The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 11 December 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

Text settings

The Army Board approved a scheme to amalgamate all 19 single-battalion regiments into ‘super regiments’. The BBC is to get rid of 3,000 staff in three years to save £320 million. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution called for a ban on fishing in a third of British waters. The Department of Health told Britain’s 1,184 hospitals how to clean floors and lavatories in an attempt to reduce infection by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which kills thousands a year. Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, demanded in a five-year plan that the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts should convict, fine or caution 1.25 million people a year by 2008, an increase of 170,000; Lord Falconer also admitted that attempts to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor had been dropped. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and Mr Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, tried very hard to get Mr Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, and the Revd Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, to kiss and make up. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill had its second reading; among its provisions is a seven-year jail sentence for anyone judged to have stirred up religious hatred through threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour. Mr George Galloway won £150,000 damages from the Daily Telegraph, which had suggested he was in the pay of Saddam Hussein after documents were found in the Iraqi foreign ministry in Baghdad at the time of the US invasion; the paper was also left with a legal bill of £1.2 million. W.H. Smith, which made a pre-tax loss of £130 million last year, disclosed that it had increased directors’ pay by 77 per cent in the same period. Two farm-workers died when a 40-minutes-late train struck their van on an open level-crossing on the line from Peterborough to Lincoln near Helpringham, Lincolnshire. Cleaning of the west front of St Paul’s Cathedral was completed at the cost of £5 million, donated by the late Sir Paul Getty.

New elections in Ukraine were scheduled for 26 December after days of huge demonstrations in Kiev against the flawed elections that had declared as winner Mr Viktor Yanukovich, the Prime Minister, instead of Mr Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate. Mr Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the elected President of Afghanistan; Vice-President Dick Cheney and Mr Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary of the United States, were among the guests. On the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan an attack by dozens of insurgents armed with assault rifles and rockets left four Afghan soldiers and at least six militants dead. President Pervaiz Musharraf visited London and said, ‘We have broken the back of al-Qa’eda in Pakistan’; he also said he had no idea where Osama bin Laden was. An al-Qa’eda attack on the United States consulate in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia left five non-American staff dead; four of the attackers were killed and one captured. Prince Turki al-Faisal was paid substantial libel damages by Paris Match, which had falsely suggested that he had founded, funded and used al-Qa’eda while he was head of Saudi Arabia’s external intelligence service. Aircraft dropped 100 million origami birds signifying peace over the rebel-torn south of Thailand, but Islamist militants renewed their bombing, shooting and arson attacks. In a video shown in America, the late Diana, Princess of Wales said she had ‘wanted to go off and live’ with a married bodyguard who later died in a motorcycle accident; ‘I think he was bumped off,’ she said. Colombian police said that coca-growers in the Sierra Nevada in the north of the country had developed a nine-foot coca plant, twice the ordinary size and, they suspected, ‘genetically modified’.