Recent Articles

How the US condemned an innocent mother to death

by Shantel Burns     May 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

In 1989, 17 year old mother Sabrina Butler had to rush her nine month old baby boy to hospital in the American state of Mississippi after he had stopped breathing. On the journey there Butler attempted to administer CPR in the hope that she could save her baby’s life.

The next day her baby died. Bruises left from the attempted administration of CPR led the hospital staff, and subsequently the police, to question the young mother about the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.

Just one day after the death of her baby, Sabrina was arrested and interrogated.

She was then charged for the capital murder of her son, Walter Butler. On the 8th March 1990 Butler’s case went to trial. Prosecutors sought to prove that she had inflicted the wounds intentionally and caused the death of her baby.

She was convicted of both child abuse and murder and became the only woman on Mississippi’s death row at the time.

None of the facts presented by the prosecution were seriously contested by Butler’s attorneys during the trial, no defence witnesses were called and no other evidence was offered on her behalf.

By August 1992 the Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed and remanded Butler’s convictions declaring the “prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident.”

She was exonerated in 1995.

Sabrina’s story is one of the ten stories covered in a series of short films, as part of the One for Ten project (we covered it on Liberal Conspiracy a few months ago)).

The tells the stories of 10 exonerees in the US that have been freed from death row after their innocence has been proven.

One For Ten are currently crowd funding to raise the money to make the last two films in this series. To read more about the cases featured in the last two films, have a look at their website here. If you want to make sure their work continues, you can contribute here.

Man who suffered heart-attack declared ‘fit for work’

by Shantel Burns     March 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm

A 55-year-old man who complained of chest pains during an Atos assessment – and then suffered a heart attack the following day – has been found ‘fit for work’ by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Jim Elliot, a father from Cambuslang near Glasgow, says as well as suffering from chest pains, he was also struggling to breathe during the 20-minute interview. The assessors provided Mr Elliot with a glass of water but persisted on with the assessment.

Jim, who had formerly been a welder for his entire adult working life, had to cease work 18-months-ago after he suffered a heart attack. Speaking to the Daily Record Jim said: “All they seemed to care about was getting through the ridiculous list of questions they have […] ‘Can you walk 200m and can you raise your arm up in the air?'”

Jim added: “I was sweating profusely, my breath was very laboured and I had been confused during the interview.”

The next day, whilst walking down Glasgow’s west end, he suffered a heart attack.

Mr Elliot was rushed to the Golden Jubilee hospital in Clydebank where he spent the next several days recovering.

During his stay in hospital a letter from the DWP arrived at his home stating that he had been found ‘fit for work’ as he had scored zero points. An individual is only deemed as unfit to work if they score 15 points or more.

Atos has previously (and continuously) been the subject of criticism for its flawed work capability assessments, the high rate of cases that go on to tribunal (41%) and the number which have the decision overturned in their favour (38%).

The government’s own figures reveal that 1,300 people had died after they had been told they should start preparing to go back work, and a further 2,200 had died before their assessment was completed.

An Atos Healthcare spokesman, in response to Mr Elliot’s case said: “The role of our doctors and nurses is to carry out work capability assessments on behalf of the DWP under their guidelines and not to conduct a thorough medical examination.”

What happens to deathrow inmates found innocent?

by Shantel Burns     February 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Since the death sentence was reinstated in the US in 1976, 140 people on death row – one in ten – are exonerated after their innocence has been proven.

What do the people who were wrongly imprisoned, sometimes for decades, on death row, say once they are found innocent?

One for Ten is a series of interactive, short documentary films which will tell the stories of ten individuals, from all across the US, that have been freed from death row after their innocence has been proven.

The films – which will be produced and broadcast over five weeks between April and May 2013 – aim to be an interactive documentary series by using social networking, user generated content and a strong media and charity coalition to allow others to be as involved as possible.

All films will be free to watch and share and will be made ‘live’, shot one day, edited the next and then uploaded online for people to comment, pass on and contribute with interview questions, music and artwork.

The team will be travelling across the US, from New York to California, in order to interview people found innocent and produce a new short film for release online every Tuesday and Friday.

Each of the films will look at a different failing in the American capital justice system that led to the wrongful conviction and incarceration of each of the individuals interviewed as part of ‘One for Ten’.

The pilot film shows ex-death row inmate Ray Krone talking about his time on death row and the injustice he was faced with during his trial:

‘One for Ten’ have just launched their crowd funding campaign to raise the much-needed funds to get the project on the road, for which you can donate here.

Clegg promises he won’t let Gove scrub out Seacole

by Shantel Burns     February 5, 2013 at 10:09 am

Nick Clegg has pledged that he will “not allow” Michael Gove to remove 17th 19th century Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole as part of changes to the National Curriculum.

The Deputy Prime Minister told activists and campaigners within his own party that the removal of prominent historical figure Mary Seacole “will not happen” after leaked documents from the end of last month reported the Education Secretary’s plans to remove ‘the black Florence Nightingale’.

Gove hopes to favour more traditional white male figures such as William Churchill and Oliver Cromwell. A group of 24 MP’s from the three major parties have signed an Early Day Motion which declares themselves as ‘greatly alarmed’ by Mr Gove’s plans.

Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote (OBV) told The Independent that without the social history of people like Mary Seacole children would develop a “very distorted view of black people and of Africa”.

Woolley stated that Africa and its history was about more than just “extreme poverty…and slavery” and that it was “fantastically important” to have people such as Seacole taught in the classroom.

The Daily Mail was unsurprisingly supportive of Mr Gove, calling Mary Seacole’s story “poor history” and challenged the significance of her work by saying that it “has been spun out of all proportion” and her “achievements embellished in order to provide a role model”.

Simon Woolley told the Independent that he thought it was “very brave of the Deputy Prime Minister who has said he will no longer make pledges he knows he can’t keep. Let’s just hope that Gove listens to him.”

OBV have created a petition to keep Mary Seacole on the National Curriculum – which currently has over 35,000 supporters – and can be found here.

Woman banned from FB after threats is still targeted

by Shantel Burns     December 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Last month Liberal Conspiracy reported on the Facebook banning of Icelandic women’s rights campaigner after she reposted a death threat that was made against her.

Hildur Lilliendahl Viggósdóttir was booted off the social network for 30 days for taking a screenshot of a death threat that was made against her.

But now she’s been banned from Facebook again for an old link to the same screenshot.

Ms Viggósdóttir got in touch with Liberal Conspiracy and explained the latest twist in the online campaign against her:

Late October I posted a picture of a death threat made against me. I was reported, the picture was removed and I was blocked for 30 days.

Before I was blocked I linked to said picture in a Facebook-comment. I then finished my 30 day ban and a week later or so, I was reported for this (then probably 5-6 weeks old) comment. Posting screenshots may be against the rules, fine. But the link in question had been dead for weeks. The picture had been removed at least 5 weeks prior so there was nothing in the comment worthy of a block – or even removal.

She says she’d had no luck getting in touch with Facebook but wanted someone to review her case and explain what she did wrong.

Does she think Facebook are singling her out?

I know Facebook is not targeting me specifically. They’re hardly gonna lose much sleep over one powerless girl in Reykjavík, what with their billion users and all.

I’m being targeted by some little non-organized group of boys who want me silenced because they’re afraid that otherwise I’ll call them out on their sexist bullshit.

She told Liberal Conspiracy that she believes “stupid rules” should be challenged and only by breaking them she has managed to draw people’s attention to the “hypocrisy that supports misogynistic views and behavior”.

After he story made the national news in Iceland, the man who made the threat against Ms Viggósdóttir suspended his profile.

She wants Facebook to have more staff available to review problems such as hers, where women being targeted aren’t so quickly banned.

She added:

As every outspoken feminist on the internet, I’ve been subject to a lot of harassment and violence online, in person and with phone calls this year. I get Facebook-messages and emails with name callings and threats of violence all the time. Very recently someone posted this to 9gag. The picture was taken in 2006 after a random assault by girls in a bar.

The day before yesterday I got an anonymous email in the middle of the night, in which I was told to stop being a cunt or else fall down a flight of stairs.

She has also received accolades too. Ms Viggósdóttir is up for “hero of the year” award by an Icelandic newspaper. Ironically, the public can only vote through Facebook.

Facebook bans user for re-posting death threat

by Shantel Burns     November 17, 2012 at 10:21 am

Facebook has banned a Women’s right campaigner after she re-posted a death threat which was made against her.

Icelandic citizen Hildur Lilliendahl Viggósdóttir received a 30 day ban for posting a screen grab of a public status – which was a death threat directed towards her – because she did not have permission from the author, the Daily Mail reports.

Ms Viggósdóttir, a well-known Icelandic Women’s right campaigner, re-posts sexist comments made by men on the internet as screenshots in her Facebook album called ‘Men Who Hate Women’.

According to Reykjavik Grapevine magazine, fellow Icelandic Facebooker Stefán Heiðar Erlingsson posted the status which read:

If I ‘accidentally’ ran over Hildur, she is probably the only person on earth that I would back up over, and leave the car on top of her with the hand brake on!!!;) Put this in your ‘men who hate Hildur’ folder, Hildur Lilliendahl.

Ms Viggósdóttir re-posted the message and was subsequently banned from the social networking site for 30-days.

Talking to the Telegraph, the 31 year-old, mother of two said: “I have been reported several times on the grounds of screenshots posted in the album. So I moved the album to a Tumblr page after Facebook blocked me so that I could keep it open.”

Facebook have defended its action by saying that they must apply their rules ‘consistently’ to ensure that ‘the best possible protection…’ is offered to its users.

Many have questioned the strange nature of the rule which allows somebody to post a message which can be considered a death threat – but forbids anyone else to take a screen shot of it and repost it.

As the Reykjavik Grapevine pointed out, Mr Erlingsson did give Ms Viggósdóttir permission to repost his status when he said, “…Put this in your ‘men who hate Hildur’ folder, Hildur Lilliendahl”.

This brings to question whether Facebook acted on its own rules without any clear reason.

A petition has been started by blogger Eva Hauksdóttir which calls for Facebook to change its Terms of Service.

Tory Conference: Cameron’s “aspiration nation”

by Shantel Burns     October 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Prime Minister David Cameron, has offered himself as the leader of an ‘aspiration nation’ during his closing speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

Mr Cameron claimed that aspiration was the “engine of progress” and that it was his government’s mission to “unleash and unlock” the promise in “all our people.”

Throughout his speech, Cameron aimed to rid the party of its rich and fortunate image. Cameron said:  “They call us the party of the better off…no: we are the party of the want to be better off.”

He continued this by saying that the Conservatives were just not good for the successful and strong but also, he said that Tory methods were: “the best way to help the poor and the weak and the vulnerable.”  This a phrase that will no doubt cause many people who have been affected by “Conservative methods” to highly question the validity of the Prime Ministers speech. With cuts to disability payments and benefits it’s hard to see how exactly the Conservatives are helping the poor and vulnerable.

The Prime Minister also reinforced his policy at looking to end automatic housing benefit for people under 25. He said:

“If hard-working young people have to live at home while they work and save, why should it be any different for those who don’t?”

Cameron said the reason why his party want to reform schools, cut welfare dependency and to reduce government spending is because “we’re the Tories whose ideas help everyone – the poorest the most.”

Mr Cameron said to those who complain about his own “posh school education” that he wants every child to have the same kind of Etonian (although he never once mentioned Eton) education that he received.

He continued by saying that he was not here to “defend privilege; I’m here to spread it”. He accused Labour and the left of creating a ‘toxic’ culture which creates a lack of ambition for every child.

In a further attack on Labour, Cameron accused the party of having “one notion – borrowing”, a play on Ed Milliband’s “One Nation” concept.  Cameron repetitively used the word ‘borrowing’ to highlight Labour perceived weakness. He stated that he honestly thought “Labour hasn’t learnt a single thing”.


Is Cameron’s Britain really a nation of aspiration? Or do the copious cuts to benefits, EMA and increased tuition fees make the idea of an “aspiration nation” redundant?

Report details how the BBC buried negative news on the NHS Bill

by Shantel Burns     September 29, 2012 at 10:58 am

OpenDemocracy’s ourBeeb project have published a report which details how the BBC has failed in its responsibilities to inform the British public about the truth surrounding the highly controversial NHS Bill.

Titled: How the BBC betrayed the NHS: an exclusive report on two years of censorship and distortion, it gives a thorough account of a silence around the NHS bill within the BBC.

It details the apparent keenness of the BBC to follow the government’s positive privatised NHS spiel (The…Bill will allow GPs to get control … of the NHS budget) and ignore the many reports that tell a whole new, accurate story.

They say that on the day the Health and Social Care Act was approved and passed through the House of Lords (19th March 2012), not one article was published on the BBC’s online news page on the NHS.

Similarly, the BBC failed to report that former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, received £21,000 to his personal office from John Nash the then chairman of Care UK – a health firm with a substantial income from the NHS. Nash also founded Sovereign Capital which runs a number of private health firms.

The Daily Mail reported on the business activities of Andrew Lansley’s wife, Sally Low. ‘Low Associates’ which was found to be boasting of its ability to help ‘make the link between the public and private sectors’ – sounds familiar.

Labour MP Grahame Morris said it constituted a “clear conflict of interest” and suggested Lansley’s position was no longer tenable. This still failed to make a ripple of news within the BBC.

A number of unreported stories follow a similar tone including a story from Liberal Conspiracy which reported that the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UNSH) had been charging A&E patients for any drugs they needed.

The report notes the BBC have refused an FOI request to find out how many complaints have been made about the lack of news surrounding the NHS bill.

The report also highlights a strange influx of reports from the BBC after the NHS bill had safely been passed through the House of Lords.

Besides the live streams on Democracy Live, the climax of one of the most controversial bills in recent history merited not a single article. With the bill safely passed, however, the next day saw a stream of seven articles.

The report focuses on mainly the output of BBC Online, in its news and analysis.

It concludes: “It is not in the government that the strength of the BBC lies – a parliamentary system captured by forces inherently opposed to its existence – but in the British public, the support of which it should rigorously protect.”

Council hoping to force jobless to pay council tax

by Shantel Burns     September 28, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Cornwall Council has released proposals to cut council tax benefit by 30% for all those of a working age.

In the new scheme everyone will have to pay a minimum of 30% of their council tax which means the maximum support a working age person can have is 70%.

It is also considering reducing the savings limit from £16,000 to £6,000, after which you would not be entitled to support.

The proposals have provoked a backlash from Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

Jim McKenzie of the CAB told This is Cornwall that 47% of council tax benefit recipients were of working age. “If you get into arrears of two months you are at risk of the council seeking a liability order at a magistrates court…The issue is how they treat people who can’t afford to pay…””

Chris Gibson from Anti Cuts Alliance said: “…if they wanted to make more money why don’t they target those who can afford to pay a little more instead of hitting those struggling at the bottom?”

The scheme poses problems of how people will find money they just don’t have to pay a proportion of council tax. With so many other cuts to benefits this is just another financial hardship for those who struggle the most.

Councillor Steve Double said: “We appreciate that this is unwelcome news.  What we have to do is find the fairest way to deal with the situation handed to us by the coalition Government which will leave a £6m black hole in the council tax benefit budget.”

The proposals, if accepted, would come into effect no later than 31st January 2013.

The new scheme would affect everyone (bar pensioners) of a working age in receipt of Council Tax Benefit, including: single parents, people on a disability benefit and those on JSA income based benefit.

Can’t use the toilet! Students forced into a ‘tinkle pass’

by Shantel Burns     September 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm

A new head teacher at a West-Midlands secondary school has forced students to use a ‘tinkle pass’ if they need the toilet.

Charlotte Blencowe – who stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives at the 2010 Rotherham council elections – has introduced a set of strange rules that have students and parents up in arms.

The strangest at Castle Vale Performing Arts College is the ‘tinkle pass’, but it gets worse.

Last week the head teacher was heavily criticised by parents for implementing a new strict uniform policy that led to 40 children sent back to empty houses because their shoes did not comply with the standards expected by the school.

The father of 12-year-old Calum Dunn wrote about the school’s decision to send home his son for the “lack of shine” to his shoes, calling it “an utter disgrace”.

Another parent, Wendy Simmons, said her 11-year-old son was sent home “in tears” on his first day of year 7 to an empty house, without informing her first.

Tensions between teachers and students got so high that at one point the former were pelted with eggs during a protest.

And if that wasn’t enough, students are each given a card which explains how they must communicate with their teacher in the classroom.

For example: three fingers in the air signifies a need for the toilet, one hand in the air and one on the nose means the student would like a tissue to blow their nose and one finger in the air indicates the need for a pencil.

An authoritarian approach too far?

(hat-tip Representing the Mambo)

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