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What is the cost of free speech?

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badger111LAST WEEK, Badger mused morosely on the limits of free speech. Little could he have known when he wrote his sally than events would unfold in Paris that reveal how little freedom of speech some are prepared to tolerate. A million trees have died and a million pens have dripped ink on the tragic events in France. Needless to say, the tasteless and tactless on the fringes of political thought, and yes I am looking at YOU Nigel Farage, have proffered up their opinions. As evidence of the depth of ignorance that permeates the right wing media here and abroad, Badger invites you to consider the case of Steve Emerson.

Mr Emerson, who touts himself as an expert on Islamist terrorism and national security on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, announced – as a fact – live on air that the city of Birmingham was entirely Muslim, and was a “no go area” for non-Muslims. Birmingham – according to the 2011 Census – is a city of over 1,000,000 inhabitants. It has an identifying Muslim population of 22 percent, with a Christian population of 46 percent, and 25 percent claiming no religion or not giving a religion. In the same interview, he claimed that in London, “Muslim religious police” beat “anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”

Now readers, the Daily Express and Daily Mail and Nigel Farage might want you to think the above is true, but it is – of course – hokum. If Mr Emerson is an expert on anything it is in making a fool of himself. Badger can visualise Steve Emerson brushing his teeth in nonfl uoridated water to avoid being taken over by the Illuminati and wearing a tin foil hat to defl ect rays from the CIA that might turn him into a space hopper. You couldn’t make it up, readers.

But Steve Emerson did. If nothing else, in his ignorance, Mr Emerson has added inestimably to the gaiety of nations. When one can be described, without a hint of post-modern irony, as “a complete idiot” by David Cameron, a man who cannot distinguish between debt and defi cit, then you really have sunk as low as you can go. Now, readers, Badger has had a light-hearted excursion into the wilder realms of political commentary so far, but the time has come to get a little bit heavier. The anti-pasta having been dealt with, we now come to the main course.

Badger is not going to offer an opinion on the murders in France. The waste of life speaks for itself. Still less is Badger going to suggest that events in France could not happen here. The same species of barbarity has happened in this country. What happened in France is, sadly, exceptional only because the initial victims were employed on a national magazine. No, readers, we have had barbarism here.

What Badger wants to talk about is how we live with what has happened. For as long as we consider changing our laws as a reaction to events in France, we are handing victory to murderers. For as long as we allow our government to adopt surveillance powers that will enable it to peek into every crevasse of our personal lives, we are handing victory to murderers. For as long as we consider changing our ways of life and giving up our freedoms because maniacs with weapons and a chip on their shoulders delude themselves they have a hotline to their god’s will, we are handing victory to murderers. It is one thing to wear a badge in sympathy with the dead. It is one thing to mourn alongside others in an expression of solidarity.

It is another thing altogether to change ourselves because others exist who seek to undermine the secular and plural nature of our society. Badger is unfamiliar with French satirical magazines, and does not have a particular wish to acquaint himself with them in the light of events in Paris. Satire is very particular and very parochial. For all Badger knows, Charlie Hebdo has more in common with Look and Learn than Private Eye. But satire, and its frequent accompaniment of investigative journalism, cannot continue and cannot exist in a society that allows every word, jot, tittle and selfi e to be trawled through by the government at its leisure because people died in Paris, or – for that matter – died in London.

Does the UK government think, for one moment, that the writers and cartoonists who died in Paris believed in a surveillance state? It cannot believe that. And, as it does not, its moves towards greater involvement by the security services in our daily lives are nothing more than crass opportunism. A card to play ahead of an election to appeal to that which is worst in us. It will create a society divided by fear and suspicion. That is no way to live, readers, even if you are daft enough to think Steve Emerson has a point. More surveillance will not create a free society.

The French murderers will win a significant battle if, in the endless and hopeless task of eliminating all risk, we allow ourselves to become less free. Badger does not doubt that most of his readers believe in a free society, where people of different races, creeds, abilities, genders and orientations can exist side by side – if not in harmony, then at least with some element of commonality. At the heart of the dilemma we face is a question we need to ask of ourselves. What we need to ask ourselves is not whether we are prepared to limit our personal freedoms , but how far we are prepared to allow the state to limit the freedoms of others. And then we should consider whether we would be prepared to endure those limitations on freedom on ourselves and on our families. Freedom of thought is inextricably linked to the freedom to hope: Badger hopes that we will not turn our backs on freedom. After all, readers, we are kidding ourselves if we think that if we all live in the Big Brother house we will never come up for eviction from it.

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

 

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Sergeant Hillier ‘died doing the job he loved’, says his heartbroken father

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THE ARMY SERGEANT who died after being injured in a live firing exercise, has been named locally.

The incident occurred at Castlemartin Training Area, and led to the death of Sgt Gavin Hillier, who was in the Welsh Guards.

In a post on social media, his father wrote: “Absolutely devastated to be writing this post, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“At 3.45am this morning I received a phone call that will forever change my life. My eldest son Gavin Mark Hillier was in a fatal accident yesterday in the army (the job he loved).

“Sleep tight & rest in peace son. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight and god bless, love your heartbroken dad.”

An Army spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on March 4.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

It is understood that Sergeant Hillier, who served as part of the Welsh Guards’ motor transport platoon, was due to be deployed to Iraq and had previously been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal by Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel in Chief, in 2019.

The tragic incident is the latest in a number of accidents at Castlemartin.

In 2017, The Herald reported that two soldiers died in a tank explosion, which a coroner ruled was due to a design flaw.

The following year, an Army captain was jailed in July 2018 after a 21-year-old soldier was killed by a stray bullet during an exercise at the range in 2012.

An investigation has been launched into the death of a soldier at Castlemartin RAC Range following a military exercise.

Police were called to the site at just before 10.45pm on March 4.

Sadly, a man was pronounced dead shortly after. Our thoughts are with his family, who have been informed of the incident and are being supported by specialist officers.

An investigation is underway led by Dyfed-Powys Police. Officers are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and MoD.

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