CategoriesLegalHarrogateThought of The Day

A Career in Law?

This is my presentation to the 6th formers at St Aidan’s and St John Fisher’s schools, Harrogate, in June 2022.

(When giving a presentation, I usually write a transcript, then depart from it as I go. What follows is my notes – not what I precisely said)

 

Hello, I’m Andrew Gray. I’m a solicitor and the founder of Truth Legal solicitors of Harrogate and Leeds. I set up Truth Legal ten years ago, when I was 32.

Truth Legal is, primarily, a David v Goliath law firm – i.e. we tend to act for the little people who are enforcing their legal rights against a stronger opponent.

I also run a non-profit political tech project called The Harrogate District Consensus, as well as two other companies. And I host The Harrogate Podcast and I also blog.

I’m married to a lawyer and we have two kids.

And I have a confession for you budding law students: when I grow up, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.

So, if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, don’t worry. You’re in good company. Remember: life is about the journey, not about the destination.

…………………………..

This talk is collection of true stories, interspersed with questions for you. These stories shaped my life and my career.

In one of my stories, I will explain why I am sitting down to deliver this talk and why I have pre-recorded it.

I’ll take a Q and A at the end. You can ask all the cheeky questions, if you wish, such as: how much do lawyers earn?

……………………………………….

My first story.

Let me take you to Monday 15th August 2005: this was my first day at work as a trainee solicitor. I had secured a good training contract – which is 2 years of working as a trainee solicitor – with a large Manchester law firm.

My first day had gone well, though of course I had been quite nervous about it. That evening, I drove to Manchester Piccadilly Train Station to collect my girlfriend (now my wife). I parked opposite the station, leaving my border collie dog in the car. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, so it’s fair to say I didn’t look much like a lawyer.

I jogged across the road, heading towards the station entrance. As I did so, a car pulled up, and a big guy got out. Instead of walking towards the entrance, he walked straight towards me. I got the sense that he meant trouble.

As our paths crossed, he slammed me to the floor and put his fist in my face. It was like a scene from a movie. “You’re under arrest,” he said.

Stunned, heart pounding and mind reeling, I spluttered: “What for? Where’s your ID? Where’s your ID?”

He didn’t reply.

“I’m going to put you in a van,” he said. Menacingly, he kept looking up and down the street.

Now, I came to the only sensible conclusion: I was being kidnapped. I offered him my wallet, my phone, my car keys, but he wasn’t interested. I was definitely being kidnapped.

I had no choice. I had to escape. After all, my dog was in the car watching me take a beating!

I still don’t know how I did it, but — somehow — I managed to wrestle my attacker off me. In the process, I lost my shoes, wallet, phone, keys. Barefoot, I ran as fast as I could, screaming, “Help! Call the police!” Unfortunately, the streets of Manchester at 11pm on a Monday night are pretty empty.

I took a left, under a long bridge, running as fast as I could. Then, I hid in a nook, where the bridge melded into another bridge. When the coast was clear, I started running again until I found two Royal Mail workers who were cleaning vans. Covered in blood and barefoot, I asked that they call the police.

Almost immediately, two police officers arrived in an unmarked car. I told them my story and they put me in the back of their car – once I had seen their IDs! They agreed with me: they thought that I had thwarted a kidnapping. So, they radioed headquarters to report the incident and we returned to the location of the incident, to hunt for my attacker.

Scouring the streets, we came across two police officers who had arrested a 20-something-year-old bloke: he was a similar age and build as me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. My two police officers got out to find out what had happened. When they returned, they explained that there had been an armed robbery in the area and that the man who had assaulted me was in fact an off-duty British Transport Police officer, who was trying to make an arrest. The off-duty officer thought that I – Andrew Gray – was the armed robber! It was all a case of mistaken identity. Hahaha!

Turning midnight, I demanded that my attacker – the police officer – return to the station to explain himself. When the errant officer returned, he shook my hand and apologised. He explained that he thought that I had a gun or a knife. His senior officer hosted the meeting.

When I asked the officer why he didn’t show me his ID — hence why I fought him off and fled! — he had the gall to deny that I had asked him for his ID! Why else did I offer him my belongings, I argued? Not the actions of your typical armed robber.

After only a few hours’ sleep, bloodied and battered and dazed, I started my second day as a lawyer.

Budding law student, I have some questions for you:

  1. If you were me, would you have sued the police? I didn’t sue.
  2. Would you have represented me in a case for compensation against the police force?
  3. If the police officer was charged with assault, would you have represented him in a Magistrates’ Court?
  4. If the police officer lost his job for his actions, would you have represented him, as his lawyer, in an Employment Tribunal?

That awful experience gave me 3 key insights.

First, people in power lie – think Boris Johnson over Partygate. In my case, the Police Officer did not have his ID with him, otherwise I would not have resisted arrest.

Second, witnesses – as I was – have false memories. When I recounted, to my assailant’s senior officer, what I remembered, I explained that my attacker got out of a green coupe car. But this was not so: the car wasn’t green, and it wasn’t a coupe. I wasn’t lying. The lesson: even honest witnesses have false memories.

Third, as a lawyer who has represented hundreds of injured people, I understand that the psychological/mental distress of an incident is often more debilitating than the physical effects. I know, because I developed an anxiety disorder which led me to move away from the city, here to Harrogate.

………….

Re-winding somewhat, I bet you will want to know what grades I got for GCSEs: they were above average but not outstanding. For A-levels, I took Geography, Classics and Business Studies. My grades were sound, but not spectacular.

For my degree, I studied my passion, which was, and remains: politics. More precisely, my degree was PPE: Politics, Philosophy and Economics. I don’t have a proper law degree.

For university, I went to my first choice which was Manchester University: it was the best one closest to where I lived. I got a 2:1, only just.

Another true story, which shaped my life and career:

………………………………

In 2001, one week before I was due to graduate from university, my best mate, whom I had lived with for three years, was crossing a street at night with his mates. Unbeknown to him, some kids, with criminal records as long as your arm, stole a car, took a load of drugs, and then drove as fast as they could, determined to knock someone over.

They murdered my best mate: driving at 65mph in a 30pmh. He died instantly. A few days later, I went to the murder scene. Next to a shrine of flowers, police forensics officers had painted white circles on the road to show where they had found various parts of my friend and his possessions.

Mercifully, the brilliant police officers eventually caught the three killers. I attended the trial. Each of the three killers had their own solicitor and their own barrister: 6 lawyers defending them, all paid for by the taxpayer. My friend’s family was, in simple terms, represented by the Crown Prosecution Service’s lawyers.

The jury convicted the three of Death by Dangerous Driving (not murder), and they were sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Budding law students, I have some questions for you:

  1. Each of three defendants, needed two lawyers. Would you have defended them, even in the knowledge that they were guilty? Would you shake their hands when you meet them in the cells?
  2. Do you believe that every person deserves access to the best legal advice?
  3. Would you have derived any professional satisfaction from representing the victim’s family to secure a conviction?

……………………………………………………….

After my politics degree, and particularly after that horrid death, I went travelling and then set up a political organisation, always guided by my passion for politics. I worked as a Classroom Assistant for a time to see if I wanted to become a teacher: no way! Teaching was tough, with more stress than law.

In a moment of honest introspection, I realised I had a number of personal flaws which I needed to correct, if I wanted to get into politics. First, I was far too shy, incapable of giving a presentation like this. Second, I was intellectually disorganised.

I knew that some of the best politicians had been lawyers. Therefore, law was my answer! Lawyers help people: politicians try to help more people.

Budding law students: I want you to name some famous lawyer politicians.

Ghandi, Mandela, Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Tony Blair, Dominic Raab.

But why has law created so many politicians? That’s worth your consideration. There are 5 reasons:

  1. Intellectually capability.
  2. Exceptional communication skills – both written and oral.
  3. They usually want to make the world a better place, by helping people.
  4. Ambitious and competitive.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Our work gives us a deep insight into human nature: we go face to face with the best and worst of humanity.

Some of you might, secretly, think that any person who could represent murderers must be capable of deception and therefore be perfectly suited for politics, but that has not been my experience of lawyers.

…………

Therefore, with my head, more than my heart, set on law, I undertook the Post-Graduate Diploma in Law at York Law School. It was the toughest intellectual year of my life: cramming three years of a law degree into one year! People call this the “law conversion course”.

On that course, I mixed with fascinating people; people with degrees in a range of eclectic subjects, united with the desire to become a lawyer.

After that year, with – essentially – a law degree under my belt, I had to decide whether I wanted to become a solicitor or a barrister. I opted for the solicitor route, and I don’t regret it.

Let’s set out the difference between a solicitor and a barrister.

There are far more solicitors than there are barristers. There are around 135,000 solicitors, but only 15,000 barristers. In simple terms, barristers tend to most of the work in courts, standing up, making their arguments and cross-examining witnesses, as you might have seen in the Johnny Depp trial. Solicitors tend to have the in-depth, long-lasting relationships with clients. Solicitors instruct barristers when things get complicated, or when the matter goes to court. Solicitors tend to have more paperwork to do!

Barristers, I reckon, tend to be more intellectual, more flamboyant. Barristers tend to be self-employed, working in groups called “Chambers”. Solicitors tend to work at law firms, otherwise known as a solicitor’s practices.

Judges – who are the most senior of lawyers – tend to come from the barrister side of law, rather than from the ranks of solicitors.

In law, other than the barrister or solicitor route, there are other divisions which you ought to know about:

  1. Lawyers tend to practice Criminal Law or Civil Law.
  2. Lawyers tend to practice Litigation or Transactional Work.
  3. Lawyers tend to act for Individuals or for Businesses.

The number of areas of law is too long to list, because there are lawyers for every area of human interaction. Some examples of the variety of area of law:

Human rights, church law, charity, military law, international law, environmental law, immigration, banking law, crypto law, defamation law and many, many others.

Lawyers do tend to specialise in one of two areas of law.

…………………………………………………

Another true story:

After qualifying as a solicitor in Manchester, I moved to Leeds. I worked for a law firm which acted for large businesses. I hated the experience, but I am grateful for it. I was a commercial litigator – which means that I was, in simple terms, suing people who owed my business clients, money.

Vividly, one day I recall evicting a young family from where they lived. They owed a lot of money to my business client. Just as the bailiffs were knocking on the door to evict the family, the mother rang me up and begged me to call off the bailiffs. I couldn’t.

I cried, possibly the only time in my career.

Question for you budding lawyers:

Question: could you act for a business to evict a family from a property when they owe your client lots of money?

Or would you rather defend the family?

……………………………………………

Back to my journey.

After working for a massive law firm, which acted for trade unions, including teachers, when I still a very junior lawyer, I set up my own law firm. In fact, I was one of the most junior lawyers to ever set up a law firm.

It was the best decision.

Why is “Truth Legal” the name? Well, I am a Quaker, which is a religious group. Famous Quakers you might have heard of, include: Lloyds, from Lloyds Bank; Barclays, from Barclays Bank; Cadburys, of chocolate fame; and many others.

Quakers believe in five main ideas: pacifism, environmentalism, equality, simplicity and Truth i.e. speaking the Truth. Hence Truth Legal. I wanted my law firm to embody my values. My advice to you, whether you choose law or not, is that you should let your values – and not your parents’ values – guide you.

……………

And why am I sitting down to deliver this important presentation and pre-recording it? Because I have been quite poorly this last year or so, which has a legal element connected to it. I have gone from running marathons to becoming disabled, as defined in law under the Equality Act 2010.

Why? Because, over my lifetime, I have had to take some very strong antibiotics, which saved my life. Unbeknown to me and unbeknown to doctors in the UK, the big pharmaceutical companies who manufactured these antibiotics, were getting heavily sued in the United States because of the nasty side effects. Yet these potent drugs were still being sold in the UK.

Eventually, these antibiotics were mostly banned in the UK, but by that time, the damage to me was done.

Some questions for you, budding lawyers:

  1. Would you represent someone like me in a claim for compensation against the massive pharmaceutical companies and their legions and expensive lawyers who caused me, and lots of people like me, injury?
  2. And could you see yourself as the “expensive lawyer”, acting for the big pharmaceutical company defending claims from people like me? After all, antibiotics save far more lives than they damage, and every business and person should be allowed legal representation.

…………………………

Let me finish with some general advice to people considering a career in law.

  1. Ask yourself whether you can truly excel at something if you are not passionate about it. I would be inclined to follow always your passions.
  2. Law is a very tough job, with a great deal of stress. If you want an easy life, don’t be a lawyer. (But teaching, other professions and most jobs are tough too.)
  3. If you like helping people, law could be for you. Law and politics are similar to me because it is all about helping people. Lawyers help people and organisations often through the most awful situations. Politicians create those law.
  4. I recommend that you let your life speak. Realise that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The police officer who attacked me gave me a gift: my law firm now specialises in assault cases. My friend who was murdered on the road: we deal with road traffic accidents. If you cry at your desk because you’ve just helped a business to evict a tenant, you know that area of law isn’t for you.
  5. Be familiar with technology: law and most other careers, are going to be radically changed by tech. So, be prepared to keep reinventing yourself. Lawtech will bring access to justice to millions of people: whereas one lawyer can only help one client at a time.
CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogateThought of The Day

UFOs, Covid deaths and Poverty

Partygate, the despot-like re-writing of the Ministerial Code, Russian aggression and energy price hikes, all dominate the British news. Remember Covid? Well, Covid news has been – thankfully – consigned to the dustbin of history. But what ought to be on everyone’s lips is the US Congressional Hearing into UFOs.

Only 90 minutes of the hearing was held in public, but during this time, those of us who bothered to engage with it learned that, in simple terms, the US Government believes that UFOs are real. Sure, the Pentagon officials under questioning did not categorically say “UFOs exist”, however, they could not say what else the numerous UFO sightings could be. These officials stated that US pilots have been reluctant to make reports of UFOs for fear of looking foolish. Just imagine if all pilots, not just in the US military, felt able to make such reports – then how many incidents would need investigation.

In a rational world, the confirmation of UFOs ought to be a cause for great intellectual debate, but it isn’t. Social media, coffee shops, workplaces and anywhere else where conversation takes place, would, in a world populated by rational humans, be awash with talk about UFOs. For a start, all religious belief and history would be in need of reappraisal.

It seems to me that, we, as a species, cannot countenance the admission of something which, in its acceptance, would mean that we have to reconfigure of all our hitherto-held views. We are unable to process this information. So, we shut our minds to the facts. Ignorance is bliss. Let’s hope that aliens do not share the human desire to colonise others.

…………………………………………………………………………….

But, what do UFOs have to do with Covid? Let me explain.

Only political nerds like me follow Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Several months ago, one such request – not made by me, I should add – piqued my interest. A wily individual asked Harrogate Borough Council to set out the number of deaths, each year, from 2015 to 2021, split between cremations and burials.

Now before you scroll down, I challenge you to affix, in your head, answers to the following questions. I have asked the below questions to a number of intelligent people, none of whom came even remotely close to accurately guessing the answer to question 3.

  1. In Harrogate, do you think that deaths are broadly even for the years before Covid – 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019?
  2. What, if any, impact did Covid have to deaths in 2020? Up or down, and by what percentage?
  3. Then, with those guesses fixed, ask yourself: what happened to deaths in Harrogate in 2021?

The following is the data provided by Harrogate Borough Council.

Year               Cremation                                 Burial

2015 1580 171
2016 1581 137
2017 1609 184
2018 1640 145
2019 1543 175
2020 1890 155
2021 512 47

 

Is that what you expected, particularly for 2021? I very much doubt it.

If, like me, and like everyone I have previously asked this question to, you didn’t foresee that the average deaths fell in 2021 by 68% from pre-Covid levels of an average of 1,753 people per year to just 559, then why were we all so wrong? At the time of writing, circa 75% of the population have had Covid. If Covid was so potent (which it was in 2020), why are more people alive today in Harrogate than there ought to be, given the number of people who have had it? Covid is still here: a number of my colleagues have recently had it and it was nasty and long-lasting.

Evidently, Covid was a massive threat in 2020, increasing the number of deaths in Harrogate by 14% (an extra 300 deaths). But, astonishingly, deaths then fell by 1,194 in 2021, which means – bizarrely – that Covid has saved lives in Harrogate. I struggled to write the previous sentence, but I must be led by the evidence.

The reasons behind these surprising stats must be multifactorial and should be forensically interrogated. What did Harrogate do right? Or was this just a case of wealthier, greener areas faring better than other places?

Most people confronted with this evidence usually retort, with: “The reduction in deaths must be down to the reduction in road traffic accidents.” Not an unreasonable suggestion, but an inaccurate assertion predicated on a miscalculation of the number of road traffic deaths per year. Pre-covid, circa 1800 people were killed on the roads in the UK, each year. Covid reduced these deaths by around 11%. By my estimations, Covid might have saved the lives of circa 6 people in the Harrogate area who, in normal times, would have died on the roads. This does not explain why more people are alive in Harrogate thanks to Covid.

Frequent readers of my blog will know that I was and remain fiercely critical of the Government for its slow response to the pandemic. As Dominic Cummings has stated, our Government’s clear and obvious early errors killed thousands of people. But deaths from Covid, based on Harrogate data, appears to have petered out much before vaccines were rolled out. Certainly, Covid is frequently a very unpleasant illness, with Long Covid having many similarities with my maladies. However, unless you broadly guessed the death figures for 2021, you must admit that you have been hoodwinked, when considering the Harrogate case.

Given that nobody I had spoken to was aware of these facts, I sent the story to two local news outlets. One editor published the story and the second did not. The second editor thought that this data – and its concomitant questions it raises – wasn’t newsworthy, much to my disbelief. The first editor, who ran the story, subsequently told me that this was one of the least read stories that the publication had had!

Like with UFOs, perhaps people don’t want to face facts. We simply cannot countenance re-evaluating everything that we thought we were sure of. But as Karl Marx once replied, when asked what his favourite maxim was, he said, “Question everything”.

……………………………………………………………

 

So shocked I was by Harrogate’s figures that I decided to FOI Blackburn and Salford councils, given my connection to the areas and given that their populations significantly differ from Harrogate – ethnically, socially and economically. Here are their figures:

Blackburn

 

Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Cremations 1217 1250 1238 1298 1,260
Burials 382 387 396 536 511

 

Pre-Covid, Blackburn saw an average of 1,623 deaths per year. The first year of Covid saw – similar to Harrogate – an increase of deaths by 13% (Harrogate was at 14%). However, unlike in Harrogate, deaths in 2021 were 9% above pre-Covid levels: a significantly different direction of travel to that of Harrogate. Covid has been lethal in Blackburn.

 

Salford

 

Cremations

Number

2017 1824
2018 1746
2019 1742
2020 2183
2021 1800

 

Full Burials
2017 276
2018 285
2019 261
2020 325
2021 278

 

Pre-Covid, Salford saw an average of 2,045 deaths per year. In 2020, deaths increased by a whopping 22.7%, with an additional 463 deaths. Undeniably, Covid was very dangerous to the population of Salford in 2020.

In 2021, there was an increase in deaths on pre-Covid levels of 22 poor souls, up 1.6% on pre-Covid levels. As with Salford, the pattern in Blackburn was markedly different from the Harrogate experience.

My thesis is that these figures speak to the general lower life expectancies in poorer areas. Nothing new in that analysis, of course. Assuming that we as a country find these stark differences unacceptable, surely to even-up life expectancies (including between men and women, with women living on average 4 years more) ought to be central to our national conversation, but it isn’t. Rational aliens have nothing to fear from us.

 

CategoriesPoliticsHarrogate

Harrogate District Consensus launches

It has taken me a lifetime to come to the point where I have this week (though I feel dreadful) launched www.HarrogateDistrictConsensus.org.

A Tory at school, then in Labour, with a one-year stint with the Lib Dems, with a dalliance with Change UK, I feel unusually placed to launch this political tool. Other than fascists, I admire all people who engage in politics, particularly those who stand for election, of all stripes. Giving your time and experience to matters political is an altruistic pursuit: to want to help people you will never meet – who will never thank you – is humanity at its finest.

Inevitably, technology will begin to play a role in our democracy. We must test the available technology. The Harrogate District Consensus uses Polis: I didn’t create this awesome technology. Polis was created by the wonderful people at the Computational Democracy Project in Seattle. Polis will improve and perhaps other technology will supplant it.

The granular polling data which Polis produces will assist all decision-makers, officers and candidates in advance of May’s important elections.

For posterity, here are some of the news reports written about HDC by the local democracy reporter, Jacob Webster:

https://www.harrogateadvertiser.co.uk/news/politics/the-new-anonymous-voting-tool-to-find-harrogates-consensus-on-key-issues-3590895

The new anonymous voting tool to find Harrogate’s consensus on key issues

CategoriesLegalHealthHarrogate

A Life-Affirming Stay in Harrogate Hospital

(These are my musings, written in hospital, more diary entry than blogpost)

In Antibiotics, I trust

 

It’s 23:51 on Saturday 12 February 2022. I’m back as an in-patient at Littondale Ward, nearly four years ago to the day that I was last in here when I had sepsis. My drip pumps fluids into me. It’s been a tough few days.

 

I’m the youngest on the ward, by 30 years. So, everyone asks me – what I do for a living. It’s always a bit tricky to talk about it at such times.

 

I have Pyelonephritis. Essentially a kidney infection which has risen up the body. 111, ambulance, A and E and now however many days I need to stay here.

 

I’m glad I came in when I did. If I didn’t, kidney damage can be permanent. Perhaps it still will be. I read that this condition kills 7.4% of people who get it. But I suspect that most are older men.

 

I’ve been treated fairly well. The staff are very pleasant. Due to my temperature, I was placed on the Covid unit for 6 hours, which makes sense. No lunch or tea. Thankfully, this evening Julia delivered my bag, complete with food. I don’t know what people do when they have no loved ones close by.

 

I haven’t seen any specialists, but that will come. Staggering to the bathroom (details to be spared, suffice to say that it’s unpleasant) with my drip tripod-thing-on-wheels, with my blood visible up and down the tube, is something I’d like to forget.

 

My advice to any reader is to understand your body and to dispassionately read around your medical condition, making your own mind up. We know our bodies best. Night.

…………………………………………………………………………..

I’ve become like a phone charger

 

Well, that was a memorable night. Dehumanising on one level, yet I’m filled with immeasurable gratitude for the endeavours of my carers, working Saturday night shifts, doing the work of the angels. My eyes fill with tears as I type that sentence, for I couldn’t do this for a living.

 

Dehumanising in that, for the nearly 24 hours I have been here, I’ve spent most of that time connected to a drip. Each time the drip is changed – from this antibiotic, to another; to fluids and anything else I cannot figure out – nobody really asks for my permission. They just do it. I feel like the utility phone charger in a hotel: used by all the guests, often roughly but necessarily so, repeatedly being plugged and unplugged.

 

The legal case of Montgomery- which deals with patient consent in a medical setting – has crossed my mind each time, for it was frequently being breached, but perhaps this was the right thing to do, though not strictly lawful.

 

Bathroom “breaks” are a frequent challenge. Each “success” feels like scoring a goal.

 

Update:

 

Urologist has just told me I need to stay another day, and that it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be able to go on holiday next week with the kids. I’m quite upset.

 

The man next to me still snores – it’s 9:30am – as he has done all night, at such a high decibel level that I could claim for noise-induced hearing loss. He’s disrupted those of us under 80 in here, but I only feel pity for him, as he looks so unwell. He sounds so unwell. I wish him well. Sleep, though, might help the rest of us to recover.

 

………………………………..

The Kindness of strangers

 

It’s 19:40 on Sunday night. My neighbour – out of the blue – has bought me a gluten-free snack. He’s the one who kept us all awake all night with his mammoth-like snores. He must have heard my repeated requests for gluten-free food, often to no avail. It’s really touched me. We haven’t really spoken. I’ve always known that humans are 99.9% good: this gesture is life-affirming.

 

A new man arrives. He’s far younger than me and clearly very poorly. We’re all rooting for him, but nobody has said a word. It’s unspoken. There’s always someone worse off in here.

 

The nurses change the elderly men with such dignity. I’d rather not hear it, or smell it – for their sake and mine – but it truly is inspiring. I bury my head in my phone.

 

And then we all overhear a doctor giving the “end of life” discussion to an elderly man at the other end of our 6-man ward. Does he want his heart restarting, if it fails? I’m watching football on the iPad, unable to concentrate on it: what will his wish be? Will his heart stop tonight?

 

The inhabitants of this ward shouldn’t have all heard that, particularly the new guy, gasping for air. That was such a delicate conversation. The doctor was, simply, perfect, though. Not an easy conversation to have with someone. When the time comes for me, I’d want to be spoken to like that.

 

I guess we are all bearing our everything in here. I can’t work out whether it’s appalling that this lack of privacy pervades in 2022, or whether this war-type spirit is good for us all.

 

One chap has the sweetest of sweet tooths, almost childlike in his requests for biscuits. It makes everyone smile. Who knew that the NHS does chocolate milk on tap?

 

The staff are unfailingly kind. I’ve never been anywhere where the staff are universally so willing to help, and they don’t stop either. And they’re so diverse, far more so than the population of Harrogate. The accents do cause some of the elderly men some confusion.

 

In macro terms, the structure and processes of the NHS need an honest rethink. But the kindness on display from the staff here is unsurpassable.

 

I hope to go home tomorrow (which I do).

 

CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogate

Tory Contenders and Covid Deaths

Reflecting on the shameful vote this week by the majority of Tory MPs to support disgraced Tory MP Owen Paterson, and then for the Government’s immediate volte-face, my sense is that a potential challenger to Reckless Boris will soon break cover.

It is noteworthy that 109 Tory MPs didn’t vote for the Andrea Leadsom’s Putin-esque amendment (including Harrogate’s Andrew Jones and Ripon’s Julian Smith), with six Tory MPs voting against. Of the six, my analysis is that only Mark Harper MP is a potential challenger to Reckless Boris.

Harper previously stood for leader and has been critical of lockdowns. Candidly, I have not heard any chatter of Harper standing, but in most parties there is usually someone waiting in the wings for their moment to usurp their leader and this is such a potential moment. Thatcher had Heseltine, Major had Redwood, Blair had Brown, Cameron and May had Reckless Boris. But who challenges Boris?

If not Mark Harper, then Skipton and Ripon’s, Julian Smith MP – who took the unusual decision to demand the resignation of Phil Allott – is an unlikely, but potential, contender. He may trigger a leadership race so that others break cover.

My reading of him is that he is an honourable MP who is embarrassed by the Tories – yet again – descent into sleaze. By most accounts, Smith is meant to be a safe pair of hands, as judged by his time as Northern Ireland Secretary. In addition, Smith is unassailable in his constituency. By attacking Reckless Boris, with Brexit done, Smith is unlikely to suffer censure by his local Conservative Association, for the people in this area – particularly in Skipton, home to Skipton Building Society – abhor financial impropriety.

Watch this space.

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Out of the 830,000 people estimated to be living in North Yorkshire, according to figures collated by the North Yorkshire Outbreak Management Advisory Board, since Covid arrived in February 2020 there have been 559 excess deaths. According to Public Health England, in the same period, there have been 1,227 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate. Most deaths occurred during the first and second peaks.

Working on the assumption that dozens of deaths would have occurred indirectly because of Covid – for example, because people didn’t summon an ambulance for fear of catching Covid in hospital, and then dying at home; or because cancers went undetected – my educated guess is that around 400 residents of North Yorkshire sadly perished directly due to Covid.

There are 634 days between 1 February 2020 and 31 October 2021. Circa 400 deaths, in 634 days, for an above average-aged population, in a fairly prosperous and spaced-out population. Dreadful, but if you ask residents of this area, as I have done, what their own estimates of deaths in this area is, most likely you will get estimates into the thousands. In my social circle, the highest estimate I have heard was 10,000. Now that, if correct, would be rightly terrifying.

Each death, each Long Covid survivor, is tragic. But the figures, dispassionately analysed, are a cause for optimism. With our vaccines and boosters, armed with our knowledge and experience of this virus, though we must be cautious, though we must crush all new variants, we must enjoy life again.

CategoriesPoliticsHarrogateThought of The Day

New dictionary word: “Phillip-Allott-ed” 

Verb (transitive)

To be “Phillip-Allott-ed” is a four-staged test.

First, during a stream of consciousness, you brain-dump your most bizarre, innermost thoughts, at the most insensitive of times, in full public gaze, crushing your ability to carry out your new job. Your action reveals something particularly unusual about you that only your closest friends and family might have known, and which made you precisely the wrong person to carry out your new duties.

Second, you attempt an apology, but only make matters worse, compounding your first gaffe, drawing additional ire, ensuring that the story continues to run in both the local and national news.

Third, you try to cling on to your job, in the face of universal bewilderment, during which time you are publicly humiliated, time and again, before falling on your sword. See Margaret Thatcher’s demise, dragged out kicking and screaming.

Fourth, your unforgivable opinion expressed in the first stage of the test, ensure that such viewpoints will be forcefully tackled by your successor, thereby providing a total annihilation of the position you so publicly espoused.

Example

“That new guy at work, didn’t last long. After his tirade and his protestations, he’s eventually been Phillip-Allott-ed.”

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N.B. All MPs, mayors, PCFCs and councillors deserve our gratitude, including Mr Allott. I know many of them: all of them want to make their communities a better place. The politician has become a dangerous profession, too. RIP Sir David Amess MP and Jo Cox.

CategoriesQuakerismHarrogateThought of The Day

Living Adventurously, in Settle

Typing this blog on my phone, in Settle Quaker Meeting House, North Yorkshire, I can hear an English language lesson taking place, one on one, in the room above. The student, I imagine, a recent newcomer to this country. I’m not eavesdropping: you cannot help but hear it.

Quaker Meeting House Settle

By some distance, this is my favourite Meeting House: simple, wooden, in a central location, and surrounded by an enchanting garden, together with a Quaker burial ground. Founded in 1678 during the usual period of Quaker persecution, it’s one of the oldest Meeting Houses.

Quaker burial ground

Interestingly, the founder of Birkbeck College came from here, George Birkbeck. He had previously founded the Mechanics’ Institute, which were adult education centres, focussed on the working man.

Soon, I will be launching a radical, consensus-building, democratic tool called Pol.is, to be hosted by the newly formed: The Crowd Wisdom Project. On this project, I work with a talented tech whizz, who lives in Ghana. He designed this website for me. Coincidentally, as I sit here, on the poster, before me, is a list of some of the Quaker Meetings around the world. One of them is in Accra, Ghana!

Quaker Post

I’ve never felt more like a Quaker: sitting peacefully, alone, at the beginning of this movement. It’s tranquil, here, yet still international, even in this sleepy Dales town.

 

CategoriesLegalPoliticsHarrogate

Live on BBC Radio: Resigned to No Resignation

Here in North Yorkshire our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is Phillip Allott, a Conservative. Until the last few days, almost nobody in this area knew his name. That’s not a criticism of him, for the same is true for all Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners.

All that changed on Friday 1 October 2021. During a live interview on BBC Radio York, to discuss the heinous murder of York woman Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, Mr Allott said:

“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.

“Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”

Twitter went into meltdown. Keir Starmer, Piers Morgan together with thousands of others demanded his removal from office. Even Reckless Boris criticised him, describing the comments as “wrongheaded”. Mr Allott apologised.

Given that Reckless Boris has given senior Tories carte blanche to do as they please, free from the expectation of being fired or being compelled to resign, I knew that Mr Allott’s resignation was the very last thing Mr Allott would do. This culture is wrong.

Fondly, I remember the time when politicians of all stripes would tender their resignations when they messed up. Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned when Argentina invaded the Falklands and – more memorably, as resignations go, Estelle Morris, Education Secretary under Tony Blair, resigned because, in her own words, that she wasn’t up to it. Her resignation letter reads:

“I’m good at dealing with the issues and in communicating to the teaching profession. I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media. All this has meant that with some of the recent situations I have been involved in, I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be, or as effective as you need me to be.”

Oh, to have that candour and introspection today! Those were the days.

As luck would have it, the PCFC’s team were due to be in Harrogate on the morning after his comments, in order to garner feedback during their planned roadshow – something which should be lauded. Knowing this, I messaged some people whom I thought would be interested in running a petition outside of their roadshow. With only a few hours to arrange it, with social media more use than harm, a “motley” group assembled in the cold and rain, with our sign and our petition.

Petition Phillip Allott

We secured 165 signatures, in less than an hour, despite the inclement weather. People of all ages attended. I’ve never seen members of the public more keen to sign a petition. Perhaps if we had set up the stall on the Sunday instead, when the story was better known, there would have been more signatures, as many of the people who walked by didn’t know about the story.

Pleasingly, random lawyers – many of whom I didn’t know – attended. Speaking to them, all of us would have accepted arrest – as Sarah did – knowledge of the law or not. (Lawyers who know me are bored of my complaint that lawyers exist as a profession: we exist because citizens do not have access to all the laws which govern them, so in that, I have some sympathy with Mr Allott).

My interview in the Yorkshire Post is here.

As I explained to the Yorkshire Post and as you may have seen in this essay, I was subjected to an assault/wrongful arrest on my first day as a lawyer in Manchester. A completely different set of circumstances to the heinous murder of Sarah of course, however, I did feel that this experience of being arrested/assaulted by an off-duty police officer (who was trying to do the right thing), gave me some insight to speak up.

Today, 4 October 2021, I was interviewed live on BBC Radio York about this situation. I followed on from an interview of a long-standing disability champion, as well as the leader of the Fire Brigade’s Union, in calling for the resignation. Being interviewed live wasn’t good for my heart!

During my career, I have represented police officers and have I also brought civil claims when there has been wrongdoing. In my experience, 99.9% of police officers are the very best of us, doing a job that, frankly, I’m not brave enough to do. As George Orwell noted, we sleep peacefully in our beds because we have an army and a police force. I would take our police force over any other that I have seen.

I don’t know Mr Allott. Until those comments, he might have been doing an excellent job. As 99% of politicians go into it for the right reason – to make their community better – and assuming good motives for Mr Allott, I should place on record my gratitude to him for his service. My preference is that politicians in specialist elected roles – such as in Defence, Health, Justice and Policing – have some knowledge of their spheres of influence before taking up such a role. Otherwise by the time the politician has spent a number of years in the role – just to understand the basics – they are then turfed out of office. What a waste!

Mr Allott’s comments came from another era. For a PR man before being elected, his comms couldn’t have been worse. Not only has he lost the support of the public and the victims’ groups, but he’s also managed to make the work of the police far more difficult. A triple whammy. The frequent accusation on this online petition (7,000 signatures at the time of writing) was that he was blaming the victim, Sarah.

Sadly, from the position as a male, the overwhelming majority of those who signed our petition and this one online, are women. Men should be just as appalled, equally keen to sign the petition. Although men are far more likely to be killed by a stranger, the murder of Sarah has shone a spotlight on the fact that a very high proportion of women feel unsafe alone on the streets, including the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. This is a sick culture.

Sadly, when the Tories introduced these commissioners, they didn’t include a power of recall for precisely this type of situation. So, unless Mr Allott does the right thing, then we are stuck with him for four years, probably eight. If Mr Allott remains in post, then although I believe his credibility is shot, perhaps on his cathartic quest to upgrade his thinking, we shall all benefit. I wish him well, whether he stays or goes.

Professionally and personally, I do wonder what will happen to me.

CategoriesHarrogate

Up and Out in Middlesmoor and The Dales

Thankfully and inexplicably, for a few days now, my health returned, almost back to normal. But how long it will last, I don’t know. So, let’s enjoy it whilst I can. No time to waste.

Without question, my favourite part of the Yorkshire Dales is the hamlet of Middlesmoor. I remember stumbling across it some years ago, puzzled – as I still am – that it wasn’t well-known. Plonked atop of a hill in Nidderdale, 8 miles from Pateley Bridge (where I used to run a free and never used law clinic!), its reminiscent of an Italian hill-town, but probably older, as a settlement has been here since 1200. And you can see why, for although there is no obvious fortifications, its position would have made it impregnable, with sweeping views all around.

Together with our new puppy, I just drank it up. Photographs do it more justice than my words ever could.

Given that the puppy ate every sheep poo within lead-distance, my stay was cut short. Therefore, I went exploring somewhere new, finding the reservoirs of Scar House and Angram, at the start of the River Nidd, a short distance from Middlesmoor. Building work commenced on these reservoirs almost a century to the day. They still supply Bradford with water.

Again, photos will do it more justice. What was pleasing to see is the number of new tree plantations, not far from my law firm’s woods just outside of Summerbridge.

As with Middlesmoor, though this area is stunning, it is largely empty of tourists, even on a Sunday basking in fine weather. Had Wordsworth ventured here, rather than the Lake District, perhaps Middlesmoor would have become like Ambleside, jam-packed with cars. My preference for beauty is always for awe-inspiring natural views, but only if accompanied by something man-made, like a castle or a reservoir.

I wonder what else is on my doorstep.