THE HEALTH and Safety Executive (HSE) is supposed to provide independent scrutiny of companies. But just how independent is it? Alan Osborne was appointed director of rail safety at the HSE this week.
The high powered post was created after the Cullen report into the Ladbroke Grove crash criticised the structure of rail inspections at the HSE. In the early 1990s Osborne was director of safety on the London tube. Until recently he was chairman of the safety committee of the board of directors at Metronet, a consortium that is about to take over three tube lines under New Labour's PPP scheme.
The mad privatisation plan got the all clear from the HSE six days before Osborne joined the payroll. Among the safety conscious firms that make up Metronet is Balfour Beatty, which was responsible for the track that shattered in the Hatfield crash. Meanwhile Martin Brown is sliding the other way across the greasy track. He was the rail inspectorate's lead assessor of the impact of tube privatisation on safety.
He worked closely with London Underground management to develop a 'safety case'. He gave managers a seven-year concession to comply with new safety regulations. Brown has recently taken up the post of director of safety for Tube Lines-another consortium that is due to get its hands on three tube lines.
One of the companies in Tube Lines is Jarvis, which was responsible for the failed points that caused the Potters Bar crash. Tube Lines' plans to run the tube have just had the thumbs up from...the HSE.
Worth a mint?
WHO SAYS the WorldCom scandal couldn't happen in Britain? Lucy Woods, WorldCom's European and Middle Eastern vice- president, was made a director at the Royal Mint, Britain's money supplier in February last year.
New Labour's Treasury minister was delighted. She said that the WorldCom boss could 'broaden the commercial expertise on the mint's board, and the organisation's ability to develop new commercial freedoms'.
Woods was also approached by Northern Ireland Unionist leader David Trimble to 'take a fundamental look at the way we run our public services and how they are delivered to our citizens'.
THE targeting of Muslims by US authorities has reached dramatic proportions. The Iranian Taziyeh theatre company was booked before 11 September to perform a musical at the Lincoln Centre Festival featuring a hero called Hussein. The US has since banned a third of the 28-member cast from entering the country.
War on vampires
WE DON'T want to worry readers, but a glimpse into the thinking that shapes US military strategy made truly scary reading this week. Professor Anthony H Cordesman works at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an influential think-tank that helps formulate US defence policy.
He writes, 'The US must plan its homeland defence policies for a future in which there is no way to predict the weapon that will be used, or the method that will be chosen to deliver a weapon.
'I would like you to think about the biological threat in terms of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-that you think about the world of biological weapons in terms of the 'Buffy Paradigm'-and that you think about many of the problems in the proposed solutions as part of the 'Buffy Syndrome'.'
AT least one candidate in France's re-cent parliamentary elections was appropriately named. Carol Bigot was a candidate for the MNR.
The MNR is the Nazi party formed by Bruno Megret. He was deputy leader of Jean-Marie Le Pen's Nazi National Front before falling out with his fuhrer.
It's a sign
A DEAF defendant in an Australian court case went down for a fortnight for contempt of court recently, and did so in defiant form. The Brisbane Courier and Mail reported the judge saying, 'It's bad enough you were involved in a brawl, but your behaviour before me today has been even more disgraceful.
'As you are profoundly deaf I agreed to your solicitor's request to allow you to use sign language in this court. But when I asked the interpreter how you had pleaded to the charges she translated your reply as, 'The judge is a fucking dickhead.'
'I sent you to the cells for a few hours to reconsider your behaviour. But when you were called back, you signed to your interpreter that I was a fat bastard and more boring than a pneumatic drill, and what is more you still refuse to withdraw the insults.'
'DEAR Mrs Watkins (deceased), if you became too ill to work how would you cope financially? It's obviously something you hope you will never need to worry about. That's why income protection could be a great way to protect you and your family.'
This is from a letter touting for business from the Scottish Widows insurance company which it sent to over 100 people it clearly knew had died.
Ally with big ego
THE CULT of the personality is alive and well in the former USSR decades after the death of Joseph Stalin who did much to perfect the art. President Sapamurad Niyazov of Turkmenistan is a dictator who helped the US in its war on Afghanistan.
He used to lead the central Asian republic when he was part of the former Communist regime.
Old habits die hard. All students and workers in every government office are forced to study Niyazov's incoherent ramblings in his book Ruhnama. He has also had a 60 metre high gold plated statue of himself built in the capital.
Things they say
'IT'S certainly strange that the more the finance scandal approaches the White House, the harder and sharper the plans for an attack on Iraq.'
STAFF MEMBER in the office of US Congressman Henry Wexham
'THE most important thing is to get a bunch of CEOs and directors, and throw them into jail.'
UNNAMED US EXECUTIVE
'THERE IS a drunk at the wheel of the US, and the key should be taken away from him soon.'
SCOTT RITTER, former US marine intelligence officer
'IT IS deplorable that the world's most powerful nations continue to regard war and the threat of war as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy. It is our view that an attack on Iraq would be immoral and illegal.'
ROWAN WILLIAMS, Archbishop of Wales
'THE MARKET is now showing the intense fear of the future that suggests it may be becoming good value again.'
RICHARD JEFFREY, head of Bridgewell Securities
'UK Coal's decision is being driven by nothing more than short term profits. Since privatisation of the coal industry in 1994 Selby has made millions for its owners. UK Coal now owes it to its workforce to take a longer view.'
BILL FLANAGAN, national chairman of Coalfield Community Campaign
'MR CHENEY was a direct participant, aider and abettor, and co-conspirator in the fraudulent acts, omissions and scheme.'
JUDICIAL WATCH lawsuit against US vice-president Dick Cheney, a senior executive at the oil services firm Halliburton involved in corporate wrongdoing