Hidden Brittany: The petit delights of Dol-de-Bretagne

Mont St Michel: Viewed from  the almost  deserted Dol Marsh

Mont St Michel: Viewed from the almost deserted Dol Marsh

Just back from a two week break in Brittany with the grandkids where to my surprise very little has changed once you get off the motorways. Rural France has empty roads, open spaces and places to visit without meeting the crowds at the height of the tourist season. Indeed two places we visited which commanded just a sentence in the Michelin Green Guide we had to ourselves.

Our destination was a busy campsite just outside the medieval town of Dol-de-Bretagne – a place which is more likely to attract French tourists than the English – and most of the people do not speak English. It also stages a medieval tournament in August celebrating the rivalries in France once the English had been defeated!

Once away from the huge international tourist Des Ormes campsite with its five swimming pools, horse riding,golf and zip wire, you can find places that have hardly changed in centuries.

View from Mount Dol over Brittany and the coast

View from Mount Dol over Brittany and the coast

Most popular with us was Mont Dol -a 208 foot high granite mound. approached by a narrow road with a midway hairpin bend. Despite its diminutive size- it offers stupendous views stretching for miles across the Brittany-Normandy border, a tower, an old windmill, picnic area, children’s playground and a creperie.

Going to collect cockles and mussels French style

Going to collect cockles and mussels French style

In front of the mound lies a bit of France that resembles  coastal Norfolk and Suffolk – a large expanse of salt marshes and drained farmland with dykes. Here only a few miles from the overcrowded  mega tourist attraction of Mont St Michael are deserted bays, huge open skies, roads and tracks only frequented by cyclists and people searching for cockles and mussels.

Ruined castle at Hede

Ruined castle at Hede

Inland were the towns of Combourg – which has its own cheese – and Hede. The former has a lake and a chateau , the latter is on a hill with a ruined castle where we had the place to ourselves and the grandkids discovered a secret passage. The only public warning was not to nick the stones.

Friendly lemur at the zoo

Friendly lemur at the zoo

We also discovered a more popular zoo at a Bourbansais Chateau. – again set in gardens with everything from lions to lemurs. It also had its own pack of hunting dogs who put on a daily display – without killing anything!

Cheeky grandson Leon in the ruined cloisters at Le Tronchet

Cheeky grandson Leon in the ruined cloisters at Le Tronchet

But probably the quietest spot was a a half ruined former Benedictine abbey at Le Tronchet – a small village- which turned out to have a garden attached to it with picnic tables. Again apart from two French cyclists we had the place to ourselves.

It’s still great to know that you can find places in August where you can get away from the crowds if you want peace and quiet- even with four grandchildren.


Elm Guest House: Child abuse charges to be reinstated

A very important decision has been taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to reinstate charges against John Stingemore,the former deputy manager, of Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond.

Stingemore and Father Tony McSweeney,already face  a trial next February on a series of child sex abuse charges and have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.

The full story by my colleague Mark Conrad is on the Exaro website.but in essence it involved the CPS reviewing the  charges after a complaint from Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who revealed the scale of the scandal against Sir Cyril Smith, and planned action by Tom Watson MP to help the witness involved.

Exaro revealed last December that the CPS had withdrawn four charges based on accusations by one witness, but had made a serious mistake about the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit under Operation Fernbridge. It led to an adverse view of the witness’s credibility.


While it would be wrong to reveal the full details of the circumstances of the case in order not to prejudice the trial, the decision is important for two reasons.

First it shows that survivors accounts should not be brushed aside and second it suggests that the pressure the police and the CPS are under to handle so many child sexual abuse cases at the moment that they may not have had the time to examine all the details.

If it was not for active MPs like Simon and Tom who are prepared to take up cases like this, we would still be facing the danger of further cover ups and evidence not being tested by the courts.

The last thing we want is anything else not properly investigated when people have waited so long for justice.

How the government lets your car reveal how much disability benefit you receive?

DVLA -revealing disability benefits via car regostration

DVLA -revealing disability benefits via car regostration

With the tabloid media frenzy on cheating benefit claimants reaching new heights and people believing that some disabled people are fraudsters, the government seems to have found a new way to embarrass people on benefit.

The forthcoming abolition of car tax discs  from October means that the only way to check whether a vehicle is taxed is to check free on line at the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA). All anybody needs is the vehicle registration and the make of car – you don’t even need to know the model.

But the DVLA has decided to introduce a new  way of reporting  on line who doesn’t have to pay car tax  by creating a class of taxation called disabled.revealing whether the person who drives it is disabled rather than leaving it blank as previously.

As I reported in Tribune under the new system, people can find out on line that they pay no car tax, which is only available to people claiming higher levels of benefit. This is through mobility benefit included in the Disability Living Allowance or the new personal Independence payment system, and for war pensioners who have mobility supplements. The site also says whether they are disabled or not.

The changes highlighted on a professionally run benefits and advice website have provoked a storm of protest from disabled people who see it as a breach of privacy and revealing confidential information.

The website says: “The issue here appears to be one of data protection. The information that DVLA are making available is not about the vehicle itself. Instead they are publishing personal information about the benefits received by the individual who currently owns the car or for whom the car is solely used.”

One disabled person, Robert Adam commented: “There are malicious gits out there who resent people getting benefits who are 100 per cent entitled to them. If someone is accused of fraudulently obtaining the Disability Living Allowance, they are immediately pulled in for the new PIP assessment. This DVLA system stating “Taxation class disabled” is not information about the vehicle. It is information about the registered keeper being disabled and entitled to free road tax.”

The DVLA say this is not their intention. They claim their aim is to help people when the numerous parking companies are chasing up people for unpaid parking fines and private parking charges who will be saved from being pursued when they see their entry.

However given the DVLA is also making over £20m by handing over the names and addresses of people driving or keeping the cars to private enforcement companies at a cost of £2.50 a time they are not always that scrupulous. After all many of the parking charges sought by private companies are not enforceable any way as this site reveals and this story on BBC News also illustrates.

It strikes me as just another way of ratcheting up fear of  suspected benefit fraud while at the same time making money from some unscrupulous parking cowboys.

News: Phone Hacking, Jules Stenson and Neil Wallis Charged with voicemail interception during period 2003 to 2007


Crown Prosecution Service continue phone hacking investigation in wake of trial by charging two more senior figures but drop cases against six others

Originally posted on Inforrm's Blog:

Jules-StensonNeil WallisThe Crown Prosecution Service has announced today that it has authorised the Metropolitan Police to charge Jules Stenson, former features editor of the News of the World and to summons Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the News of the World on a ‘phone hacking’ charge.

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A damning indictment of the DPP and its failure to prosecute Cyril Smith

My  Exaro colleagues Nick Fielding and Tim Wood deserve a big commendation for doggedly pursuing the Crown prosecution Service to force them to release a damning report revealing how the authorities missed their opportunity to prosecute  paedophile MP Cyril Smith while he was alive.

After using the Freedom of Information Act the CPS has finally  a year later released a police report showing the Rochdale authorities knew what Sir Cyril was up to – but  the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to prosecute,.

The police superintendent in charge of the investigation in 1970 wrote;

“It seems impossible to excuse his conduct. Over a considerable period of time, whilst sheltering beneath a veneer of respectability, he has used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility.”

No action was taken, and the paedophile MP was free to continue sexually and physically abusing boys for many more years. The full report is on the Exaro website.

One can only say if they had acted a lot of people would have been spared suffering such predatory sordid practices and could have gone on to have had fulfilling lives and enjoyed the innocence of the rest of their childhood. The authorities have a lot to answer.

The two faces of equality chair Baroness Onora O’Neill on sex segregation: One for UK, one for UAE

Baroness Onora O'Neill: Pic credit: Flickr

Baroness Onora O’Neill:
Pic credit: Flickr

This month the Equality and Human Rights Commission weighed into the controversy over the treatment of women by radical Muslims.

It issued strict guidelines forbidding the segregation of men and women at universities, colleges and student unions except for acts of religious worship following controversial suggestions that this had been happening in the UK  at university meetings. As to be expected the ECHR was on the side of  the equal treatment of women at all times.

Not highlighted was the position of Baroness Onora O’Neill, the three day a week chairman of the ECHR appointed by former culture secretary, Maria Miller, to replace Trevor Phillips. It is highlighted in an article by me in Tribune magazine this week.

Baroness O’Neill,a 71 year old philosophy don, whose academic  career is mainly based in an all women’s college in New York and as a former principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, was of course thoroughly in favour of that move in the UK.

What is not so widely known is that the Baroness is also a trustee of a university in the Middle East in Sharjah,in the United Arab Emirates. Indeed the ECHR website omits the appointment – along the lines that she has so many  that it was not worth mentioning.

But in this context it is more than a little relevant. Sharjah, the most conservative of the Emirates, has strict laws about the role of women in society. Its 2001 decency laws have very strict views about the relations between men and women.

It says: “A man and a woman who are not in a legally acceptable relationship should not be alone in public places, or in suspicious times or circumstances.”

Now Baroness O’Neill is a trustee of the American University of Sharjah which as she points out educates men and women and  does not have the same segregation as the next door University of Sharjah which has separate men and women’s campuses.

However a reading of the American University’s Code of Conduct makes it crystal clear how students have to behave. It is subject to Sharjah’s law, which includes a strict ban on alcohol and no unsupervised visits to the student halls of residents where 2000 students stay.

There is a  night curfew in operation – all students have to be in their rooms by midnight ( I.0 am is allowed at weekends) and even male and female friends are banned form being alone together in the halls of residence.

I quote from the rules::

• Visitors are allowed for limited hours and are only allowed to meet the residing students in the TV lounge and the computer labs; exceptions to this rule are mentioned below
• Mothers and sisters can visit the AUS women’s dormitories only and for a limited time.
This is subject to the approval of the dorm supervisor. Other family members can meet
the women students in the Women Welcome Center building
• Fathers and brothers can only visit the AUS men’s dormitories for limited time and this is
subject to the approval of dorm supervisor.”
The rules on dress are also restricted:

I quote: “Inappropriate dress for both males and females is prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to, tank tops, clothing that is very tight or transparent and indecently exposes the waist or back or shoulders or cleavage, and short clothing above the knee or very short pants. Moreover, clothing must not display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.”

I can’t imagine any of this being imposed on British university students. I was interested to find out how the noble Baroness squared her two roles in  two different cultures. Did she secretly disagree with Sharjah’s strict ban on alcohol  and strict control of the sexes? Or would she like to impose similar restrictions on British students( she might be a teetotaller!) and not believe in sex before marriage.?

But she was being very silent. All she would say that the university was co-educational  and she was not paid to be a trustee by the Arabs.. But it was not her financial gains that really interested me, it was her hypocrisy of  legislating for rules in one country ( the UK) while backing a regime in the Middle East that did the very opposite.



Phone Hacking: Former Mirror and NoTW journalist Dan Evans receives suspended sentence


Dan Evans, the journalist who helped blow the story that there was phone hacking at the News of the World gets his reward. He gets a one year suspended sentence for admitting what others tried to deny.

Originally posted on Inforrm's Blog:

Dan EvansThe former Sunday Mirror and News of the World journalist Dan Evans was, today, sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, suspended for one year. Mr Evans had pleaded guilty to two phone hacking offences, misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice by lying in a civil claim brought by Kelly Hoppen.

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