This is the blog of William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation and Chairman of the International Council for Press and Broadcasting. William was an independent candidate for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner for the Devon and Cornwall Police Force in the recent November 2012 elections. You can contact him on .

You can also follow William on twitter @SouthWestMorris or on facebook or on his website

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Conservative Take on Justice doesn't add up

Have you come across Mr Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Lord High Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice? The Justice Secretary if you prefer. He spoke the other day at the Tory Conference as the warm up act for the Home Secretary. I was there. Unbelievable. If this is Tory Party justice policy they really need to get their act together.

"We have 3,000 more male prison places" said Grayling as if this was something to be proud of, as if Britain, with the highest prison population in Britain, should be proud of the fact that crime is now so out of control that we need a further 3,000 prison cells.

He then announced with pride, "two strikes and it's life for acts of extreme violence". Which is OK on the face of it. But remember the USA and its 3 strikes and you are out policy, a nation with half the adult male black population in jail. This is supposed to be an answer? There are better ways to deal with crime.

He then announced a "No TVs in the cells for difficult prisoners" policy. What? Why are there any TVs in the cells of Category C prisons? I'll tell you why - because staff cuts mean that prisoners can't be restricted to watching telly on association. Pathetic.

He then announced that "Crime has fallen". What he means is "Crime has changed so the staistics no longer compare." If crime had actually fallen what would be the need of three thousand extra prison cells? But they are needed, urgently.

We know how questionable statistics can be. A lot depends on how you do your counting in areas of seasonal crime with higher levels of crime against women for instance as in the South West.

Then he said "10 years will mean 10 years - not five years inside and five years out on license". He then qualified that by saying "the most serious offenders will lose the right to automatic early release".

I wonder if he knows what he's talking about. He makes me nervous.

Then he said it was "crazy that someone who poses a terror threat should be allowed to stay here and crazy that we give the vote to prisoners. Our manifesto will tackle this problem . . .  we don't need more human rights laws."

He has a point but he was playing to the gallery. All knee jerk stuff. Rather sad really.

Then he came out with, "We are against Labour's policy of community sentences for the 18 to 21s." But hang on a minute. Isn't that precisely what we need? It doesn't mean you have to be softer. Putting young adults into adult prisons really does not help. What we need, I believe, is targeted zero tolerance of crime combined with increased use of restorative justice at street level by the police force. And we need it now.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Remembering Gaza

This interview is with Dr Imad Karam of Initiatives for Change, the film maker from Gaza. It was recorded before the recent Gaza war but is still relevant:

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Syria's Chemical Weapons

A number of stories have been coming out of Syria in the past 24 hours. Some are correct. Some have been misleading. With some reluctance we feel we should point this out. The latest press coverage states:
  1. There has been a chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs of Adra and Douma: This report is at best misleading.
  2. An airbase in Northern Syria has been taken by rebel forces: The airbase has been taken. It has been besieged since December and was no longer functioning as an airbase (nor has it been for some time) but the base was still held by Assad's forces and has now fallen to the rebels though there are still pockets of resistance by government troops who may or may not regroup (surrender is of course not an option in this civil war since - under most circumstances - both sides kill all prisoners).
  3. Rebel forces have pushed into the Alawite heartland near the Al Assad home village of Qardaha. This report appears to be true. It is a mountainous region and four villages appear to have been taken but it is unlikely they will be held. None the less the symbolism this push represents is powerful.
  4. Bashar al-Assad has adopted a more hardline approach stating, “No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist,” and placing war before peace.
The chemical weapons story is of gravest concern because this is ground that has been covered before. The NCF issued a report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 16th June. For the record we append it to this e-mail. In that report we made a commitment to provide you with a record of all "Credible chemical weapons attacks". We have not fulfilled this promise because we were unable to provide sufficient evidence. We stopped work because we were only able to identify 29 possible deaths from chemical weapons (25 of which were deaths of civilians who were presumably government sympathiser in so much as they lived in a government held area) which simply did not gell with press reports. The table we compiled is below. Our researcher on this project stated "this (29) does not seem a very reliable figure as I have seen footage of many people suffering from vomiting/difficulties breathing but often no precise figure for the number of dead could be found":

Dec 23rd 2012Homs

March 19th 2013Aleppo

Apr 13th 2013
Sheikh Maqsud (Aleppo)


April 29th 2013Saraqeb, Idlib

May 14th 2013Qasr Abu Samra

May 23rdAdra

May 27th 2013Jobar, Damascus
May 29th 2013Unspecified

Saraqeb, Idlib

Saraqeb, Idlib

In the above table only one source per incident (where possible) has been listed but it should be stressed that we did look at all available sources.
What has proved interesting is that in a number of alleged chemical weapons attacks there is clear evidence of riot control gas canisters present as with the attack in Sheikh Maqsud, Aleppo, on April 13th. There have been a number of such instances of the abuse of riot control gas by government forces. Tear gas in a confined space often proves fatal, especially to children. Note the pictures / video of the remains of canisters on this link. Now compare this to the picture below of the standard tear gas canister used in Egypt today (please forgive the highlighting of the made in USA strapline - we are not trying to make a political point - it was simply the best image of this type of canister available on the internet):
Syria's President Assad has now agreed to UN chemical weapons inspections. We can but hope that the weapons inspectors prove more scrupulous than their predecessors in Iraq. The latest reports of chemical weapons use are probably the most questionable yet. We hesitate to say that the footage has been fabricated in an amateur fashion. We leave you to draw your own conclusions. Clearly had it been fabricated a great deal of cooperation would have been required - but are we viewing the aftermath of the use of riot control gas as so often seems to be the case in Syria - or is this indeed an instance of the use of chemical weapons?The following is our earlier chemical weapons report:

The Syrian Government’s use of Chemical Weapons
From the NCF Secretary General:
Chemical weapons have been around a long time. The first to use chemical weapons in the Middle East were the British who employed them in the Second Battle of Gaza against the Turks in 1917. Since then they have been used repeatedly, most notably by Saddam Hussein against the Iranians from 1983 to 1988 and the Kurds from 1987 to 1988.
That the Syrian government has chemical weapons is without question. Their existence has been confirmed by the Syrians in oblique statements, most notably by onetime Syrian spokesman Jihad Makdissi who apparently lost his job over the remark.
Syria’s main chemical weapons base, though there are others nearby, was at the Safira base just to the East of Aleppo.
The Free Syrian Army destroyed the Safira base on 29th November 2012. The artillery base was utterly demolished but the nearby air defence base was fought over for some time. Safira was a sprawling military complex. However, the Islamist group Al Nusra joined the fight and by mid February 2013 the entire town had fallen into rebel hands.
There were allegations that the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons in Homs on December 23rd but the USA claims that investigation seemed to have proved fairly conclusively that this incident had in fact been misuse of riot control gas though the Syrian government has been curiously reluctant to allow further investigation by the UN in this instance (they have subsequently revised their position and the UN will now go in). Contrast this, however, with a leaked US cable that seems to imply that chemical weapons were indeed used in Homs (unless this earlier report is an example of bias by an over enthusiastic diplomat - you can make your own mind up from the limited information available - we can but hope that the forthcoming UN investigation will be credible). Subsequently allegations that chemical weapons were being used in Syria emerged from anonymous British secret service sources. Specifically the British claimed that there was a chemical attack in Darraya near Damascus in April. There is indeed clear evidence of fighting including government bombing but no substantiated evidence of chemical weapons use in this instance. However, there is clear evidenced of the use of a chemical attack in the same area as recorded on 24th March by French reporters. There were at least two fatalities and though it had initially seemed possible this was a severe tear gas attack, samples brought back from the area by French reporters proved sarin nerve gas had been used. There was also a report of chemical weapons use in Damascus on April 13th but this may indeed have been tear gas. In the same month there was an attack in Saraqib near Idlib on April 29th. Here at last there is credible video evidence, which appears to show at least four people severely injured by chemical attack (which later analysis proved to be sarin).
Subsequent to which the United States has determined that sarin was used in:
1.       A March 19 attack on the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal. This attack hit a government controlled area (a point which the rebel commander acknowledged at the time). The Syrian government said the attack killed 25.
2.        And in an April 13 attack on a rebel held neighbourhood of Shaykh Maqsud in Aleppo. This was an isolated incident that appeared to affect a single house. Video evidence seems to show four dead including a baby and twice that number injured in what is clearly a chemical weapons attack of some kind.
3.       Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, also said unspecified chemicals, possibly including chemical warfare agents, were used May 14 in an attack on Qasr Abu Samrah. The NCF has been unable to find any evidence to substantiate this claim. The absence of evidence is interesting, because in Syria there are an abundance of citizen journalists who would normally substantiate such a claim.
4.        And in a May 23 attack on Adra. Here there is video evidence of four people in grave difficulty from what may be a chemical weapons attack. There is no video evidence of any deaths.
The next incident we have to report on the chemical weapons front is extraordinary. On 29 May seven members of Al Nusra were arrested by the Turkish authorities near Adana in possession of two kilos of sarin nerve gas. The Turkish authorities claimed that the Al Nusra members were planning an attack in Adana on 30 May, presumably to implicate the Syrian government and draw the Turks into the Syrian war. Subsequently the Turkish authorities switched their ground and denied that the chemical agent found was Sarin but refused to say what it in fact was.
What then, overall, is the probable truth? Clearly the Syrian government has regularly and repeatedly misused riot control gas. Clearly the rebel Al Nusra front group has supplies of Sarin gas. Clearly there was a significant attack against civilians in a government controlled area on March 19th. Clearly there were some smaller chemical weapons attacks or incidents affecting civilians in rebel held areas. There appear to have been up to 40 chemical weapons related deaths in total in Syria to this point in time, culpability for which remains unproven.
The US government have proved unable to provide evidence to support the claim by US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes that between 100 and 150 have died from chemical attacks at the hands of the Syrian government.
The NCF team will commit to preparing a record of all credible reports of chemical weapons attacks. This will be an ongoing investigation to be undertaken along with our existing reports into Syrian war casualties.
All of this does however highlight one issue. There is an acute need to promote the Chemical Weapons Convention in the Middle East today.  The are only eight countries in the whole world which have either not signed and / or not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. They are:
North Korea
South Sudan

They should all be brought onboard urgently.
And if we are to use alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government as an excuse for overt weapons supply, we should be careful.
A new Sunni-Shi’a war far more serious than the one we had in 1979 is looming. If we are to open the floodgates for weapons to be channelled to rebels inside Syria, it may accelerate the fall of the Assad government but at what cost? What will be the imminent danger of that move for the security of the region? Will Jihadists then wage a war against other regional states?  We should safeguard, monitor and control the use of these weapons. It is by no means easy to ensure that sophisticated weapons do not fall into the hands of Al Nusra.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the Al Nusra Front is allied to Al Qaida. That this group has sarin gas in its possession has to be a concern. It is no coincidence that there have been announcements that tests are to be carried out this month to see what the effects might be if sarin gas were released on the London Underground.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Death of the Two-State Solution?

The following notes are from my son, Samuel Morris, currently in Gaza on behalf of the NCF. Sam has been travelling in Israel and Palestine for much of the past month and these are his observations.
2013 has been touted by many as the year to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The combination of a new American administration and the apparent surprise win by the centrist parties in the Israeli elections, meant that some thought the stars had aligned and a solution, or the beginning of one, might be on the cards. However three months into the year things do not look quite as positive.

The way that the elections were represented as a centre left success was flawed. Yes, Yesh Atid and Yair Lapid were big winners but whatever the outcome of the coalition talks, the new government will still be right of centre. The only difference will be the political make-up of the coalition, not policy. The shape of the the coalition ultimately doesn't matter. The issues that will be argued over are the draft for military service, the relationship between the secular and the orthodox and impending budget cuts - not the Palestinians.

The shift to the centre, politically, has only really involved a handful seats. The right-bloc may have got smaller but it has got harder, especially in relation to the settlements issue. An interesting footnote however is that this election may have signalled the end of the Russian voting bloc in Israel. Netanyahu made a mistake by joining with Yisrael Beitinu and creating a heavily right-wing list. However, Netanyahu was still the winner and is still in the driving seat. It was Likud as a party that took the hit.

This new voting shift reveals a new trend: The demise of the old elites within Israel. The big names from the secular Ashkenazi political establishment have been overtaken by the rise of a new elite. Bennett and Lapid are both examples of this trend. Young and modern, they represent these new elites of the Israeli right and centre.
Though the Israeli electorate is concerned with Israel's international image and with its isolation from the international community, Palestine itself was not the issue in this election. The Israeli electorate had other things on their mind. Ultimately, the unprecedented social movements that Israel has witnessed over the last couple of years were translated into votes at the ballot boxes.

Bringing Livni into the coalition is seen as a message from the prime minister to US President Barack Obama that Israel is serious about the peace process. Especially with Obama soon to make his first appearance in Israel. Livni is likely to play a role similar to that of outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak in smoothing relations between Netanyahu and Obama. Livni's presence in the coalition is a coup for Netanyahu; now he can go on to form a right wing coalition while appeasing the Americans with the hollow olive branch of Livni to deal with the Palestinians. If Netanyahu can overcome the bad blood between himself and Bennet, then he will be able to form a coalition. Bennet and Lapid have reservations about joining a coalition with the Haredi parties. Both want to pass laws changing the status of the ultra-orthodox in Israel, something that would be impossible in a coalition with the Haredim. The strength of the Lapid-Bennet alliance may force Netanyahu to exclude Shas and the Haredim. The negotiations have become a staring contest. Who will blink first? Whatever the outcome, this makes bad reading for anyone who hoped 2013 would be the year for a break though in finding an achievable Middle East peace process.

There may be a genuine desire to reinstate 'the peace process', but in reality this means nothing. The resumption of the peace process means the resumption of the status quo not a step forward  on the road to peace. Bilateral peace process negotiations are dead in the water whether Livni believes in them or not, and may be more harmful than no negotiations at all. Both Iran and the key regional issues in regard to Syria and Egypt rank higher on Israel's to-do-list than Palestine. However, if a reasonable deal was placed on the table, the majority of the Israeli public would accept it. The issue is that there is no one on the Israeli side to initiate such a deal and no Palestinian to accept it. Time is not on the side of the Palestinians. The policy of Israel toward Palestine is one of keep as much as you can for as long as you can. Ultimately, the concept of a two state solution is slowly slipping away. The only way that this can be changed is by the involvement of the international community. 

There is now more security in Israel, with fewer attacks and a high level security apparatus now in play. For the first time since 1973 there have been no Israeli deaths in the West Bank or Jerusalem. The limitation of Palestinian control to a handful of Palestinian Authority "islands" in the West Bank is seen as a better situation than handing over full authority.  There is a view that withdrawal from territory creates conflict. The examples of Gaza and South Lebanon are often cited as reasons not to withdraw from further areas. The political will to provide the Palestinians with a state is currently very weak. Security is the word that has dominated Israeli politics in recent years, not peace. However this ignores the fact that peace not only brings security, but stability. 

The only way for Israeli politicians to feel the need to step into meaningful negotiations is if they have something significant to gain. The Abdullah Plan was a missed opportunity. It showed that the Arab states were willing to engage meaningfully with Israel, and would have provided the infective Arab League with a purpose. If it had been built upon, instead of being flatly rejected, the current situation could have been more positive. With the Palestinians third on priority list for the Israeli political elite, after Iran and Syria, a comprehensive peace plan is the only way forward. It may be the only framework within which to resurrect the dying concept of a two state solution, as it would provide Israel with considerable trade and security benefits at a time when Israel has major concerns over the changing face of the Middle East. 

It is still uncertain how the escalation of Palestinian protests over the past few days will affect any ongoing negotiations to establish a governing coalition in Israel. There are worrying signs that the West Bank and Gaza are on the verge of a third intifada, and these signs have been there for a while. With the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of any political solution and Israel's policy of settlement expansion in the West Bank, a third intifada seems sadly inevitable, if things continue as they are. All this tinder box needs is a spark. Whether the recent death of Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat will provide that spark, has yet to be seen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Christmas is far from over. The feast lasts right through Twelfth Night. That is up ‘till and including the Epiphany feast of the Three Wise Men on 6th January by my reckoning.

One of the Churches in Homs, Syria

Moments of Sadness:
For me the worst side of the past year has been the war in Syria. So sad to see our British government just pouring petrol on that fire. To what purpose? We back the Salafist factions in a bloody civil war that will last, at an absolute minimum, a further two years and probably much longer. We undermine UN attempts at a negotiated settlement that would speedily see the back of Assad and by so doing we force the Christians (10% of Syria’s population) and Alawites (15% of Syria’s population) to fight to the death (by giving them no ownership of any part of the post Assad body politic in this sectarian conflict).
Meanwhile, casualty figures remain high; however on the plus side the winter in Syria will drastically lessen the level of conflict in the bitter cold as people concentrate on survival. None the less, there were 1,155 civilians killed in the past week, plus 343 rebel fighters killed, and plus 362 government forces (army and police) were killed. Most weeks the death toll is similar.

Moments of Gladness:
For me one of the best parts of the past year was standing in the election for Police and Crime Commissioner. Of course I lost but it became an informed campaign towards the end and proved very worthwhile. By the way, one strong argument AGAINST the widespread encouragement of postal voting was that press coverage only gathered pace after the closing date for postal voting. Another clear impression I was left with was the growing importance of social media. It took three of us (myself, my sister and my buddy Mark) to field the hundreds of e-mails each day on issues as disparate as drugs, wildlife crime and privatisation. What did strike me though, was that to get a real take on these complex issues, you still need to go out and meet people. Reading the press or e-mails is all well and good but you only get an in depth feeling for what people are thinking by listening to them. And the good old public meeting, even though in some of them only one or two actually turn up, was the best way of gauging how people felt.

And Finally:
I wanted some sort of maxim, a kind of New Year’s resolution for 2013. I was thinking of something I once wrote for my son and daughter-in-law which went, “Live without fear; Love without sorrow; Laugh at the past; Take hold of tomorrow.” But it didn’t seem quite right. What seemed right was the maxim, “Live for the moment”. It seems the best approach – just for now. But with the old motto, "Wisely if Sincerely" (sapienter si sincere) as a rider.

I wrote a Christmas poem this year. It goes:
Though there was someone who built the mountains tall,
And there is someone who paints the forests green,
An instigator who makes the oceans roll,
A known-unknown God, the only seen-unseen;

There is still Christmas to bring Him down to earth,
A great crescendo to roll the old year out,
And should the darkness allow the devil in,
There’s baby Jesus to turn things round about.

For there’s tomorrow to build a brighter dawn,
Another New Year around the corner yet,
And should the past seem battered, bruised and torn,
The next year’s sunrise is a far brighter bet.

For there’s an angel stood here for you and me,
To keep us laughing when days are dark and grey,
And keep us happy when nights grow cold and long,
And shape the sunshine straight out of broken clay.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Overview of Monthly Casualty Figures for Syria

July to November 2012

Detailed Weekly Figures
For the civilian casualty figures NCF used the LCC figure subtracting the highest rebel casualty figure per area

WEEK 2.07-8.07
WEEK 9.07-15.07
WEEK 16.07-22.07
WEEK 23.07-29.07

For the civilian casualty figures NCF used the LCC figure subtracting the highest rebel casualty figure per area. The figures for the last two weeks are taken from VDC.

WEEK 01.08-05.08
WEEK 06.08-12.08
WEEK 13.08-19.08
WEEK 20.08-26.08
WEEK 27.08-31.08

 NCF has chosen the highest available figures for each day and area.

WEEK 03.09-09.09
WEEK 10.09-16.09
WEEK 17.09-23.09
WEEK 24.09-30.09

NCF has chosen the highest available figures for each day and area.

WEEK 01.10-07.10
WEEK 08.10-14.10
WEEK 15.10-21.10
WEEK 22.10-28.10
WEEK 29.10-31.10

NCF has chosen the highest available figures for each day and area.

WEEK 01.11-04.11
WEEK 05.11-11.11
WEEK 12.11-18.11
WEEK 19.11-25.11
WEEK 26.11-30.11

More detailed analysis of casualty figures can be found on the Syria Blog.