Monday, December 10, 2012

Stephen John Scott fails in bid to have conviction for sexual assault overturned

A night-clubber who went out hoping for a night on the tiles to remember - but ended up with a criminal record for a sex offence - has failed in a bid to persuade judges to overturn his conviction. 

Stephen John Scott, 40, was arrested in Watford High Street as revellers piled out of clubs and bars on the night of August 20 last year, after a woman accused him of groping her breast. 

Scott, then living in Charter Place, Watford, denied he was the guilty man, despite wearing clothing which matched that which the victim said her attacker wore. 

However, he was convicted by a jury of sexual assault at St Albans Crown Court in March and handed a community sentence. 

Today Lord Justice Davis, Mr Justice Eady and Judge Brian Barker QC, sitting at London's Criminal Appeal Court, heard Scott ask them to grant him permission to appeal the conviction in a bid to clear his name. 

The court heard that the victim had left a club with her boyfriend but had fallen behind him when a man approached her, wearing a red shirt and jeans. 

After chatting briefly, the man groped her left breast "holding on for several seconds". 

Police arrived as the victim and her boyfriend were remonstrating with Scott, who they insisted was the guilty man. Scott however denied having anything to do with the incident. 

He was convicted by a jury in the absence of CCTV footage, and Scott's lawyers today argued that he didn't receive a fair trial. 

It was submitted that the way in which the question of identification was put to the jury by the judge had not been balanced, or reflected the reality on the ground as the crowds poured out of multiple venues and mingled late at night. 

But, rejecting the application, Judge Barker said: "He was wearing a red top or shirt and that was one of the identifying factors. This application can go no further." 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pakistan races to develop armed drones: Reports

Pakistani military and civil experts are secretly racing to develop surveillance and armed drones in order to tackle militancy across the militant-riddled region, media reports say.

This comes after Washington refused to equip Islamabad with sensitive nature of the technology and doubts that Pakistan would reliably target US enemies.

Pakistani military officials and civilians involved in the domestic drone industry told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that Islamabad was struggling in its initial tests with a lack of precision munitions and advanced targeting technology.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has said Islamabad would look for help from Beijing in response to US technological apartheid.

“Pakistan can also benefit from China in defense collaboration, offsetting the undeclared technological apartheid,” said Ashraf at a defense exhibition in the southern port city of Karachi last week.

The British newspaper The Guardian said in a report on Tuesday that Pakistani military and civilian experts were working on an armed drone but did not provide details.

Pakistan had earlier demanded Washington provide it with armed drones, saying it could more effectively carry out attacks against militants in the country's troubled northwest near the porous border with Afghanistan.
American officials held several rounds of talks with Pakistani authorities about providing unarmed surveillance drones, but the discussions have gone nowhere.
The aerial attacks were initiated by former US President George W. Bush, but have escalated under President Barack Obama.

Obama has given no indication he would halt or alter the drone campaign in Pakistan and some other Muslim countries.

Pakistani tribal regions are the target of US terror drones, with Washington claiming that its unmanned aircraft are targeting militants. However, casualty figures clearly indicate that Pakistani civilians are the main victims of the assaults.

The killing of Pakistani civilians, including women and children, in the strikes has strained relations between Islamabad and Washington, prompting Pakistani officials to send warnings to the US administration over the assaults.

Despite Pakistani government’s repeated calls on Washington to end the drone attacks, the US government continues its strikes on the tribal regions of the country. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Prosecutors, victim's mom not convinced freed inmate is innocent

The DNA evidence that won Andre Davis his release from prison has not convinced prosecutors in Champaign County that he is innocent of 3-year-old Brianna Stickel's murder.

State's Attorney Julia Reitz said her office will contest Davis' petition for a certificate of innocence, and the move could prevent Davis from collecting money from a state fund set up for wrongfully convicted inmates.
"Based on our review of the two trials and the evidence, we believe he is guilty of murder," Reitz said. "We can't prove it, 30 years later, at this time."

Much of the evidence in the case files used in Davis' two trials in the early 1980s has been lost or destroyed, but his lawyers say nothing that remains can link Davis to the crime.

Davis, who spent nearly 32 years behind bars, served more time than any other Illinois inmate who has had their conviction overturned since at least 1989, according to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school.

Brianna's body was found in a house in her neighborhood where two acquaintances of Davis lived. Blood and semen samples found on bedclothes at the scene had been used with 1980s technology to finger Davis as the killer, but DNA tests decades later matched them to a witness who testified in court against Davis, court records say. Samples recovered from Brianna's body are missing.

The Tribune is not naming the witness because he has not been charged with a crime. 

Police in Rantoul have reopened the murder case, but Chief Paul Farber would not say whether the witness who matches the DNA is a suspect.

"After 32 years, we're getting very few tips," Farber said.

If a judge rules that a preponderance of the evidence proves Davis was not guilty, Davis could receive as much as $190,000 based on the formula that the state uses to compensate wrongfully convicted inmates who serve significant time in prison, said his lawyer, Jane Raley.

Rebeca Spragg, Brianna's mother, remains unconvinced that Davis is innocent.

"I felt like the evidence against him was good enough. ... I still feel that way," she said. "He may not have been totally alone in it, but he was involved in it."

Spragg had divorced Brianna's father, Michael Stickel, and remarried not long before Brianna was killed.
After Brianna's death, Spragg said she and her family moved repeatedly before settling a few years ago in North Carolina.

"Our life has been very guarded all these years. I haven't felt safe anywhere," she said.
The prospect that no one will be charged in Brianna's murder is not unusual among the many wrongful conviction cases, Raley said.

"These cases are so old, and often there isn't a lot of evidence left," she said. "But we know Andre didn't do it."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hizbut Tahrir and the army

The Pakistan Army has taken the right course by deciding that officers owing allegiance to banned organisations cannot be tolerated. A military court has sent to jail five military officers, including a brigadier, for membership of a terrorist organisation called Hizbut Tahrir (HUT) and for attempting to overthrow the political order in the name of religion. Brigadier Ali Khan got five years while Major Sohail Akbar, Major Jawwad Baseer, Major Inayat Aziz and Major Iftikhar have been jailed for three years, two years, and 18 months each, respectively. Brigadier Khan came into the focus of army investigators after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad in May 2011. He called for the resignation of army and ISI chiefs over bin Laden’s killing and wrote letters to army generals on how to become self-reliant and cleanse the army of American influence.

The army is a part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Anyone who arrogates to himself the right to work towards overthrowing the constitutionally established military institution in favour of whatever personal programme is guilty of treason and cannot be allowed to operate freely.

UK-based HUT and its sister outfit al Muhajirun were allowed into Pakistan in the early 2000s under former General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s government. Their founder, Umar Bakri, a Syrian Arab preacher, has since been exiled from the UK. Among his followers were many Pakistanis belonging to the largest Muslim minority in Britain.

According to a former HUT activist, Majid Nawaz, the HUT was set-up in Pakistan in the early 1990s by Imtiaz Malik, a British Muslim and in 1999, a call was sent to British HUT members to move to Pakistan, which prompted the movement of some of the UK’s top quality activists to South Asia. At least 10 British activists were planted in each of Pakistan’s main cities. Egypt, Libya and Pakistan banned the HUT which was proscribed by Pakistan in 2004, following an alleged plot to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.

More recently, on October 22, 2009, the HUT was banned in Bangladesh for allegedly trying to destabilise the country. The home secretary of Bangladesh said the government “feared the HUT posed a serious threat to peaceful life”.

In his book, Islam under Siege: Living Dangerously in Post-Honour World (Polity Press 2003) Akbar S Ahmed, a former Pakistan’s High Commissioner in the UK, wrote:
“In Britain, Sheikh Umar Bakri’s Khilafah, the journal of the Hizbut Tahrir, attacked Jinnah as a kafir and an insult for a Muslim. Moreover, it accused Jinnah of being an enemy of God and of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) because Jinnah supported women, Christians and Hindus, and advocated democracy. Why, I asked myself, did they pick on Jinnah? Because, I concluded, Bakri saw him as a major ideological opponent. Significantly, after the American strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998, Bakri emerged in the media to claim that he represented Bin Laden in Europe” (P 113).

It is common knowledge in Pakistan that non-state actors have decided to shift their allegiance from Pakistan to terrorist organisations like al Qaeda. The Pakistan Army is fighting them in parts of our tribal areas and offering sacrifices in the shape of casualties to save Pakistan from the clutches of these terrorists. One deserter army officer, Major Haroon Ashiq, is in jail for working for al Qaeda, putting the nation on notice about the kind of danger Pakistan faces.

Misguided officers were moved more by blind emotion than by reason and information, otherwise they could not have joined an outfit that condemned the founder of Pakistan and the idea of Pakistan on the basis of which Pakistan has given itself a constitution. The army is overwhelmingly loyal to the ideology of Pakistan but a few officers may be led astray because of their insulation from civil society. In Pakistan, despite its efforts, the HUT has not won any support from an electorate that accepts democracy and votes for parties that accept the representative system operating in the country.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Crews pull man's body from Rock River in Oregon

A holiday escape turns into tragedy after police recover the body of a Chicago man who fell into the Rock River. He went into the river on the Fourth of July while fishing just below the Oregon dam. That area is considered a very dangerous spot.

"First weekend when we opened here 5 years ago they had a drowning here too. Same exact circumstances as yesterday," says O.K. Welty.

He is the sales manager at Rock River Outfitters which sells bait to many people fishing on the water.
Oregon Police say Reyes Perez, 37, was walking in the river with waders on. He tried to cross from one island to another and was pulled under. Rescuers searched for him all day on the Fourth of July. They didn't find him until Thursday morning.

"Right in front of the dam there is a large hole that's about 50 feet deep. There is a back flow in that area. And at the bottom I have been told there is debris down there. It's very dangerous so once you go in there, particularly if you are wearing waders, the likelihood of you coming back up is very remote," says Jim Coutts, Oregon Park District executive director.

Reyes' death is the fourth near the dam since 2007. It's why the Oregon Park District has danger signs posted. Coutts say his workers also warn people about the danger of going into the river. But he says because of the number of game fish near the dam it attracts a lot of out-of-towners that area who may not realize how danger the area really is.

"Unfortunately people come here and they see that it is shallow and feel that the entire river is shallow but they are so unfamiliar with the back-tow and what this dam does to the bottom of the river that we would definitely encourage everyone to stay out of that area," says Coutts.

The park district says the safest ways to fish near the dam are in a boat or to stay on the riverbank.