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I’ve got to say I’m surprised that the Scottish Parliament is talking about doing away with one of the cornerstones of the Scots criminal justice system. I’m talking about, as the lawyers used to explain to the High Court juries, the need for there to be “two fingers of guilt pointing at the accused”, in other words the insistence that someone cannot be convicted on a single piece of evidence. The need for at least one piece of collaborative evidence makes wrongful conviction in Scotland less likely than in England. No Scot could be convicted solely on the dubious confession or the word of some batty eyewitness. Of course, both a dubious confession and batty eyewitness would be enough for a conviction but the demand for collaboration still makes wrongful conviction less likely. The need for collaborative evidence is why the Scots have the Not Proven verdict. That means that there was only one finger pointing at the accused and no matter how good that single piece of evidence is, legally it is not enough. I can’t help feeling that if an accused is indeed guilty, any cop worth his or her salt should be able to find at least two of the required “fingers of guilt” required for conviction.

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I’ve got to say I was appalled by the British media’s coverage of the deaths of three members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland when a Mastiff armoured personal carrier was blown up in Afghanistan by a landmine last week. Most of the stories I read failed to mention that nine Afghans died in the same explosion. I can see why the British media would focus on the three RRoS members who died but to completely ignore the deaths of the Afghans is outrageous. Those Afghans died serving alongside the British soldiers – Cpl. William Savage, 30, Fusilier William Flint, 21, and Private Robert Hetherington, 25. I’m sure the soldiers of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, have more respect for those Afghan comrades in arms than the British media has shown. Certainly, I'd be disappointed if that's not the case. The Afghan National Army is not without its flaws but few would deny that its members are capable of great courage. Because of the lack of interest in the nine dead Afghans, I have no idea what kind of vehicle they were travelling in, if they were even in a vehicle. But I’m guessing they were not in a £1 million armoured personnel carrier, which up until last week was regarded as impervious to roadside bombs. When I was in Afghanistan, Afghan troops were moving around packed into the back of pick-up trucks. Soldiers around the world have a lot in common and this apartheid in death reflects poorly on the British media.

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I noticed that after this blog mentioned that the Ministry of Defence was firing anti-tank rounds tipped with radioactive depleted uranium into the Solway Firth that the practice is to be ended. Is there a connection? I doubt it. But I wish I did have that kind of influence. Then I’d insist that the Government hold a public inquiry that would reveal the truth behind the Batang Kali Massacre in 1948. The execution of 24 ethnic Chinese on a Malayan rubber plantation by soldiers from the Scots Guards was almost certainly not the work of a rogue patrol. The squaddies were pretty obviously obeying orders. The question is, whose orders. How high did the scandal go? The British Army and Government has a habit of throwing squaddies to the wolves when things go pear-shaped.  But no-one has ever been held to account for the massacre. So who is being protected? A person doesn’t have to look too hard at events in 1948 to conclude that the British administration in Malaya had more than its fair share of seedy second and third raters. That’s why the Communists succeeded in making so much trouble in the first place. I know that 1948 is a long time ago and some might say it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. But the only way to learn from the mistakes of the past is to admit there have been mistakes in the past and examine what went wrong. The Scots Guards at the time pointed to the fact that following the killings there was no further trouble in the Batang Kali area. Is that the lesson? The Batang Kali Massacre is a putrid sore when it comes to Britain’s reputation in the Far East and the continued secrecy is seen as typical British arrogance and colonialist indifference.

See Batang Kali Revisited

 

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So, according the National Army Museum, Britain’s greatest land battle was Kohima-Imphal against the Japanese in World War Two. Interesting choice; but not indefensible. What did surprise me was that Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War of 1879 was a runner-up. It shows what a difference a film makes. I reckon more guys get killed on screen in the 1964 Stanley Baker/Michael Caine film than died in the real-life siege. If memory serves, the British suffered 17 dead. But the 140-strong garrison of the mission station did harvest 11 Victoria Crosses. That may have had much to do with the need to raise morale at home following the loss of around 1,500 British troops at the hands of the Zulus at Isandlwana hours before the attack at Rorke’s Drift. While not wishing to take away from the courage of the men at Rorke’s Drift, basically all most had to do was keep their nerve and keep firing their Martini Henry repeater rifles from behind the mealie-bag barricades. The fellahs at Isandlwana made the mistake of being caught in the open with an inadequate ammunition replenishment system. Sometimes I can’t help feeling that the Victoria Cross and other gallantry are used by politicians to make themselves look good. An action in one conflict that wouldn’t even have earned a solder a Military Medal in another can sometimes result in a VC. A lot depends on the war and what stage its at.  In the opening days of the Second World War Military Medals were on occasion handed out for deeds that would have attracted no attention whatsoever 1944-45. There used to be some British regiments that refused to send in recommendations for gallantry awards because they felt the soldiers involved were doing no more than hat was expected of every member of such a proud and distinguished unit. There were other regiments that realised that a long list of VC winners could tip the balance in their favour when it came to avoiding disbandment or amalgamation. Why, I’ve even heard of some VC citations that have very little resemblance to actual events.

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Sometimes the wheels of my mind grind somewhat slowly. While looking for something else, I came across a Scottish Government map showing where in the country British military veterans live. It took me a couple of minutes to work out why there was such a concentration of veterans in Fife, Dumbartonshire/Argyll, Angus,  Moray and eastern Inverness-shire. Then I got it – the military veteran population hotspots co-incided with military bases, either active or recently closed. The naval dockyard at Rosyth and  RAF Leuchars accounted for Fife, 45 Commando at Arbroath explained Angus, the Faslane submarine base for Dumbartonshire/Argyll and RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth for Moray. Perhaps they, and Fort George, also explained eastern Inverness-shire. The rest of the map pretty much made sense too – post-industrial Scotland. But there were two areas with substantial concentrations of veterans that surprised me. The map doesn’t identify towns but it looked to me as though there were a lot of veterans clustered around Crieff in Perthshire. Now, that’s a beautiful part of the world and perhaps we’re talking about retired colonels and majors. But I’m completely baffled by the high number of veterans in the Dumfries area. I seem to recall there was a weapons testing range near Kirkcurdbright but I didn’t think it employed a lot of people. Anyone any idea what I’m missing?

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