Monday 31 December 2018

Britain is no country for old professors at Oxford and Cambridge Universities

A change in the law in 2011 ended 'default retirement ages' in Britain, but companies and institutions were allowed to keep them if they could make the case that it was necessary and Oxford and Cambridge claim that they must be able to remove scarce old professors over the age of 67 'to help younger academics', despite its abolition by all other leading universities.

One sixty-nine year old ex-Cambridge Professor, speaking anonymously because he was still affiliated to a college, said after being forced to retire : “As one high official of the University told me when the policy was adopted, "We know the policy is probably not in compliance with the law, but we have to hold on to it as long as we can go unchallenged". It’s bankrupt moral leadership. It’s about convenience, for as long as they can get away with it. They don’t have a convenient way to terminate the employment of people who aren’t productive." In other words, the University, like Oxford, is relying on compulsory retirement because their antiquated employment policies mean that it is almost impossible otherwise to remove failing staff.

He went on : “There just hasn’t been the intestinal fortitude to do what many universities in Britain have done - institute a performance review based on standard criteria not to do with age. Cambridge finds that awkward so they’re taking the path of least resistance. Their view is that the only energy is with young people. That’s very out of date. I can identify lots of people right now in their thirties who should leave. A lot of us are running five miles a day, and could go on working until 100."

Seventy year old Sir John Ball, said that he had left Oxford for a position at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, because he did not want to apply for a rare contract extension and in relation to the default retirement age : “I decided that life was too short to fight it.”

Sir John was :

* Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University
*  President of the International Mathematical Union, an international non-governmental organization devoted to international cooperation in the field of mathematics across the world, from 2003–06
* a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford.
* knighted in the New Year Honours list for 2006 for 'Services to Science'

He said that he was not bitter but felt that the University was going to suffer if it maintained the policy : “I think in the higher reaches of the administration they realise the legal situation is dodgy. Whatever you think of the morality of the situation it doesn’t make any sense to have less good employment conditions than your competitors. If you’re in your late fifties or early sixties and at Oxford with the capacity to move, why wouldn’t you? And how can Oxford attract such people if they realise they can work longer somewhere else? We already know of cases where this is happening.”

On its part, Oxford said that the policy helped to “refresh” the workforce and promote equality and diversity. Cambridge said that the age limit was “important to ensure intergenerational fairness”. A colleague of Professor Ball’s, still working at Oxford and speaking anonymously, said that it was an unambiguously ageist policy and impossible to justify given that only Cambridge kept the same rules. Referring to the collection of leading research universities he said : “The question needs to be strongly put — ‘Why is Oxford different from the rest of the Russell Group?’ ”

Eighty-six year old Sir John Meurig Thomas, said that, while based in Cambridge he gave about 40 lectures a year around the world but was "saddened not to be asked to teach at the University", where he had been Master of a College and Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry from 1978 to '86.

This Sir John was

* from 1986 to 1991, Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain
* in 1987 televised by the BBC televised giving his 'Royal Institution Christmas Lectures' on crystals, continuing the tradition of lectures for children started by Faraday in 1826
* knighted in 1991 for 'Services to Chemistry and the Popularisation of Science'
* from 1993 to 2002, Master of Peterhouse, the oldest college at Cambridge and Honorary Distinguished Research Associate in the Department of Material Science
* given twenty honorary degrees from Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, Egyptian, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and U.S. universities
* was joined in celebration of  his 75th birthday, by Angela Merkel at Cambridge

A colleague of Sir John said: “Many very good, over-67 people in Cambridge are no longer ‘allowed’ to give lectures and influence enthusiastic undergraduates, while at the same time being asked, and paid, to give well- received lectures all over the world.”

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Judge called Nicholas Crichton, Protector of its most vulnerable children

Nicholas, who has died at the age of 75, spent his adult life as a passionate advocate for children’s rights, and was the driving force behind the setting up of the award winning 'Family Drug and Alcohol Court', the FDAC, in 2008. It was based on the fact that parents who are seriously addicted to drugs or alcohol are in danger of having their children taken into care. He also worked abroad on projects in the field of child protection, most notably in Bulgaria where he visited all 28 family courts and many specialist institutions. His work in other countries invariably left him horrified at the suffering he saw where children were left forgotten in institutions, without the care they needed and deserved.

Born during the Second World War in 1943 in Eton, Buckinghamshire, the younger son of Vera and the film director, Charles Crichton, brought up in the village of Denham and at the age of 11 was packed off to the boys' public school, Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Hertfordshire, where he was an accomplished rugby player and cricketer. He studied for his Bachelor of Laws at Queen's University Belfast in the 1960's and at the age of 28, in 1971, began his 16 year tenure as a solicitor in private practice working on criminal legal aid work, already specialising in care proceedings/child protection.

He later recalled : "When I was a solicitor, I sat in a court corridor with a woman who was having her seventh and eighth babies (twins) taken away. Her first child was in borstal – five times the cost of Eton; her second in a detention centre – four times Eton; her third and fourth were being adopted and her fifth and sixth in care – with all the attendant costs. Then there were the NHS costs of her poor health due to addiction, police costs for constantly attending domestic violence incidents, social services, court time, legal aid and local authority legal bills and an awful lot of human misery. We worked out she alone was costing the taxpayer half a million quid." In the first instance, it was clearly his effort to curb the amount of misery being generated, rather than the amount of money being spent, which was to motivate his ground-breaking family court reforms thirty years later.

In 1986, his life changed radically, when, at the age of 43, he started his nine year's service as a District Judge or 'Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate'. It wasn't until 16 years later that the seed of the idea for the FDAC was planted in his mind, when, at a conference in Melbourne, he met Len Edwards, a Californian Judge, who was talking about the strategies he used for drug-and-alcohol-using parents at his court in San Jose. He recalled : ”I was completely captivated by everything Len had to say because we had been struggling with these cases for years. These children are being born into terrible circumstances, and it just seems so wasteful, so stupid. He was offering a way of dealing with these families that was so different.”

When Nicholas returned home, he started to stimulate interest in a reassessment of how a family court could respond to the problem of parental addiction, he knew that usually, parents were told to 'get themselves clean or lose their children', but he knew that : "most of these people are in far too much of a mess to do this by themselves".

After his visit to the USA Nicholas thought : “We British are far too cautious. Everybody wants evidence based research before they can tentatively dip their little toe into the water. In America this is spreading across the country like a rash and there are over 300 of these courts. They say : "We are not good at dealing with these sorts of cases, here is something that looks better, let’s run with it, learn from the experience and start from the understanding that we are not good at this." I have had mothers scream at me in court : "Take this one away and I will keep having one a year until you let me keep it." I have read a psychiatric report that said every time you take a child away the only way that some mothers can deal with the pain is to have another one. I can’t even imagine how it must feel and I’m not even a mum”. 

He posed the question : “Just what is it that family courts are there to do? Just take away children? Or are we there to provide part of the whole construct of support around families to try to enable children to remain within their families? “If we are looking to remove the 8th, 9th or 10th child, the family courts can’t be doing very well by this family”.  He spoke from experience, having had to remove the 14th child from one family and admitted this was a clear indictment of how the family courts handled these cases. He felt that the family courts had to find ways of working with these families rather than concluding that children were not safe and then removing them. The creation of the FDAC was his solution.

Now, in his early 60s, he began a three year campaign and with backing from the three local authorities and the 'Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service', formed a fighting fund. In 2007 he featured in an article in 'The Telegraph' entitled 'Law : The judge with children at heart'  and the campaign group, led by Nicholas, presented the project to four government departments in one afternoon. Funding was approved, the FDAC opened in 2008. In 2015 he explained :

Nicholas was clear from the start that the “FDAC takes a different approach from normal care proceedings. We don’t tell the parent to go away and to get help; we bring a tough structured programme to them. We tell the parent that it is the best chance to turn their lives around and that it is about getting the child sent home or moved on. The local authority found families for the court to work with and they gave us some really challenging families that they had already worked with for years and got nowhere. These parents needed to show that they could change enough to meet the child’s needs within the child’s timeframe”. The time frame was 12 months.

He believed that : "To be successful, you have to address simultaneously the addiction and the problems that trigger it, like housing, debt and domestic violence." As a result, the parents :

*were brought into court every two weeks and saw the same judge throughout the legal process because : "Continuity is absolutely crucial " and it was a process like WeightWathcers "with the judge as the scales".
* had their progress monitored in the Court Reviews, which were the problem-solving aspect of the court process and allowed judges to speak directly to them and motivate them and to find ways of resolving problems that may have arisen. 
* were given the benefit of extra support from volunteer parent mentors, themselves, former addicts.

He was also clear that nurturing the parents, placed considerable demands on them : “The first three months get them stabilised, hopefully off drugs altogether or on methadone. If they come through the first three months, the second three months is about relapse prevention. We identify the triggers and what it is that has created the parents’ relationship with drugs and alcohol.  By six months we should know if there is likely to be a reunion. If they are still with us and w still doing well, then we start addressing their parenting issues, enabling them to meet the child’s needs and to build relationships. This is all done with a view to returning the child at the end of nine months. Some take a little longer.”

In addition the FDAC team carried out Pre-Birth Assessments with four local authorities because : “We should be catching these young mums at an early stage and then we have a real opportunity to break the habit. We initially got the toughest end when we started in 2008, but we still did twice as well as normal care proceedings, and with the most difficult families.” Having access to mothers while pregnant bought the team valuable time to help the mother before her baby was born. By then they had a very good idea of whether the mother was committed to the programme.

The results spoke for themselves and :

* research from Brunel University and the Nuffield Foundation revealed that nearly twice as many mothers going through FDAC were reunited with their children, compared with those in the comparison group used who were in normal care proceedings.

* in addition, the number of guardians and social workers commented that fathers were more involved and supported in FDAC cases than in ordinary proceedings and were more likely to get support and receive much more encouragement. They found that 36% of FDAC fathers were no longer misusing substances, but not one father from the comparison group stopped misusing.

In 2011 he received the 'Outstanding Achievement Award' at the 2011 'Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year' and received fulsome praise from his fellow professionals :
In addition to that the two awards his FDAC Intervention Team received in 2011 must have been particularly gratifying to him : the 'Guardian Public Services Award for Service Delivery for Children and Young People' and the 'London Safeguarding Children Award.'

In 2013 he explained the FDAC process of working with parents suffering from addiction in the the documentary, 'UNSPOKEN', made for DiversityInCare's awareness campaign to raise awareness of the issue of drug addiction amongst women in Britain :

He retired at the age of 71 in 2014, but continued to lend support to the spread of his family courts and in 2016, he extolled the benefits of establishing a FDAC in Wales on BBC News for Wales : and a year later BBC News highlighted the work of the FDAC with the case of a drug addict called 'John' under the title : 'How I got my children back'.

Although he had the satisfaction of knowing that by 2018, ten specialist FDAC teams had been set up, working in 15 courts covering 23 local authorities, it must have been a big disappointment for him to see the National Unit based in London closed in September, due to lack of support from local authorities and funding from central government. The Guardian highlighted its dissolution in an article in July under the title : 'Courts for addicted parents work, So why are they being stripped of support ?'

No one could doubt that the welfare of children were the key motivation for this judge who sometimes brought the family dogs he shared with his ex-wife into his court and having checked : "If we have an adoption, I ask the lawyer if the child likes dogs" and if the answer was "Yes", he hid them under his desk and when the child came up to him at the end of the proceedings, with a 'hey presto gesture', he said : "There are the dogs!" and confessed, of the children : "They love it."

When interviewed, in 2010, on the 'New Guidelines for Talking to Children in Family Proceeding' he said : "We see it as important that children should be treated with respect. They are citizens after all, no less because of their age. We would not deny an adult the opportunity to speak to the judge, so why would we deny the same opportunity to a child, unless there are good reasons for doing so."

He said that the FDAC was :
“better for parents, better for children, better for families and ultimately better for our society.”

Of his work, he once said : 
"We are involved in a process that seeks to make life better for these children. Why wouldn't you find that inspirational ?"

A good and great man, he died at the Isabel Hospice on 17th December surrounded by family and friends :

Sunday 9 December 2018

Britain is a country and no country for old men like Patrick Stewart, once the sons of violent fathers

Patrick Stewart, who is 78, an actor whose work has included roles on stage, television and film in a career spanning almost six decades, was born in the summer of 1940 and the second year of the Second World War. Raised in Mirfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, he was the third son of Gladys, a weaver and textile worker and Alfred, who had worked as a general labourer and as a postman before he joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and when War broke out in 1939, became a Regimental Sergeant Major of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

For the first five years of his life, while his father was away from home on active service in the War Patrick fondly remembers his childhood with a mother who indulged him. It was not to last and in 1945, he witnessed, his father, who had returned from the War to wage his own war, throwing things at and beating Patrick's mother.

On weekend nights, he would lie in bed, alert, awaiting his father’s return from the pub, ready for his rage, braced to throw himself between his parents to protect his mother. He kept it all to himself and later said : “For decades, I was silent. I was ashamed and embarrassed – and that embarrassment went all the way back to being seven or eight. At the time, our tightly knit community knew what my father did to my mother – they could hear it – but it was absolutely not talked about. Even with my brothers, we didn’t discuss it. I think we tried to pretend it wasn’t there.”

In 2009 he told a meeting of Amnesty International UK : "I was not a violent child, but if my mother had, at any point,between the ages of 5 and 12, picked up a knife  or any other weapon against my father, I would have held her hand as she did it. I would have locked the door while she carried it out. That's how bad it was to be growing up inside a violent household."

The domestic violence which punctuated his childhood had a lasting effect on him and over the years, certain acting roles brought it to the surface. He said : "My father was a very potent individual, a very powerful man, who got what he wanted. It was said that when he strode onto the parade ground, birds stopped singing. It was many, many years before I realised how my father inserted himself into my work."

He remembers, for example, looking in the mirror before going on stage to play Macbeth :  “I had the uniform, the cap, the AK47, and I’d grown a moustache, although I didn’t know why. Then I saw my father’s face staring straight back at me. I remember feeling that night that I couldn’t give the performance.” Apparently, his father didn't have a moustache.

From the 1980s onward, Patrick began working in American television and film, with prominent leading roles such as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in 'Star Trek : The Next Generation'. It was during these years that he lived in California, which is where he discovered therapy. When he recalled : “I began unravelling this and finally acknowledging it had been part of my life. We would do regression therapy.” His eyes filled with tears and his voice faltered : “It would be my mother and father sitting in the room of my childhood home. And I would be given permission to say whatever I wanted to say.”

In a 2006 interview, Patrick made a slight reference to his father’s violence, which was spotted by the CEO of 'Refuge', Sandra Horley, who invited him to speak at a fundraising event at Chequers. He recalled that : “I’d never spoken about it in public and I remember it vividly.” He began with a reading, then said : "Now I’m going to tell you why I’m really here." He is now a patron of the charity and has said : “It’s made me a more contented person – and if there’s a value to others, I’m extremely grateful.”

In 2017 he said :
"Domestic violence is largely a man's problem. You do occasionally hear of violence which is women on men, but it is so rare. It's not a woman's problem, being beaten up in your own home. It's a man's problem. I grew up with it and I heard a policeman say to my bleeding mother one night : "Well Mrs Stuart. You must have provoked him." No, she never provoked him. He was just an angry, unhappy, frustrated and, at the time, drunken individual and what I didn't know until a very few years ago, when I learned it thanks to a television programme on. My father, in 1940, came back from the original invasion of France with a severe case of what was then called 'shell-shock', which we now know as PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder and he would have been never treated - ever treated for it. He would have been told, if anything : "Pull yourself together and be a man." That was the treatment for PTSD in those days. "Come on you're a soldier. Act like a soldier." Not realising what a damaging and disastrous psychological transformation that can be and my father was never treated, ever in his life for it. He died with it, PTSD. He never talked about it. I didn't know he'd been shell-shocked. I don't think even his wife knew that he'd been shell-shocked, but I've been told his behaviour were classical symptoms of PTSD which went untreated. So now I work for an organisation called 'Combat Stress', which helps veterans and there are so many of them."

Saturday 1 December 2018

Britain in 2018 is a country where old men with previously undiagnosed prostate cancer said "Thank You" to Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull

The 61 year old comedian, actor and writer, Stephen Fry and presenter and 62 year old, Bill Turnbull, BBC TV and Radio presenter are together the two poster boys for to prostate cancer, a condition confined to men and usually old men at that.

It's the most common cancer in men in Britain where an ageing population means more old men are developing and dying from the disease with 40,000 new cases diagnosed and around 11,000 men dieing from it each year. It can develop slowly over years and many men have no symptoms, but noticeable symptoms include needing to urinate more often and a weak flow of urine.

Stephen recorded his experience on You Tube in February and took his audience through the process he had been through of diagnosis, treatment and recovery, during the course of which he described his cancer as "an aggressive little bugger". He also said : "Here's hoping I've got another few years left on this planet because I enjoy life at the moment and that's a marvellous thing to be able to say, and I'd rather it didn't go away."

He said : "I went around saying to myself, 'I've got cancer. Good heavens, Stephen, you're not the sort of person who gets cancer. I know it's an old cliche but you don't think it's going to happen to you." He urged men to get their PSA [prostate specific antigen] levels checked with a doctor : "I generally felt my life was saved by this early intervention, so I would urge any of you men of a certain age to get your PSA levels checked."

Bill Turnbull also urged men to get checked for prostate cancer, when he disclosed he had been diagnosed with the disease after suffering aches and pains he put down to simple “old age”. His condition is clearly worse than Stephen's and he said that he would not be cured the cancer, which had spread to his bone in the legs, hips, pelvis and ribs and he couldn't plan "beyond 12 years.” Like Stephen, he was motivated to speak out : “If one man gets tested who might not otherwise have gone to their doctor, it’s worthwhile.”

Ironically, the success of Stephen and Bill, with more men receiving early diagnosis has meant that GP referrals for cancer 'across the board' have fallen below the 93% prompt referral standard, with more people not being seen as quickly as they should. The former Director of 'National Cancer', Sir Mike Richards said : “It is particularly down to referrals for possible prostate cancer increasing – almost certainly in response to the Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry effect.”

Like Stephen and Bill, I too was living with undiagnosed prostate cancer and have also had my prostate and attendant lymph nodes removed. In my case, however, the discovery that I had prostate cancer came about as a result of the biopsy on my prostate after it was removed at the same time as my bladder. This was a precautionary measure in case any of the bad guys in my bladder had decided to migrate to the prostate next door. They hadn't. The bad guys in my prostate were not related to those in my bladder.
Like Stephen and Bill I have urged all my male friends and relations of a certain age to get their PSA level checked and be vigilant of the tell tale signs of the enemy below.