Archive for February, 2012

Snowdonia Celebrated

Posted: February 18, 2012 in Current affairs, TV
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Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the creation of Snowdonia National Park.

This first Welsh National Park was about conserving the past. But, six decades on, does it still have a role to play?

That’s the question Wales This Week asked on the night of the anniversary, October 18.

We filmed across the park with attractions such as the Welsh Highland Railway and the Pen-y-Gwryd pub where the Mount Everest team based themselves for their training ahead of their 1953 ascent.

We also visited Ogwen Valley Mountain RescueGraig Wen on the Mawddach estuary and the couple behind the Baavet duvet.

The 23-minute programme is available to watch here.

He is one of Wales’ greatest explorers – but few remember his name and there is no national monument in his honour.

There is a story behind why Wales may have tried to forget Edgar Evans – but it concerns a sense of misplaced shame.

ITV Wales’ Wales This Week has turned the clock back 100 years, to 1912, when Evans stood at the South Pole with Captain Robert Scott.

Scott’s party was defeated first by the Norwegians and then by a terrible Antarctic winter which came in early and closed over them like a shroud.

Evans was the first of the five men to die. He was malnourished and a cut in his hand was festering.

On February 17, 1912, his exhausted body gave up.

The second to die, Captain Oates, had a leg wound which had turned gangrenous. His leg needed amputating. He crawled from the expedition tent in a blizzard around March 17th and was not seen again.

The remaining three – Scott, himself, Bowers and Wilson – died about 10 days later.

It took a year for the news of their deaths to reach Britain.

“People were initially very sad, then proud but then they had to try and find an explanation,” Dr Isobel Williams, author of a new biography on Edgar, called ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant’, tells us.

“In some newspapers they focused on Edgar as not only failing and slowing them down but by his failure and slowing the party he caused the death of all the expedition.”

The men had left Britain in 1910, sailing from Cardiff on board the Terra Nova with South Wales’ coal lighting its boiler.

Two nights before they left, the crew had celebrated at the Royal Hotel in St Mary Street. A century later the Captain Scott Society still meets there. Its chairman, Dr Peter Lloyd Jones, says Wales contributed about half of the funds needed for the expedition.

But when news reached Britain of the men’s deaths, some began to feel a little ashamed of Evans.

Says Edgar’s grandson, John Evans, from Swansea: “I think it was based on snobbery a bit because they made him the scapegoat in the beginning.”

John is leading the campaign for a national memorial to Evans, who is described in the programme as “Wales’ leading Antarctic explorer”.

Evans had been on not only the mission to the South Pole but Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition which had helped prove Antarctica was a continent and not a massive pack of ice.

Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica, according to Tom Sharpe, curator of a new Terra Nova exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, “laid the foundations” of Antarctic science for a century to come.

And Roger Gale of Swansea Museum, where there is currently an exhibition dedicated to Evans, says: “Had Swansea had an astronaut who reached the moon and perished in the attempt I’m pretty sure there would be a commemoration of him. Edgar in his own way and his own time was journeying to the outer reaches of the world as we knew it.”

*There are currently two museum exhibitions in honour of the Terra Nova expedition in Wales. ‘South for Science’ runs at the National Museum of Wales until May 13.

Ninety Degrees South – Edgar Evans, Scott and the Journey to the Pole’ is at Swansea Museum until April 22.

The man who advises both the Crown and the UK Cabinet on the law has expressed his “huge regret” at the collapse of the Lynette White police corruption trial.

The UK Solicitor-General Edward Garnier QC was answering questions from MPs about the collapse of a trial of eight police officers accused of perverting the course of justice during the 1988 hunt for the murderer of Lynette White in Cardiff.

The trial collapsed in December and the officers were acquitted after the judge ruled they could no longer get a fair trial as certain documents were thought to have been shredded.

Then, last month, IPCC commissioner Sarah Green released a statement to say they had not been destroyed after all and were still in possession of South Wales Police.

This week, Media Wales reported that former barrister and Conservative MP Robert Buckland tackled Mr Garnier about the decision to let South Wales Police investigate itself.

Mr Buckland asked: “Is not the lesson of the disclosure debacle in the Lynette White case this: when criminal allegations are made against police officers in one police force, disclosure should be handled by officers from an entirely independent police force?”

Mr Buckland called on him to ensure “such reforms take place so that such a disaster does not happen again”.

The Solicitor-General said: “Clearly – particularly in large and complex cases such as the one we are talking about – the need to get disclosure right is key.”

But he added: “[Mr Buckland’s] point about other police forces dealing with the disclosure in such cases must, surely, be a matter for the chief constable of the relevant police area.”

Mr Garnier stressed that an inquiry into the Lynette White case is underway with the Independent Police Complaints Commission carrying out a review of police conduct; he also noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions has “separately asked the inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review of the actions and decision making of the CPS in relation to disclosure in that case”.

Cynon Valley Labour MP Ann Clwyd said: “There is considerable shock at the conduct of this case, in south Wales and elsewhere. In the past, there have been a particularly high number of miscarriages of justice under the South Wales police force.

“Is the Attorney-General aware of any other similar cases in which the disappearance and re-emergence of key evidence has led to a retrial?”

Mr Garnier said: “Off the top of my head, I am not aware of any such cases, but the right honourable lady is right to point out that the collapse of the Lynette White case in South Wales just recently, which affects her constituents and neighbours… is a matter of huge regret.

“It is now being subjected to two inquiries. Once they have been completed, further announcements will be made.”

Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Nick Smith asked what assessment had been made by the CPS about the prospects of a prosecution and reminded the Commons of the scale of the case.

He said: “It took nearly 10 years and cost the taxpayer about £30m to bring eight former South Wales police officers to court on charges of perverting the course of justice and fabricating evidence. The case collapsed when the key documents were thought destroyed, but they have now been found.”

The Solicitor-General said the CPS “will not make an assessment until the two inquiries are completed”.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health says the presence of lethal dust fibres in school buildings is a “national scandal”.

In a new report, it warns that 75 per cent of state schools are exposing children, teachers and other staff to the carcinogenic material.

Jim Sheridan MP, Chair of the All-Party Group, said: “This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust. We need both far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses and a programme for its phased removal.”

The report comes after more than 140 teachers died from the rare asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in the past 10 years, with research in the US suggesting over 100 people will die every year in the UK because of exposure at school.

US researchers suggest that for every death of a teacher from asbestos-related diseases, nine children will die. Asbestos-related diseases can take many years to develop so children are more vulnerable over their lifetime.

The Westminster All-Party Group’s report recommends the UK government should start a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.

It also recommends a policy of openness in which parents, teachers and support staff are annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.

Welsh concerns about asbestos in schools were highlighted in April 2009 when occupational hygienist Robin Howie addressed a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”. He added: “I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.”

Mr Howie repeated these concerns in an edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.

In the same programme Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, said the dangers of asbestos was “one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with”.

He stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”

Mr Cox demanded the removal of all asbestos from school buildings.

So what is the latest from the Welsh Government?

In answers to written Assembly questions on January 18, 2012, Wales Education Minister Leighton Andrews, said: “Asbestos is safe if undisturbed and schools should work closely with their respective local authorities to have in place appropriate health and safety plans for staff, pupils and visitors.”

He added: “Locating and dealing with asbestos in schools, including the removal if appropriate is a health and safety matter for schools and local authorities. Local authorities as the building owner and employer have a legal duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 to manage the risks arising from asbestos.”

Councils should know whether “any of their schools contain asbestos in some form or another”, he stated, and are “required to have asbestos surveys undertaken on all premises under their control, and implement an asbestos management system”.

However, it appears unclear as to how many Welsh schools contain asbestos.

“The current and projected categories of condition of school buildings were requested, from local authorities, as part of the revised proposals submitted to the Welsh Government in November 2011,” said Mr Andrews. “However, the level of detail, in terms of schools that may have the presence of asbestos was not considered at this stage of the process, since the written statement  December 2010 related to overall outline programmes and not individual projects.”