Writing on the Wall

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2005 - 5:40

Hatfield Killers Wriggle; Threats to gay rights group; Defend gay refusnik; The great liberal; Support fades for hate law


The engineering giant Balfour Beatty has admitted that it was guilty of breaching safety standards before the Hatfield train disaster in October 2000 in which four people died. The company’s dramatic change of plea came after it was formally cleared by an Old Bailey judge last week of a corporate manslaughter charge.

However, this admission is not all it seems. Balfour Beatty accepted some particulars of the allegations but not others, while the prosecution maintains its complete guilt. This, however, is now an issue that may or may not be settled by the judge. The jury, which has formally convicted the company, will not have a chance to decide on the full extent of Balfour Beatty’s wrongdoing.

And that may have an effect on the company’s civil liability to the victims of the crash and the relatives of the dead. Balfour Beatty is trying to avoid as much liability as they can by contending that there was not single cause of the Hatfield tragedy, but a multiplicity of causes (which if accepted would substantially reduce the damages they would have to pay).

Prosecuting counsel argued that the rail line involved in the crash was a “disaster waiting to happen”. It certainly was, with Railtrack aware of the defective track 18 months before the crash and Balfour Beatty leaving replacement rails beside the crash site for nearly seven months without making any attempt to fit them.

Five rail executives have also been acquitted of manslaughter. They now face charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act — which, despite the magnitude of the disaster their incompetence brought about, they also deny!


Three leading members of the gay rights groups Outrage! have received repeated death threats from political-Islamists.

The group’s spokesperson on Muslim affairs, Aaron Saeed, has been a particular target.

Threats stated that all gays would be killed as “the punishment for sodomy is death”.

The threats began soon after OutRage! stepped up its campaign in defence of gay Muslims. Gay Muslims have been murdered in so-called “honour killings” by fundamentalists in Britain, as well as in mainly-Muslim countries with strong political-Islamist movements, such as Algeria.


Mehmet Tarhan, a Turkish gay man and anarchist activist, declared his conscientious objection to military service on 27 October 2001. He has continued to publicly oppose killing, including by the US and UK in wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 8 April he has been incarcerated in a Turkish military prison, where he faces a sentence of up to five years.

Encouraged by prison staff, other prisoners have repeatedly beaten, humiliated and threatened Tarhan with death, even in front of his lawyer.

Tarhan went on a successful 28-day hunger strike which won basic human rights: protection from other prisoners, and treatment by independent doctors. When he appeared in court on 9 June, he could not walk properly and his body was covered in bruises.

He was actually released by a Turkish court, but the military were not satisfied —they arrested him again and put him back on trial. All of this is typical of the out-of-control behaviour of the Turkish state, which is studiously ignored by its “friends” in the EU and the USA.

There are estimated to be up to 350,000 people in Turkey who refuse to join an army which is mainly there to persecute the Kurds. They must all be free from state repression!


Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West, is a bit of a chameleon. He likes to present himself as an enlightened progressive, opposing the proposed religious hatred law and even putting himself forward as the “patron” (!) of Oxford Gay Pride. But in his campaign in favour of the religious hatred law he worked with the right-wing, homophobic “Christian Institute”, who certainly don’t have liberal aims in mind (they want to be able to vilify atheists and followers of other religions).

Now Harris has shown his true colours once again. He has called in the House of Commons, in collaboration with anti-abortion groups, for a debate on reducing the period in which abortions are permissible, despite the overwhelming rejection of this proposal by the British Medical Association to which he belongs.


A recent poll from the BBC has found support for the government’s proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill shrinking rapidly, having fallen from nearly 80% to 51%. Even before the London bombings, support was on 55%.

The government contends that the proposed law would not ban criticism of religion.

Supporters of the Bill point to its allegedly careful wording. “Religious hatred” is defined as “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief”. Hence, supporters say, attacks on religion itself or on religious institutions will not be criminalised.

But would the Bill allow strong attacks on homophobic churches or on, say, the Christian Institute on the basis of what those groups insist is their “religion”? How about the neo-Nazi “Christian Identity” group? It is all very unclear.

Can we be confident that, should someone try to bring a prosecution in such circumstances, the English judiciary would come to the right decision? The polls suggest an increasing number of people share our scepticism.

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