Here are this week’s headlines:
- Crackdown on plastic waste
Reported by Sarah Mullane
Prime Minister Theresa May has set out a new 25-year environmental plan as a means of eradicating all avoidable plastic waste within the UK by 2042. During her speech, delivered in west London this morning, May declared plastic waste to be “one of the great environmental scourges of our time” and claimed that the single-use plastic that is wasted in the UK alone each year “would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls”.
With the aid of pressure groups, the proposed new ‘green strategy’ was drawn up by Michael Gove’s environment department with the aim to tackle, amongst other things, the substantial amount of plastic waste being produced in Britain. As a result of this, both Theresa May and Michael Gove have reiterated that the UK will lead internationally on environmental issues, with Gove stating that we will “set the gold standard” for these matters, including both the environment and animal welfare. However, critics of Gove may remember the recent House of Commons decision regarding the EU withdrawal bill, where MPs voted against implementing animal sentience into UK law. With this in mind, it becomes unclear as to when or how Gove intends to uphold the pledge to have the UK at the forefront of such issues.
Within the proposed new green strategy, the Prime Minister has considered plans to extend the current 5p levy on plastic bags to cover all UK retailers; perhaps placing a tax on single use items, such as takeaway containers; prospectively introducing a plastic-free supermarket aisle, where all food is sold loose. There have been varied reactions to these plans by campaign groups, with most arguing that these ideas will need to be backed up by legislation. Some groups have also expressed their concerns that leaving the EU may result in weakened environmental protections, urging the government not to reduce standards when creating trade deals. Other officials have reacted negatively to the news, with shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman claiming that May was “simply playing catch-up” with the plans, as the 5p plastic bag charge is already in place for all retailers in Wales and Scotland.
Regardless of these reactions, there is no question that something needs to be done to halt the harmful effects created by the UK’s current attitude toward plastic wastage. May has claimed that “people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly”. According to charity ‘WRAP’ (Waste and Resources Action Programme), despite the 5p levy, 13 billion plastic carrier bags are used in the UK each year, which can take more than 500 years to degrade. Statistics also show that between 1994 and 2008 alone there was more than a 120% increase in the amount of plastic litter being found on UK beaches, and that one in three fish sourced in the channel will contain pieces of plastic.
- Miguel Etchecolatz granted house arrest
Reported by Sara Saquib
Miguel Etchecolatz, a former senior police officer during Argentina’s dictatorship, and advocator of “Dirty War”, has been granted house arrest because of his fragile physical health.
During the years 1974-1983 the Argentinian government began a period of “Dirty War”. This termed the period where the government intended on crushing the popular left-wing stance in the country at the time, including the People’s Revolutionary Army. During this time, thousands of left wing advocates were kidnapped and murdered. This included activists, guerrillas, trade unionists and even students.
Etchecolatz was a lead police officer and consequently in charge of various detention and torture centres. He was responsible for leading an operation that led to the ‘Night of the Pencils’ in September 1976, where the houses of many left-wing students were raided. This resulted in their kidnap, torture and murder. He was also in charge of detention centres where the inmates were tortured, killed or forced to disappear.
Following the repeal of an amnesty law in 2006, which granted protection to all officers working at the time, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for 6 crimes against humanity. This life sentence was given to Etchecolatz for the second time in 2014 for complicity in genocide. However, on Wednesday the 27th of December 2017, he was granted house arrest due to his deteriorating physical health. He was transferred to Bosque Peralta Ramos in the popular beach resort of Mar Del Plata.
It is not surprising that the passing of this motion has caused outrage amongst human rights advocates and has led to protests calling for equal treatment of all involved. This decision was proved unpopular even before being put into place, with Human Rights leaders in Argentina protesting against the house arrest as early as August 2016.
Despite this, it seems unlikely that any change will be made. However, it sparks an interesting consideration about the way in which criminals are treated, with most people believing that he had an easy out. It should be noted that, prior to his life sentence, he published a book in which he defended his actions. In this, he even stated that he would do it all again if he had to, clearly showing no remorse. This is something which should be talked about, with many believing that the purpose of a prison sentence should not just be to protect society, but should also provide a time for prisoners to reflect on why their committed crimes were morally wrong.
- BHS owner may be given an unlimited fine for blocking inquiry
Reported by Anna Flaherty
Many will recollect the scandal involving billionaire and previous owner of BHS, Sir Phillip Green, and the hole in BHS’ pension fund. Eventually, Sir Phillip Green agreed to pay £363 million into the BHS pension fund, in order to retain his knighthood, prevent further legal action from the regulator, and to prevent the seizure of some of his assets, including his superyacht. Though this seemed like a resolution to the issue, the problem remained that BHS pensioners only received 88% of the value of their original benefits under the new pension scheme created by the settlement. A former BHS worker was quoted saying:
“It is literally the least Green could do. He filled his pockets with a great deal more than he’s putting back into the pension pot. He has filled the black hole in the pension but there are still a lot of black holes including one on our high street. My opinion of him is as low as it was.”
After the settlement, Sir Phillip Green sold what was left of BHS to Dominic Chappell for a mere £1 million in March 2015. Within 13 months the company had completely collapsed, making Chappell the final owner of BHS. However, this did not mean that he had heard the last of the issue. As of the 11th January 2017, he faces an unlimited fine due to the fact that he blocked a watchdog inquiry. He was found guilty for refusing to provide certain documents to the pensions watchdog. Specifically, Chappell had neglected to respond to three Section 72 notices which demanded the provision of information relating to the purchase of the company. This is the first prosecution of its kind.
- Need for parole board transparency following John Worboys' release
Reported by Sarah Mullane
The recent decision of a three-person Parole Board panel to release prolific rapist John Worboys has been met with shock and resistance. Worboys, a former black-cab driver, was jailed in 2009 after being convicted of nineteen sexual assault charges, including the rape of one woman. Worboys was found to have drugged and attacked at least twelve women in the back of his cab and it is believed that he may have attacked more than one-hundred women over the course of his 13-year career. The serial rapist was handed an indeterminate jail sentence with a minimum term of eight years to be served before being considered for parole. The shocking decision to release him after serving less than ten years behind bars has resulted in public uproar, with particular hurt being caused after it came to light that some of his victims had been left uninformed of his release.
Following the public outcry of the decision in this case, David Lidington, Justice Secretary, announced a review of parole board procedures in order to ensure transparency and openness going forward. After this announcement, Theresa May came forward to call for greater transparency by parole boards when releasing prisoners, supporting the demands for information regarding when and why prisoners are being released to be given to victims. During one interview, May refused to comment on her role when acting as Home Secretary with regard to a compensation claim by two of Worboys’ victims, but did go on to say that her main concern was in ensuring that people have confidence to report these crimes and for them to be “properly investigated and then the right and proper action to be taken”. Despite an assurance that procedure will be investigated and potentially amended, a solicitor who represented 11 of Worboys’ victims in civil claims has described how his clients still feel “betrayed” and “absolutely terrified” following the announcement of his release. It is also uncertain how, with its autonomous nature, the government will be able to change the process of the parole board in order to accommodate the proposed amendments caused by this case.