The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 5 February 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, was reported to have warned ministers that plans to allow the Home Secretary to put suspected terrorists under house arrest were likely to be challenged and ruled illegal by the courts. A man known as ‘C’, suspected of terrorist activity, was suddenly released; another man, whom imprisonment had made increasingly mad, was released on bail. Mr Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, issued advice on how to deal with burglars; they could be killed, he said, as long as it was done ‘honestly and instinctively’. The Association of British Insurers said that a third of the housing announced by Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, was located on flood plains where the risk was ‘unacceptably high’. Mr Chris Smith, the former Labour culture secretary, announced that he had been HIV-positive for the past 17 years. Labour and the Tories made rival claims that they would improve discipline in schools. A girl, aged 12 at the time, was convicted of driving off in her father’s car while having nearly double the permitted level of alcohol in her blood; magistrates banned her from driving for two years, though the law does not allow it for two more after that. Fourteen-year-old smokers in Lanarkshire will be counselled by schoolfriends and offered nicotine patches in a £180,000 lottery-funded scheme. Rethink, a mental health charity, asked the Commons health select committee to investigate links between cannabis and mental illness. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency withdrew the painkiller Co-proxamol, which has been linked to between 300 and 400 fatal overdoses a year. Barclays began to move 5,000 staff from Lombard Street to Canary Wharf.

Higher than expected turnouts were reported in the Iraqi elections. A shortage of ballot papers meant that thousands could not vote in Mosul, Basra, Baghdad and Najaf. On election day there were 38 attacks on polling stations killing 44 people, with eight suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Baghdad and killing 19 other people. Ten men, nine from the RAF and one soldier, died when a British Hercules military aircraft came down on the way to a base at Balad, north of Baghdad. The official number thought to have been killed by the deadly wave that devastated the fringes of the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day rose to between 155,917 and 178,115, with up to 142,107 missing. A former chief rabbi of Israel said that the disaster was God’s punishment on world support for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza; ‘The Holy One, Blessed be He,’ said Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, ‘claps his hands in sadness, and this causes the quake.’ Mr Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defence minister, held talks with a Palestinian negotiator to arrange for a handover of security control to the Palestinians in several West Bank towns. A United Nations commission said that the government of Sudan had ‘not pursued a policy of genocide’ in Darfur, although ‘in some instances individuals, including government officials, may commit acts with genocidal intent’. Zimbabwe accused the American-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network of exaggerating when it said 5.8 million people in the country of 12.5 million would need food aid to avert starvation before harvests in April. King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal’s government and declared a state of emergency. Two Pakistanis convicted of smuggling heroin were beheaded in Jeddah, bring to eight the number executed in Saudi Arabia this year; last year 35 were beheaded. Thousands of pensioners continued to protest in Russia against the commutation of benefits in kind to insufficient cash payments. The Pope caught influenza and cancelled some audiences, for the first time since 2003. The health minister in Catalonia announced a pilot project to make marijuana available to people suffering from multiple sclerosis, Aids, cancer or chronic pain.