Archive for December 16th, 2011

Teen gets 16 months for part in beach mugging

| 16/12/2011 | 15 Comments

barefoot beach.JPG(CNS): A teenager who was convicted of robbery purely because he gave himself up and made a full and frank disclosure to the police was treated with leniency by a judge on Friday as he pointed to several mitigating factors in the teen’s favour. Nineteen-year-old Michael McLaughlin from East End was sentenced to 16 months in prison for his part in a mugging which took place on Barefoot Beach last February.  In his ruling Justice Alex Henderson said the robbery was unplanned and opportunistic, that McLaughlin had played only a peripheral part, he had given himself up and pleaded guilty, as well as showing genuine remorse for the crime.

The judge noted, however, that the case still called for a custodial sentence because despite the mitigating factors the mugging was perpetrated on tourists. Justice Henderson noted the importance of tourism to the economy and the willingness of visitors to come to the Cayman Islands depended on the perceptions of safety. Offences of this nature, the judge indicated, had the very considerable potential to harm the tourism sector.

Although there were two other men involved in the robbery of the two visitors on the secluded beach in East End, the case against McLaughlin’s co-defendants who both pleaded not guilty collapsed due to a lack of evidence. In contrast, McLaughlin, after discussions with his grandmother had gone back  to the police and handed himself in and confessed to his part in the crime. The judge noted that had he not done so he would not have been convicted as there was no evidence against him except that confession.

The court heard how McLaughlin had been led astray by the others in the robbery and had taken part in the opportunistic mugging as once it started he did not want his peers “to think he was soft”. After the event, however, he recognised the seriousness of the crime and made a decision to turn his life around.

During the sentencing hearing it was revealed that the teenager did not have the best start in life. His father spent considerable time in jail as a result of dealing in drugs. As a child McLaughlin watched his father sell ganja and cocaine and was even given drugs by his father, who claimed he would rather give his child ganja than have him buy it on the street.

The judge found that during the robbery McLaughlin had not used a weapon or used force or threats against the victims nor was he responsible for smashing the visitor’s rental car window as the robbers left the scene. However, the judge noted that he had still willingly participated in the crime and received $5 for his share of the booty, which ended up being only $20 in cash and a camera stolen from the car. McLaughlin admitted to driving the car on the day of the robbery but he said the offence was not planned and he was shocked when one of the men he was with approached the man on the beach and demanded money.

The court heard that since the teen has been on remand he has applied himself to studying and is genuinely seeking the opportunity to turn his life around. James Stenning, his defence attorney, said the crime was a life changing moment for his client. He said it was important to make it one for the better as he urged the judge to make the sentence as short as possible to ensure his client had a chance of rehabilitation outside the system rather than being sucked into a life of crime.

The judge said that the teen’s confession in this case was of particular importance because if he had not chosen to be honest about his culpability, he would almost certainly not have been convicted.

McLaughlin had also written a four page letter to the court setting out his regrets and, more importantly, his aims to turn his life around and the steps he plans to take to rehabilitate himself.

Given all of the circumstances and using the sentencing guidelines, the judge said his starting point would be at the lowest end for this type of offence. Beginning with a two year sentence, he discounted it to 16 months for the teenager’s guilty plea. He also recommended that if McLaughlin continued to apply himself to his studies, he should be released on parole at the earliest opportunity.

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Port told to release GLF info

| 16/12/2011 | 36 Comments

port office.JPG(CNS): The Port Authority has 45 days to release information relating to talks between it, the government and the former proposed cruise port developer GLF after the information commissioner ruled that the documents were not exempt under the Freedom of Information law. The port had tried to withhold the documents on the grounds that they would “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs” if they were made public. However, Jennifer Dilbert said that while sections 20(1)(b) and 20(10(d) were relevant in the case, the public interest test must still determine whether records should be disclosed, and given the importance of the port project she ordered the release.

In view of what she described as the need for government to be accountable for its actions and decisions, especially in the light of the high costs involved in the port expansion project, Dilbert ruled that the balance of the public interest weighed in favour of disclosure in this instance.

“The port expansion is an exceptional capital project of Government, which has been called “the most expensive‟ of its kind in the Cayman Islands to date, involving construction costs of reportedly close to $200 million. As such, in my view it is entirely proper that this project and the decisions relevant to it should receive very close scrutiny from Government and the general public alike,” the information boss said.

This latest decision by the commissioner relates to an application for all notes and/or minutes of meetings between the government and the Port Authority dealing with the GLF talks on the cruise berthing project in George Town. The application was made earlier this year but refused by the authority on the grounds that releasing the information would inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation or prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

But Dilbert pointed out that these possible reasons for exemption are still subject to a public interest test. 

In her decision Dilbert reveals that the Port Authority Board was reluctant to release the minutes of meetings as a result of “fear of being labelled or penalized” for what was discussed and decided, which the commissioner noted was irrelevant. She said that a public authority, including the members of a board of directors, must be willing to accept responsibility for its actions and decisions.

“This is the essential meaning of governmental accountability and transparency, which, as section 4 makes clear, are some of the fundamental principles underlying the system of constitutional democracy, central to Freedom of Information and a healthy democracy,” Dilbert said.

Pointing to the Port Authority’s claim that the disclosure would give an advantage to the individuals or groups which made the request to which they are not entitled, she said this also reflected a bias against openness on the part of the authority. Dilbert said that this was precisely why the FOI law does not require that an applicant provides his real name, or reasons for the request except where the application is for personal information.

“It should be irrelevant who the applicant is or what he will use the information for. A record is either open, or it is not, just as government is either transparent, or it is not,” she added as she ordered the Port Authority to release all of the documents requested by the applicant.

See full decision below.

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Director denies stealing over $700,000

| 16/12/2011 | 0 Comments

court house.JPG(CNS): Fernando Mendes pleaded not guilty to three counts of theft and two of false accounting on Friday in connection with accusations that he stole close to three quarters of a million US dollars from Conimbriga Investments Ltd and Finab Ltd. Described in the court as a board director of the companies involved, Mendes is charged with stealing the money from the investment firm and the mutual fund over an 18 month period. He is also charged with making false statements to cover up the financial fraud. Having pleaded not guilty, Mendez is scheduled to face trial in June next year. He was released by the court on bail.

Mendes has pleaded not guilty to stealing US $560,427 from Conimbriga Investments Ltd between January and August 2010, plus US $132,807between June 2009 and January of this year from Finab Ltd, and a further theft of US $25,000 on 17 September 2009, also from Conimbriga Investment.

The board director who was also a corporate manager of Finab Ltd is charged with falsifying statements in connection with that company and Conimbriga Investments Ltd.

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Pedestrian struck by car in EE

| 16/12/2011 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Police say a man is recovering in the Cayman Islands Hospital after being struck by a car in the East End last night. Shortly before midnight on Thursday the man apparently ran into the roadway close to Morritt’s Tortuga Resort and was struck by an oncoming Honda car. The driver of the car was not injured but the pedestrian was transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. He is still in hospital where is remains under observation. Enquiries into the collision are ongoing, police say.

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Row erupts after atheists win park’s nativity spots

| 16/12/2011 | 0 Comments

6a00d8341c630a53ef01675ed022a5970b-640wi.jpg(LATimes): Organizers of Santa Monica's well-known Christmas Nativity scene at Palisades Park are accusing atheists of "hijacking" the tradition. Atheist groups objected to use of the park by churches to espouse a religious message and applied to the city of Santa Monica for their own spaces.  Officials used a lottery to dole out spots in the prime location along Ocean Avenue. The atheists turned out to be the lucky ones: Of the 21 plots in the park open for displays, they won 18.  The Nativity story that once took 14 displays to tell — from the Annunciation, continuing to the manger in Bethlehem and onto infant Jesus' journey to Egypt and back to Nazareth — had to be abridged to three and crammed into two plots.

"A small group of out-of-town atheists is trying to hijack Santa Monica's nearly 60-year-long Christmas tradition," said Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, the group that works with more than a dozen churches and civic groups to organize the display.

Jameson said he intends to keep the Nativity tradition many have enjoyed since1953 from being displaced. Palisades Park, he said, is the "historic home where it really belongs."
"Their goal is getting rid of us, and squelching our 1st Amendment rights," said Jameson, 65, who no longer lives in Santa Monica but still worships at Lighthouse Church of Santa Monica.

Patrick Elliott, a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said tradition is no excuse for violating the boundaries between church and state. "Just because they're long-standing doesn't mean they're right," he said.

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Google gets US patent for self-driving cars

| 16/12/2011 | 0 Comments

_57353153_googlecarr2.jpg(BBC): The intellectual property rights relate to a method to switch a vehicle from a human-controlled mode into the state where it takes charge of the wheel. It explains how the car would know when to take control, where it is located and which direction to drive in. The search firm suggests the technology could be used to offer tours of tourist locations or to send faulty models to repair shops. The application for Transitioning a Mixed-mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode was applied for in May, but had been hidden from public view until this week.

The document describes using two sets of sensors. The first identifies a "landing strip" when the vehicle stops. This then triggers the second set which receives data informing the machine where it is positioned and where it should go.

"The landing strip allows a human driving the vehicle to know acceptable parking places for the vehicle," the patent filing says. "Additionally, the landing strip may indicate to the vehicle that it is parked in a region where it may transition into autonomous mode."

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Suspect US army whistleblower appears in court

| 16/12/2011 | 0 Comments

 (BBC): A US Army analyst suspected of leaking government secrets is set to make his first military court appearance. Bradley Manning faces charges of obtaining and distributing government secrets – which he allegedly leaked to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks. The Article 32 hearing will determine whether Pte Manning is to stand trial and is the first opportunity for his defence team to present their case. Pte Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010 and is held in military custody. The hearing is taking place under tight security at an army base in Maryland.

During the Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a pre-trial hearing, both prosecuting and defence lawyers will make their initial cases and are permitted to cross-examine witnesses.
Proceedings are expected to last around five days, after which recommendations will be made to a military general, who will decide whether to proceed to a full trial, according to his lawyer, David Coombs.

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UK primary school kids in obesity crisis

| 16/12/2011 | 1 Comment

obese-kid (281x300).jpg(PABNews): Shocking figures revealed by the NHS show obesity amongst primary school children is at an alarming level in the UK. One in three children leaving primary school is obese or overweight by the time they leave, according to data released by the National Child Measurement Programme.  The study looked at more than one million school pupils and showed numbers to have gone up compared to last year. The 2010-11 figure stands at 19% of 10-11 year olds being classed as obese – a rise of 0.3% over the 18.7% figure last year.  Statistics reveal British children are definitely getting fatter as research conducted in 2006-07 revealed the figure to be 17.5%.

On the positive side the study by the NCMP showed the number of reception class obese children, between 4 and 5 years old had fallen.  In 2009-10 the figure was at 9.8%, currently between last year and this year the figure is at 9.4%.  The report has led many people to question the success of the much televised healthy school dinner campaigns, led by Jamie Oliver.

Boys were shown to be fatter according to the report; 34.9% of boys between ten and eleven were either obese or overweight in comparison to 31.8% of girls.  Furthermore, pupils from deprived and less privileged areas were shown to be unhealthier and more overweight.  London had the highest obesity figures, with urban areas and cities being more prevalent compared to rural areas.

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Polar bears turn to cannibalism as ice melts

| 16/12/2011 | 0 Comments

arctic-polar-bears-110225-02 (300x280).jpg(LiveScience): Summer and fall are lean times for polar bears in the Arctic. In the colder months, they prey on seals, which sprawl on the sea ice that fringes the bears' terrain. But in the summer, much of this icy real estate melts away, and the seals take to the open seas or move north toward ice floes beyond the polar bears' reach. Left without their usual prey, the bears occasionally resort to a disturbing behavior: cannibalism. A new article in the journal Arctic suggests that polar bear cannibalism typically the predation of small bears or cubs by much larger adult males — is either much more commonplace than previously thought, or has lately become more common. (Photo USFWS)

In the paper, leading polar bear biologist Ian Stirling and nature photographer Jenny Ross detail three recent instances of the behavior among polar bears in Norway's Svalbard Archipelago, each of which was photographed from the decks of ecotourism and research boats anchored a few hundred yards away.

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Police seek witnesses in suspected arson case

| 16/12/2011 | 0 Comments

fire_1.JPG(CNS): Update —  A 30-year-old man has been arrested and is presently in police custody in connection with a fire at a property in George Town on Wednesday. Police say he was arrested in the George Town area last night on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. At around 10:45pm on Wednesday night police and fire fighters were called to the scene of a house fire on Fairlawn Road. Theresa Brown, a mother for four and resident at the property, said she woke in the middle of the night to see flames coming from the air conditioning unit. She told Cayman27 that after the fire she and the rest of her family went to her mother’s home in the same yard where a few hours later there was another fire.

Police said that structural damage was caused to Brown’s home but no one was injured in the fire. Enquiries into the possible double arson are continuing. Anyone with information on this matter or any crime taking place within the Cayman Islands is asked to call any of the police stations or 800(TIPS) 8477.

See Cayman 27 video here

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