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REAL1

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Reply with quote  #61 
School fingerprints pupils for diets | Metro.co.uk 

He insisted parents need not worry about their children's personal data being stored.

"The system doesn't store a copy of the fingerprint at all. It just takes ten identification points and holds them as an encrypted number."

He added: "You couldn't constitute a fingerprint from that if you tried and all the information is deleted when the child leaves school." 


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Bulldozers demolish dream retirement home in Spain...

A British pensioner collapsed as demolition men began tearing down his Spanish retirement home after a planning row.

Len Prior, 63, who has a heart condition, and his wife Helen were given just two hours to move out all their possessions.

As Mr Prior was rushed to hospital, his wife watched in horror as their house and garden were wrecked by a mechanical digger.

 

 bulldozer

Moment of truth: The walls of the villa come crashing down...

Mrs Prior, a retired computer programmer, said: "It was quite horrendous. We have invested so much time, effort and money in it."

The Priors used their life savings to buy two and half acres of land in a quiet coastal village six years ago and build the £350,000 three-bedroom house.

They took early retirement and sold their home in the Berkshire village of Hurst because of Mr Prior's heart problem and his wife's rheumatism.

 

 bulldozer

Pride and joy: The £350,000 home the Priors built with their life savings...

But they were unwittingly caught in a major Spanish national scandal involving planning permission during a property boom.

Unscrupulous builders and lawyers paid backhanders to corrupt local officials to subvert the rules as vast swathes of coastline were concreted over.

The Priors were told they had planning permission from the local council in Vera, Almeria, but the regional government of Andalucia insists the house was built illegally on green belt land.

It is the first reported case of a British-owned home being demolished but there are fears it is the start of a massive crackdown.

The demolition team, escorted by a dozen police officers, arrived at the Priors' home on Wednesday.

"It was totally out of the blue," said 63-year-old Mrs Prior.

"We live there permanently so the house was full of our possessions. Luckily the neighbours helped us move everything out.

"Watching the house being torn down was quite appalling. The garden was my pride and joy and took us years to complete.

"I am very, very angry but composed. I think when the anger wears off I will collapse, too."

The couple, who have three grown-up children and seven grandchildren, have been given emergency accommodation by the local mayor, but will have to find another home next week.

Mr Prior, who was released from hospital after a check-up, said: "We're devastated.

"This has been our home for almost six years. To have it pulled down in front of you is painful beyond belief.

"We sold a beautiful house to move here so we could enjoy the weather and the Spanish lifestyle.

"Now it has turned into a nightmare. We have absolutely no idea what we're going to do."

The couple say they were never even told of a court hearing at which the fate of their home was decide.

Despite threats from the regional government, their solicitor assured them the property would be safe.

Local mayor Felix Lopez said: "Permission for the house was granted in 2002 as it complies with all the local requirements."

But the Andalucian government insisted: "This is a clear case of a local authority wrongly granting planning permission.

"The judge agreed with us that the house should be demolished."


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Lock Bumping - A news video about how vulnerable your door locks maybe. This is scary. You may need to change your door locks.


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Thousands of people are having their phone-service switched without their permission as part of a new scam which results in victims paying higher prices.

The practice, known within the industry as 'slamming’, involves customers being cold-called and encouraged to change their provider in spite of the fact they do not give their consent.

Victims often find that their new company charges a higher tariff and when they subsequently try and change back to their original service they have to pay the connection charge which can be as high as £125.

It has become so widespread that Ofcom, the industry watchdog, has promised to charge firms found guilty with fines amounting to 10 per cent of their annual turnover.

Slamming is thought to be common because phone companies do not need a signature or written consent to change people to different service providers or tariffs.

It is not known exactly how widespread the problem is but Ofcom is reported to have investigated some highly reputable household names such as Tesco and the Post Office over alleged incidents.

Ofcom has now promised to order companies to regulate their sales staff and ensure that they do not sign customers up to contracts without their knowledge.

Employees will be especially reminded not to target potentially vulnerable people such as the elderly.

Companies will also be instructed to keep their sales records for at least six months, including details of the name of the salesman who dealt with each customer, in order to help with any complaints.

If a customer has supposedly agreed to subscribe to a service, the firm will be told to send out full details before the switch takes place and a 'no cost’ cancellation period of around seven days.

A spokesman for Ofcom said: “The deception of customers in this way brings continued shame on the telecoms industry.

“Too many companies don’t seem to care how they get customers as long as they get them. Ofcom has said mis-selling is unacceptable and that they will fine companies.”


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Bomb chemicals 'can be smuggled on airplane'...

Terrorists could smuggle the components needed to make a bomb on to a plane in Britain despite restrictions on taking liquids on board, it was claimed.

  • A television documentary team said it had made a bomb by mixing a series of odourless and colourless chemicals that could be brought into an aircraft by passengers.

     
    Airport security - Bomb chemicals 'can be smuggled on airplane'
    The aviation industry said robust security was needed, while inconvenience should be kept to a minimum...

    The liquids that were mixed to make the explosive cocktail were all contained in bottles of less than 100ml, which is the limit enforced at most airports around the world at present and was introduced shortly after British authorities thwarted an alleged attempt to blow up transatlantic aircraft in August 2006.

    Researchers for Channel 4's Dispatches programme used a commercial detonator to explode their "bomb" at Lasham airfield, Hants.

    It blew a gaping hole in a decommissioned aircraft, snapping the ribs of the fuselage.

    Were this to have happened in mid-air, the documentary makers claimed, the pilot would have lost control of the aircraft.

    The chemicals used were not identified by the documentary makers but it is widely known that commonplace liquids such as hydrogen peroxide, a contact lens cleaner available at most chemists, can be used in explosives.

    The claims by the documentary makers fly in the face of tests carried out by the American authorities in 2006.

    They claimed a viable bomb could not be made if a 100ml limit was imposed on individual containers of liquids and their findings led to the standardisation of restrictions across much of the world.

    Since then, more sophisticated hand luggage screening equipment has been introduced at a number of British airports.

    Critics say without passenger profiling - trying to identify potential terrorists before they board - such precautions are inadequate.

    "If you had enough people getting on board, they could easily bring on enough liquid between them to bring a plane down," said Roland Alford, of Alford Technologies, a company specialising in counter-measures.

    "You would need as few as five people. You really need to look at profiling, which has been a dirty word for political reasons."

    Philip Baum, the editor of Aviation Security International, warned of loopholes in the system.

    "We screen hand luggage, we don't screen people," he said.

    The aviation industry said robust security was needed, while inconvenience to passengers should be kept to a minimum - without jeopardising safety.

    "It is for the Government to stipulate what they look for," a spokesman said.

    A spokesman for the Department for Transport defended the present arrangements.

    "The requirements are both appropriate and necessary to ensure that flights are properly secure and that passengers are able to travel as freely as possible," he said.

    "If we did not believe it was safe we would not allow a single flight to take off."


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    REAL1

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    Reply with quote  #66 

    Hi Maureen


    Central Mobility is based at the Forge Market in Glasgow boasting Scotland's newest Mobility Assessment Centre, in addition to several other outlets within the West of Scotland.

    As a continued drive to assist the community both Maureen and Ian in association with the Management of The Forge Market launched their Mobility Loan Service. The East End of Glasgow has no Shopmobility Scheme so the Central Mobility Loan Service was designed to allow those who have been unable to shop in the Forge Market if they don't own their own Wheelchair or Mobility Scooter to do so, this is free service so everyone can now enjoy the Forge Market shopping experience. Please click here or call 0141 554 0101.


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    Ruthless Beds Company That Preyed On Elderly Goes Bust

    RUTHLESS salesmen who pressure the elderly and infirm in to buying overpriced therapy beds have seen their company go bust.

    AppA UK Ltd went in to compulsory liquidation after the Record exposed the lies and brutal techniques the sales teams use on vulnerable customers.

    Company director Graham Hutchinson financed a millionaire lifestyle by selling the beds at seven times their cost price.

    Sales teams were taught to exploit the elderly's fear of illness to flog them beds.

    Parents of terminally ill children and people with learning difficulties were also given the hard sell.

    But after complaints from across the UK, North Ayrshire Trading Standards recovered nearly £40,000 for consumers.

    AppA were supplied by Palatine, a bed manufacturer owned by Newcastle City Council and managed partly by their social services team. More than half of their workforce have a disability.

    The beds were bought by AppA for as little as £587, shipped up to their headquarters in Stevenston, Ayrshire, then sold for £4000.

    Palatine are a highly reputable company who sell the same bed in their public showroom in Newcastle for £800.

    They do not use any sales pressure on their customers. Following our expose in November 2005, Hutchinson sued the Daily Record for defamation, preventing us from going in to further detail about his company.

    But last month, he was forced to abandon his case.

    The taxman is also chasing AppA for £260,000 in unpaid taxes.

    While dozens of his workers now face the dole, Hutchinson lives in a £500,000 home in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, drives a Ferrari and sails a racing yacht.

    Following our investigation, the Office of Fair Trading questioned the company's credit licence. Ray Hall, director of markets and projects at the OFT, said: "We do not condone business practices of this kind - particularly when vulnerable consumers are involved."

    Sales boss Donald MacPherson boasted that he sold credit to one lady of 92.

    Another customer was jobless Alfred McCurdie, who only had £220 a month to live on and £60 of it was going on repayments for his AppA bed.

    Alfred, 43, who has learning difficulties, bought an adjustable "therapy" bed for more than £3000.

    The credit agreement would have cost more than £700 in interest alone.

    But after the revelations in the Record, Alfred's GP wrote to credit company Clydesdale Financial Services to say he had been in no fit mental state to sign an agreement and the debt was written off.

    We also heard how AppA sold a £3000 bed to a stroke victim with memory loss and spent three hours trying to persuade a heartbroken couple to buy a £4000 bed for their terminally ill little girl.

    Several customers had their debts cleared after Trading Standards established they were not capable of committing to a finance agreement.

    Our reporter had joined a six-day training course for bed "demonstrators" - not sales staff - at AppA's HQ in Stevenston.

    Afterwards, they would be able to earn up to £1000 commission on a bed. Our reporter heard sales boss MacPherson telling a class of trainees to prey on the fears of old people and to convince them the beds would dramatically boost circulation.

    He said: "They are not frightened of death. They are frightened of losing their independence."If you can't sell one of these beds to a diabetic, you should be put up against the wall and f***ing shot."And he said no customer was too poor to buy the bed and to pursue a sale no matter how many times someone said no.

    No one from AppA was available for comment.
     
     
     Do not prey on the elderly or infirm

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    A CHIPPY'S Buckfast fritters have proved a hit with customers.

    Some have travelled 40 miles to tuck into David Tomlinson's savoury treat .

    He came up with a batter made using the tonic wine in a bid to boost sales at Mr Chips in Girvan, Ayrshire. He got through 1000 fritters within days.

    Diners can even drench them in his Buckfast vinegar. David, 58, said: "We've even had people down from Saltcoats just to buy the fritters."

    Buckfast is often mentioned in court as a contributing factor in violent attacks.

    But David insists his fritters are safe - as any alcohol is burned off in the fryer. David, who is vice-president of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, said: "We are doing them for 35p each - or you can have two on a roll for £1.

    "Because we are trying to keep it healthy, there is no butter on the roll. I'm actually describing it as 'the healthy fritter' because Buckfast is a tonic wine."


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    'Microdrone', the police's tiny eye in the sky...

    In size and appearance it may resemble a toy - and the fact that it can squirt a jet of water on to unsuspecting people's heads may add to that impression - but this is in fact a £25,000 hi-tech crime-fighting machine.

    The "Microdrone" in action
    The "Microdrone" in action. It has a battery time of around 20 minutes and can squirt water at bystanders...

    A remote-controlled and almost silent miniature helicopter, the "Microdrone" can act as a police commander's eye in the sky, capturing images with both a video and an infra-red camera and instantly transmitting it to operators on the ground up to 500 yards away.

    Barely the size of a dustbin lid - around two feet across - the tiny drone is nonetheless armed to the hilt with crime-fighting technology, including a squirt-gun which can fire jets of a liquid called "SmartWater" which can be identified by police.

    British Transport Police (BTP) have been using the Microdrone in their operation to crack down on metal thefts on the railways.

    A spokesman for BTP said: "Although it may look simple, it's actually a complex bit of kit, capable of many things.

     

    "There's only one being used at the moment as it is an expensive device which costs several thousands of pounds."

    While police have welcomed the device as the latest tool in the war on crime, concerns have been raised that it may be used to intrude on privacy.

    Bloggers have pointed out that a silent, tiny machine capable of focusing its cameras on objects more than 350 feet away could be abused both by the authorities and private owners, who could use it as a "peeping tom" device.


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    A victim of a bogus Spanish Euro lottery offer has lost a considerable amount of money, according to police.

    Northern Constabulary said residents in the Highlands have been targeted with letters claiming huge cash winnings were due to them.

    Dornoch-based Insp Neil MacKinnon said: "The simple test for the public is if you have not bought into such a scheme you cannot win."

    The letters were believed to originate from Europe and Africa.

    Insp MacKinnon said: "Unfortunately, in recent weeks the Police have been made aware of a victim of the Spanish Lottery Scam who has suffered considerable financial loss."

    He advised anyone who received the letters to dispose of them.


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    Drivers to get parking tickets in the post from 'Big Brother' CCTV cameras...

    Millions of motorists will receive parking tickets by post after being caught on CCTV camera under rules that have been called "Orwellian".

    Drivers spotted by the "Big Brother" cameras also face fines of up to £120 as part of a Government shake-up of parking regulations which comes into effect from Monday, March 31.

    Until now, wardens have had to hand a ticket to a driver or leave it on the windscreen.

    But now they will also be able to issue the tickets remotely, without the driver knowing about it until they receive the Penalty Charge Notice through their letterbox.

     

    cctv cameras

    Drivers spotted by CCTV cameras will receive parking fines in the post as part of new government regulations which come into effect next month...

    There are fears that councils will use the regulations as yet another way to raise money.

    Remote CCTV teams will be able to monitor streets to spot drivers who park on a yellow line or overstay at a meter.

    The rules also give councils the power to set a sliding scale of fines of up to £120 for different types of parking offence.

    Motorists in London face the highest fines, while those outside the capital can receive a maximum fine of £70.

    The higher charges will be given to those who commit more serious offences such as parking on a double yellow line on major roads.

    Lower fines - up to £80 in London and £50 elsewhere - will be set for those who overstay at a meter or pay-and-display bay.

    Transport minister Rosie Winterton said the parking enforcement would be fairer and easier to challenge, and could see fewer tickets issued.

    The scheme could also apparently see wheel-clamping used only for persistent offenders.

    But motoring groups have condemned it as a "moneyspinning scam". They fear the changes will lead to abuses, including questionable tickets being issued to drivers who were unaware they had committed an offence.

    The AA said tickets should be "issued in real time, not extra time".

    In a move which the AA calls "Orwellian", uniformed traffic wardens and attendants are to be renamed Civil Enforcement Officers and handed wideranging extra powers.

    Councils are expected to follow the example of the London's Westminster which has used CCTV - and even mobile cameras mounted in cars - to film parking transgressors.

    Some councils have cameras specifically trained on certain bays and roads. Wardens are also now routinely equipped with cameras to record eviafterdence of illegally-parked cars.

    In May, traffic attendants in Salford became the first to trial head-mounted video cameras.

    The regulations state that a ticket can be issued by post if "the Civil Enforcement Officer had started to issue the Penalty Charge Notice, but did not have enough time to finish it or serve it before the vehicle was driven away".

    AA president Edmund King said: "We believe this could lead to more 'ghost tickets' and ticketing of Blue Badge holders or people delivering or dropping off passengers.

    "Enforcement should be about prohibiting obstructive parking, not about postal fines the event.

    "Motorists may be unaware that they can get ticketed for parking at a dropped kerb or half a metre from the pavement."

    Parking fines have quadrupled in five years to 3.4million a year. But the Government said councils must not use them as a tool for raising revenue, and should not set targets for the number of tickets issued.

    A Department for Transport spokesman said: "For a Penalty Charge Notice to be issued by post for 'drive-aways' or when an attendant is prevented from serving a PCN by violence, the attendant must have clear evidence that the vehicle was parked in contravention, and have already started to write the PCN."

    Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for the AA, said: "The overriding principle to date is that tickets issued by attendants have to be given to the driver or fixed to the vehicle to be valid.

    "We fear that these guidelines may be relaxed to allow tickets to become active if the attendant is merely thinking about writing one or simply saw an illegally-parked vehicle.

    "If the Department for Transport wants to change the rules on ticket issue, it must bear in mind the trust factor between attendants and drivers.

    "Removing the physical criteria for making a ticket active increases the chance of disputes and challenges."


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    House prices 'will crash soon': Bank chiefs warn YOUR home is overvalued by 30 per cent...

     

    for sale

    Over-valued house prices: IMF has warned that house prices will have to be corrected...

    House prices are 30 per cent too high in the UK and could soon crash, the International Monetary Fund warned yesterday.

    After a decade-long housing boom, it fears Britain is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to suffer a devastating price collapse.

    In a further blow, both the Bank of England and mortgage brokers warned that the mortgage meltdown is going to get even worse.

    The number of mortgage deals available has collapsed 13 per cent since Monday and 70 per cent since last summer's credit crunch began.

    David Hollingworth, a mortgage broker at London & Country, said: "It has got to be one of the most rapidly changing and volatile weeks any of us can remember. The credit crunch has really got a grip on the mainstream mortgage market and there is nothing you can look to that shows the situation is going to improve in the near future."

    The Bank of England is widely expected to cut interest rates by 0.25 per cent to 5 per cent on Thursday.

    But experts say this will make very little difference as lenders have been increasing their rates rather than passing on cuts to customers.

    Ray Boulger, of Charcol mortgage brokers, said a cut of 0.75 per cent was needed just to put people in the position they would normally be in if interest rates were at 5.25 per cent.

    The IMF said the UK has experienced one of the world's "largest unexplained increases in house prices" over the past decade.

    If its doom-laden prediction is correct, an average home - currently worth £196,000 - could actually be worth just £137,000.

    For homes in the South East, typically worth £400,000, the drop will be even more severe, down to roughly £280,000.

    The warning comes after 12 years of rocketing house prices. When the boom began in 1996, the average price was just £60,000.

    The IMF's World Economic Outlook said it has identified a "house price gap", which is the difference between the price of a home and the country's economic fundamentals.

    They include salaries, interest rates and population growth.

    Ominously, a similar IMF report at the end of 2007 found the U.S. housing market - currently in meltdown - was just 10 per cent too high.

    The Bank of England's regular survey of the country's biggest lenders, published yesterday, shows they expect the mortgage crisis to get even more serious over the next three months.

    Lenders said more mortgage deals will disappear and the rest become more expensive.

    Yesterday morning there were 4,754 mortgage deals. By the end of the day, that had dropped to 4,329, according to the information firm Moneyfacts.

    Before the credit crunch crippled lenders' ability to borrow money, there were more than 15,500 deals on the market.

    Of yesterday's casualties, the biggest changes were Woolwich, which increased the rates on its lifetime tracker mortgage for the second time in a week.

    For people with only a small deposit of 5 per cent, it will now charge a rate of 7.24 per cent.

    In a highly unusual move, Skipton introduced a £799 fee for anybody taking out a mortgage with the building society on standard variable rate. Traditionally, "SVR" mortgages have been free because they are much more expensive than the cheap, short-term deals.

    It is the second building society in a week to introduce a fee, after a similar move by Hinckley & Rugby on Tuesday.

    The Bank's credit conditions-survey also said lenders expect the number of people getting into arrears, or seeing their homes repossessed, to rise further.

    Tory spokesman Philip Hammond, said: "Reading between the lines, the Bank of England is telling us that 'we ain't seen nothing yet'.

    "Hard-pressed British families are going to pay the price of Gordon Brown's economic incompetence as the credit squeeze bites further on an ill-prepared nation."

    LibDem spokesman Vince Cable said: "We are in the nightmare scenario where banks can't lend and people can't borrow.

    "The UK economy has been running on little else than the wide availability of cheap credit for several years.

    "With lending now drying up, there is a real danger this will have a serious impact on growth in the economy."

    Charcol's Mr Boulger added: "There is no doubt that things are getting more difficult, and they are going to get more difficult before they get better."

    He said the only thing that was likely to improve the situation was either a return of confidence among investors, or the Bank of England putting more money into the market.

     

     

    Is your area sub-prime?

    This is the "sub-prime" map of Britain, showing for the first time the risk of a debt crisis in each area.

    It was produced after an extensive study by the credit rating agency Experian.

    The survey, published in this week's Spectator magazine, looked at the financial risk of every single household in Britain.

    This is a measure of their likelihood of defaulting on their debts, particularly during an economic downturn.

    Sub-prime borrowers are not the poorest in society, who typically get benefits and would use a loan shark to borrow money.

    They are most likely to be people who had a county court judgment against them several years ago, but are now back on track and in a job.

    The black spot on their credit history, however, makes them a sub-prime, higher-risk borrower, unable to get cheap loans and so more vulnerable to finding their finances stretched to breaking point.

    Experian listed the number of sub-prime households by Parliamentary constituency. Of the 200 worst-affected seats, all but 14 are held by Labour.

    The biggest risk was in former Home Secretary David Blunkett's constituency of Brightside, Sheffield. Some 72.2 per cent of all households in the area, almost 23,000 homes, matched Experian's sub-prime profile.

    It does not mean they actually have sub-prime borrowings, such as mortgages and loans, but that they are the most likely to.


    Middle classes feel the squeeze

    Middle-class families are having to take second jobs to pay soaring household bills, a report says today.

    Despite earning at least £30,000 a year, they cannot keep up with increases on "basics" such as food, petrol, mortgages and energy.

    More than 70 per cent are also slashing their spending, proving that families who are meant to be relatively well-off are feeling the opposite.

    Cutbacks range from eating out less often to reducing pension contributions.

    The survey, by the insurance giant Axa, found that 15 per cent of middle-class families are having to get a second job or send a non-working member of the household out to work.

    Researchers said this typically involves a stay-at-home mother having to get a job rather than looking after the children.

    Official figures show the number of women with a second job has jumped 13 per cent over the last two years, from 583,000 to 655,000. More than 1.1million men now have two jobs.

    Steve Folkard of Axa said: "A typical family in Middle Britain may have a higher than average income, but millions face tough choices as the strain on their finances takes its toll."


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    Council accused of foul play to catch guilty dog owners...

                         A sign encouraging owners to clean up dog mess...

    Another council has been caught using surveillance laws designed to combat organised criminals - this time to catch dog owners whose pets foul the grass.

    One MP accused the council of playing at "Dick Tracy" detectives. Brian Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South, condemned his local borough council for employing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which is intended for use "in the interests of national security", saying "some semblance of sanity" needed to be restored.

    Figures released by Northampton borough council show Ripa powers had been used five times since the act came into force in 2000 to take action against owners who failed to clear up after their dogs. All five were issued with fixed penalty notices after they were caught.

    When contacted, a Northampton council spokeswoman said she could not say what sort of surveillance was undertaken, but that it could have been the use of CCTV cameras or simply a neighbourhood warden keeping tabs on dog walkers.

    Other councils, including Derby, Bolton, Gateshead and Hartlepool, have also owned up to using the Ripa powers to fight dog mess. Last month, Gosport borough council, in Hampshire, admitted that its officers were in the middle of an undercover operation using digital cameras and binoculars to catch those failing to scoop up their dogs' poo.

    After hearing about the Northampton case, Binley said he would be lobbying the council to stop the law being used inappropriately. He said: "I just find this remarkable. If it was not so serious it would be totally laughable. But we really are turning local authorities into private detectives or the equivalent of KGB operatives.

    "I am perfectly happy to give police powers in order to fight terrorism and very serious crime, but when it gets to this level you really have to question it."

    He added: "The whole thing is getting totally out of perspective and it frightens me to death. I am applying pressure to both Northamptonshire county council and Northampton borough council to put this business of surveillance into perspective and to get them to stop acting like Dick Tracy. Unless we restore some semblance of sanity then there won't be a square inch that we as individuals can walk on that is not noted or monitored by the powers that be."

    But a spokesman for Northampton borough council said the powers were only used when appropriate and that the council had not used covert surveillance at any time in the past year.

    In April, Poole borough council came under fire for using Ripa powers - designed to be used in the interests of national security or to prevent crime and disorder - to tail a family round the clock in order to check whether they had lied about their address to win a school place for their child. They had not.


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    Cocaine overdose cases quadruple at hospitals...

    The number of cocaine users being admitted to hospital has quadrupled in eight years, it has emerged as concerns grow that it has become the drug of choice for middle-class men.

    An average of more than two people a day are admitted to accident and emergency units for "cocaine-induced health emergencies", official Government data showed.

    There were 740 incidents in 2006-07 compared with 161 in 1998-99.

    The figures revealed that 85 per cent of the patients were men, with an average age of 29.

    In comparison, heroin overdoses and cannabis poisonings both fell in the same period, according to the figures obtained by Druglink magazine.

    The statistics expose the scale and impact of cocaine's growing popularity and come after a series of high-profile cases involving the drug.

    Natasha Collins, a children's television presenter, died in January after bingeing on cocaine and alcohol and falling unconscious in a bath of scalding hot water.

    The 31-year-old's body was found by her fiancé, Mark Speight, also a television presenter, the morning after "partying'' with her on cocaine, sleeping pills, wine and vodka.

    An inquest heard last week that he committed suicide several weeks later by hanging himself with his shoelaces.

    Recent drugs crime surveys have also reported growing use of cocaine among the urban middle classes. One study found one in three young men attending A&E at a London hospital with suspected heart attacks were cocaine users.

    When starting his job as head of the Metropolitan Police in 2005, Sir Ian Blair threatened to crack down on middle class users.

    In March, a United Nations report criticised "coke-snorting fashionistas" who it claims are encouraging more young people to take the drug.

    Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN's drug control and crime prevention office, has described Amy Winehouse, the pop singer, as "the poster girl for drug abuse". He added that "one song, one picture, one quote that makes cocaine look cool can undo millions of pounds worth of anti-drug education and prevention".

    The report by the UN's International Narcotics Control Board linked "celebrity endorsement of drug related lifestyles'' to the boom in European cocaine consumption and the emergence of the devastation it is now causing in Africa as new drug-smuggling routes open up.

    Home Office figures show that use of the drug has more than doubled among 16 to 24-year-olds since the start of the decade, and Britain remains one of the countries with the highest level of cocaine abuse, along with Spain and Italy.

    The UN report also partly blamed the police and courts for making matters worse by treating celebrities "leniently" and failing to make an example of them.

    Kate Moss, the fashion model, escaped prosecution following the publication of photographs of her allegedly snorting cocaine.

    Police admitted that without "forensic" evidence of her being found in possession of the drug it was impossible to prosecute. An internal Scotland Yard police report, which was written after the case, admitted that cocaine abuse was rife in celebrity
    and modelling circles but sources said it remains "too difficult" to target them.

    Graham Norton, the television presenter, said in a magazine interview 18 months ago that he had taken "lots of drugs" including ecstasy and cocaine.

    Norton, 45, said: "I think coke is middle-aged stuff. It's quite a slow drug that involves coffee tables. To me, it's a middle-class choice of drug."

    His remarks were investigated by the Metropolitan Police but no action was taken. Detectives asked to search the presenter's house – but as there was no evidence other than his remarks, senior officers refused to let them apply for a warrant.

    A police report stated: "There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Norton ever took or even intended to take any illegal drugs.

    ''It is of our opinion that there should be no action required and that there is no case to answer to." BBC chiefs defended Norton when he made his remarks and said they had been "aimed at an adult audience".

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    Google ordered to hand over millions of YouTube user details to Viacom...

    Google must hand over the personal details of anyone who has ever watched a video on YouTube, a US judge has ruled.

    The order will come as a surprise to millions of people who have used the video sharing site to view footage of TV shows, films, sports events, music clips and home videos.

    Figures show that in April alone more than 130 million people across the world visited YouTube including 11.6 million in the UK. The judgment is part of an ongoing legal battle between the internet giant, which owns YouTube, and Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures and MTV Networks.

    Viacom accuses Google of allowing millions of users to illegally post and watch clips of its TV shows and films, such as South Park, on the popular video-sharing site, and is trying to build evidence that suggests that the sharing of illegal material on YouTube is the cornerstone of its business.

    Google must now hand over a "user log" to Viacom. The log will contain users' YouTube log-in details, the IP address of their computer - a unique code that identifies individual machines - plus details of all the video clips that users have viewed.

    The judgment, which was made on Wednesday, could apply worldwide, and affect more than four million registered YouTube users, as well as potentially those who have simply watched clips. Internet freedom campaigners have criticised the decision, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation calling it a "setback" for online privacy rights.

    Viacom believes that YouTube has illegally hosted copyrighted material from a variety of shows, and claims that the internet has led to "an explosion of copyright infringement" on YouTube and other video-sharing sites. It said that the Al Gore documentary, An Incovenient Truth, had been viewed 1.5 billion times on YouTube.

    However, Google argues that it already far exceeds "its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works", and that Viacom's $1 billion (£500 million) lawsuit is a threat to internet freedom.

    Google, which bought YouTube for $1.65 billion (£820 million) in 2006, said that it abided by the rules of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that as long as sites such as YouTube remove copyright content as soon as it is brought to their attention, they are protected by law from prosecution.

    But Viacom argues that YouTube has done "little or nothing" to stem the flow of copyrighted material, and the company said it had identified more than 150,000 unauthorised clips of its content on the video-sharing site.

    However, the US court that made the ruling said that privacy concerns raised by the judgment were purely "speculative". A spokesman for Viacom played down fears that personal information would be shared and that user logs would be used to prosecute YouTube users.

    "Only our legal team will have access to this data," he said.

    "We will not be using to go after individuals."

    Google welcomed the restrictions the court placed on the use of the logs. "We are pleased the court put some limits on discovery, including refusing to allow Viacom to access users' private videos and our search technology," said Catherine Lacavera, a member of Google's legal team.

    "We are disappointed the court granted Viacom's overreaching demand for viewing history. We will ask Viacom to respect users' privacy and allow us to anonymize the logs before producing them under the court's order."


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