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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Not all ‘progress’ is an improvement

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Has the golden age of cruising gone forever? Undoubtedly, the answer has to be in the affirmative if you hanker after the grandeur for which the liners of years gone by were noted.

Being aboard the world’s newest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, you cannot help but acknowledge that it is a very fine vessel but, at the same time, it has to be realised that it has been built to meet the perceived demands of today’s passengers.

I say ‘perceived’ demands as that is what all companies do; they design new products that they believe will appeal to potential consumers. Unfortunately, they are not always successful.

In the case of Anthem, Royal Caribbean has done a good job – but not a great one. Not having sailed with RC before, much of my time has been spent listening to the views of other passengers and, although there is no guarantee of a good cross-section or a representative sample, views being expressed were strikingly similar:

“It’s a great ship but they could have done more”, “I loved the old promenade which made you feel like you were in a street. The new esplanade just doesn’t have it”, “Very disappointing, I would not cruise on this ship again”, “They have gone more for the impressive features such as the North Star and i-fly but really these are just gimmicks”, “Seaplex is just a waste of space”, “Boardwalk and Central Park are sadly missed”. It is interesting to note that these comments were heard in general conversations and were not the result of direct questioning. It may be thought strange that there are no positive comments but none have been omitted. Perhaps the reason for not hearing positive comments is that human nature means that people are more inclined to complain than give compliments. I am absolutely sure that some people would have given positive comments had they been asked for their views.

Some people do regret the passing of the former grandeur of the liners of yesteryear, with their grand staircases and stately restaurants often three decks high. Similar features do still exist on some vessels in use today but not in the very newest. Modern? Yes. Progress? Yes and no.

My wife Lisa has previously cruised with Royal Caribbean and has always held it up as the company that sets the standard for others to beat but some of those comments resonated with her. She expressed it this way: “I am sad to see that Royal Caribbean is no longer the leader of the pack. Anthem shows that for all its much-hyped improvements, the company is no longer outstanding; it now does everything the same as its competitors.”

Nothing in all this should detract in any way from the professionalism of the crew in providing everyone with a safe and, hopefully, enjoyable experience.

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Rough seas don’t phase restaurant and cooking teams

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Day 4 of our transatlantic crossing aboard Anthem of the Seas.

Sea conditions are now the roughest of the entire trip, according to our captain’s reading of the weather forecasts. Our speed has been reduced to minimise the side to side rolling motion and the course has been changed slightly for the same reason.

Talking of the captain, when he was mentioned in the last blog I used the phonetic spelling of the way he pronounces his own name when making PA announcements. His name is actually Claus Andersen, so perhaps jokes about ‘close’ are better than being nicknamed ‘santa’. Just saying, lol.

Anyway, a promise is a promise and the main subject of this blog are the dining facilities on the Anthem. It is necessary to say here and now that this only relates to the free restaurants, not the speciality ones which all make an additional charge.

There are four main restaurants, in addition to the buffet, that are freely available to all passengers and are part of what Royal Caribbean calls its Dynamic Dining experience.

Gone are the fixed meal times, always at the same time, in the same restaurant, at the same table and served by the same staff. The new idea is supposed to be better. It gives passengers the right to choose when and where to dine which will be perfect for some but not so for others. Some people really do prefer to eat at a set place at a set time. But there is not a main dining room, so that choice seems to be no longer available.

Windjammer Market Place is the impressive buffet restaurant with the self-service stations laid out just as the name indicates – including one with gluten-free food. It is very popular and seating is at a premium, which is why many couples first find a table at which one of them sits while the partner gets his or her food; then they change places but, by the time the second person get back with food, the first is already finishing. In our case, being that I am using my wheelchair, Lisa makes two trips and we still end up eating separately. So, good food, great layout but popularity makes for a less than comfortable meal.

Silk offers cuisine from Asia, including both oriental and Indian dishes. With wait staff dressed in style, it affords an enjoyable meal in convivial surroundings.

Chic is a modern restaurant where we ate last night. It served us delightful dishes with Lisa’s dessert being carrot cake with ice cream. She told our waiter that it’s the best carrot cake she had ever tasted. She also loved the ice cream and asked exactly what is was, to be told by the waiter that it was strawberry flavoured with carrot. Interesting and delicious.

Dinner at the American Icon Grill has attracted us back for breakfast and lunch too. I think that, so far, this restaurant has spoken to us more than either Silk or Chic but that is not to criticise them; equally great quality food and excellent service. It’s just personal preference.

I have not mentioned The Grande here because we eat there for the first time tomorrow when Halloween costumes are welcome alongside normal dress. We’ll look forward to that as it is also Lisa’s and my wedding anniversary.

So far, no dish has disappointed and service has been excellent with nothing being too much trouble.

Just how the catering staff are coping so well in such difficult weather conditions is totally beyond me. I’d have thought there would be spills and breakages everywhere but, so far, not so many.

 

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Rock and roll in theatre as ship does its own dance

we will rock you

Day two of Transatlantic crossing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, Weather is not so good today, winds got up to force nine on the Beaufort scale with the sea level varying by six metres causing the ship to perform its own dance as pitches and rolls – but it really is not too bad. In fact, given the weather conditions, I’d say that Anthem is a very stable ship.

We are about one-third of the way across and we are being kept well informed by the master Captain Close who makes regular and sometimes more frequent announcements over the public address system. Lisa now refers to these announcements as ‘Close calls’ and whenever the captain meets passengers as ‘Close encounters’.

Changing the subject, I am astounded! No, that’s not an exaggeration. Yesterday, we went to see two shows put on as part of the Anthem of the Seas entertainment for its thousands of passengers. And, yes, that word does accurately capture my feelings and please realise that I have spent time as a theatre columnist and critic during a long journalistic career.

First up was We Will Rock You, the smash-it musical show. My experience of travelling with other cruise lines in no way prepared me for this presentation. What the audience was given was not a show based on the famous West End production . We got the full two hours.

It was professional, slick, and used the Royal Theatre’s stage trap doors and rising sections to great effect. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that the audience was left wanting and we all seemed to leave with smiles on our faces.

Until I experienced this show, I would never have imagined entertainment of such high quality being available on a cruise ship. A huge ‘well done’ to Royal Caribbean and all those involved.

The second show was Spectre’s Cabaret which took to the stage in Two70, one of the ship’s new facilities. The production made the most use of the venue’s advanced computerised audio visual capabilities that combined with both on stage action and aerial gymnasts to provide a highly technical multi-media show.

It was brilliantly done but, although I appreciated the technical expertise and that of the artistes too, Spectre’s Cabaret was not to my taste. Another guest, with whom we shared a table, said that he ended up wondering what it was all about. He left Two70 confused.

So far, Lisa and I have eaten in the American Icon Grill and Silk, which serves Asian cuisine, for dinner; the Windjammer Market Place’s buffet and American Icon, again, for breakfast; and eaten hot dogs from the Seaplex Dog ‘van’ and pizza from Sorrento’s for lunch. More about dining on board in my next blog from Anthem of the Seas at www.50shadesofsun.com

 

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Crossing the Atlantic on world’s newest cruise ship

virtual balcony

Wow, our first full day at sea, on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas en route from the UK to USA. Launched earlier this year, Anthem is the newest and third largest cruise ship in the world It has been a hectic couple of days, even more so for my wife Lisa, as on Monday we moved out of our apartment in Wales and then yesterday we had to journey for more than seven hours to Southampton docks.

Actually, the journey was remarkably easy as, this time, we had chosen to go with Eavesway Travel, a company that has a service dedicated to cruise passengers. Once you join the coach, you can forget your luggage as the next time you will see it will be at your cabin door.

Lisa and I were the only passengers from North Wales and so were picked up by driver Paul at 6am and taken to meet up with a coach that had started in Blackpool. All went so smoothly, our second driver Peter (hmm, Peter, Paul but no Mary?) was friendly and chatty as he stashed away my wheelchair and we sat in the accessible seat area because the steps up to the main passenger compartment were too much for me.

Anyway, we enjoyed a good journey arriving very much as Peter had forecast. We arrived at Southampton at 1.32pm which was pretty good as he had earlier estimated a time of 1.30pm.

Boarding procedures were simple, straightforward and speedy. We were soon in our cabin, an accessible stateroom on deck 10. On this cruise we chose an inside cabin with a great view of the sea. Yeh, I know that sounds unlikely but it is just what we got. On the far side of our room from entrance is a floor to ceiling ‘virtual balcony’, see picture above. This a simply a superb idea; it gives the appearance of a balcony, complete with floor and rail, with live pictures from cameras mounted on the ship. Each stateroom’s virtual balcony is programmed to show a view that means that what you see and hear matches what you feel.

It is a tremendous innovation and makes life in an inside cabin really different and more pleasurable – and there is a remote control to change the sound volume or turn off the feature altogether.

We are trying various restaurants, using the Dynamic Dining options, and I will be blogging about those later in the week. A good start was made last night in Silk that specialises in Asian cuisine while Windjammer Market Place buffet did not disappoint at breakfast time.

Weatherwise, so far so good, we enjoyed some sun this morning with so far comfortable sea conditions; gentle movement but no more.

More soon from www.50shadesofsun.com aboard Anthem of the Seas.

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Longer winter nights spark daylight saving debate

daylight

It’s time to say a final goodbye to summer and welcome the longer winter nights as Europe put the clocks back early Sunday morning while the USA follows suit next weekend.

Once again, as soon as Britain’s daylight saving time ends and the clocks go back one hour, there are calls to end the practice, Instead, some people want to keep summertime all year while others want to go to double summertime which would make British time equal with most of mainland Europe.

Supporters of such a move talk of the danger to children returning home from school in the dark. They are saying that there are more accidents at that time of day at this time of year. Maybe that’s true but have they considered the alternative? And by that I mean the risk of children suffering accidents on their way to school in the morning murkiness.

Then, of course, there are those who live further north. The days in winter are shorter in Scotland, for example, than in the south of England, so they notice the dark winter mornings more there; and David Cameron’s government does have to think about all the UK as it is still one country.

Of course, there is nothing new in the idea of not putting the clocks back. In fact, it has been tried before. From 1981 to 1971, the UK kept its daylight saving British Summertime all year round. It was ditched after the figures showed an increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured.

More recently, in 2011, a Conservative MP put forward a proposal to bring in permanent daylight saving time but it was dropped for lack of parliamentary time. An opinion poll that year found that 53% of Britons supported moving clocks forward an hour permanently while 32% opposed the proposed change.

As I suggested earlier, the idea was not welcomed by the Scots with Scottish Nationalist Party MP Angus MacNeil saying that any change would have “massive implications for the safety and wellbeing of everyone living north of Manchester”.

At this point, we all need to consider the farming community both in Scotland and elsewhere.

From personal knowledge of looking after farm animals all year through, I well remember the feeling of relief when the clocks went back to lighten the mornings. And that was in North Wales not in parts of Scotland where the sun wouldn’t rise until 10am. Even ignoring the risk of there being more deaths and injuries from accidents, I have to feel for dairy farmers, who wake up before 5am and would have to work even longer in the dark. Then there are other workers who need sunlight to carry out their jobs. They’d have to work later into the evening.

Perhaps, if some people are desperate to see an end to daylight saving time, to satisfy those north of the border, the UK should have a different time in Scotland to the rest of the UK. The Scots could have an independent time. That could be the first step along the rocky path leading towards the break-up of the supposedly ‘United’ Kingdom.

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Lions gain freedom from concrete nightmare

lion before  lion after

Before – in a concrete hell in Romania.                  After – in a natural heaven in South Africa.

Big cats make a return to the spotlight today but this time it’s not Thomas Chipperfield and his lovely creatures. It is five who have just been rescued from a life of misery in Romania.

These lions have been in zoo that closed down as it failed to meet European regulations. In other words, they have been forced to live in conditions that are well below the standard those regulations were put in place to enforce.

However, the use of the regulations did not achieve the required result. The animals did not get better conditions, instead the zoo closed its gates.

Now, however, their lives have changed beyond all recognition as the two lions and three lionesses have been given new homes in the a big cat sanctuary in South Africa, all thanks to the effort and hard work of a not-for profit organisation called Four Paws.

When the zoo closed, the lions were left behind in a small concrete enclosure that was totally unsuited to their needs. Not one blade of grass did these magnificent creatures have, when they should really be enjoying a life in their natural surroundings, enjoying grass and other vegetation with trees to give shade from the sun.

It seemed like an impossible dream until Four Paws got to work and, after several months, their workers were able to gain approval to move those five and another from the Netherlands to the Lionnrock Sanctuary in South Africa.

On the Four Paws Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/fourpaws.org, it says: “Before the journey began, the five lions underwent veterinary checks under anaesthesia. All five are in good health and ready for the long journey to South Africa. We will transfer them by car to Frankfurt International Airport, where they will departure on a cargo flight to Johannesburg. It is a long journey – but worth the effort. In less than 48 hours, these five lions will finally be in a species-appropriate home. They will feel the grass underneath their paws, will smell the fresh African air and will enjoy the first warm rays of the South African spring sun.

Now, the lions which were all born in captivity, are treading African soil in the land of their ancestors, and from the videos available on Facebook, they are doing pretty well on it.

The lion from the Netherlands was already in the care of Four Paws having been rescued from its life in Italy. There it had started life being photographed with tourists before being trained to perform. During one performance, there was an accident which led to hi losing his tail.

It would not be feasible to release any of these proud ‘Kings of the Jungle’ into the wild. In fact, it would be quite cruel because, having been captive since birth and used to being fed, they have not learnt the skills needed to hunt their prey or to survive without the help of man.

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Two days to go until we head for better weather

rainy day

Dateline: 24th October 2015.  It’s a cold, wet and quite miserable Saturday in what passes for autumn in North Wales; actually, not only here but across the UK generally the weather outlook is no better,

In fact, yesterday a storm warning was in place for this weekend and into next week and, although nothing at all like the scale of Hurricane Patricia, meteorologists were predicting winds of up to 60mph, heavy rain and, in mountainous areas, snow at higher levels. Today, though, the forecasts have become less extreme but still very wet and cold.

Still the spirit in our home is really upbeat, despite what the weather is doing outside, as we are spending our last weekend here before setting sail on Tuesday to cross the Atlantic aboard Royal Caribbean’s luxurious cruise line Anthem of the Seas.

Following a week at sea, we will view the New York City skyline and then see the city grow larger as we approach before docking in Port Liberty. Actually, I wonder if you realise that the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island is not in New York at all. In fact, geographically, it’s in the neighbouring state of New Jersey.

Anyway, once we leave the ship, Lisa and I are spending nearly 10 days touring the north-eastern states of Massachusetts, New York (the state, not the city this time), Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Being born and growing up in the city, in the Bronx to be exact, Lisa has an everlasting attachment to it and she can hardly wait to show me more of the area. We started my tour last December when we stopped off in New York City on the way back from our trip to Hawaii, now it’s time for part 2.

This time, of course, apart from a brief visit to the UK to collect Pooka and Prissy from the cattery and then wish them bon voyage on their overland journey, we will be flying to Spain to start the newest chapter in our lives in our new home.

And the weather here today just redoubles the feeling that we have made the correct decision when choosing to move to be close, well just a 10 minute drive, to the Mediterranean. The area has an average 320 days of sunshine a year. Actually, neither during the crossing of the Atlantic nor on our NE America holiday, do we expect to enjoy the best of weather conditions. It won’t be until we reach Spain exactly three weeks tomorrow, on Sunday 15th November, that we expect to see reasonable weather.

Some people have asked about how the sunny weather will affect my MS. It is true that both hot and cold do have an effect but we are all different. Some people cannot take the heat, some find the cold difficult and others don’t like either but just feel happier somewhere in the middle. I have found that it is the changing temperatures that have the most negative effects for me. When we visited Spain in April and May, I found that my condition improved a little. Longer sunshine means more vitamin D, which is something else that’s good for fighting MS.

I’ll keep you up to date on developments.

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Patricia hits Mexico while UK is on ‘storm alert’

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UPDATE: Hurricane Patricia has made landfall in Mexico’s Jalisco province in which major tourist destination Puerto Vallarta is situated. Hundreds of thousands of people are said to be in its path.

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Storms lie ahead. Nothing strange in that, it is just a difference in scale. As the British news media gets its figurative knickers in a twist (USA translation ‘panties in a bunch’) about the country being on storm alert, the people of Mexico are facing the threat of a hurricane said to be the strongest ever in either the eastern Pacific or the Atlantic.

Apparently, shock horror, Britain is bracing itself to be battered by torrential rain and gales that will accompany temperatures as low as -4C (25F). Well, that should give them something to talk about – after all the weather is one of the favourite subjects of their conversations. (And don’t bother even thinking about taking issue with me for making such a generalisation; remember, I am a Brit).

Wind speed alone puts these two events of nature into perspective as “This weekend will see 60mph winds while downpours will threaten flooding in parts of Britain.” That’s obviously serious headline news; well, let’s look a bit further westward. There we can see that Hurricane Patricia, has sustained wind speeds of up to 200mph. Now, that IS a storm.

Hurricane Patricia has been designated as a category 5, the worst possible. Its power is similar to that of Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 dead or missing in the Philippines two years ago, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation.

So, while the British ‘brace’ themselves for a supposedly wintry storm, those unfortunate enough to be living in the path of Hurricane Patricia have been warned by the US Hurricane Center to expect it to make a potentially catastrophic landfall.

Homes are being boarded up, doors are being sandbagged to try and prevent flooding and people are rushing to stores to buy non-perishable foods as emergency provisions. A State of Emergency has been declared in Colima, Jalisco and Nayarit. An estimated 50,000 people are being evacuated from the areas considered most at risk.

The Hurricane Center, which is based in Miami, has also said that preparations should be completed quickly, warning that Hurricane Patricia could cause coastal flooding, destructive waves and flash floods. A powerful storm surge is expected to make a severe impact, followed by heavy rain over the mountains with the rainwater draining back to the already flooded lowlands. “First it will get the saltwater flood and then, as that goes away, the freshwater flood will come,” said one US television weather forecaster.

It is expected to hit the Mexican coast, somewhere around Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo areas during Friday afternoon or evening, local time, which means late evening or very early hours of the morning for readers in Britain or mainland Europe.

Talking of Britain, although the storm expected there is so minor in the scale of things, one thing can easily be predicted; no matter how accurate the warnings and predictions, neither the authorities nor the people will be prepared.

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How safe is the pound, dollar or euro in your pocket?

contactless

As you go about your daily business, you probably don’t give much thought to the safety of your money. After all, it’s safe in your pocket- isn’t it? Well, no it isn’t.

What’s more, it is no use checking to see if your wallet is still there. It will be. And if you look inside, all your cash and credit cards, in fact everything, is still where you put them. So, you are safe, your pocket has not been picked. Relief.

Whoa, not so fast. What about that guy who bumped into you? Ok, he didn’t ‘lift’ your wallet but wasn’t his contact with you a little uncomfortable, maybe a bit longer than you thought necessary? If so, you might just have fallen victim to the latest hi-tech street crime – charging fake sales to your contact less credit or debit card.

Such cards are now being issued as a matter of routine as a service of customers, with the supposed advantage of making purchasing easier. But it has also opened the way for a whole new type of theft. Have you got a card with the ability to be used to make payments without contact with a shop’s card machine? If so, you could be at risk if travelling on busy buses and trains or simply walking down a street crowded with people.

The cards work by bringing it close to the card reader. They do not have to make contact and you don’t have to enter your PIN nor sign anything. True, contactless payments have a low limit, it’s £30 in the UK, but that’s not the point. Theft is still theft.

The story of one victim has been told in a computer security magazine, for whom he works, coincidentally. Its community manager says that £20 was stolen from him by using contactless technology to make a fake charge to his card.

Roi Perez told SC Magazine that a man bumped into him and stole the money. As soon as he could, says Mr Perez, he contacted his bank and reported the incident. The bank checked his account and found the £20 transaction. It has since been refunded by his bank, he said.

The fact that someone’s details can be stolen from a contactless card and used to make payments online has been public knowledge for some months, but this incident appears to be the first known time that money has been taken from a card, just as it would be in a shop. The possibility of the theft of a person’s details was uncovered by an investigation by consumer magazine Which? published in July 2015. Amazingly, one researcher managed to gain enough details from a card to use them to order a £3,000 television online.

Whatever bright spark thought up the idea of contactless cards, obviously not enough thought was given to security. However, all is not lost as it seems there is something we can do to protect ourselves. The simplest and cheapest method being to line our wallets or purses with kitchen foil, the sort you use to wrap your turkey. Apparently, this prevents any contactless reading. And there are also special wallets now on sale that are claimed to prevent such data thefts.

On the other hand, has paranoia set in? Certain experts think so and say that the most information that a thief could obtain is your name, the card number and its expiry date and that, they claim, is not enough to buy anything.

That’s ok then, the story cannot be true, we are worrying too much. Or are we? There is at least one major online retailer that does not ask for the three figure security number on the back of the card and even the Which? researcher managed to order that £3,000 television.

To check if you have any contactless cards, just look at them. Any that have the symbol shown in the picture, above, are contactless.

Perhaps the worriers are paranoid but, as one saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.

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Sex offences: Time to treat those accused fairly

Blind Justice

Blind Justice

This is controversial and is certain to attract criticism from one or more sections of society but it still needs saying. So, despite the vitriol that will probably be coming this way, it just has to be said.

In both the USA and the UK, to name just two countries, when an individual is charged with the crime of rape or some other sexual offence, the accused’s identity becomes a matter of public record. When reporting the resulting court case, the media is allowed to use the name and other personal details.

Even though the alleged perpetrator is presumed innocent until proved guilty, the identity and other facts are made known to the public just the same as people accused of other crimes. Is that fair? Well supporters of it say that justice must be seen to be done and not hiding the identity of the accused ensures that this is achieved.

That’s complete nonsense. If the defendant’s identity was protected until a ‘guilty’ verdict is reached by a jury, then the naming and shaming would be sure to take place and justice would indeed be seen to be done.

What makes rape and sexual assaults different from other crimes is the stigma attached to being accused. Even if a ‘not guilty’ verdict is reached, under the present system the stain of being arrested and charged with the offence is enough to have a negative effect on the rest of the life of that person. Meanwhile, the person or people who are the alleged victims, and who make the accusations, have their identities protected. That is unjust; the accused should be given the same right to anonymity as the accuser.

Then there are the cases being investigated and leading to trials in UK courts based on accusations about celebrities committing historic sexual offences, some dating back around 40 years.

It could not happen in the US, well not in 34 of its 50 states because they all have a Statute of Limitation requiring prosecutors to file charges within a specified time limit. The length varies from state to state but the effect is the same. Massachusetts has the longest – 30 years – but even that precludes offences prior to 1985 and most have much shorter limits.

Some people are calling for the various Statutes of Limitation to be scrapped. They say that the old arguments about fading memories, death of potential witnesses and so on are no longer relevant where DNA evidence exists. And perhaps they have a point there but the cases that concern me are these UK ones based on recent allegations of historic wrong doing. Several cases have been slung out by juries not finding the accusers to be reliable witnesses but some celebrities have been convicted and jailed.

The reasons for my concerns are that these criminal prosecutions are not proceeding on the basis of accusations made at the time but, mainly, on recent allegations of old supposed offences with the cases being concluded without DNA evidence. Careers are in tatters; justice may be being done. I am not sure.

Yes, rape is an awful crime and for the victim it is terrible – but to only report it years later and for it to go to court despite there being no physical evidence is, to me, unfair and unjust.

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