The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 13 March 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

Text settings

The House of Lords voted by 216 to 183 to refer to a special select committee, and thus delay, the Constitutional Reform Bill, which seeks to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and to set up a Supreme Court to replace the Law Lords; a week earlier Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, had called the Bill ‘exchanging a first-class Final Court of Appeal for a second-class Supreme Court’, but he changed his tune. The government said it would not compensate policyholders of Equitable Life, the troubled mutual society, after a report by Lord Penrose found it was the ‘author of its own misfortunes ... policyholders were effectively powerless, and the board was a self-perpetuating oligarchy amenable to policyholder pressure only at its discretion’. The Jockey Club gave the champion jockey Kieren Fallon a maximum 21-day suspension for failing properly to push his horse, Ballinger Ridge, to the finish when it came second at Lingfield last week; Mr Fallon had predicted that another horse would win. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, had talks at Downing Street with Mr Ahmed Qureia (Abu Alaa), the Palestinian Prime Minister. Two British suicide bombers, Asif Hanif, 21, from London and Omar Khan Sharif, 27, from Derby were shown in a video released by Hamas calling on God to punish Mr Blair and President George Bush of America; the men bombed a Tel Aviv pub, killing three and wounding 55 last April, and both died. Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, flew to Washington for talks about terrorism; he announced the return of five British detainees from the American camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and plans for a joint exercise in America and Britain next year simulating a response to an attack. The number of people in prison in England and Wales passed 75,000, more than ever before and 2,600 more than at the beginning of the year. Three footballers from Leicester City were held in a Spanish jail near Murcia after being accused of sexual assault against three German tourists staying in their hotel. Nottingham opened a new tram system. Bird-watchers who arrived in Grimsby to see a rare visitor, an American robin, Turdus migratorius, witnessed a sparrowhawk scoop it up for lunch.

Fourteen Palestinians, including nine members of Hamas and three children, were killed when Israeli armoured vehicles and helicopters attacked the Bureij and Nusseirat camps in the Gaza Strip. Mr Costas Karamanlis became Prime Minister of Greece after his conservative New Democracy party won 165 seats in the 300-seat parliament, against 117 seats for the Socialists led by Mr George Papandreou. M. Boniface Alexandre, a former supreme court chief justice, was installed as the new president of Haiti. Libya dispatched to the United States a ship containing all the equipment believed to remain from its nuclear weapons programme. Iraq’s 25-member Governing Council finally signed a code of laws under which the country will be run until a proper constitution is agreed; the signing had been delayed the week before by the reluctance of five Shiite members. Zimbabwe seized a United States-registered cargo plane carrying 64 ‘suspected mercenaries’ and military equipment, according to Mr Kembo Mohadi, the home affairs minister. Mr Jörg Haider’s Freedom party won 42.5 per cent of the vote in elections in his home region of Carinthia in Austria. Mr Frits Bolkestein, the European Union single market commissioner, said in a new book that Turkey should be kept outside the EU. Martha Stewart, the American television and magazine style arbiter, was convicted of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice over 3,298 shares she sold at the end of 2001; she is to be sentenced on 17 June.