Where do Neil Parish and Simon Jupp now stand on Partygate Inquiry?

(Most likely finding reasons to be busy in their constituencies on constituency matters. – Owl)

Revolt of the middle ranks’: Playbook heard last night that there were threats of several ministerial resignations over the vote. Estimates vary — in his Times column James Forsyth says two members of the government were on the verge of quitting. The paper’s splash, anchored by Henry Zeffman, reports that six frontbenchers told Tory whips they could not support the plan, in what one minister they spoke to termed a “revolt of the middle ranks.” Similarly in their Mail splash Jason Groves and Harriet Line say that half a dozen ministerial aides threatened to quit over the amendment, and that dozens of MPs wouldn’t support it.

Cllr Tom Wright apologises for ‘kneecapping’ comment

Not the first occasion that Cllr Tom Wright’s “excitement” has got out of hand in virtual meetings. Last time he crashed the meeting. – Owl

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

Cllr Tom Wright (courtesy: EDDC/YouTube)

A councillor has apologised after saying he would “personally go out and kneecap” anyone he thought was guilty of the crimes of convicted sex offender and former councillor John Humphreys.

Councillor Tom Wright (Conservatives, Budleigh and Raleigh) was speaking during a debate at East Devon District Council (EDDC) about what actions the council need to take following Mr Humphreys’ conviction.

Former Exmouth mayor and Conservative councillor John Humphreys is serving a 21-year prison sentence for 10 sex offences against two boys in the early 1990s and early 2000s.

He was arrested on suspicion of the offences in 2016, but continued to serve as a councillor until May 2019 and in December that year, EDDC awarded him  the honorary title of alderman.

Cllr Wright, a former policeman, made his threat while discussing a suggestion that someone at the council might have known that Mr Humphrys had been under investigation during this time.

He said he had no awareness of Mr Humphreys’ arrest: “and as far as I’m aware no other councillor did.” 

He continued: “You know my background, chair. I would personally go out and kneecap anyone I thought was committing the crimes that Councillor Humphreys has quite properly been convicted of. They were atrocious crimes.”

Cllr Wright expressed his admiration for the victim who came forward to make a statement in December.

Cllr Wright later apologised for the “kneecap” comment, saying: “What I was trying to convey is that had I been in charge of investigating things such as this – as I have been in the past – I would conduct the investigation not with great passion but with great thoroughness and determination.”

He said that kneecapping was “jargon” used “to make someone very clearly aware that you’re not pleased with them.

It’s not the first time that the member for Budleigh and Raleigh has had to eat his words. In May 2020 he was unwittingly caught swearing during a virtual meeting.

Cllr Wright “unreservedly” apologised for the incident. 

In this week’s meeting discussing John Humphreys, councillors agreed to commission an in-depth report into the circumstances surrounding the former councillor from 2016, including his honorary award of alderman in December 2019.

Following his conviction in August last year, the council retracted the honour. 

Breaches of English farm pollution laws rise as rules remain largely unenforced

“It makes a mockery of our democracy and the rule of law if polluters are not prosecuted for blatant offences which cause misery and huge costs for many other people and businesses,” said Mark Lloyd, the chief executive of the Rivers Trust.

Wil Crisp www.theguardian.com 

The number of documented violations of legislation designed to reduce water pollution caused by agriculture in England has hit record levels as the rules remain largely unenforced.

Last year had the highest number of recorded violations of the farming rules for water since the legislation was introduced in April 2018, and environmental groups estimate tens of thousands of English farms continue to commit undocumented violations.

A total of 391 breaches were identified during the 2021-2022 financial year, which ended on 31 March, up from 106 breaches officially recorded in the previous year, according to data obtained by the Guardian and the investigative journalism organisation Point Source.

Despite the farming rules for water having been implemented more than four years ago, and the rising number of breaches being documented, the Environment Agency has yet to issue any fines or prosecute anyone under the legislation.

The increasing number of documented offences and the absence of a credible threat of enforcement of the law demonstrates a clear failure by the government to protect the country’s most fragile ecosystems, according to conservation organisations.

“It makes a mockery of our democracy and the rule of law if polluters are not prosecuted for blatant offences which cause misery and huge costs for many other people and businesses,” said Mark Lloyd, the chief executive of the Rivers Trust, a charity that works to protect Britain’s lakes and waterways.

“Agricultural pollution is the principal reason why our rivers are in such poor shape and ministers need to give regulators the resources and the mandate to take action against persistent offenders.”

The farming rules for water legislation gives the Environment Agency the power to prosecute or fine individuals and companies found to be polluting waterways with contaminated runoff water or acting in a way that creates a high risk of pollution.

Under the legislation, fixed penalties of £100 or £300 can be issued as well as “variable money penalties”, which can be as much as £250,000.

The rules were designed to combat agricultural pollution that is causing widespread environmental problems in rivers.

They focus mainly on the storage and distribution of animal waste and fertiliser in order to prevent damaging pollutants from farms running into rivers where excessive quantities of nitrogen can cause algae blooms that lead to oxygen depletion.

Runoff from agriculture is the biggest single polluter of rivers, responsible for 40% of damage to waterways, according to a report published by the Environment Agency in September 2020.

The report revealed that no river in the country had achieved good chemical status and only 14% were found to be of a good ecological standard.

Fertiliser runoff from farmland can kill fish and plants and have a knock-on impact for other wildlife that are part of the ecosystem, such as birds.

Over the past two financial years a total of 2,053 Environment Agency inspections have taken place identifying a total of 497 violations of the farming rules for water, according to data obtained by the Guardian.

The high number of violations discovered has led environmental organisations to estimate that around a fifth of the 106,000 farm businesses regulated by the Environment Agency are likely to be breaching the rules.

Nick Measham, the chief executive of the environmental group Salmon and Trout Conservation, said: “The new figures regarding the increasing number of officially documented violations and the failure to enforce sanctions are extremely concerning.

“Given our experience gained through our monitoring and the extremely low level of site visits carried out by the Environment Agency, it is conservative to estimate that as many as 20,000 of England’s farms would be likely to fail an inspection – if they were actually inspected.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We seek to use advice and guidance to bring farms into compliance, and impose sanctions only where farmers repeatedly fail to take necessary action.

“The secretary of state has issued new guidance on the interpretation of the rules and has said that if the Environment Agency determines that land managers have followed this guidance he does not normally expect them to take enforcement action.”

The Environment Agency’s decision not to use the sanctions at its disposal has been heavily criticised by conservation groups, who say that not punishing farming companies for breaking the law is having severe ecological consequences.

Alec Taylor, head of production policy at WWF, said: “The persistent failure to enforce these regulations, not least due to the systematic underfunding of the relevant regulatory bodies, reflects the UK government’s lacklustre approach to cleaning up England’s precious freshwater habitats.”

“UK nature is in freefall and … ministers simply cannot afford to keep shirking their responsibility to protect and restore these habitats, which are home to rare and vulnerable species like allis shad, otters and freshwater pearl mussels.”

Alice Groom, the RSPB’s senior policy officer, said: “Clearly the current system is not working if farmers and landowners feel the risk of punishment is near non-existent or the rewards for being responsible are not there.

“Failure to improve regulation will not only threaten the health of our natural environments and biodiversity, but also prevent the government from delivering against any of its new legally binding targets under the Environment Act.”

The Environment Act was passed last year and, in March, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs set out targets under the act to reduce nutrient pollution in water in England.

It said it would cut phosphorus in treated sewage by 80% by 2037, and reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from agriculture by 40% by 2037.

Thames Water dumped raw sewage into rivers around Oxford 5,028 times in 2021

Thames Water dumped sewage for more than 68,000 hours into the river systems around Oxford last year, campaigners have revealed.

Miranda Norris www.oxfordmail.co.uk 

Oxford Rivers Improvement Campaign (ORIC) analysed the Environment Agency’s data on sewage discharges for 2021 and its database of investments by water companies.

Across the upper Thames, 102 sewage treatment works discharged into the rivers in 2021. Forty-nine discharged for more than 10 hours a week and almost quarter of the works discharged for more than 1,000 hours in the year.

The water company discharged raw sewage into the Thames and its tributaries including the River Windrush, Thame, Evenlode and Ock 5,028 times that year, according to the data.

And the latest report from ORIC reveals that, according to the EA investment database, only a third of the Upper Thames works which need investment will be upgraded by 2025.

That figure falls to a quarter when the region’s rising populations are taken into account.

Using data from Thames Water and applying the Environment Agency formula for capacity required at any treatment works, the campaigners assessed that the 10 large sewage treatment works in the upper Thames area – from Didcot in the south to Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds – were unable to treat the full capacity of sewage for the population of 1.1 million.

Their calculations indicate Oxford and Witney treatment works can cope with only 62 per cent of the capacity needed for the population, and the treatment works in Banbury for 49 per cent of the required capacity.

All 10 works discharged sewage into the rivers in 2021 for an average of 11 hours a week.

Oxford sewage treatment works released raw sewage into the waters for 892 hours in 2021, Swindon for 501 hours and Witney for 935 hours.

The report, published on Wednesday by ORIC, found that even where Thames Water had planned investment, the expansion of capacity would not be sufficient to meet the growing number of homes.

At Witney treatment works the investment will increase capacity by 50 per cent but that would improve the works to only 93 per cent of the required capacity based on the 2020 population, the report says.

“The simple truth is that Thames Water’s plans are completely inadequate,” said ORIC’s Mark Hull, a former water industry consultant.

“Given the well-established and long-standing problems faced across the Upper Thames region, it is scandalous that appropriate and coordinated investment plans for the whole region are not in place.

“Thames Water and the Government’s Environment Agency have both failed to deal with this problem over many years. Their ongoing under-performance beggars belief – especially as the industry’s financial regulator OFWAT have made it clear that they would not oppose the necessary investment.

“Two urgent questions need to be answered. How has this been allowed to happen? And what do we do about it?

“Government, the Environment Agency and Thames Water keep telling us that they are dealing with the problems. The truth is simple. They are not.”

A spokesperson for Thames Water said it was examining the ORIC report.

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them. We regard all discharges of untreated sewage as unacceptable and will work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary and are determined to be transparent.

“We recently launched our river health commitments, which include a 50 per cent reduction in the total annual duration of spills across London and the Thames Valley by 2030, and within that an 80 per cent reduction in sensitive catchments.

“We have a long way to go – and we certainly can’t do it on our own – but the ambition is clear.”

Ban bonuses for water firm bosses until sewage spills stopped, urge Lib Dems

Bonuses should be banned for water company bosses until sewage spills into rivers stop, the Liberal Democrats are to demand.

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com 

Executives were awarded £27m in bonuses over the past two years despite pumping out raw sewage into waterways 1,000 times a day, analysis by the party has found.

The former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron is tabling a 10-minute rule bill that will also ask for mandatory targets and timescales for the end of sewage discharges into waterways and coastal areas. It would require quarterly reports on the impact of sewage discharges on the environment, and place a representative of environmental groups on water company boards.

Companies House records show that executives at England’s water and sewage companies were paid £48m in 2020 and 2021, including £27.6m in bonuses, benefits and incentives.

This is despite recent reports from the Environment Agency showing 772,000 sewage dumping events took place in 2020 and 2021 – more than 1,000 a day.

Campaigners have suggested that the money spent on bonuses would be better spent on infrastructure to prevent sewage spills, which can harm wildlife as well as human health.

The party has called for the executives to hand back last year’s bonuses and for funds to be used to clean up sewage spills.

The Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, said: “The Conservatives are allowing water companies to pump raw sewage into our precious rivers and lakes while awarding themselves obscene bonuses. Just like the millions paid out to bankers during the financial crisis, the public will find this hard to stomach.

“Liberal Democrat plans for a sewage bonus ban would stop water company execs being paid a penny in bonuses more until our waterways are protected from sewage dumps. These bosses should be made to hand back the millions of pounds already received in bonuses to help clean up their mess.

“It’s time to send a message to the Conservatives that they cannot let water company bosses get away with pumping raw sewage into our rivers and beaches any longer.”

The companies with the biggest executive payouts include United Utilities, which was responsible for the most spills over 2020 and 2021, which paid bonuses of nearly £6m. Severn Trent awarded executives £5.5m in bonuses while dumping sewage 120,000 times. Meanwhile, Yorkshire Water, which dumped sewage 135,000 times, handed out bonuses of £3.3m.

This bill is likely to stir up tension among Conservatives. The government was last year forced into a U-turn after Tory MPs voted not to ban sewage spills into rivers. The government later wrote its own legislation putting a legal duty on water companies to prevent sewage spills.

The environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “A holistic approach to cleaning up our rivers is a top priority for Conservatives and we have introduced the strongest measures ever to tackle this and sewage discharges through the Environment Act and the government direction to Ofwat.”

]Tim Farron’s private members Bill introduced under the ten minute rule passed its first reading on Tuesday 19 April: 

“A Bill to provide for mandatory targets and timescales for the ending of sewage discharges into waterways and coastal areas; to make provision about the powers of Ofwat to monitor and enforce compliance with those targets and timescales; to require water companies to publish quarterly reports on the impact of sewage discharges on the natural environment, animal welfare and human health; to require the membership of water company boards to include at least one representative of an environmental group; and for connected purposes.”]

Investigation launched into appointment of sex abuser as alderman

East Devon District Councillors have voted to commission an independent report to investigate the circumstances of how former Councillor John Humphreys was given the honour of being an alderman despite his arrest for sexually abusing two boys.

Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com 

The former Mayor was arrested in May 2016 and finally jailed for 21 years after a long police investigation in 2021. Yet, during the time between arrest and imprisonment, he was still the ‘lead member for Exmouth‘ and bestowed the honour of an alderman in December 2019.

Today (Wednesday 20 April), a motion was approved by councillors at the East Devon District Council (EDDC) Full Council meeting. It said: “That the Council commissions an independent report by the Local Government Association or the Centre for Public Scrutiny or another appropriate independent body to be expeditiously brought to Cabinet to provide a clear understanding how John Humphreys, despite his arrest in May 2016 continued to serve as a Councillor until May 2019, retained his position as ‘Lead Member for Exmouth’ and went on to be bestowed the honour of an alderman by this Council in December 2019.

“In particular the report will focus on the circumstances of how John Humphreys came to be nominated and bestowed the award of an aldermanship despite being under criminal investigation at the time. The Council will put on hold the remainder of the scrutiny recommendations (on the future of appointing alderman and alderwomen) pending the receipt and consideration of the independent report by the Cabinet. EDDC’s Chief Executive will prepare a report for consideration at a future meeting of the council’s Cabinet.”

A powerful letter was read out during a recent East Devon Council meeting from one of John Humphreys’ victims. He said “there are still so many questions to be answered” after addressing the last full council meeting about “decades of pain and trauma” which he claimed was made worse by police inaction.

The victim questioned why Mr Humphreys was allowed to carry on as councillor whilst he was being investigated, a process which began in May 2016.

In his letter read to councillors, the man wrote: “I am one of many victims of John Humphreys crimes and I want members and officers of this council and the public to hear of what I have had to endure for the last 22 years.”

He explained that he was sent from school as a 14-year-old for work experience at Humphreys’ gardening business where he endured multiple sexual assaults between 1999 and 2001.

He told the council that he had first made a statement to police in 2004 but that the case was dropped the following year. He alleges that besides making no progress on the case, the police harassed him.

When the revelations about Jimmy Savile came out after his death in 2011, the victim decided to try again.

He told the council: “I rang up to get the case reopened again in 2012. All I got was a threatening phone call from a Tiverton officer. His near exact words were ‘Humphreys is now mayor. He’s getting on with his life. If you do anything or proceed with this in court, we will come for your friends and family’.

“I made an official complaint about the threats and was asked into Sidmouth police station. They said an apology will be read out. It was handwritten and wasn’t even an apology. I wasn’t given anything in writing that I could take away. When Humphreys’ case came to court this year, not being able to talk about how the police had treated me was my biggest concern. ‘Don’t open this can of worms right now,’ was all that was said to me.

“I just felt like blurting it out, stood in the box, once all the lies were being thrown at me. In 2015, after many more years of mental stress, a knock came on the door of my mum’s house. It was a female police officer. Someone else had come forward. I couldn’t believe it.

“I’d not been believed twice – but the other victim was a lot older than me and maybe more credible, and there was a third and fourth victim, too. But it still took another six years for justice to be done.”

Anyone who may have been affected by anything raised in this article can contact police in their local area by emailing 101@dc.police.uk or calling 101.

The freephone NSPCC helpline 0808 800 5000 is available for anyone to report or seek advice about non-recent abuse. Calls can be made anonymously.