverage in New Zealand has been decidedly “anti-gun” in its tone, so we decided to put the presumption that guns cause an increase in violence to the test.

Investigate surveyed US violent crime rates between the years 1960 to 2005. The figures are taken from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, or UCRs, which are a respected yardstick used by criminologists and researchers the world over. Is it true, we wondered, that states like Virginia with the most liberal gun laws were also the most crime-ridden?

Here’s what we found. Overall, the US violent crime rate in 2005 was 469.2 offences per 100,000 population (469/100,000). That’s the average for violent crime across the entire 50 states. Given that much has been made of the US being a “sick...violent” society, we wondered how that compared with the New Zealand figures.

In contrast, New Zealand’s violent crime rate as measured in the official government publication, Crime in New Zealand: 1996 – 2005, was 1,180/100,000 in 2005.

That’s right. Gun-shy New Zealand has a violent crime rate 250% higher than the US! But the comparison gets even worse when compared to the American state of Vermont, which has the most liberal gun laws in the US.

Vermont’s violent crime rate in 2005, as measured by the FBI’s UCR, was only 119/100,000, just a quarter of the US average. In comparison, New Zealand’s violent crime rate is 1,000% - ten times - higher than Vermont’s, where citizens can own as many handguns as they like and carry them as concealed weapons in public places.

And what about Virginia, scene of America’s worst ever civilian gun massacre? The UCR records a violent crime rate of only 282/100,000, a little over half the US average.

When we put these figures to ex-pat gun control advocate Philip Alpers, he simply refused to believe it:

INVESTIGATE: The states in the US that have the liberal guns laws are the ones that have the lowest crime rates. What’s the response to that?

ALPERS: That’s only the gun lobby that claim that. Those studies have been universally critiqued by much more established outfits like Harvard and so on, and there’s not much credibility to those papers. None of them, or the majority, have not been published in peer reviewed journals.

INVESTIGATE: I’m just looking at some stats on state crime rates from the FBI, and in Vermont for example the FBI lists for 2005 a violent crime rate of 119/100,000, New Zealand’s is 1,180/100,000 – that’s ten times higher.

ALPERS: Well, that’s a statistical anomaly I’m sure nobody can account for. If anybody thinks that NZ has a violent crime rate – what was it, a hundred and ten times higher?

INVESTIGATE: No, ten times higher.

ALPERS: Ten times higher than Vermont. That’s statistically questionable I would say. I haven’t seen those figures.

INVESTIGATE: I’m looking at the violent crime rate for Virginia -

ALPERS: I’ve never seen anything like that published in a reputable journal. Statistics can be wildly exaggerated and distorted by anyone who wants to and I can’t be expected to comment on something I’ve never seen.

But the statistics, of course, are not gun lobby figures but FBI and NZ Police figures. Then there’s the inconvenient truth about Kennesaw, Georgia. In 1982, Kennesaw passed a bylaw requiring all households to maintain and keep a firearm in the house. Since then, reported WorldNetDaily on the back of a Reuters story just after the Virginia Tech massacre, “despite dire predictions of ‘Wild West’ showdowns and increased violence and accidents, not a single resident has been involved in a fatal shooting – as a victim, attacker or defender.

“The crime rate initially plummeted for several years after the passage of the ordinance, with the 2005 per capita crime rate actually significantly lower than it was in 1981, the year before passage of the law.

“Prior to enactment of the law, Kennesaw had a population of just 5,242 but a crime rate significantly higher (4,332 per 100,000) than the national average (3,899 per 100,000). The latest statistics available – for the year 2005 – show the rate at 2,027 per 100,000. Meanwhile, the population has skyrocketed to 28,189,” says the WorldNetDaily report.

Now, just to put those overall, total reported crime per capita figures in context, New Zealand’s overall crime rate in 2005 was 9,940/100,000 – admittedly down from its peak of more than 13,200/100,000 in 1992, but still nearly five times higher than gun-toting Kennesaw.

How could it be that New Zealand’s crime rates are much worse than gun-friendly states and cities in the US? Again, we continued to press for an alternative rational explanation from Philip Alpers.

INVESTIGATE: Well you’ve got the case of the town of Kennesaw in Georgia –

ALPERS: Oh, look, that has been so thoroughly rebutted, and completely discredited. Utterly discredited.

INVESTIGATE: Yeah, but Reuters have just done an interview with the local police chief, 2005 stats show the crime rate has halved. In 25 years since the town required homeowners to have a gun in each house, there has not been one single incident where a resident has been involved in a fatal shooting as either a victim, attacker or a defender.

ALPERS: OK, well I think it’s clear where you are going Ian, and I don’t want to buy into this. I’m standing on a cellphone, I’m not in front of the statistics.

INVESTIGATE: But you said it had been debunked, Philip?

ALPERS: I have read the papers that completely discredit that Kennesaw Georgia stuff! It’s one of the oldest myths in the gun industry arsenal and it is completely nutty for you to suggest that Kennesaw Georgia proves that point.

INVESTIGATE: But I’ve just quoted you the statistics –

ALPERS: So thoroughly and completely rebutted by very reputable peer reviewed journal articles, not Reuters, not a police officer who’s trying to justify his tiny little town’s policy, but these have been completely rebutted by very reputable studies.

INVESTIGATE: Well, name one?

ALPERS: OK, Webster and...give me your email and I’ll email it to you.

INVESTIGATE: If I can see some figures that actually show what you are saying is correct I’m more than happy –

ALPERS: No, I know exactly what you’re going to do because I read your magazine. You’re going to take your own point of view and twist everything to that. Now you can accuse me of that as well, and I can accuse the gun lobby of that – but that’s what you’re doing and it’s clear you’re not going to listen to the other side.

INVESTIGATE: Philip, I listened to you on John Campbell and listened to John Campbell not ask you any hard questions at all. All I’m doing is asking some hard questions because having looked at the stats – and I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise, I really am – but having looked at the stats –

ALPERS: OK, well why don’t you ask me, not on the United States, no, OK, look, you can ask me whatever question you like, fire away.

INVESTIGATE: NZ’s violent crime stats are three to ten times higher than the violent crime stats of American states where concealed weapons are allowed to be carried. Why is that?

ALPERS: I am not going to allow comparison between apples and pears. If you start talking about violent crime rate, that includes people poking each other in the eye in pubs with their fingers.

INVESTIGATE: Yeah, but statistically that’s the same everywhere.

ALPERS: But why are you saying that guns have something to do with people poking each other in the eye with their fingers?

INVESTIGATE: You and I both know that most violent crime is not eye poking in pubs.

ALPERS: They’re certainly not, and neither are gun crimes. Gun crimes are a very, very small proportion of violent crime, so when you talk about violent crime you’re not talking about guns.

INVESTIGATE: Yes, but what the gun lobby will say is that in those states where people are allowed to carry guns, the crime rate overall is lower because criminals don’t like to take their chances on whether a victim or potential victim is going to shoot them. So therefore the violent crime rate in those states, on the FBI’s own figures, is showing a huge difference in crime rates between those where guns are banned and those where guns are allowed. And NZ’s violent crime rate far exceeds the crime rate of the US overall, so I’m kind of curious how this is if your logic is correct?

ALPERS: I’m not going to compare violent crime rates with anything that suggests guns affect violent crime rates.

INVESTIGATE: Why?

ALPERS: Because it’s like saying that pedestrians somehow affect – no, I’m not going to draw analogies. It’s not logical to say that a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of crime, in other words, gun crime, affects all violent crime. The gun lobby regularly use this as a tactic, it’s apples and pears. Violent crime is not the same as gun homicide or gun suicide. They are subcategories of each other and if you want me to compare stuff you have to stick to gun related crime and gun related results. There’s no point in saying that the road toll somehow affects the infant mortality rate.

INVESTIGATE: No, but the speed limit might affect the road toll?

ALPERS: What you’re saying is what you are going to print. I’m happy for you to say that, you go ahead and print it. Don’t expect me to jump into and just swallow what you’re saying.

INVESTIGATE: Then rebut it, rebut it with some science.

ALPERS: I’m happy to send you that. For instance, in America all these small studies came out, then the Yales and Harvards and so on brought out their studies, and then all of it went right up the line to the National Academy of Science in the US, and the NAS brought out their report so I’ll send you that and hopefully that’ll bring you down a bit.

INVESTIGATE: I’m not working from any obscure statistics, these are FBI and NZ police figures.

ALPERS: I’m not interested in violent crime, if you’re going to ring up and talk to me about gun deaths, that’s fine.

INVESTIGATE: So you would be suggesting to me there is a difference between criminals having guns, and householders possessing guns for self defence.

ALPERS: There seems to be very little relation between a gun crime rate and a violent crime rate. A good example is Japan where guns are virtually unused, they’re very, very rare. But Japan has much the same VCR as everywhere else, just as NZ has much the same VCR rate as the US.

INVESTIGATE: But on the FBI figures, NZ has a VCR more than double the US overall.

ALPERS: Print that, that’s fine.

INVESTIGATE: But you have no response to it?

ALPERS: I haven’t seen those figures. This is insane. Absurd. I can see now how you get your articles, your technique is pretty, unusual.

INVESTIGATE: Philip, you make your living from being a gun policy advocate. You are a PR person who is putting this case every single day. I am simply asking some hard questions and you can’t answer them.

ALPERS: I’m happy for you to give me questions, and I’ll send you an email.

INVESTIGATE: I will email you, and explain why these figures are relevant. To me it is patently obvious, and it is a simple thing. If there is some rational argument as to why they are not relevant then I’m happy to hear it. If the gun debate is being discussed by media types and being restricted to this narrow little area you’ve got it restricted to, and is not looking at the wider issue – that guns defend people from crime – and you say ‘I’m not willing to look at that because it doesn’t fit my analysis’, then there’s no intelligent debate going on.

ALPERS: I don’t say – you’re putting words in my mouth and I’m not going to accept that.

INVESTIGATE: Fine, then correct me.

ALPERS: I don’t need to. You’re going to print what you want to print, and who cares, really.

INVESTIGATE: A hundred thousand readers, perhaps.

ALPERS: Up to you.

Investigate did email the full statistics across to Alpers, and in return he sent back links to studies that he had suggested would “debunk” our line of questioning. Unfortunately, they didn’t. The reason for that was their focus. Alpers did not want to discuss the proven facts that states with higher gun ownership have lower violent crime rates. As you saw above, he wanted to focus only on gun crimes as the basis for comparison.

In this regard, Alpers and other gun control advocates are entirely correct, the evidence clearly shows that states with higher gun ownership have a higher level of gun-related incidents (not necessarily crimes – we’ll return to that point later). But as Alpers also admits, gun crime actually makes up only “a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of crime”. Alpers wants people to be sufficiently outraged about “a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of crime” to the extent that all guns are banned, or at least tightly controlled by the government.
The Webster study he offered to send, for example, found that: “In homes with guns, the homicide of a household member is about 3 times more likely to occur than in homes without guns. The risk of suicide of a household member is increased by approximately 5 times in homes with guns.”

But the gun lobby argues, with some backing based on the FBI figures, that a high level of civilian gun ownership actually deters a much larger proportion of criminals than just the “tiny, tiny, tiny proportion” who specifically misuse guns. If there’s an increased risk that burgling a house will get you shot, will a criminal take that risk? If there’s an increased risk that a potential mugging victim will grab a concealed gun and shoot his or her attackers, will a criminal take that risk? In Vermont, where there are virtually no restrictions on the ownership of Glock semi-automatic pistols and other handguns, the figures appear to speak for themselves: a violent crime rate of 119/100,000 compared to California’s gun-restricted 524/100,000.

The most tightly gun-controlled area in the whole United States is Washington DC, with a virtual total ban. You’d expect its violent crime rate to be low, right? In 2005, it was 1,459/100,000. Remember, New Zealand’s violent crime rate at 1,180/100,000 is only marginally less than the mean streets of Washington DC.

Auckland city’s rate is 1,236/100,000. Counties/Manukau police district’s violent crime rate is 1,621/100,000. In other words, for the vast majority of people in terms of their crime experiences, Manukau city is actually a more dangerous place than Washington DC. Neither Manukau nor Washington DC allows you to carry a concealed handgun, whereas Virginia, where concealed weapons are common – except on the University campus – has a violent crime rate of only 282/100,000, which is roughly only 1/6th the rate of Manukau city.

Expressed another way, you are between six and 14 times more likely to be mugged in Manukau, than you are in gun-happy Virginia or Vermont, USA.

Are New Zealanders inherently more badly behaved than Americans? Is New Zealand society six times sicker than the state that produced America’s worst-ever gun massacre?

Perhaps, we wondered, the prevalence of guns in Vermont might result in a higher number of murders than New Zealand. We checked. For 2005, the most recent year we seem to be able to get comparable figures for, New Zealand’s murder rate was 2.7 per 100,000 people. Vermont’s was only 1.3, less than half NZ’s murder rate.

In Washington DC, where no one is allowed to carry a gun at all except police and criminals, the murder rate was a staggering 35/100,000 that year.

New Zealand’s rate of sexual attacks, at 53/100,000, compares unfavourably with Washington DC on 34/100,000, the US national average of 32/100,000, or gun-happy Virginia and Vermont which are both on 23/100,000.

For robbery, New Zealand’s rate is 54/100,000, while Vermont’s is just 12/100,000. Virginia has a robbery rate of 99/100,000 – very similar to Manukau city’s 95/100,000. It is worth noting however that the just-released figures for 2006 show Manukau’s robbery rate has shot to 149/100,000.

New York, where guns are also banned however, has a robbery rate of 184/100,000. Washington DC’s is – wait for it – 672/100,000.

In the interview with Alpers, he suggested a National Academies of Science overview had taken account of all the gun research to date:

“All of it went right up the line to the National Academies of Science in the US, and the NAS brought out their report so I’ll send you that and hopefully that’ll bring you down a bit.”

So what does the NAS report actually say?

“Research linking firearms to criminal violence and suicide is seriously limited by a lack of credible information on who owns firearms and on individuals’ encounters with violence...Moreover, many studies have methodological flaws or provide contradictory evidence; others do not determine whether gun ownership itself causes certain outcomes.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the gun control position.

“Research has found associations between gun availability and suicide with guns,” noted the NAS, “but it does not show whether such associations reveal genuine patterns of cause and effect.”

In other words, did owning the gun cause a suicide or would they have killed themselves by another method anyway? Or did they simply buy a gun, rather than a rope, because they were already suicidal?

Alpers told Investigate that Harvard and other institutions had thoroughly rebutted and debunked the idea that gun ownership reduces violent crime rates, but the National Academies of Science report he sent us doesn’t support his claim at all.

“Current research and data on firearms and violent crime are too weak to support strong conclusions about the effects of various measures to prevent and control gun violence...there is no credible evidence that right-to-carry laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime,” says the NAS.

In other words, the studies specifically cited as “debunking” the idea are not regarded as “credible” by the National Academies of Science, even though they have been carried out by Harvard or Yale.

Despite this, Alpers says:

“I’ve sent you a bunch of studies which were published in peer-reviewed journals. The hypothesis you cite, that “states with liberal gun laws are enjoying much lower crime rates overall,” is by and large not to be found in literature which survived standard academic scrutiny. Instead, your theory is roundly discounted in the scientific literature, including the National Academies of Science report. That’s the peak of US scientific consideration.”

As you’ve seen however, we’ve quoted the NAS report, which says none of the studies to date can be trusted. Which is why Investigate largely ignored the studies and just went straight to the bottom line – comparing raw FBI crime data and ignoring the spin from both the gun lobby and the gun control lobby.

It is often said that higher gun-ownership equates to higher gun related incidents. But that statement doesn’t tell the whole story. When you compare gun homicides (murders committed by gun), you find the states with the highest gun ownership generally have the lowest rates of gun homicides.

STATE % of households w/guns Gun homicide rate
Wyoming 59.7% 1/100,000
Alaska 57.8% 3/100,000
Montana 57.7% 1/100,000
South Dakota 56.6% 0.9/100,000
West Virginia 55.4% 3/100,000

In comparison, the states with the lowest gun ownership:
STATE % of households w/guns Gun homicide rate
Washington DC 3.8% 25/100,000
Hawaii 8.7% 0.7/100,000
New Jersey 12.3% 3/100,000
Massachusetts 12.6% 2/100,000
Rhode Island 12.8% 2/100,000

On those figures, it is impossible to argue that gun ownership is directly related to gun homicide. For the record, the figures were taken from the CDC’s WISQARS data for 2004, used in the anti-gun Miller & Hemenway study published earlier this year by Harvard.
In a stinging critique of Miller & Hemenway, US blogger Jeff Soyer wrote:

“Buried within the study, Miller and Hemenway finally admit at their ‘study’ doesn't prove a causal relationship between homicide and guns in the home but that's not what their press release says and it's not how the liberal media is reporting the study results.

“Naturally, all media need do is compare Massachusetts (2/100,000) and New Hampshire (30% ownership, 0.8/100,000) to see that the percentage of homes with firearms has nothing to do with the rate of homicide by firearms.

“The problem isn't guns. It might be demographics, it might be a failure to lock up criminals or keep them locked up but it isn't households with guns. That dog don't hunt,” says Soyer.

Alpers however insists that we should pay no attention to the lower crime rates in states where guns are allowed, and instead focus on firearms deaths. He quotes firearms death rates for Virginia of 11/100,000, compared with New Zealand’s 1.3/100,000. But when homicides only are counted, the rate drops to 3.9/100,000. Vermont’s overall rate was 9/100,000. Again, when homicides only are selected, Vermont’s rate drops to an incredibly low 0.3/100,000. The vast bulk of Vermont’s gun deaths are suicide.

It is true that a large number of American suicides involve guns, and when lobbyists like Philip Alpers talk about “firearm death rates” in media interviews they are usually including the suicide figures in there. So how do we compare on the suicide front?

In 2003, according to Ministry of Health figures, New Zealand’s suicide rate was 11.5/100,000. In the United States, it was 10.8/100,000. Despite the guns in the US, more New Zealanders are killing themselves than Americans. Virginia’s suicide rate, at 11.1/100,000, is slightly lower than New Zealand’s.

It is true that easy access to guns makes it easier for someone bent on murder-suicide to take a whole lot more people with him. But it is also true, as real incidents have shown, that armed members of the public can and have foiled mass murders in recent years by intervening.

Philip Alpers disagrees, citing the Iraq war zone as proof.

“No such effect seems apparent in the favelas of Rio or in Baghdad. To wish only for escalation, and to always discount prevention, seems to be a hallmark of the gunfight fantasist.”

Perhaps. But 32 American students were gunned down in an area where firearms prevention was already in place. It is likely that many of them, in their dying moments, wished that somebody had been able to shoot back.


Footnote: Because of space limitations caused by our major lead story this month, we could not include all of the material for or against that has been provided to us. Readers interested in hearing the full interview with Philip Alpers on MP3 can find it at www.thebriefingroom.com, along with the studies emailed to us by Philip, and other research links we perused as well.

For the record, Investigate believes there is strong merit in tightening gun ownership laws to restrict undesirables, but that ideology – “guns are always good” or “guns are always bad” has no place in intelligent debate on the issue. The statistics we have quoted here are genuine. They have not been “debunked”, and they require explanation. One final point: we absolutely reject Alpers’ assertion in his interview that he “didn’t have the figures” and we were being unfair. Alpers was not provided with questions in advance by TV3’s CampbellLive, but was perfectly happy with the question line. The figures we quoted from were standard FBI crime rate figures which Alpers, as a paid gun control lobbyist for a decade, should have been familiar with.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2007

The Boy Racer Problem: March 05

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OUT OF CONTROL

Horrific road smashes involving young drivers are increasingly dominating news coverage on both sides of the Tasman. In New Zealand, we’ve introduced ‘boy racer’ laws and extensive restrictions on young drivers, prompting calls for similar tough measures in Australia. But as PAUL HAM explains, the real cause of the problem may actually be the feminization of society.

The nannyish, knee-jerk campaign by the New South Wales government and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to introduce new laws for P-plate drivers to stop them killing themselves is not only a bleak manifestation of the infantile element in modern Australian political thought, but a sad symptom of a society that fails to grasp the fact that laws will not stop young men from doing blindingly stupid, terrifyingly dangerous, or amazingly heroic things.

The problem is – as the sad case of Emile Dousset (more on this in a moment) and other young drivers’ shows – laws cannot stop the intrinsic anarchy of youth. The experience of history, which we seem to be in the process of rapidly forgetting, teaches that adults need to channel the male instincts, rather than throttle them with laws, if we are to have any hope of generating something worthwhile from our sons.

Strict schooling, parental discipline and national service were once the traditional conduits for controlling the errant young male. None is likely to return. The relentless surge of progressive education, which has destroyed a generation of young people’s minds, marches on. The reintroduction of national service is clearly unlikely – it would be electoral suicide, and too expensive. And there is barely a flicker of life in the old family punishment regime – crushed by the anti-spanking campaign and other lobbies that criminalize or socially stigmatise any form of effective parental child discipline.

So politicians have spotted a vote winning opportunity: we’ll do the job of the parents.

Encouraged by the supine complicity – or, in the weird case of some publications, a cheerleading press – the ruling political class has seen fit to barge into our homes and tell our children how to behave without ever asking us.

“If parents can’t control their kids, we’ll have to do it for them,” runs the thinking; cue the busy bodies in government, who are parking their tanks on the parental patch with bossy impunity.

And yet the politician who demands parental as well as political power is a tiny symptom of a profound delusion in the western body politic: Governments actually think they can play mum or dad in outlawing the oldest, most creative and destructive urge in the human species: a young man’s propensity to behave recklessly.

In this process, parents have become the mere finger-wagging appendages of a society that increasingly relies on the crudest form of dissuasion: the law. The punishment of our kiddies is being appropriated by state legislators who cynically applaud the introduction of laws to control youth because they suppose them to be “voter friendly”.

Hence the proposed shiny new proposals in Oz for curbs on P-Plate drivers, which go hand-in hand with our mania for age limits, anti-spanking laws, anti-drinking laws, anti-smoking laws, bicycle helmet laws, and prohibitions of all kinds of behaviours perceived to be dangerous.

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PHOTO: NZ Herald

In this light the tragic case of Emile Dousset is instructive. His father Graeme is, by all accounts, a responsible, decent man who made it very clear to his son that the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR parked in the garage – a machine powered by a 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 251km/h - was off limits. Graeme repeatedly warned Emile that the car was not to be driven; he tried to educate his son about the dangers of speeding, and the importance of responsible driving.

Emile listened, but disobeyed his father, and set aside his dad’s reasoned appeal to good sense – the flight of any ordinary young man’s desire for a thrill. One night, while his father was overseas, Emile took the vehicle out for a spin in the town of Wyoming, NSW, where a 50km/h limit applies. The P-plater drove first to a service station and picked up two passengers, Carl Homer, 33, and Natasha Schyf, Homer’s pregnant 15-year old girlfriend. Both were impressed by the gleaming vehicle, and curious to see how young Emile would handle it.

At this point it is worth interceding to remark on the manner in which virtually every commentator chose to ignore the really disturbing story here: in impregnating a child, the 33-year old Homer was manifestly guilty at the very least of carnal knowledge – and possibly child abuse – a more insidious force in society than reckless driving. Few saw fit to remark on this rather unfortunate fact; one report nauseously praised the girl’s courage in rising to the challenge of pregnancy at so young an age. (Even as the Telegraph was studiously ignoring the details of Homer and Schyf’s relationship, it still managed to run – with a straight face – a story about a 37-year-old man accused of bedding a 15-year-old girl he met online. The headline? “Jailed for preying on girl.”)

But back to Emile. Perhaps in an effort to impress his passengers, he sped to a residential street popular amongst rev-heads. He then accelerated to somewhere between 180 and 200 km/h, struck a dip in the road, went airborne for 40m, and smashed into a telegraph pole. Stunned residents emerged from their homes to find the dead bodies of Emile and Carl flung on the nature strip; trapped in the split car was Natasha, who died with her unborn baby (whom she’d named William).

Emile has become another tragic statistic in the supposed “epidemic” of P-plate road victims. His case fed the portrayal of male youth of today as, at the very least, disobedient and reckless.

At worst, if the government and the media are correct, a spawn of half-formed, testosterone-fuelled yahoos are at this very moment rampaging across our fair land, smashing up their dads’ cars and their lives in brazen high-speed rallies; drinking themselves legless; or drugging themselves to the hilt.

That impression is plain wrong, of course; in the midst of the media hysteria over the epidemic of teen driver deaths came news that, rather than spiking skywards, fatal accidents involving P-plate drivers have fallen to their lowest levels in history, falling 30 percent from 1992 to 2002. And it’s not just young drivers who are getting safer: NSW closed 2004 with the lowest number of road fatalities overall since 1949, with a total of 522 deaths. To put these numbers it in context, NSW Health estimates that roughly a dozen times that figure die in the state every year due to smoking.

But the NSW government is not put off, and is instead trying to legislate against stupidity. For example, young people must now stay on their P-plates three times longer now than their parents were: they must progress from L plates to red beginners’ P plates to a P2 licence (green P plate) before they get their full licence – a three-year process, involving several tough hazard perception tests. No wonder P-plate drivers are in the spotlight for road accidents. If that regime doesn’t work, what will?

But the government wants to extend the regime, and Roads Minister Carl Scully has drawn up a paper of options to reduce P-plate driver fatalities: they include a proposed ban on fast or dangerous cars and raising the age limit for licence-holders. To be fair, even as he pursued this course, he recognized an insurmountable problem: only by banning cars will crashes be avoided, said a helpless Scully spokesman last November.

Never mind that this doomed experiment will be ignored: no self-respecting young larrikin will care much about a distant government bureaucrat droning on about the “P-Plate driver menace”; a curb on young drivers may even encourage speedsters onto the roads.


In earlier times, fathers were proud of the motive, if not the occasionally disastrous consequences, behind any healthy young son’s desire to show-off, or embrace dangerous situations. It is a biological inevitability. That is why young men volunteer for war: they, unlike women or older men, have an idea of themselves as bullet-proof. In a word, many young men reckon they’re unbreakable.

But this fact seems beyond the realm of comprehension of the legions of precious counselors, bossy journalists, government busy-bodies and tut-tutting feminists who are wheeled out with weary inevitability to bemoan the “youth of today” and their predilection to do very dangerous things every time a young person is killed or hurt.

If Lord Byron had lived today, no doubt swimming the Hellespont by “Club-footed Persons” would have been banned soon after he drowned. Sadly for the cosy modern world of health inspectors and safety first, the dashing young man who defies order and authority to express his peculiarly male urge to be the fastest or the strongest or a hero will always be with us – if in a suppressed or warped form.

That’s because we live in an age in which the female is in the ascendant, and manhood is seen as something awkward, smelly, yobbish or plain embarrassing. The male virtues of courage, mateship, loyalty and do-or-die heroism are either dead, or dying, stamped out by a fusillade of laws, restrictions, codes and feminist-driven contempt.

Indeed, this blokish larrikinism is regularly portrayed as a kind of mental illness and something to be ashamed of; the “male” in us is not quite “human”, rather something abnormal, even bestial. Men are inured to being presented as the buffoon or the idiot in endless films and TV shows; they seem to have swallowed the nonsense that they’re less intelligent than women.

Melbourne psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg reckons young males “do not have the neurological wiring that gives girls pause to think,” as he told journalist Kate Legge in the Australian recently. Having accepted this as a self-evident truth, Legge added: “This biological handicap is exacerbated by a lethal mixture of sloppy parenting and unprecedented commercial and peer pressure”.

It is worth weighing the meaning behind this extraordinary statement: young men are no longer merely stupid or loutish; they are actually biologically inferior to girls. “New research” or “experts” say so.

But surely a biological handicap must be qualified in terms of its effect on human behaviour? If the male “biological handicap” only results in rev-heads crashing their cars, or picking fights, then perhaps it is a handicap; if, however the male “handicap” produces young men willing to sacrifice their lives for their country at a time of war; or rush in fearlessly to save the life of someone in danger; or embark on daunting expeditions of discovery, then surely it is a gift?

Today’s society denies young men that accolade. They are simply mentally-challenged louts. One wonders how the nation would respond if we were invaded (as we nearly were in 1942) – perhaps we’d introduce a new law banning war?

Setting aside the absurd claim that the “commercial and peer pressure” on boys of today is “unprecedented” (e.g., how does one calculate this new precedent?), Carr-Gregg’s fundamental concern is that parents seem surprised when their boys misbehave: "I sit in my office gobsmacked at tales not out of place at a Roman orgy," he observes. "Parents don't seem to have a clue. One couple allowed their teenage son free range at home while they went to Noosa. He had a party. The house was trashed and the parents were astonished. These are intelligent professional people.”

Yet Carr-Gregg contradicts this admirable portrait of the modern young man’s party-organising abilities by claiming that today’s generation of boys “is the most vulnerable…we have ever seen”. On the one hand the little darlings are holding Roman orgies, the next they’re the vulnerable victims of a conspiracy of bad parenting, bad schools and ferocious marketing that “short-circuit”, in Legge’s phrase, a boy’s path to manhood.

In response, Carr-Gregg and legions of other psychologists, most of the media, and even feminist-mums are pressing for a return to more authoritarian styles of parenting and schooling. (Though, tellingly, they draw the line at anything possibly effective – like corporal punishment. They want carrots without sticks; they plead for the imposition of discipline without any disciplining force.)

But their plea, however welcome, is a little late. One groans wearily at this belated recognition of the failure of 30 years of progressive “liberal” education, whose seeds lay in the barren soil of the 1960s baby boomer era. It is now awfully clear that a child will not find his or her “inner creativity” without some instruction in the method of expressing it: i.e. lessons in grammar, ordered thinking, reason, logic, the rules of syntax etc.

Another fascinating reversal for these New Authoritarians is that they now acknowledge “gender difference”. “Risk-taking behaviour is unquestionably a gender issue on Australian roads,” writes Kate Legge, for example. “Young men have been found to score significantly higher than females when tested for impulsiveness and sensation-seeking,” she adds.

And research by Peter Palamara of the University of Western Australia's Injury Research Centre has found that young men are more likely to engage in risky driving when carrying a same-aged, same gender passenger. In other words, young men like showing off to their mates…what an extraordinary thing.

This identification of “gender difference” is an intriguing break with the past: throughout the 1970s, feminists were telling us that there is no such thing as gender difference. Men and women were the same, at least psychologically. (No wonder so many women burnt their bras in that wretched era, the high watermark of idiocy, during which the greatest insight of feminism was that “manhood” was a cultural phenomenon imposed on children; a little girl would naturally choose Ken over Barbie if only she was given the chance. Any parent knew – and knows - this to be utter rubbish.)

One consolation from the wreckage of the past – and of poor young Emile - is that at least many people are talking a similar language. Many people seem to have noticed that men and women are, er, different; and most people seem to agree that the progressive education and parenting models of the last 20-30 years have failed to produce well-adjusted young men. This seems an auspicious place to begin finding ways to channel male recklessness, aggression and risk-taking into something constructive.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

X in the Suburbs: April 05 issue

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X IN THE SUBURBS

Ecstasy and other party drugs used to be an import-only business. But now, home-grown gangs are figuring out the trick to pill-making and flooding the market with their wares. JAMES MORROW in Sydney and SHAUN DAVIES in Melbourne report on the growing drug industry in our own backyards.


March 9, 2005: Federal agents stop a van traveling down the Hume Highway near the Victoria-New South Wales border. After arresting the two men on board – a 39-year-old Sydneysider and a 31-year-old Melburnian – cops find five 44-gallon drums of chemicals that can be used to make MDMA, or ecstasy. That night, armed with search warrants, police sweep through a number of suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne, including Pyrmont – an increasingly trendy and cashed-up inner-city neigbourhood which is also home to Sydney’s Star City Casino – and make several more arrests and seizures.

Amongst the cops’ haul for the evening: “proceeds of crime”: a 4WD Porsche Cayenne and a Lamborghini, as well as five more 44-gallon drums of so-called “precursor chemicals”. According to the Australian Federal Police, “a conservative estimate of the MDMA pills capable of being produced from this amount of precursor is four million tablets, which has an estimated street value of $160 million.”

But while the AFP was quick to trumpet this “largest-ever seizure” of precursor chemicals, the bust only scratched the surface of a growing trade in so-called “party drugs”: MDMA (better known as ecstasy), as well as GHB, methamphetamine, the animal tranquilizer ketamine, and a variety of other chemicals that are increasingly popular with Australian youth. According to figures published in 2001 by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, one in five Australians between ages 20 and 29 had tried ecstasy – a figure that experts agree has only gone up in the four years since.

Fast-forward to Melbourne, the following week. On Sunday night of the Labour Day long weekend in Melbourne, the dance floor at Revolver, one of the city’s best-known clubs, is packed with sweaty bodies. It is well past midnight and you’d expect the pulsing electronic music to be driving the crowd into a frenzy. But the atmosphere is actually quite subdued: most dancers are only swinging their arms in time to the beat, and some of them are barely moving their feet at all.

It may be that the crowd is not enjoying the DJ, but an equally likely explanation is that a batch of “smacky” pills has been doing the rounds. A “smacky” pill generally contains some MDMA, but it's adulterated with another drug, usually ketamine or heroin, which leaves users in a stupor. Contrary to commonly held ideas, not all pills sold as ecstasy drive users to all-night dancing and potentially fatal dehydration.

Some of the drug users in Revolver are easy to spot. One young clubber, dressed in low-slung jeans and a trucker’s cap, has obviously overindulged. He stumbles about the club with a slack jaw and a faraway look in his eyes, disoriented and seemingly unsure of where to put himself. Eventually he collapses on a couch in the corner of the room with his legs splayed out, rolls his head back and stares at the ceiling.

But most of the people who have taken ecstasy are more in control, and to spot them you have to know what to look for. Furious chewing is one clue: ecstasy makes users grind their teeth incessantly, and users chew gum to prevent aching jaw muscles the next morning.

Another sure sign is excited hugging and sloppy smiling – ecstasy’s empathetic qualities give users a seemingly uncontrollable urge to tell anyone within earshot just how amazing it is to be alive.

Ecstasy comes on in a rush. About 40 minutes after swallowing a pill, your body and brain are consumed with overwhelming pleasure: this is the strongest part of the trip and users refer to it as “peaking”.

After about an hour the intensity of the trip will decrease slightly, although the effects won’t really start to wear off until a good three or four hours later. The comedown is difficult and many users will take multiple pills over the course of an evening to prolong the rush and put off the inevitable.

Those who use ecstasy regularly agree that in the past six months the market has been flooded with high-quality ecstasy. The pills are purer now, which means longer and better peaks and easier comedowns. Users have become pickier and local drug manufacturers, it seems, have been rushing to meet this demand.

One Pill, Two Pill, Red Pill, True Blue Pill

Last week’s bust, and several others over the past year (none of which have made a dent in supply on the street, incidentally), lends further credence to the theory that ready-made ecstasy is no longer being imported on the scale it once was, and that instead, domestic gangs are now bringing in just the ingredients and manufacturing it themselves. This was hinted at in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency report last year which noted that, “There also have been several large-scale 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), a.k.a. Ecstasy, laboratory seizures in the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas. The chemicals seized at these MDMA laboratories originated from locations throughout Southeast Asia. Australian law enforcement and customs officials are also seizing increasing amounts of sassafras oil being smuggled through various ports-of-entry, such as Sydney and Melbourne. Sassafras oil produces safrole, which can be used as a precursor chemical in the manufacture of MDMA”.

Or as an ecstasy user, calling himself Zaki, put it recently, “I think Australia has stepped up to the mark and shown we are not only good at swimming, cricket [and] rugby. We are now among the best in good, clean and therefore harm-minimising MDMA production”.

The amount of harm MDMA does is another question (see below), but the fact remains that no matter how many busts the police make, ecstasy prices remain stable (at around $30 to $40 a hit), and there is never any shortage of supply in the dance clubs of any of the capital cities.

“The market is so big, and we know that there are lots of different ways that pills are getting here”, says Johnboy Davidson. “We’ll see big busts, you know, three million pills or something like that, and still supply won’t be affected.” Davidson is the spokesman for Bluelight, an Australian website that has grown to be the biggest online drugs forum in the world. A public advocate for the principles of harm minimisation, Davidson is careful not to paint himself as a wild-eyed libertarian of the “legalize it” stripe, but rather calls for a more “realistic approach” to drug use in Australia.

According to Davidson the international ecstasy trade began in earnest in the 1990s but, until recently, Australian drug traffickers haven’t had the means to make their own product. “The Golden Triangle states switched over from heroin to methamphetamine production in the ‘90s, and then they switched over to MDMA as well,” he says. “A lot of the supply routes came through Indonesia. There used to be a triangular trade from Europe, across Indonesia, and into Australia, but then it became more smugglers from China or Thailand bringing drugs into Australia via Indonesia. Oddly enough, the trade in Indonesia is run by a lot of African and even Israeli gangsters.”

Today, however, some of the best ecstasy on the market is thought to be home-grown, and in the past six months to eight months, the Australian market has been flooded with high-quality MDMA and other pills. Ecstasy is given street names according to the colour of the pills and the type of logo that is stamped on them: Red and green Mitsubishis (red or green pills with the Mitsubishi automaker’s logo stamped on them), yellow doves, red Rolexes and red Russians have all been popular on the market lately and, according to those who take them, these drugs are more pure than anything they’ve had for years.

But for Australian drug traffickers to make their own ecstasy takes both expertise – about equivalent to that of a third-year university chemistry student – and equipment, including precursor chemicals and a pill-pressing machine. It is this second item that, experts say, is one of the hardest and most dangerous tools of the trade to come up with.

“Pill presses are a monitored thing and you can’t buy one without a very good reason…having one is like printing money, and it’s one of those things that can get ripped off as well”, says Davidson, who makes a gun with his fingers and demonstrates what can happen if a rival crew hears about the existence of a pill machine. “Most of them would be only about the size of a washing machine. There was a bust three or four years ago somewhere in a block of flats in inner-city Melbourne where a neighbour complained about a guy who had his clothes-dryer on all night. So the landlord looked in, realised what it was, and told the cops. Then a full production lab was busted”.

So who was behind the Hume Highway bust? Cops are tight-lipped, not wanting to compromise their investigation. But speculation is that with the bust taking place near Wodonga, a small town that is also home to several motorcycle gangs and a crime rate far higher than similarly-sized Australian communities, one crew may have heard about a rival’s shipment and ratted it out to the police.

More telling, though, is that the amounts involved show a far greater ability of Australian drug peddlers to acquire the chemicals needed to make their own MDMA, rather than purchasing pills or powder from overseas. Says Davidson, “a tonne of precursors is … an astonishing amount. We’d only thought people were making small batches, maybe ten to twenty kilograms at a time, but this really gives you an idea of the market”.


The Sting in the Tail

With demand so high, it is clear that even with a ten-fold increase in resources, the police would be hard-pressed to make much of a dent in the local market for party. The urgent question thus becomes, are there chickens that will come home to roost from an entire generation’s chemical bender, or is a young person’s going out to a dance club and popping a few pills occasionally no more dangerous than him or her having a really big night at the pub? In the short term, that is probably correct: on any given weekend night, far more emergency department admissions will be made as a result of alcohol and the behaviours it inspires than as a result of MDMA or other party drugs.

“Drugs are always going to be a major factor in presentations at emergency departments, both for hyperventilation and dehydration as well as for people who might have had some underlying psychiatric problem”, says Dr. Bob Batey, a clinical advisor at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. “With that said, it’s probably a minority of users who show up. At the moment, except for the people who show up with acute medical consequences – which are often a one-off – we don’t have much long-term data.”

While this may seem to give ecstasy a reasonably clean bill of health, or at least place it somewhere in the shouldn’t-have-had-that-last-Bundy area of youthful overindulgence, Batey cautions that it’s still early, so the full effects of the drug are still not yet known. And while he says that ecstasy definitely leads to structural changes in the brain and has problems associated with long-term depression, “we need more information before saying anything dogmatic about the substance”.

Still, “people who say that pure MDMA is harmless are most probably wrong”, says University of Sydney psychpharmacologist Dr. Iain McGregor, who explains that ecstasy works by flooding the brain with the neurotransmitter serotonin – a chemical that not only regulates mood, but is also thought to help memory and thinking skills. (Prozac and other anti-depressants in its class work specifically by preventing serotonin from being reabsorbed into the brain. This is not only why it works as a treatment for depression, but also explains the so-called “Prozac effect”, in which healthy patients who take the drug report not only feelings of euphoria, but also sharper thinking and greater overall efficiency and brain function).

“Ecstasy may cause a surge in serotonin, but there is a sting in the tail: for weeks or months you may have lowered levels, and in the days after a binge, there is a documented depression”, he says – a well-documented phenomenon amongst users, known as “suicide Tuesday”. “Studies we’ve done in our lab here have found that if we give lab rats ecstasy regularly for three months they wind up with anxiety and poorer memory. Furthermore, if you’ve taken a huge amount of ecstasy and really knock down your serotonin levels, they may never recover to where they were before”. Further weight to the ecstasy-depression link was uncovered recently by researchers at Cambridge University in England, who found that in people with certain genetic make-ups, MDMA could cause an increase in depressive symptoms.

But the bigger danger is mixing drugs, or worse, taking unknown substances – a message Davidson has been preaching for ages. If you have to take something, says McGregor, “you’re better off with pure MDMA if you know that’s what it is. It’s certainly a lot better than methamphetamine [which is often sold as ecstasy], which has a different sort of toxicity. We see a lot of real problems when meth and MDMA are combined, especially by accident, because there is a real exaggerated toxicity”.

Perhaps the most sobering words for ecstasy users come from Dr. Batey, who points out that “like cannabis ten years ago, we didn’t think it was going to be a big problem, but anything that is altering the neurotransmitter system causes real concern for long-term potential damage”: a lot of people may be able to go come through their experiences unscathed, but for users prone to depression or other psychological ailments, there could be a lot of agony after the ecstasy.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2007

Stunning Revelations: The untold story of deaths by Taser

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With New Zealand three months into a year long trial of Taser stun guns, there's growing controversy here and overseas about whether Tasers are as safe as claimed, and whether the company itself has cut corners. SILJA TALVI backgrounds the anti-Taser mood:

TASER International Inc. maintains that its stun-guns are "changing the world and saving lives everyday." There is no question that they changed Jack Wilson's life. On Aug. 4, in Lafayette, Colo., policemen on a stakeout approached Jack's son Ryan as he entered a field of a dozen young marijuana plants. When Ryan took off running, officer John Harris pursued the 22-year-old for a half-mile and then shot him once with an X-26 Taser. Ryan fell to the ground and began to convulse. The officer attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Ryan died.

According to his family and friends, Ryan was in very good physical shape. The county coroner found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system and ruled that Ryan's death could be attributed to the Taser shock, physical exertion from the chase and the fact that one of his heart arteries was unusually small.

In October, an internal investigation cleared Officer Harris of any wrongdoing and concluded that he had used appropriate force.

Wilson says that while his son had had brushes with the law as a juvenile and struggled financially, he was a gentle and sensitive young man who always looked out for his disabled younger brother's welfare, and was trying to better his job prospects by becoming a plumber's apprentice.

"Ryan was not a defiant kid," says his father. "I don't understand why the cop would chase him for a half-mile, and then 'Tase' him while he had an elevated heart rate. If [the officer] hadn't done that, we know that he would still be alive today."

Ryan is one of nearly 200 people who have died in the last five years after being shot by a Taser stun gun. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would review these deaths.

Over the same period, Taser has developed a near-monopoly in the market for non-lethal weaponry. Increasingly, law enforcement officials use such weapons to subdue society's most vulnerable members: prisoners, drug addicts and the mentally ill, along with "passive resisters," like the protesters demonstrating against Florida Governor Jeb Bush's attendance of a Rick Santorum fundraiser in Pittsburgh on Oct. 9. (See sidebar, "Passive Resisters.")

Taser has built this monopoly through influence peddling, savvy public relations and by hiring former law enforcement and military officers--including one-time Homeland Security chief hopeful, Bernard Kerik. And now that questions are being raised about the safety of Taser weaponry, the company is fighting back with legal and marketing campaigns.

Birth of a Taser

In 1974, a NASA scientist named Jack Cover invented the first stun gun, which he named the TASER, or "Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle," after Tom Swift, a fictional young inventor who was the hero of a series of early 20th century adventure novels. Because it relied on gunpowder, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms classified Tasers as registered firearms.

That changed in the early '90s. According to Taser's corporate creation story, co-founder Rick Smith became interested in the device after friends of his "were brutally murdered by an angry motorist." Smith contacted Cover in the hopes of bringing the Taser as a self-defense weapon to a larger market. In 1993, with money from Smith's brother Tom, they created Air Taser Inc., which would later become Taser International Inc. When Tasers were re-engineered to work with a nitrogen propellant rather than gunpowder, the weapon was no longer categorized as a firearm. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department adopted the guns, but they were not widely embraced by other departments.

Taser's fortunes improved in 1998, after the company embarked on a new development program, named "Project Stealth." The goal was to streamline stun gun design and deliver enough voltage to stop "extremely combative, violent individuals," especially those who couldn't be controlled by non-lethal chemicals like mace.

Out of Project Stealth, the Advanced Taser was born. When the weapon premiered in 2000--a model eventually redesigned as the M-26--the company brought on a cadre of active and retired military and law enforcement personnel to vouch for the weapon's efficacy. The new spokespersons ranged from Arizona SWAT members to a former Chief Instructor of hand-to-hand combat for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Taser began to showcase the Advanced Taser at technology-related conventions throughout North America and Europe, billing it as a non-lethal weapon that could take down even the toughest adversary. Soon to be among those "dangerous" opponents were the protesters assembling in Philadelphia for the 2000 Republican National Convention.

By the following year, 750 law enforcement agencies had either tested or deployed the weapon. Today, more than 9,500 law enforcement, correctional and military agencies in 43 countries use Taser weaponry. In the past eight years, more than 184,000 Tasers have been sold to law enforcement agencies, with another 115,000 to citizens in the 43 states where it is legal to possess a stun gun.

When the electricity hits Taser's stun guns are designed to shoot a maximum of 50,000 volts into a person's body through two compressed nitrogen-fueled probes, thereby disrupting the target's electromuscular system. The probes are connected to the Taser gun by insulated wires, and can deliver repeat shocks in quick succession. The probes can pierce clothing and skin from a distance or be directly applied to a person's body--a process known as "dry stunning"--for an ostensibly less-incapacitating, cattle-prod effect.

"The impetus for Tasers came from the often community-led search for 'less-than-lethal' police weapons," explains Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department and author of Breaking Rank. "[There were] too many questionable or bad police shootings, and cops saying, correctly, that there are many ambiguous situations where a moment's hesitation could lead to their own deaths or the death of an innocent other."

According to Taser's promotional materials, its stun guns are designed to "temporarily override the nervous system [and take] over muscular control." People who have experienced the effect of a Taser typically liken it to a debilitating, full-body seizure, complete with mental disorientation and loss of control over bodily functions.

Many Taser-associated deaths have been written up by coroners as being attributable to "excited delirium," a condition that includes frenzied or aggressive behavior, rapid heart rate and aggravating factors related to an acute mental state and/or drug-related psychosis. When such suspects are stunned, especially while already being held down or hogtied, deaths seem to occur after a period of "sudden tranquility," as Taser explains in its CD-ROM training material entitled, "Sudden Custody Death: Who's Right and Who's Wrong." In that same material, the company warns officers to "try to minimize the appearance of mishandling suspects."

Taser did not respond to requests for an interview. But its press and business-related statements have consistently echoed the company's official position: "TASER devices use proprietary technology to quickly incapacitate dangerous, combative or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens or themselves." Another brochure, specifically designed for law enforcement, clearly states that the X26 has "no after effects."

Ryan Wilson's family can attest otherwise, as can many others.

Casualties and Cruelties

In the span of three months--July, August and September--Wilson's Taser-related death was only one among several. Larry Noles, 52, died after being stunned three times on his body (and finally on his neck) after walking around naked and "behaving erratically." An autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in his system. Mark L. Lee, 30, was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor and having a seizure when a Rochester, N.Y., police officer stunned him. In Cookeville, Ala., 31-year-old Jason Dockery was stunned because police maintain he was being combative while on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Family members believe he was having an aneurysm. And Nickolos Cyrus, a 29-year-old man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was shocked 12 times with a Taser stun gun after a Mukwonago, Wis., police officer caught him trespassing on a home under construction. An inquest jury has already ruled that the officer who shot Cyrus--who was delusional and naked from the waist down when he was stunned--was within his rights to act as he did.

Although the company spins it otherwise, Taser-associated deaths are definitely on the rise. In 2001, Amnesty International documented three Taser-associated deaths. The number has steadily increased each year, peaking at 61 in 2005. So far almost 50 deaths have occurred in 2006, for an approximate total of 200 deaths in the last five years.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have also drawn attention to the use of Tasers on captive populations in hospitals, jails and prisons.

In fact, the first field tests relating to the efficacy of the "Advanced Taser" model in North America were conducted on incarcerated men. In December 1999, the weapon was used, with "success," against a Clackamas County (Ore.) Jail inmate. The following year, the first-ever Canadian use of an Advanced Taser was by the Victoria Police, on an inmate in psychiatric lockdown. Since that time, Taser deployment in jails and prisons has become increasingly commonplace, raising concerns about violations of 8th Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

This summer, the ACLU of Colorado filed a class action suit on behalf of prisoners in the Garfield County Jail, where jail staff have allegedly used Tasers and electroshock belts, restraint chairs, pepper spray and pepperball guns as methods of torture. According to Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU of Colorado, inmates have told him that Tasers are pulled out and "displayed" by officers on a daily basis, either as a form of intimidation and threat compliance, or to shock the inmates for disobeying orders.

A recent report from the ACLU's National Prison Project (NPP), "Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina," concerns the plight of the estimated 6,500 New Orleans prisoners left to fend for themselves in the days after the monumental New Orleans flood. The NPP's Tom Jawetz says that the organization has been looking into abuses at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) since 1999, but that the incidents that took place in jails and prisons in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were unprecedented.

Take the case of New Orleans resident Ivy Gisclair. Held at OPP for unpaid parking tickets, Gisclair was about to be released on his own recognizance when Hurricane Katrina hit. After languishing with thousands of other prisoners in a flooded jail, Gisclair was sent to the Bossier Parish Maximum Security Prison. Once there, Gisclair apparently had the nerve to inquire about being held past his release date. Gisclair has testified that he was then restrained and stunned repeatedly with a Taser, before being thrown, naked and unconscious, into solitary confinement.

"I can't imagine any justification for that," says Jawetz. "[Prison guards] were kicking, beating and 'Tasing' him until he lost consciousness. A line was crossed that should never have been crossed."

In March, Reuben Heath, a handcuffed and subdued Montana inmate, was shocked while lying prone in his bed. The deputy involved--a one-time candidate for sheriff--now faces felony charges.

Gisclair and Heath are among the inmates who have survived in-custody incidents involving the abuse of Tasers. Others haven't been as fortunate. This year alone, those who have died in custody in the aftermath of being stunned by Tasers include Arapahoe County Jail (Colorado) inmate Raul Gallegos-Reyes, 34, who was strapped to a restraint chair and stunned; Jerry Preyer, 45, who suffered from a severe mental illness in an Escambia County, Fla., jail and was shocked twice by a Taser; and Karl Marshall, 32, who died in Kansas City police custody two hours after he was stunned with PCP and crack cocaine in his system.

Appropriate uses "We are seeing far too many cases where Tasers are not being used for their intended purposes," says Sheley Secrest, president of NAACP Seattle. "And many of these cases don't end up getting reported or properly investigated because people are so humiliated by the experience."

Former U.S. Marshal Matthew Fogg, a long-time SWAT specialist and vice president of Blacks in Government, says that if stun guns are going to be used by law enforcement, training on their use should be extensive, and that the weapons should also be placed high up on what police officers call the "use-of-force continuum."

Fogg isn't alone in calling for such measures. In October 2005, the Police Executive Research Forum, an influential police research and advocacy group, recommended that law enforcement only be allowed to use Tasers on people aggressively resisting arrest. The organization also recommended that law enforcement officers needed to step back and evaluate the condition of suspects after they had been shocked once. Similar recommendations were included in an April 2005 report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. That report also urged police departments to evaluate whether certain vulnerable groups--including the mentally ill--should be excluded altogether from being shot with Tasers.

Although Fogg's organization has called for an outright ban of Tasers until further research can be conducted, Fogg says that he knows responsible members of law enforcement are perfectly capable of using the weapons effectively. Officers who are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the community, he emphasizes, must be given the tools and training to be able to minimize harm to themselves and to others.

Fogg, who also serves on the board of Amnesty International USA, says that too many members of law enforcement seem to be using them as compliance mechanisms. "It's something along the lines of, 'If I don't like you, I can torture you,' " he says.

Some law enforcement agencies have already implemented careful use policies, including the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which selectively hands out Tasers to carefully trained deputies. The department also prohibits use of Tasers on subjects already "under control." According to Sheriff Michael Hennessey, deputies are not allowed to use stun guns in response to minor ineffectual threats, as a form of punishment, or on juveniles or pregnant women. Within the department, stun guns are purposely set to turn off after five seconds. Additionally, every use of the weapon in a jail facility must be videotaped.

"I authorize Tasers to be used on people who are at high risk of hurting themselves or deputies," Sheriff Hennessey emphasizes. "Without options like these, the inmate and the deputies are much more likely to get seriously hurt."

But when stun guns are used on people who don't fit that criteria, Secrest says, the public should be asking serious questions about the efficacy of Taser use, particularly because of the emotional trauma related to Taser-related take-downs.

"When a person comes into our office after they've been [Tased], it's not as much the physical pain they talk about as much as the humiliation, the disrespect," she says. "The people [who are stunned by these guns] talk about not being able to move, and thinking that they were going to die."

As for actual Taser-associated deaths, Secrest believes that they should be investigated just as thoroughly as deaths involving firearms. Instead, Taser injuries and deaths are typically justified because officers report that the suspect was resisting an arrest.

"That's the magic word: 'resisted,'" says Secrest. "Any kind of police oversight investigation tends to end right there."

Capitalizing on 9/11

Despite these concerns, Taser International Inc. has thrived. The 9/11 terrorist attacks sent the company's profits soaring. Many domestic and international airlines--as well a variety of major law enforcement agencies--were eager to acquire a new arsenal of weapons. Homeland Security money flooded into both state and federal-level departments, many of which were gung-ho to acquire a new arsenal of high-tech gadgets.

In 2002, Taser brought on former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik as the company's director. Kerik had attained popularity in the wake of 9/11 as a law-and-order-minded hero; the company had seemingly picked one of the best spokespersons imaginable.

With Kerik's help, company's profits grew to $68 million in 2004, up from just under $7 million in 2001, and stockholders were able to cash in, including the Smith family, who raked in $91.5 million in just one fiscal quarter in 2004.

Unbeknownst to most stockholders, however, sales have been helped along by police officers who have received payments and/or stock options from Taser to serve as instructors and trainers. (The exact number of officers on the payroll is unknown because the company declines to identify active-duty officers who have received stock options.)

The recruitment of law enforcement has been crucial to fostering market penetration. For instance, Sgt. Jim Halsted of the Chandler, Ariz., Police Department, joined Taser President Rick Smith in making a presentation to the Chandler city council in March 2003. He made the case for arming the entire police patrol squad with M-26 Tasers. According to the Associated Press, Halsted said, "No deaths are attributed to the M-26 at all."

The council approved a $193,000 deal later that day.

As it turned out, Halsted was already being rewarded with Taser stock options as a member of the company's "Master Instructor Board." Two months after the sale, Halsted became Taser's Southwest regional sales manager.

In addition, Taser has developed a potent gimmick to sell its futuristic line of weapons. In 2003, Taser premiered the X-26. According to Taser's promotional materials, the X-26 features an enhanced dataport to help "save officer's careers from false allegations" by recording discharge date and time, number and length and date of discharges, and the optional ability to record the event with the Taser webcam. The X-26 also boasts a more powerful incapacitation rating of 105 "Muscular Disruption Units", up from 100 MDU's for the M-26.

The X-26 is apparently far more pleasing to the eye. As Taser spokesperson Steve Tuttle told a law enforcement trade journal, "It's a much sexier-looking product."

Lawsuits jolt Taser

As increasing numbers of police departments obtained Taser stun guns, the weapons started to be deployed against civilians with greater frequency.

Many of the civilian Taser-associated incidents have resulted in lawsuits, most of which have either been dismissed or settled out of court. But there have been a few exceptions.

In late September, Kevin Alexander, 29, was awarded $82,500 to settle an excessive force federal lawsuit after being shocked 17 times with a Taser by a New Orleans Parish police officer. The department's explanation: the shocks were intended to make him cough up drugs he had allegedly swallowed.

One recently settled Colorado case involved Christopher Nielsen, 37, who was "acting strangely" and was not responsive to police orders after he crashed his car. For his disobedience, he was stunned five times. When it was revealed that Nielsen was suffering from seizures, the county settled the case for $90,000.

An Akron, Ohio, man also recently accepted a $35,000 city settlement. One day in May 2005, he had gone into diabetic shock and police found him slumped over his steering wheel. Two officers proceeded to physically beat, Mace and Taser him after he did not respond to orders to get out of the car.

Taser's lack of response to the misuse of the company's weapons is troubling. The company relentlessly puts a positive spin on Taser use, most recently with a "The Truth is Undeniable" Web ad campaign, which contrasts mock courtroom scenes with the fictionalized, violent antics of civilians that prompt police to stungun them.

The campaign involves print ads, direct mail DVDs and online commercials that "draw attention to a rampant problem in this country: false allegations against law enforcement officers," according to Steve Ward, Taser's vice president of marketing.

"We're going to win"

The lawsuits have scared off some investors, making Taser's stock extremely volatile over the years. But press coverage of the company this past summer largely centered around Taser's "successes" in the courtroom. In addition to settling a $21.8 million shareholder lawsuit revolving around allegations that the company had exaggerated the safety of their product (they admitted no wrongdoing), Taser has triumphed in more than 20 liability dismissals and judgments in favor of the company. And the company's finances are on the upswing: Third-quarter 2006 revenues increased nearly 60 percent.

Regardless, CEO Rick Smith claims his company is target of a witchhunt. "We're waiting for people to dunk me in water and see if I float," is how he put it during a March 2005 debate with William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Last year, with 40 new lawsuits filed against it, Taser dedicated $7 million in its budget to defending the company's reputation and "brand equity." The company has also gone on the offense, hiring two full-time, in-house litigators.

At one point, Taser hinted that it might sue Amnesty International for taking a critical position regarding Taser-associated injuries and deaths. In November 2004 Smith announced that the company's legal team had begun a "comprehensive review of AI's disparaging and unsupported public statements [to] advise me as to various means to protect our company's good name."

In one of the company's brashest legal maneuvers to date, Taser sued Gannett Newspapers for libel in 2005. The lawsuit alleged USA Today "sensationalized" the power of Taser guns by inaccurately reporting that the electrical output of the gun was more than 100 times that of the electric chair. This past January, a judge threw the case out, saying that the error in the article was not malicious, and that the story was protected by the First Amendment.

The company remains unwavering and aggressively protective, even as Taser-associated deaths mount each month. As Smith told the Associated Press in February, "If you're coming to sue Taser, bring your game face, strap it on and let's go. We're gonna win."

From Jack Wilson's standpoint, citizens are the real losers. His son Ryan lost his life in a situation that could have been handled any number of other ways, and no amount of legal posturing can bring Ryan back.

"I still can't believe my son is gone," he says. "The fact is that these Tasers can be lethal. No matter how they're categorized, Tasers shouldn't be treated as toys."

Thanks to the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund for research support, and to David Burnett for research assistance.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 03:03 PM | Comments (1)

March 09, 2007

LOST IN THE MATRIX INVESTIGATE: JUN 03

From Donald Duck to Donald Dark, is a new breed of cartoon a threat to our childrens’ mental health? IAN WISHART brings together research from around the world that suggests violent cartoons and interactive games are turning kids into killers...

Once upon a time there were cartoon shows. You remember them, Mickey and Donald, Roadrunner and Wylie Coyote, even Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Bright, bold and usually hilarious, those early Warner Brothers and Walt Disney hit shows had generations of kids cackling over their Cornies on a Saturday morning. Sure, they were violent, but in a harmless, toony sort of way. Back in those days, a burglary in Auckland was front page news, murders were running as low as three or four per year, and wagging school was an occasional "treat", not an occupational choice. Youth suicide was virtually unheard of. In 1972, the suicide rate for 15 to 24 year old males was just 9 per 100,000 of them. Today it runs as high as 39 deaths per 100,000 in that age group.

For a long time, media watchdog groups have claimed a link between television violence and aggression in teenagers and adults. Now the international studies are lining up thick and fast - not only is there a link, but some experts believe television has declared psychological warfare on children and is literally training children to kill, as you’ll see shortly.

But first, a clue to the problem can be found in the spin surrounding it. For years, New Zealand TV executives have denied any link between TV violence and violence in society. "We reflect society, we don’t lead it," has been the industry position for more than two decades.

However, while both TVNZ and TV3 have endeavoured to comply with a viewing watershed of 8.30pm before screening adult material, a much bigger problem has slipped below the radar for most people: the huge increase in violence and the occult in childrens’ programmes, screened directly in childrens’ viewing hours.

Donald Duck has given way to Beast Wars, Digimon and the latest craze hitting New Zealand, Yu-Gi-Oh. What most of the groundbreaking new childrens’ cartoon shows have in common are two things: Japanese animation and extremely dark, violent, occult and brooding themes.

Yu-Gi-Oh has already hit the news headlines in New Zealand after alleged counterfeit playing cards associated with the programme as merchandise were seized at Auckland by customs agents at the request of the authorised importer..

How dark is Yu-Gi-Oh? Well, for a start, it is unashamedly religious programming aimed at children, although admittedly no religion you ever grew up with. Instead, 41 year old Kazuki Takahashi, the show’s creator, wanted to revive "ancient Egyptian mysticism" as the underlying force in his programme.

The show follows the adventures of a young boy named Yugi:

"When Yugi was growing up, his Grandfather gave him an ancient Egyptian artifact called the "Millenium Puzzle" to try and figure out. It is said that whosoever manages to solve this puzzle will be granted dark and mysterious powers. Yugi eventually was able to solve the Millenium Puzzle, and when he did, something amazing happened!

"When the Millennium Puzzle activates, Yugi is filled with its magical energies and becomes Yami Yugi, his much more powerful alter ego. Not only is Yami Yugi a master dueler, but he is full of confidence and courage."

In what must have been a merchandiser’s dream, Takahashi uses the artistic device of a magical card game that is played by Yugi and his friends, and, pf course, by tens of millions of children around the world who purchase the cards in bookshops and toystores.

"Duel Monsters is a card-battling game in which players pit different mystical creatures against one another in wild, magical duels! Packed with awesome monsters and mighty spell-cards, Yugi and his friends are totally obsessed with the game.

"But there’s more to this card game than meets the eye! Legend has it five thousand years ago, ancient Egyptian Pharaoahs used to play a magical game very similar to Duel Monsters. This ancient game involved magical ceremonies, which were used to foresee the future and ultimately, decide one’s destiny. They called it the Shadow Game, and the main difference back then was that the monsters were all real! With so many magical spells and ferocious creatures on the earth, it wasn’t long before the game got out of hand and threatened to destroy the entire world! Fortunately, a brave Pharaoh stepped in and averted this cataclysm with the help of seven powerful magical totems.

"Now, in present times, the game has been revived in the form of playing cards..."

And you can pretty much guess the rest. Yu-Gi-Oh has become an international obssession for kids everywhere.

Central to the show, and the card game, are the dark haunting characters and artwork typical of the Japanese comic style known as "Anime" (pronounced AH-nee-may). So popular has anime become in the US that several universities now offer lecture courses on the style and its origins. Wrote the Seattle Times recently:

"Anime often tackles such themes as death and betrayal, and the stories sometimes are so intense that they are edited for children in the United States.

"The animations are shown as television series or feature-length movies in Japan, where adults are as likely as children to be the core audience.

"The academic movement in the United States reflects the fact that so many students had already become anime aficionados on their own. As elsewhere in the country, the University of Washington and most colleges around the state have student-run anime clubs.

"While parents sometimes decry anime for its violence and gory graphics, anime fans argue that those more intense animations are geared toward adults, not kids.

"The craze borders on obsession for some. At Washington State University, a handful of students gather weekly to learn conversational Japanese simply to understand anime better. And diehards watch anime with subtitles instead of dubbed versions because they feel the dialects and the voice inflections get lost in translation."

So if shows like Yu-Gi-Oh are part of the staple television diet in Japan, perhaps there are some clues there as to the long term effects on society. Correspondent Michael Zielenziger reports Japanese youth culture is in deep depression:

TOKYO - Kenji has seldom left his bedroom in five years. On a good day, when he forces himself, he can almost get to the front door of his mother’s small Tokyo apartment before fear overtakes him.

"It requires a lot of courage just to go downstairs and get the mail," said the 34-year-old shut-in, who is thin as a twig and nearly as fragile. "I have two personalities: One who doesn’t want to go out and one who does. They are fighting with each other constantly."

Kenji’s self-imposed confinement is surprisingly common in Japan today, after a decade of economic and social decline that has produced many worrisome effects. At least 1 million young Japanese adults, the vast majority men, imprison themselves in their rooms for months or even years at a time, according to Tamaki Saito, the first therapist to write a book on the subject. They sleep during the daytime and pace their rooms at night, hardly ever leaving except for a quick run to the 7-Eleven, if they can manage that.

Counsellors and psychiatrists say Kenji’s reclusiveness, known in Japan as "hikikomori," is an illness that exists only in Japan and was unknown even there until a decade ago. Hikikomori sufferers shut themselves off from siblings and friends, even parents, whom they sometimes attack in violent outbursts.

Kenji’s behaviour is a symptom of Japan’s decline. A growing number of professional counsellors and other experts worry that the nation itself is becoming a lot like Kenji: isolated, apprehensive and unable to interact with the outside word.

"I fear that Japan, as a nation itself, is becoming hikikomori," says psychiatrist Satoru Saito, who treats shut-ins and counsels families in his Tokyo clinic. "It is a nation that does not like to communicate. So what these young adults are doing is a mirror of what they see around them in adult society."

Japan’s trains still run on time, its streets are safe and most people live comfortably. Handguns are illegal, drug problems do not permeate schools or streets, and random violence is virtually unknown.

Still, deep pessimism has infected many aspects of Japanese society:

- Japanese are killing themselves in record numbers, more than 31,000 per year, three times the number who die in traffic accidents. Their suicide rate is the highest among industrialized nations and is steadily climbing. The rate among workers in their 30s has risen nearly 45 percent since 1996.

- Japan’s birthrate is among the lowest in the industrial world and still declining, because young women are avoiding marriage and refusing to bear children. By 2005, Japan’s population will begin to shrink, a trend that demographers say will be nearly impossible to reverse. The labour force, likewise, will dwindle drastically.

- Alcohol consumption is declining across the globe, but not here. Though alcoholism is rampant and accepted as a release from work and social pressure, it is almost never discussed by opinion leaders or at the workplace.

- Japanese workers are increasingly dissatisfied with their lives, stressed out and depressed, and modern antidepressants have become legal only recently. A survey of 43 nations by the Pew Research Centre, released this month, found that Japanese are far more pessimistic about themselves and their children’s future than the people of any other relatively prosperous nation.

- The demise of Japan’s extended family structure is causing unprecedented strains. While divorce rates are low, couples are growing apart, living in sexless marriages, often in separate bedrooms. Stressed-out mothers force their children to study and go to "cram school" in order to pass competitive entrance exams to high school and college, while absentee fathers spend their time and energy at work.

"Whether it’s hikikomori, alcoholism or sexless couples, these are all different manifestations of the same problem," says Masahiro Yamada, a prominent sociologist. "These are all symptomatic of the social and psychological deadlock of Japanese society.

"When you look around at Japanese society, you see that more and more people have just given up."

Men such as Kenji appear desperate to fit into society. Yet when they pursue even modest individuality, they generate friction that leaves them burned out or too weak to cope.

Though Kenji seldom leaves home, he agreed to speak about his condition after twice begging off, tearfully explaining on the telephone, "I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just can’t come." When he finally did agree to talk, he said it was the first time in five years that he had left his apartment or spoken to anyone except his mother.

After just two trips outside their apartment, he became angry and "unstable," his mother said. He since has retreated to his room again, and his mother refuses to let him come to the phone, speak to outsiders or be photographed.

Kenji once was a mischievous child who loved playing third base. But he remembers being suddenly "frozen out" by classmates at his Tokyo grade school at age 12, when they inexplicably stopped talking to him.

"First it was just the boys, but within a week it was the girls, too," he says. "I thought it would pass after the winter school vacation, but it didn’t change at all. Since I wasn’t a student who studied hard, without having any friends I couldn’t find a reason to go to school. It was too painful."

Today, some 20 years later, he talks about those events as if they had happened yesterday.

Articulate and thoughtful, now he spends his days reading newspapers, watching TV and thinking.

Psychiatrists describe hikikomori as a syndrome in which young adults, usually men in their 20s and 30s, shut themselves off from the world, away from friends, school or work, for six months or more. These individuals do not suffer from other known psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism or panic disorder. Hikikomori is different from agoraphobia, which occurs in the United States, whose victims fear leaving home to visit an unsettled social environment but can mix with friends or relatives in their homes.

Stress and fatigue also trigger the social isolation. Dai Hasebe dropped out of junior high school after his parents enrolled him in a juku designed to help him pass the competitive high school entrance exams. In elementary school, the 12-year-old hadn’t gotten home until after 10 at night.

"After a while, I just got tired," says Hasebe, now 19, who has spent most of the past six years secluded in his parent’s three-room Tokyo apartment. "There was no particular incident," such as bullying or a harsh conversation with a teacher, that made him stop going to school, he said. "I was just relieved not to have a schedule."

Hasebe now wears shoulder-length hair and a moustache and whiles away each afternoon building scale models in his bedroom. He constructs Japanese Zero fighter planes and French helicopters, draws precise diagrams of military equipment and designed a sort of 21st-century fantasy gladiator, a silvery pterodactyl with a rocket launcher that stands sentry in the entryway of his family’s home. Hasebe hardly eats; his pants barely stay on his hips even when they’re tightly belted.

Dr. Kosuke Yamazaki, a professor of child psychiatry at the Tokai University School of Medicine, thinks hikikomori patients’ frustration is the leading cause of domestic violence in Japan, as lonely, isolated and troubled adult children lash out in a cry for help. "They behave like brutal tyrants," he said.

Many of his patients often expressed fear that they would kill their parents by accident. "They say they have a personality that sometimes rages out of control."

Masahisa Okuyama, whose son suffers from hikikomori, founded the KHJ support network, which now has 31 chapters across Japan. Its name is formed from the initials in Japanese for obsessive neurosis, persecution mania and personality disorder.

"Parents are also victims of this disease," explains Okuyama, a former advertising executive, who was beaten by his 27-year-old shut-in son. He abandoned the family’s suburban home for a small apartment out of fear that his son would kill him.

"He hates me, but the relationship between parent and child is so strong," Okuyama says. "He can kill me or I could kill him. Let’s face it, we’ve been dissolved as a family."

More than half the parents in one suburban group of 120 affected families say they’ve been attacked by their children. One woman pulled up her sleeve and revealed an ugly black-and-blue mark, the result of being assaulted by her son. Another woman sleeps in her car for fear that her son will beat her.

Around one table, a group of 11 parents discussed how best to reach out to their children. Most cooked dinner for their children and left food outside their bedroom doors. Some said their children left their rooms only when their parents went to bed. With tinges of guilt, many admitted that they found it difficult to communicate with their children when they were younger.

Kenji desperately wanted to find a way to rejoin society. "I sometimes look back and say, `How did I become like this?’" he said.

"When you are raised by a wolf you grow up a wolf," Kenji said. "You can’t go back into normal society. That’s how I feel. Teachers tell you, `You are free to grow up and become what you want.’ But adults can’t show us any example where that’s true."

While it would certainly be unfair to blame all of Japan’s growing social chaos on its dark, occult-obssessed youth television, it would also be a mistake to ignore its impact. And lest New Zealanders get too comfortable, it is worth remembering that New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is nearly four times higher than Japan’s.

Is Yu-Gi-Oh going to make it any better? Not if the names of some of its game cards are an indicator. The programme screens at 4.30pm in New Zealand, making it "prime time" accessible to all children. And according to international reports, children are lapping up television’s new obsession with the occult like there’s no tomorrow:

It was a report in the Times of London that first illustrated the extent of the problem. Journal-ist Daniel McGrory discovered the huge range of pagan TV programmes for kids was encouraging many to begin exploring paganism, and even satanism, by searching websites on the internet.

"Teachers’ groups are worried that nobody is monitoring the effect this fascination with the occult is having on its teenage followers. There are no official figures in Britain for victims driven to suicide, but experts have no doubt that some young people have suffered from the malign influence of satanic cults.

"It took 15 suicides in two years before the authorities in Saxony demanded an investigation. Here, teachers’ unions and experts say that the authorities do not take the menace seriously enough. They warn of the dangers to teenagers of dabbling unsupervised with sinister websites. Some of these describe in lurid detail how they should drink blood or carry out blood-letting to seal their pact with Satan. They also encourage impressionable teenagers to join in "chat rooms" to express how miserable they are," wrote McGrory.

"Parents are advised not to rely on Internet filters to prevent their children from accessing sites featuring satanism and witchcraft.

"For many young people interest was aroused, innocently enough, through television programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a teenage girl does battle with all manner of satanic forces.

"In a recent survey of 2,600 children aged 11 to 16, more than half said that they were interested in the occult. The worry is that more than 15 per cent of those questioned by Mori said that they were worried about what they had discovered on the Web.

"The Association of Teachers and Lecturers wants schools to introduce classes advising young people of the risks of delving into the occult on the Internet. Peter Smith, the general secretary, said: "This goes beyond reading a Harry Potter story. This represents an extremely worrying trend among young people. Parents and teachers should educate children and young people about the dangers of dabbling in the occult before they become too deeply involved."

"Experts believe that there are now more than 1,000 cults operating in Britain and that their popularity has spread through the Internet. They are becoming adept at snaring young professionals through so-called self-help websites—for stopping smoking, losing weight, meeting a partner or playing the stock market.

"Ian Haworth, general secretary of the London-based Cult Information Centre, tours schools to dispel the idea that only vunerable youngsters fall prey to satanic cults. He says that recruiters are also active at college and university campuses, distributing free magazines that offer links to scores of Internet sites. "There is no doubt the Internet means that many more youngsters can dip into areas of the occult without realising what they are letting themselves into," he said.

In the case of Buffy, copycat psychosis appears to be the order of the day. In one celebrated case last year, a British teenager was arrested after becoming convinced that he, too, was a vampire, and beheading his elderly neighbour before drinking her blood. A young German couple were similarly found guilty of the ritual vampire murder of a man - they drank blood from his corpse before having sex in a coffin they’d purchased for the occasion.

Similar strong followings for Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch are also making an impact. Britain’s Pagan Federation recently reported it was receiving more than a hundred calls a month from children and teenagers wanting to know more about joining an occult group.

Pagan Federation spokesman Andy Norfolk told journalists youngsters’ questions had become "much more mature" than those of the "how do I cast a spell?" variety, and tended to deal with "the religious aspects of witchcraft."

"We don’t get asked how to become a witch, but rather we get asked what a young witch should do.

"Many of those who write seem to have already found their spiritual path and wish to learn more."

Although the Pagan Federation denies actively recruiting children, it has appointed a "youth affairs" officer who also happens to be a school teacher, and its adult members have published a series of books for children, some available in New Zealand, with titles like The Young Witches’ Handbook, which includes spells for passing school exams or attracting a lover, or Spells for Teenage Witches, "a self-help book for young people".

In the US meanwhile, prominent newspapers like the Miami Herald have begun to investigate the rapidly plunging standards of broadcast television:

MIAMI - Fifty years ago, when a married Lucille Ball was having a baby on I Love Lucy, network censors wouldn’t allow use of the word "pregnant." This past year, on Friends, Rachel had a baby resulting from a one-night stand - and on the day it was due tried to speed up the delivery via a quickie sexual encounter with her male roommate.

Forty years ago, Ozzie and Harriet never had a scene of any kind take place in the Nelsons’ bedroom. This year, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a fistfight between Buffy and a vampire turned into roughhouse sex so violent that it literally knocked the house down around them.

Thirty years ago, network officials told singer Helen Reddy they would cancel her show unless she started wearing a bra. This year, contestants on Fear Factor were ordered to strip naked on camera to stay in the game.

Twenty years ago, an outraged NBC censor vetoed a Saturday Night Live sketch where Bill Murray and Gilda Radner’s nerdy characters put on a dopey high school nativity pageant: "You can’t give noogies to the Virgin Mary!" This year, Cameron Diaz hosted SNL and sang dirty children’s songs that purported to be about hirsute shellfish and rain-soaked kitty-cats.

It’s not puritan paranoia: This is not your father’s broadcast television. TV, once expected to be a polite guest in our living rooms, has turned into more of drunken party-crasher. Sex, violence and language that in earlier days would have triggered FCC threats and congressional investigations is now routine. Says show-biz historian and critic Michael Medved of TV standards: "I’m not sure I would use the word SHIFTING. I think the word COLLAPSING might be more appropriate."

You think he exaggerates?

Every week the CBS crime show CSI features mutilated corpses that would gag a maggot. Televised urination has become so routine that when FX’s The Shield had a cop whizzing on a suspect, producer Shawn Ryan bragged that "we shot it in a very tasteful way, as p——— scenes go."

That’s the sort of comment that outrages Laura Mahaney, vice president of the conservative Parents Television Council, which is lobbying advertisers to boycott The Shield. "What you’ve seen is a run to the bottom of the barrel, where the networks are seeing who can put the filthiest stuff on the fastest. You never would have seen references to oral sex or inferences of oral sex even five years ago. Now you do all the time, even on shows at 8 p.m ... It’s like a freight train run amok."

Whether you share Mahaney’s disgust, it’s hard to argue with her facts. A brief, chaste lesbian kiss on the 10 p.m. L.A. Law scandalized the country in 1991; this season, when lesbian witches on the 8 p.m. Buffy the Vampire Slayer levitated because the oral sex was especially good, it passed almost unnoticed.

Producers, network executives and other TV experts say there are several reasons television’s standards, which were relatively static for its first 40 years, have changed so dramatically over the past decade, but prime among them would have to be a disappearance of the will to fight the flood anymore.

Adds Medved: "There’s always been this sort of push-pull between Broadcasting Standards people and producers. Obviously people in the creative community want to test to see what they can do. There’s almost an element of gamesmanship to it. But what’s been happening in the past few years is that the creative people push, but on the other side, no one pushes back."

Critics argue it’s because the very people hired to be censors have themselves grown up on a sex and vio-lence TV diet and become inured to it, blind to what now surrounds them.

But while levitating nude witches engaging in oral sex on Buffy doesn’t make them bat an eyelid, those same TV censors are quick to leap on anything seen as non politically-correct. In the US, black comedian Arsenio Hall got a big laugh after cracking a black joke on the Tonight show, while one of David Letterman’s scriptwriters found herself censored for trying to tell a similar one-liner. An example in New Zealand this year was the ongoing furore over whether two Christian videos should be banned.

In a column for National Radio’s Mediawatch programme, commentator Karl du Fresne picked up the story:

"Those videos expressed views that were understandably unpopular with gay activists. One was that the gay activist lobby was demanding not just equal rights, but special rights; the other was that homosexuality was a factor in the spread of HIV and Aids.

"Neither of these, you might think, qualifies as an outrageous or even exceptional proposition. Yet the videos ended up before the Chief Censor, who considered them so potentially injurious to the public good that he imposed an R16 restriction. Not satisfied with that, a gay activist group appealed to the Film and Literature Board of Review, which declared the videos objectionable in anyone’s hands."

A court fight ensued, and eventually the Court of Appeal ruled that the videos should be cleared for release, but the Film Review Board then asked the Government to consider outlawing what it calls "hate speech".

In March, while most of New Zealand’s attention was on the Iraq crisis, a parliamentary select committe chaired by MP Diane Yates, released its own report on the issue, "and oddly enough," writes Du Fresne, "the main thrust is that the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act should be modified to encompass hate speech.

"That would mean politically incorrect opinions such as those expressed in the Living Word videos could be banned without the pesky Court of Appeal getting in the way. And the Chief Censor wouldn¹t have to bother himself with nitpicking, high-flown notions about freedom of expression.

"Interestingly enough, nowhere in the report is any attempt made to define "hate speech". It’s one of those wondrously loaded phrases, like "social justice", that can mean whatever the user wants it to mean. In the context of the committee’s report, it seems to mean anything that might offend a minority group.

"Presumably it would be left to the Chief Censor to define hate speech, and in so doing to determine what New Zealanders are allowed to say, see and hear. This places unprecedented and dangerous power in the hands of a bureaucrat and casts him in the role of a commissar in Soviet Russia. It also tugs the censorship laws in an entirely new direction, and one that I suspect Parliament never intended when it passed the Act in 1993."

Amid the irony that the chief target of censors may soon be the so-called "morals cam-paigners", rather than programme-makers, dark entertainment like Yu-Gi-Oh continues unchallenged to prep the pre-teen market with violent occultism while Buffy and Charmed do the trick for their older siblings.

One very harsh critic of the high-violence, high occult kids shows is Lt. Colonel David Grossman, a military pschologist who used to study methods of brainwashing US soldiers to make them better killing machines. Now he tours the US like a voice in the wilderness, warning that today’s television content and violent role-playing computer games are on a par with the best military technology in training kids to murder.

Grossman has studied social and crime trends in a range of countries, including New Zealand, and his diagnosis is grim.

"To understand the why behind outbreaks of this "virus of violence," we need to understand first the magnitude of the problem. The per capita murder rate doubled in the US between 1957—when the FBI started keeping track of the data - and 1992. A fuller picture of the problem, however, is indicated by the rate people are attempting to kill one another - the aggravated assault rate. That rate in America has gone from around 60 per 100,000 in 1957 to over 440 per 100,000 by the middle of this decade. As bad as this is, it would be much worse were it not for two major factors.

"First is the increase in the imprisonment rate of violent offenders. The prison population in America nearly quadrupled between 1975 and 1992. According to criminologist John J. DiIulio, "dozens of credible empirical analyses…leave no doubt that the increased use of prisons averted millions of serious crimes." If it were not for our tremendous imprisonment rate (the highest of any industrialized nation), the aggravated assault rate and the murder rate would undoubtedly be even higher.

"The second factor keeping the murder rate from being any worse is medical technology. According to the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps, a wound that would have killed nine out of ten soldiers in World War II, nine out of ten could have survived in Vietnam. Thus, by a very conservative estimate, if we had 1940-level medical technology today, the murder rate would be ten times higher than it is.

"The magnitude of the problem has been held down by the development of sophisticated lifesaving skills and techniques, such as helicopter medevacs, 911 operators, paramedics, cpr, trauma centers, and medicines.

"However, the crime rate is still at a phenomenally high level, and this is true worldwide. In Canada, according to their Center for Justice, per capita assaults increased almost fivefold between 1964 and 1993, attempted murder increased nearly sevenfold, and murders doubled. Similar trends can be seen in other countries in the per capita violent crime rates reported to Interpol between 1977 and 1993.

"In Australia and New Zealand, the assault rate increased approximately fourfold, and the murder rate nearly doubled in both nations. The assault rate tripled in Sweden, and approximately doubled in Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, and Scotland, while all these nations had an associated (but smaller) increase in murder.

"This virus of violence is occurring worldwide. The explanation for it has to be some new factor that is occurring in all of these countries. There are many factors involved, and none should be discounted: for example, the prevalence of guns in our society. But violence is rising in many nations with draconian gun laws. And though we should never downplay child abuse, poverty, or racism, there is only one new variable present in each of these countries, bearing the exact same fruit: media violence presented as entertainment for children."

Grossman’s identification of media violence as a catalyst for child violence is bourne out by confirmation that the two teenagers who committed the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado were addicted to the computer game Doom. It is worth noting that at the time Grossman was making these comments, back in 1998, the Columbine massacre had not yet happened. Grossman says the reason modern media violence is insidious is because it indoctrinates, glorifies and desensitises mass murder.

But haven’t we always had killing? Haven’t soldiers always gone into far more brutal battles than video can match? "Dur-ing World War II, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall had a team of researchers study what soldiers did in battle. For the first time in history, they asked individual soldiers what they did in battle. They discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual riflemen could bring themselves to fire at an exposed enemy soldier," explains Grossman.

"That is the reality of the battlefield. Only a small percentage of soldiers are able and willing to participate. Men are willing to die, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation; but they are not willing to kill. It is a phenomenal insight into human nature; but when the military became aware of that, they systematically went about the process of trying to fix this "problem."

"From the military perspective, a 15 percent firing rate among riflemen is like a 15 percent literacy rate among librarians. And fix it the military did. By the Korean War, around 55 percent of the soldiers were willing to fire to kill. And by Vietnam, the rate rose to over 90 percent.

"The method in this madness: Desensitization. How the military increases the killing rate of soldiers in combat is instructive, because our culture today is doing the same thing to our children. The training methods militaries use are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and role modeling. I will explain these in the military context and show how these same factors are contributing to the phenomenal increase of violence in our culture.

"Brutalization and desensitization are what happens at boot camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically and verbally abused: countless pushups, endless hours at attention or running with heavy loads, while carefully trained professionals take turns screaming at you. Your head is shaved, you are herded together naked and dressed alike, losing all individuality. This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.

"Something very similar to this desensitization toward violence is happening to our children through violence in the media—but instead of 18-year-olds, it begins at the age of 18 months when a child is first able to discern what is happening on television. At that age, a child can watch something happening on television and mimic that action. But it isn’t until children are six or seven years old that the part of the brain kicks in that lets them understand where information comes from. Even though young children have some understanding of what it means to pretend, they are developmentally unable to distinguish clearly between fantasy and reality.

"When young children see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized, degraded, or murdered on TV, to them it is as though it were actually happening. To have a child of three, four, or five watch a "splatter" movie, learning to relate to a character for the first 90 minutes and then in the last 30 minutes watch helplessly as that new friend is hunted and brutally murdered is the moral and psychological equivalent of introducing your child to a friend, letting her play with that friend, and then butchering that friend in front of your child’s eyes. And this happens to our children hundreds upon hundreds of times.

"Sure, they are told: "Hey, it’s all for fun. Look, this isn’t real, it’s just TV." And they nod their little heads and say okay. But they can’t tell the difference. Can you remember a point in your life or in your children’s lives when dreams, reality, and television were all jumbled together? That’s what it is like to be at that level of psychological development. That’s what the media are doing to them.

"The Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence. The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations after television made its appearance as compared to nations and regions without TV. The two nations or regions being compared are demographically and ethnically identical; only one variable is different: the presence of television. In every nation, region, or city with television, there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three- to five-year-old to reach the "prime crime age." That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.

"Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco. Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that "the introduction of television in the 1950’s caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides committed in the United States, or approximately 10,000 homicides annually." The article went on to say that "…if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults" (June 10, 1992).

"Classical conditioning is like the famous case of Pavlov’s dogs you learned about in Psychology 101: The dogs learned to associate the ringing of the bell with food, and, once conditioned, the dogs could not hear the bell without salivating.

"The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers would go into the ditch and bayonet "their" prisoner to death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being. Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually killed in these situations, but by making the others watch and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of atrocities to classically condition a very large audience to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and to so-called comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing violent acts with pleasure.

"The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it."

Operant conditioning, for the record, is rote learning to kill. Stimulus, reaction. Stimulus, reaction. In airforce training, it is flight simulator computer games - missile lock, fire. Training to operate purely on instinct and adrenalin. Something, says Grossman, that interactive computer games do so well with today’s kids.

So what sort of traction is the issue getting in New Zealand? We invited TVNZ chief executive Ian Fraser to comment, but there’s been no response. However, a working party is due to report back to the Government this September on whether children’s television is too violent.

Investigate approached the Broadcasting Standards Authority for comment on whether our programme standards covered protecting children from the occult.

"We’ve never really thought about it. No one’s ever complained," reported the BSA. Maybe no one’s ever realised they could.

additional reporting: Glenn Garvin, Michael Zielenziger, KRT


Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:28 AM | Comments (3)

RESCUING 111 INVESTIGATE: JUN 03

Leaked documents suggest the collapse of the police emergency communications system is imminent, and as HAMISH CARNACHAN reports, public lives may already be at risk...

Picture this: A police officer gets an urgent dispatch to a violent domestic involving a woman and her enraged partner. He speeds to the address, lights flashing, siren wailing, and arrives on the scene - a run-down house slap-bang in the middle of a nasty neighbourhood. Onlookers start to crowd around the patrol car, some start taunting the officer with obscenities, and unrestrained rogue dogs start barking menacingly. Even above the commotion outside vehicle the officer can hear the battle raging inside the house. He picks up the radio to call for back-up only to met with a staccato retort from a flustered call centre operator. "Standby units." Seconds turn to minutes and there’s still no reply from the operator. What does he do? Does he risk getting injured going in alone, or does he wait until the dispatcher is free to send help?

It may be hard to believe, but this is a dilemma that many of New Zealand’s frontline police officers are forced to face on a daily basis. And while the police have had a pretty tough time of time it lately, what, with questionable time delays in response to burglary callouts and then a high-speed pursuit ending in civilian casualties, this investigation suggests things are whole lot worse.

Backed up by leaked documents and testimony from within the ranks of the New Zealand Police Force, Investigate details a - frankly - shocking series of allegations which raise grave concerns about the efficiency of the current police communications system, and highlights the futile battle frontline officers are fighting to get the tools they need to do their job properly – keep the public safe.

The internal police reports, sent to Investigate by an officer working in the Bay of Plenty Police District, spell out a clear warning that the situation is so bad it is only a matter of time before lives are lost as a result. While blame is pointed squarely at low staffing levels in the Northern Communications centre, which covers the upper half of the North Island, and the resulting overloaded system, we discover the issue is by no means isolated to this region alone.

The reports we reveal here are not one-off inci-dents either. A few phone calls to random police stations around the country opened up a Pandora’s box of dissatisfaction, criticism, and widespread misgivings about the current communications system. And alarmingly, given the sober nature of the declarations, this is an issue that has plagued the police for years because, argue some critics, the bureaucrats who hold police purse strings are more interested in accountability than officer safety. Hung-over from the excessive budget blowouts of the 1990s, concerns are being raised that the culture of police spending has gone from one extreme to the other.

Although it happened more than four years ago, fresh in the mind of most officers is the fate of Constable Murray Stretch, who in 1999 was brutally bludgeoned to death in Mangakino whilst trying to apprehend a burglar on his own. As these reports reveal, there is a growing fear that a similar tragedy is imminent.

In one of our leaked internal reports, filed by a Bay of Plenty Senior Sergeant to one of his superiors, he complains that poor staffing levels are leaving officers unable to attend callouts and isolated in the field – a situation police are becoming increasingly wary of given the violent nature of today’s crime and criminals.

He writes, "This…is submitted to bring to your attention the dangerous situation of linking channels. Channels were linked through the period when I was working until 2300 hrs. The one female operator was running Whakatane, Tauranga, Rotorua and Taupo areas. We were fortunate that it was a quiet night yet [at one stage] she was running burglars in Tauranga and Rotorua, then a robbery in Taupo.

"Prior to these jobs occurring I came across youths fighting on the street. Attempts to get through to inform comms [communications] what was happening was met with ‘standby units’. I couldn’t even get through to Opotiki base to let the member there know what I was doing. I was met with a choice of sitting in the car for 10 minutes, watching these guys smacking each other around whilst waiting to get through, or going to sort it out. I did the latter and as anticipated was able to deal with it myself. My concern is what if the outcome was different?"

The Bay of Plenty officer goes on to state in his report that it was the third consecutive day in which police lines of communication had been clogged for "hours on end".

"As I type this," notes the Senior Sergeant, "the operator has told everyone to standby, that she has six jobs coming through. She is talking at 100 miles an hour to keep up and co-ordinate cordons. Staff could not do [personal and vehicle background checks, or inspect the occupants] etc due to the jobs coming in.

"My concerns are:

· The safety of staff on the street that cannot get on the air due to heavy airtime traffic (even on a relatively quiet night).

· The welfare of the operator. This report is in no way critical of her. She was doing an excellent job in the circumstances and I wonder how long she could keep it up without burning out.

· Criticism has been levelled at staff not …letting comms know where they are. Having spoken to my staff and then experiencing it myself whilst working swing shifts, I can see they can’t get through. It is difficult on a normal night but impossible when linked.

"Whilst I appreciate how difficult it is when we are short staffed, we cannot allow this situation to continue with the linking occurring on an ever frequent basis. One day it may cost the life of a colleague."

Another report leaked to Investigate, from the same area of operations, raises concerns about "an identifiable hazard under the Health and Safety legislation", and concludes with near identical concerns about officer safety.

"I wish to bring to your attention the fact that Whakatane/Tauranga are experiencing more and more occasions of our radio channels being linked with Rotorua/Tauranga, to the detriment of our work capabilities and safety.

"It is only a matter of when, not if, an officer is injured because he cannot get on the radio for help or backup."

Again, this officer raises the issue that police staff are failing to call in background checks because the "problem of [long communication delays] has become that common".

And perhaps most surprising, as the report reveals, is the fact that the communications centre is failing to inform frontline officers of future problems. On this occasion, it failed to arrange any advance measures to tackle low staffing levels despite knowing about pending shortages five weeks in advance.

"They also advised me that the channels were having to be linked between the hours of 0300-0700hrs for seven days… Around 0800hrs in the morning is the time when we experience the drunks coming out of the nightclubs and violence erupts quickly and from nowhere. Very unnerving when working by yourself and you cannot call on the radio because all the channels are linked."

These findings come in the wake of another complaint, from Palmerston North police, detailing similar concerns about the Central Communications centre, situated in Wellington and covering the lower half of the North Island. The unnamed officer was recently quoted in the Herald saying, the situation was putting lives at risk and "ultimately it’s the public getting stuffed by it and they don’t even know. The reason cops are standing off a bit is because we’re not getting any backup. They can’t get on the radio".

Phone calls to police stations in the South Island reveal similar discontent with the Southern Communications centre based in Christchurch. One disgruntled South Island officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the Christchurch call centre is invariably clogged as staff simultaneously juggle police communications, triple one emergency calls and dispatches.

"We only have one channel for the greater part of the top of the South Island. When we have a major incident we want to be able to split off to another channel so we can resolve it, not have all this interference. I can’t do that from my end – it’s got to be done through Southern comms [responsible for the entire South Island]. That’s part of the problem. They’ve regionalised the communications whereas once we dealt with it ourselves."

It was eight years ago that police communications were centralised into Southern, Central and Northern command units, re-placing regional networks in which each of the 12 police districts ran their own operations room. The process took place in conjunction with the failed $100 million Incis project to upgrade the police force’s mainframe Wanganui computer in the 1990s. This centralised Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) system was supposed to be linked into Wanganui when Incis came on line.

As we now know, Incis was a monumental failure that never eventuated. Its only legacy is the piecemeal national communications set-up now in place - established from the outset to be heavily dependant on the technology Incis was supposed provide. As Police Associations president Greg O’Connor explains, when the plug was pulled on Incis in the late 1990s, the rationale for CAD disappeared.

"While Incis was being built a national comms centre was also being built. The problem was, it was a technology led programme from the start. The Deputy Commissioner [of Police] said to me at the time that the rest of the country should have the same service as Auckland. That was a prophetic statement at the time because Auckland had lousy service."

According to O’Connor, another issue with the CAD system adopted by the New Zealand Police was that it had originally been developed for Melbourne – solely for a metropolitan area where everyone has a street address. This, he says, created "massive problems when we grabbed it and tried to make it work for the whole country" because of computer recognition difficulties with rural locations.

Additionally, O’Connor says the system has always been under-resourced and during the planning process "no one really defined the role of the new comms centres – there’s confusion around what their task is supposed to be".

That point is backed up by a police study, released in 2001, on the ‘Strategic Evaluation of the New Zealand Police Position Concerning the Use of Force When Responding to Potentially Violent Situations’ – in short the ‘Shuey Report’, named after one of the authors, the Assistant Commissioner of the Victorian Police.

One of the recommendations highlights that "urgent decisions be made and formally announced to districts concerning the command role (or otherwise) of the three communications centres during the course of operational deployments".

The review also found that "the three communication centres have been in place for over four years and the vexing question of their incident command/control role has yet to be resolved… Many anecdotal incidents were also raised by those interviewed, sufficient to reinforce this concern".

And yet, despite O’Connor’s certainty that "police managers are well aware of the problems", two years on it seems there still hasn’t been any action taken to address these apparent deficiencies.

"Most of the district commanders I’m sure would go back to the old system if they could," he says. "The biggest complaints I get are from provincial towns where one dispatcher is expected to cover three areas. Nobody that works in a city that used to have their own comms centre believes they’ve now got it any better."

As far as O’Connor is concerned, the lack of redress in this area can be directly linked back to the budget blow-out over the Incis project – a monster that regularly returns to haunt the police with "crippling accountability".

"The police have got a poor reputation with their investment in technology and the New Zealand Police will pay for Incis for a long time. I think police spending under the current regime is a lot tighter today. Under this commissioner, police spending has now got credibility back."

But, while that might be heart warming for the bean counters in Wellington, frontline officers have been left out in the cold, still worried for their lives and the lives of the public. So does O’Connor accept their concerns? The answer is a predictable "yes" but he also warns "that with the treasury people having so much influence in running the police" it is going to be detrimental to the force as a whole.

As the leaked reports show, it is already having a detrimental affect on frontline officers’ field capabilities. Yet, according to most police who spoke to Investigate, a solution to the situation of overloaded communications centres would not require a substantial investment. They suggest that providing frontline officers with a secure radio frequency, which can’t be decoded by criminals monitoring police channels as is the case at present, and mobile data terminals, to quickly run background checks, would certainly ease pressure on the three central communications networks.

Unfortunately, despite a $4billion surplus, Budget 2004 was somewhat parsimonious with the latest round of funding for police, and the communications issue has once again been overlooked for a spot on the Government’s list of top ‘priorities’ for the sector.

In a recent speech at the opening of a new police station on Great Barrier Island the Police Minister, George Hawkins, proclaimed that while there are many ways the government can spend money on police "the most satisfying is investing in police property".

"A solid and committed police capital works programme ensures staff enjoy comfortable, satisfying conditions in which to carry out the work they do. I am pleased to say that the current Government is investing around $12million per year on the refurbishment and rebuilding of stations nationwide."

It’s statements like these that have some critics fuming. They say suggesting officers’ comfort is a higher priority than safety shows that the Minister is about as in touch with policing issues as he was with housing when the leaky building crisis surfaced – or sank.

But regardless of what his detractors imply, it appears Hawkins has no idea of the communications problems police are facing. He informs Investigate that there are "no known issues that require attention" and that "police are not aware of any major issues involving the communications centres".

"Police are confident in the knowledge that the Comcens [communication centres], which are a mission critical function of policing, are working efficiently, effectively and producing the required outcomes," he says. "Police have deployed sufficient resources to these areas to achieve the required outcomes."

Although Hawkins was the MP who initiated a select committee inquiry into INCIS in 1999, these latest assurances might seem a little flimsy given there is little sign that apparently persistent problems are being rectified. Four years ago he openly criticised police under the National Party for failing to pull the plug on the doomed project.

He was quoted in the Herald saying, "I think by 1997 the police had realised this was a nightmare, but instead of doing something they fluffed up their pillows and rolled over."

In a more recent finger-pointing exercise he notes that police infrastructure and morale has "been gutted under the previous National-led government". And, in the same March 2003 briefing paper, the Minister again goes on to express confidence that under Labour the "police have the resources necessary to focus on crime prevention and resolution throughout New Zealand".

Clearly he isn’t getting his information from the same sources. Back on the communications issue he tells Investigate that the centres have "ongoing programmes to improve business and technology process and practices".

He also asserts that "performance targets are being met and customer surveys both internal and external have not highlighted any major issues", which seems to fly in the face of the Shuey report findings.

And yet this examination isn’t the first time the national communications network has been called into question. Sadly, overloaded systems have already been blamed for deaths in the past, and many questions still remain unanswered.

In 2001 a 12-year-old boy whose father lay dying after a diving accident near Whangarei had his emergency call diverted to Wellington’s Central Communications Centre because the northern call centre was overloaded. The diver’s death prompted concern that re-routing calls was causing life-threatening delays in access to emergency services.

Investigate’s latest revelations show the persistence of a serious problem that has continually failed to be addressed. Perhaps, too, they may shed some light on the recent search and rescue operation off the coast of Oamaru. Five men were left stranded in the water for hours, even after activating a rescue beacon when their boat was swamped. Two were subsequently rescued, one body was retrieved and the other two remain missing.

While the episode is currently under investigation by the Search and Rescue Council, reviews of internal processes by the National Rescue Coordination Centre and police are also being examined. Communication discrepancies were initially blamed for the delay, but the report, which is expected to be complete in six weeks, should shed more light on such claims.

Meanwhile, O’Connor, like the officers who filed the leaked reports, makes a clear point that the systematic failures in no way reflect the level of commitment that communications centre staff put into an "incredibly demanding job". He says they are doing the "absolute best they can" given the limitations of the tool they’re expected to work with.

"It’s when things aren’t working that we talk about them. Most of the time it does work but Murphy’s Law says it will always fail at the worst possible time."

So does that mean lives are potentially being put at risk?

"Yes, but lives are always at risk when police are out there dealing with criminals. It’s an inherently dangerous occupation. Policing is about risk minimisation though and you do that by using the best technology available so that every officer has contact with their home base. Anything that reduces that communication with home base increases the risk."


Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:25 AM | Comments (1)

HUNTING ACCIDENTS INVESTIGATE: JUL 03

They act before they think, almost pre-programmed to shoot on reflex -HAMISH CARNACHAN investigates the campaign to stop hunters killing each other in the bush

On Easter Sunday a young Hamilton man, out deer- stalking in the Kaimanawa Ranges, shouldered his rifle, placed the crosshairs over what he thought was the hindquarters of a deer, and squeezed the trigger. It took barely a split second for the high-powered projectile to travel the 20 metres to its target. But, in a blink of an eye that one bullet took one life, shattered the lives of many, hammering home in the harshest possible way the tenuous grasp of an individual’s existence.

Christopher Martin Davies had made the most fundamental error a hunter can make, a basic error of judgement that was to have catastrophic and lasting consequences far beyond the simplicity of that lethal act – he failed to correctly identify his target.

The tawny-coloured object Davies thought was a sika deer meandering through the scrub turned out to be a fellow deerstalker. By the time he had made that critical assessment though, it was too late for Taupo father Mark Leathwick. The hunter had become the hunted. Davies’ fateful shot slammed into Leathwick’s head killing him instantly, and making media headlines almost as quickly.

This tragic episode was to be the latest in a string of hunting related accidents over the month of April, and the third fatal shooting in as many weeks in the central North Island. Nine days prior to the death of Leathwick, Hamish Harland was shot dead by family friend and hunting partner David Webster Alker in Tongariro National Park, which followed the death of Mangawhai resident Peter McIntyre who was shot in the Urewera National Park at the start of the month. Over the same period, two South Island men were also hospitalised after being accidentally shot in separate hunting incidents – more would fall in the following days. And, only late last month, a 19-year-old man was killed by a member of his own party while hunting wallabies in South Canterbury.

These victims are among the more than 30 000 Kiwi hunters who will enter the bush this year to participate in what is normally one of the safest forms of outdoor recreation. But instead or returning with a trophy or yarn about the one that got away, they unwittingly join a list of casualties that many say could have been avoided.

Now, after one of the worst starts to the season on record, the public, police and shooting organisations are all hunting for answers: Why are good keen men continuing to kill each other in pursuit of leisure? How do you mistake a man for a deer? And, with three more families grieving the loss of loved ones, what can be done to prevent further tragedy and heartbreak?

On average, since 1979 there has been one accidental shooting of a hunter by another hunter every nine months. Over the past two years, Inspector Joe Green has studied every one of these cases. While his report is currently being peer reviewed and is not scheduled for public release until mid-July, he was willing to share some of his findings with Investigate.

Though he likes to emphasize that the number of hunting fatalities remains relatively low compared with other recreational pursuits, Green’s research still highlights some worrying aspects - in almost every case there has been a failure to correctly identify the target shot.

What makes this concerning to many, and "downright puzzling" to Green, is the fact that these hunters appear to have forgotten the very basics of firearms ownership and indeed arms-control law. One of the golden rules in the ‘Firearms code’ – the manual which all prospective gun owners must study to pass the licensing test – is ‘clearly identify your target’.

Every year there are reported cases of accidental gun discharges causing injury, and occasionally death, but Green says by far the most common cause of death in the incidents he studied has been one person shooting another person. There are a number of factors behind why this occurs but in most cases he points out that it is because "shooters seem to shoot at shape, sound or colour", breaking the simple rule which has resulted in at least two of the fatalities this year.

No one can doubt that when a hunter shoots another hunter it is a ter-rible mistake, but the question persists: Why do they forget such a basic rule? It’s the equivalent of a driver completely forgetting that they have to stop for a red light (which is quite different to purposely running the signal).

An important factor, according to Green, is a little-known phenomenon he refers to as "buck fever", which he describes as "a psychological state whereby the hunter’s desire to shoot their quarry is so strong that it overrides all rational thinking".

Speak to any hunter and they will invariably detail the concentration, often required for hours on end or even days, which goes into stalking a deer. Nerves are taut, the atmosphere intense, it’s all part of the primal thrill of the hunt. Green says when a hunter is "wound up" during the chase any unnatural distraction can draw a snapshot, in some cases with tragic consequences.

Bob Badland, who heads the Firearms Safety division of the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, also accepts that buck fever has played a large part in the fatal shootings but suggests that identifying the issue is a lot easier than combating it.

"I’ve been to coroners’ hearings and the shooter always describes it very slowly when they recall the incident but when it actually happens, it is in an instant," says Badland. "It’s almost a tunnel vision, but we don’t know how to prevent it kicking in."

And the president of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, Trevor Dyke, is in collusion too.

"How are you supposed to stop an irrational action affecting a sane person?" he asks. "The eye sees something and in a flash the brain fills in the missing pieces. We’re always bringing home the message about the importance of identifying your target so what more can you do?"

But it’s somewhat surprising then that there is not even a semblance of discussion about such a vital issue anywhere on the association’s website. Dyke argues that’s because "they’ve had technical problems" but hastens to note that he has written a column on the topic for the upcoming issue of Hunting and Wildlife – a quarterly magazine produced for association members.

However, he says there has been a noticeable lack of warning in other media prior to "the roar" – the deer-mating season.

"Usually press packs put together by the police and other organisation are sent out to all the [outdoor orientated] magazines. It didn’t happen this year."

Badland disagrees. The Mountain Safety Council’s Firearm Safety section, funded by the police, is tasked with that job and he says every year the message is "churned out regardless".

"We spend a good portion of our budget targeting hunters – we have the safety message on every item we produce."

In fact, the Mountain Safety Council has some 15 firearms safety publications, and another one due for release soon. It even has plans for "something a little different" – a wallet-sized hologram card with an image of a hunter superimposed over that of a deer. It’s imagery with a clear message, ‘Shoot; don’t shoot’, but whether or not it will make any more difference than the other safety resources seems dubious. Though it’s not to say he is giving up, even Badland has his doubts.

"We just have to keep trying to get the point across."

The Mountain Safety Council also runs various hunter education courses in an effort to hammer the point home. One such module is the Hunter National Training Scheme (HUNTS), a programme operated by the Deerstalkers Association. For a fee of around $140, new hunters are tutored in the basic knowledge and skills required for shooting in the New Zealand outdoors.

Of the hunters involved in accidentally shooting another person, Green discovered that all but one of them had not completed any hunting-specific training. So would making such courses a requirement of the gun-licensing regime have any effect on the number of accidental shootings?

He says it’s something he has pondered in the past, but still has serious reservations about making it compulsory. There are around 240 000 firearms licence holders in New Zealand and because only a small proportion of them are deerstalkers, Green believes the training would be wasted on most.

"The best way to encourage people to do it is to make it more accessible by lowering the cost."

Then maybe compulsory gun club membership and requirements to regularly attend refresher courses in firearms safety is an option? Perhaps not. The mere mention of increased legislation has gun owners up in arms – figuratively speaking.

"We’re already heavily regulated," cries Dyke. "I can’t see how much more tightening-up you can do. At any rate, if they were forced to join a club you’d probably find $5 overnight deals springing up all over the place, actually achieving nothing other than a means of getting around a law."

Even Badland agrees that stringent regulation wouldn’t be the magic bullet.

"Hunters hate it when this happens because it brings the spotlight down on arms control issues but regulation is not the answer. Look at the number of murder victims that have been shot – legislation hasn’t stopped that."

Presently, anyone who wants to take a firearm onto the conservation estate can pick up a permit from the Department of Conservation (DOC). Unlike privately owned hunting blocks, where hunter density is strictly kept low, there is no limit to the number of permits issued by DOC. In fact, under the Pest Management Strategy, DOC has set a clear mandate to destroy unwanted organisms, like deer, and actively encourage hunters to help carry out that task. Consequently though, questions are starting to be raised about whether the number of deerstalkers in some areas is getting dangerously high.

Dyke recalls one expedition into the bush near Taupo where there were more than 30 hunters in a block of only a few hectares.

"Your chances of bumping into another hunter in conditions like that are pretty high, we did and the other guy had no idea we were there."

Over the period of March to June this year approximately 1000 hunters entered the Taupo/Tongariro estate, which comprises an area of 220 000 hectares. Clearly that’s plenty of space for each deerstalker - if they were separated into individual blocks. They’re not though and that is the perceived problem with the current permitting regime.

Is hunter density the issue? Again, it seems it isn’t specifically the case, and again this highlights the fact that there may not be any simple solution. In some of the most heavily hunted areas of Marlborough, where no permit is required, there has never been a fatal shooting. Likewise, Stewart Island doesn’t have a problem despite the fact that, with its world-renowned whitetail deer herd, some hunters say more guns pass through the area than anywhere else on Earth.

But, as Dyke suggests, "Hunters being hunters, they like to shoot in twos and threes and fours." And Green’s studies highlight that nearly 65 percent of the time the deceased and the shooter are from the same party.

"In most cases they decided to split up into agreed areas but one of them has ended up straying into their companion’s zone," says Green.

Still, whether it’s a mate or a stranger, they’ve failed to abide by that same golden rule. That’s why Badland is critical of DOC and raises the issue of "landowner responsibility". He says aside from a sentence in fine print on the back of the hunting permits, the department does little to promote the safety message.

"What the hell are the Department of Conservation doing? They don’t put a lot of publicity out there but it’s people being shot on their land. They expect us to do their job for them."

It’s not like Badland’s section can afford to go it alone on promoting the safety issue either. While the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council "is funded by ever decreasing lottery grants", the firearms division is funded solely by the New Zealand Police. Badland is expected to fire the safety message, among other tasks, at nearly a quarter of a million gun license holders with only $140,000 a year.

"We do the best we can", says Badland, but he is concerned at rumours that DOC plans to scrap the permitting system altogether. If that happens, hunting on conservation estate becomes a self-regulatory practice and that, he says, raises further serious concerns about safety.

Though there are numerous and varied recreational user groups that enjoy leisure activities in the wilderness, it is still hunter safety that is the greatest concern. The statistics show that hunters shoot hunters. Experts suspect this is because they move carefully through the bush like their prey and even sound the same - hunters will often mimic the roar of a stag to entice it closer. Davies was reportedly following the sound of a sika stag just before he saw movement and snapped a shot off at Leathwick. The general consensus among deerstalkers is that it was the victim who was calling.

Laws similar to those in the United States, requiring hunters to wear portions of highly visible clothing, have been floated here as a possible means of preventing hunters being shot in this way. But both Leathwick and Harland were wearing brightly coloured clothing, specifically to avoid being mistaken as deer. In a bitter irony, Davies bullet even went straight through Leathwick’s "blaze orange" cap. Harland had the same ‘protective’ colouring across the top half of his bush jacket.

In the US almost all hunters (only excluding those targeting turkey) have been required by state law to wear "blaze orange" during firearm deer seasons since 1987. But while the number of overall hunting fatalities has decreased, Green says the latest research from Virginia shows that the legislative requirements have had no impact on the number of deer hunters accidentally shot. And that’s diplomatic compared to what some critics believe - they suggest the rate has actually risen.

"I think high visibility orange might be a protective factor in some instances, but in others cases it might even be a contributing factor," says Green. By that he means a highly visible flash of colour could actually attract a hunters attention and draw a hasty shot.

As part of his research into hunting related fatalities, Green has also carried out experiments with different shades of brightly coloured clothing in the bush. He concludes that in various levels of light, and different environments, bright orange might not always be the most suitable colour – from a distance it can appear to be a reddish hue. That just happens to be the same colour as the hide of a red deer – the most numerous and widely dispersed species in New Zealand. Scary given that almost all hunter protective clothing uses "blaze orange". Now there are a whole host of hunters tearing around in the forest thinking they’re safe, yet they could inadvertently be wearing a ‘bulls-eye’.

"We’re still encouraging hunters to wear bright colours, but we’re telling them to make sure that what they wear contrasts with the environment they’re hunting in."

Green believes that a shade of light blue, like that worn by United Nations troops, is likely to provide the most obvious distinction in the forest. This is precisely why Badland hopes a Coroner "won’t rush in" and force New Zealand to follow America’s lead, at least until more studies have been carried out.

Research into ‘protective’ colours and alternative identification techniques are ongoing – with some unusual collaboration too. Badland says the police and the Mountain Safety Council are investigating work currently being carried out by the Land Transport Safety Authority and the military.

Overseas, armed forces are endeavouring to develop effective personal identification devices to prevent loss of life through ‘friendly fire’, much like a warning alert sounded if a shooter targets their own troops. Meanwhile, road transport agencies are working on ‘glow in the day’ signs. Both initiatives could potentially be applied to hunters says Badland.

"How many road signs do you reckon you passed on your way to work this morning that you didn’t notice or understand the message?" he asks. "We have to keep pushing the safety message to hunters, like the police keep pushing their road safety campaign. But, like drivers on the road, it’s still up to the person in control to make that vital decision. If we can make the signs any less confusing then it’s got to make them safer."

Despite the publicity given to hunting accidents, hunting is still among the safest outdoor recreation sports. It’s a fact that everyone who spoke to Investigate has hurriedly pointed out in one way or another. There’s no doubt that the motoring industry, with all its advances in safety, would love to have hunting’s accident rate. Dyke says the number of shootings this season have just been "a glitch" and others, well they say that basically you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be shot.

But, as Badland says, "At the end of the day it will happen again and we’ll ask ourselves the same question – what more can be done?" And that means, again, some unfortunate family is still going to have to make sense of a senseless tragedy - that their loved one has become another "statistic" to a split-second error.

As for the shooters in the latest tragedies, Davies and Alker have both been jailed for nine months. The men were sentenced in the Taupo District Court on 20 May after each admitted carelessly using a firearm causing death. Judge Chris McGuire also ordered Davies and Alker to pay $5000 each in reparation to the victims’ families. Davies is likely to appeal his sentence, but Alker has ruled out that option - he has publicly stated that after shooting his best mate he now carries a life sentence.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:08 AM | Comments (0)

HUNTING ACCIDENTS INVESTIGATE: JUL 03

They act before they think, almost pre-programmed to shoot on reflex -HAMISH CARNACHAN investigates the campaign to stop hunters killing each other in the bush

On Easter Sunday a young Hamilton man, out deer- stalking in the Kaimanawa Ranges, shouldered his rifle, placed the crosshairs over what he thought was the hindquarters of a deer, and squeezed the trigger. It took barely a split second for the high-powered projectile to travel the 20 metres to its target. But, in a blink of an eye that one bullet took one life, shattered the lives of many, hammering home in the harshest possible way the tenuous grasp of an individual’s existence.

Christopher Martin Davies had made the most fundamental error a hunter can make, a basic error of judgement that was to have catastrophic and lasting consequences far beyond the simplicity of that lethal act – he failed to correctly identify his target.

The tawny-coloured object Davies thought was a sika deer meandering through the scrub turned out to be a fellow deerstalker. By the time he had made that critical assessment though, it was too late for Taupo father Mark Leathwick. The hunter had become the hunted. Davies’ fateful shot slammed into Leathwick’s head killing him instantly, and making media headlines almost as quickly.

This tragic episode was to be the latest in a string of hunting related accidents over the month of April, and the third fatal shooting in as many weeks in the central North Island. Nine days prior to the death of Leathwick, Hamish Harland was shot dead by family friend and hunting partner David Webster Alker in Tongariro National Park, which followed the death of Mangawhai resident Peter McIntyre who was shot in the Urewera National Park at the start of the month. Over the same period, two South Island men were also hospitalised after being accidentally shot in separate hunting incidents – more would fall in the following days. And, only late last month, a 19-year-old man was killed by a member of his own party while hunting wallabies in South Canterbury.

These victims are among the more than 30 000 Kiwi hunters who will enter the bush this year to participate in what is normally one of the safest forms of outdoor recreation. But instead or returning with a trophy or yarn about the one that got away, they unwittingly join a list of casualties that many say could have been avoided.

Now, after one of the worst starts to the season on record, the public, police and shooting organisations are all hunting for answers: Why are good keen men continuing to kill each other in pursuit of leisure? How do you mistake a man for a deer? And, with three more families grieving the loss of loved ones, what can be done to prevent further tragedy and heartbreak?

On average, since 1979 there has been one accidental shooting of a hunter by another hunter every nine months. Over the past two years, Inspector Joe Green has studied every one of these cases. While his report is currently being peer reviewed and is not scheduled for public release until mid-July, he was willing to share some of his findings with Investigate.

Though he likes to emphasize that the number of hunting fatalities remains relatively low compared with other recreational pursuits, Green’s research still highlights some worrying aspects - in almost every case there has been a failure to correctly identify the target shot.

What makes this concerning to many, and "downright puzzling" to Green, is the fact that these hunters appear to have forgotten the very basics of firearms ownership and indeed arms-control law. One of the golden rules in the ‘Firearms code’ – the manual which all prospective gun owners must study to pass the licensing test – is ‘clearly identify your target’.

Every year there are reported cases of accidental gun discharges causing injury, and occasionally death, but Green says by far the most common cause of death in the incidents he studied has been one person shooting another person. There are a number of factors behind why this occurs but in most cases he points out that it is because "shooters seem to shoot at shape, sound or colour", breaking the simple rule which has resulted in at least two of the fatalities this year.

No one can doubt that when a hunter shoots another hunter it is a ter-rible mistake, but the question persists: Why do they forget such a basic rule? It’s the equivalent of a driver completely forgetting that they have to stop for a red light (which is quite different to purposely running the signal).

An important factor, according to Green, is a little-known phenomenon he refers to as "buck fever", which he describes as "a psychological state whereby the hunter’s desire to shoot their quarry is so strong that it overrides all rational thinking".

Speak to any hunter and they will invariably detail the concentration, often required for hours on end or even days, which goes into stalking a deer. Nerves are taut, the atmosphere intense, it’s all part of the primal thrill of the hunt. Green says when a hunter is "wound up" during the chase any unnatural distraction can draw a snapshot, in some cases with tragic consequences.

Bob Badland, who heads the Firearms Safety division of the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, also accepts that buck fever has played a large part in the fatal shootings but suggests that identifying the issue is a lot easier than combating it.

"I’ve been to coroners’ hearings and the shooter always describes it very slowly when they recall the incident but when it actually happens, it is in an instant," says Badland. "It’s almost a tunnel vision, but we don’t know how to prevent it kicking in."

And the president of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, Trevor Dyke, is in collusion too.

"How are you supposed to stop an irrational action affecting a sane person?" he asks. "The eye sees something and in a flash the brain fills in the missing pieces. We’re always bringing home the message about the importance of identifying your target so what more can you do?"

But it’s somewhat surprising then that there is not even a semblance of discussion about such a vital issue anywhere on the association’s website. Dyke argues that’s because "they’ve had technical problems" but hastens to note that he has written a column on the topic for the upcoming issue of Hunting and Wildlife – a quarterly magazine produced for association members.

However, he says there has been a noticeable lack of warning in other media prior to "the roar" – the deer-mating season.

"Usually press packs put together by the police and other organisation are sent out to all the [outdoor orientated] magazines. It didn’t happen this year."

Badland disagrees. The Mountain Safety Council’s Firearm Safety section, funded by the police, is tasked with that job and he says every year the message is "churned out regardless".

"We spend a good portion of our budget targeting hunters – we have the safety message on every item we produce."

In fact, the Mountain Safety Council has some 15 firearms safety publications, and another one due for release soon. It even has plans for "something a little different" – a wallet-sized hologram card with an image of a hunter superimposed over that of a deer. It’s imagery with a clear message, ‘Shoot; don’t shoot’, but whether or not it will make any more difference than the other safety resources seems dubious. Though it’s not to say he is giving up, even Badland has his doubts.

"We just have to keep trying to get the point across."

The Mountain Safety Council also runs various hunter education courses in an effort to hammer the point home. One such module is the Hunter National Training Scheme (HUNTS), a programme operated by the Deerstalkers Association. For a fee of around $140, new hunters are tutored in the basic knowledge and skills required for shooting in the New Zealand outdoors.

Of the hunters involved in accidentally shooting another person, Green discovered that all but one of them had not completed any hunting-specific training. So would making such courses a requirement of the gun-licensing regime have any effect on the number of accidental shootings?

He says it’s something he has pondered in the past, but still has serious reservations about making it compulsory. There are around 240 000 firearms licence holders in New Zealand and because only a small proportion of them are deerstalkers, Green believes the training would be wasted on most.

"The best way to encourage people to do it is to make it more accessible by lowering the cost."

Then maybe compulsory gun club membership and requirements to regularly attend refresher courses in firearms safety is an option? Perhaps not. The mere mention of increased legislation has gun owners up in arms – figuratively speaking.

"We’re already heavily regulated," cries Dyke. "I can’t see how much more tightening-up you can do. At any rate, if they were forced to join a club you’d probably find $5 overnight deals springing up all over the place, actually achieving nothing other than a means of getting around a law."

Even Badland agrees that stringent regulation wouldn’t be the magic bullet.

"Hunters hate it when this happens because it brings the spotlight down on arms control issues but regulation is not the answer. Look at the number of murder victims that have been shot – legislation hasn’t stopped that."

Presently, anyone who wants to take a firearm onto the conservation estate can pick up a permit from the Department of Conservation (DOC). Unlike privately owned hunting blocks, where hunter density is strictly kept low, there is no limit to the number of permits issued by DOC. In fact, under the Pest Management Strategy, DOC has set a clear mandate to destroy unwanted organisms, like deer, and actively encourage hunters to help carry out that task. Consequently though, questions are starting to be raised about whether the number of deerstalkers in some areas is getting dangerously high.

Dyke recalls one expedition into the bush near Taupo where there were more than 30 hunters in a block of only a few hectares.

"Your chances of bumping into another hunter in conditions like that are pretty high, we did and the other guy had no idea we were there."

Over the period of March to June this year approximately 1000 hunters entered the Taupo/Tongariro estate, which comprises an area of 220 000 hectares. Clearly that’s plenty of space for each deerstalker - if they were separated into individual blocks. They’re not though and that is the perceived problem with the current permitting regime.

Is hunter density the issue? Again, it seems it isn’t specifically the case, and again this highlights the fact that there may not be any simple solution. In some of the most heavily hunted areas of Marlborough, where no permit is required, there has never been a fatal shooting. Likewise, Stewart Island doesn’t have a problem despite the fact that, with its world-renowned whitetail deer herd, some hunters say more guns pass through the area than anywhere else on Earth.

But, as Dyke suggests, "Hunters being hunters, they like to shoot in twos and threes and fours." And Green’s studies highlight that nearly 65 percent of the time the deceased and the shooter are from the same party.

"In most cases they decided to split up into agreed areas but one of them has ended up straying into their companion’s zone," says Green.

Still, whether it’s a mate or a stranger, they’ve failed to abide by that same golden rule. That’s why Badland is critical of DOC and raises the issue of "landowner responsibility". He says aside from a sentence in fine print on the back of the hunting permits, the department does little to promote the safety message.

"What the hell are the Department of Conservation doing? They don’t put a lot of publicity out there but it’s people being shot on their land. They expect us to do their job for them."

It’s not like Badland’s section can afford to go it alone on promoting the safety issue either. While the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council "is funded by ever decreasing lottery grants", the firearms division is funded solely by the New Zealand Police. Badland is expected to fire the safety message, among other tasks, at nearly a quarter of a million gun license holders with only $140,000 a year.

"We do the best we can", says Badland, but he is concerned at rumours that DOC plans to scrap the permitting system altogether. If that happens, hunting on conservation estate becomes a self-regulatory practice and that, he says, raises further serious concerns about safety.

Though there are numerous and varied recreational user groups that enjoy leisure activities in the wilderness, it is still hunter safety that is the greatest concern. The statistics show that hunters shoot hunters. Experts suspect this is because they move carefully through the bush like their prey and even sound the same - hunters will often mimic the roar of a stag to entice it closer. Davies was reportedly following the sound of a sika stag just before he saw movement and snapped a shot off at Leathwick. The general consensus among deerstalkers is that it was the victim who was calling.

Laws similar to those in the United States, requiring hunters to wear portions of highly visible clothing, have been floated here as a possible means of preventing hunters being shot in this way. But both Leathwick and Harland were wearing brightly coloured clothing, specifically to avoid being mistaken as deer. In a bitter irony, Davies bullet even went straight through Leathwick’s "blaze orange" cap. Harland had the same ‘protective’ colouring across the top half of his bush jacket.

In the US almost all hunters (only excluding those targeting turkey) have been required by state law to wear "blaze orange" during firearm deer seasons since 1987. But while the number of overall hunting fatalities has decreased, Green says the latest research from Virginia shows that the legislative requirements have had no impact on the number of deer hunters accidentally shot. And that’s diplomatic compared to what some critics believe - they suggest the rate has actually risen.

"I think high visibility orange might be a protective factor in some instances, but in others cases it might even be a contributing factor," says Green. By that he means a highly visible flash of colour could actually attract a hunters attention and draw a hasty shot.

As part of his research into hunting related fatalities, Green has also carried out experiments with different shades of brightly coloured clothing in the bush. He concludes that in various levels of light, and different environments, bright orange might not always be the most suitable colour – from a distance it can appear to be a reddish hue. That just happens to be the same colour as the hide of a red deer – the most numerous and widely dispersed species in New Zealand. Scary given that almost all hunter protective clothing uses "blaze orange". Now there are a whole host of hunters tearing around in the forest thinking they’re safe, yet they could inadvertently be wearing a ‘bulls-eye’.

"We’re still encouraging hunters to wear bright colours, but we’re telling them to make sure that what they wear contrasts with the environment they’re hunting in."

Green believes that a shade of light blue, like that worn by United Nations troops, is likely to provide the most obvious distinction in the forest. This is precisely why Badland hopes a Coroner "won’t rush in" and force New Zealand to follow America’s lead, at least until more studies have been carried out.

Research into ‘protective’ colours and alternative identification techniques are ongoing – with some unusual collaboration too. Badland says the police and the Mountain Safety Council are investigating work currently being carried out by the Land Transport Safety Authority and the military.

Overseas, armed forces are endeavouring to develop effective personal identification devices to prevent loss of life through ‘friendly fire’, much like a warning alert sounded if a shooter targets their own troops. Meanwhile, road transport agencies are working on ‘glow in the day’ signs. Both initiatives could potentially be applied to hunters says Badland.

"How many road signs do you reckon you passed on your way to work this morning that you didn’t notice or understand the message?" he asks. "We have to keep pushing the safety message to hunters, like the police keep pushing their road safety campaign. But, like drivers on the road, it’s still up to the person in control to make that vital decision. If we can make the signs any less confusing then it’s got to make them safer."

Despite the publicity given to hunting accidents, hunting is still among the safest outdoor recreation sports. It’s a fact that everyone who spoke to Investigate has hurriedly pointed out in one way or another. There’s no doubt that the motoring industry, with all its advances in safety, would love to have hunting’s accident rate. Dyke says the number of shootings this season have just been "a glitch" and others, well they say that basically you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be shot.

But, as Badland says, "At the end of the day it will happen again and we’ll ask ourselves the same question – what more can be done?" And that means, again, some unfortunate family is still going to have to make sense of a senseless tragedy - that their loved one has become another "statistic" to a split-second error.

As for the shooters in the latest tragedies, Davies and Alker have both been jailed for nine months. The men were sentenced in the Taupo District Court on 20 May after each admitted carelessly using a firearm causing death. Judge Chris McGuire also ordered Davies and Alker to pay $5000 each in reparation to the victims’ families. Davies is likely to appeal his sentence, but Alker has ruled out that option - he has publicly stated that after shooting his best mate he now carries a life sentence.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:08 AM | Comments (0)