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24 October, 2007  
London Calling

Health & Safety takes the sparkle out of Christmas … Textbook assassination by Indiana Sneed … David Muffett’s law n’ order regime … Lawyer charged with theft of the Duke of Buccleuch’s da Vinci … Fingers pointed at legal profession as PI claims and fees leap

imageChristmas illuminations are not really a big thing in Australia, where it stays light into late evening. But in Britain, where the gloom descends at 3.30pm, the annual Christmas lights put up by local authorities add to the festive cheer.

This year, however, overzealous Scrooges are threatening to spoil the party and their weapon is the notorious Health and Safety law.

Councils are required by insurers to use specialist equipment and expensive procedures to test light fittings.

Lamp posts have been declared unsafe for hanging illuminations; lights cannot be hung across roads for fear that cables might break; and every light fitting must undergo a “pull test” using special equipment to make sure it is strong enough.

Many councils have abandoned the illuminations altogether. The cost of meeting the demands of insurers is making it uneconomic and unfun.

Christmas is not the only occasion that has turned miserable. Fire fighters in Bedfordshire, who are trained in climbing ladders to save people from burning buildings, have for the first time refused a request to remove bunting put up for a town’s Gala Day in July.

The Health and Safety rules require the local brigade to hold a costly risk assessment, something it is not prepared to do.

In Scotland, where they refuse to throw caution to the wind, they are turning the lights on. For Health and Safety reasons, Midlothian council left a disused school illuminated in case unauthorised intruders tripped over in the dark.

* * *

Leverhulme has just returned from a legal gathering in Indiana.

There was much talk about a law student who was arrested last week for firing 11 shots with an automatic weapon from his second floor apartment balcony.

He was aiming at an object across the road.

There was some degree of sympathy for Jessie M. Sneed, of Indiana University when it turned out the target was his text book, Law of Real Estate Transfer Finance and Development.

* * *

It was sad to learn of the death of David Muffett (The Daily Telegraph), a former colonial imageofficer in northern Nigeria who is said to have applied his skills in dealing with African natives to the teaching unions in the late 1980s when he was chairman of the Hereford and Worcester County Council education committee.

Muffett (pic) passed away at a ripe old 88. He described himself as a hard-riding bush district officer who allowed nothing to stand in the way of justice and good administration. The Daily Tele said he looked like a cross between Falstaff and Captain Mainwaring.

His name passed into the Hausa language and was used to explain that justice had caught up with someone. “Aka yi masa mafed” translated to “One did to him a Muffett”.

In 1987, as chairman of the council education committee, Muffett successfully sued the teaching unions for £48,000 after they called a strike without giving notice.

As Muffett was lighting up a cigar outside the High Court, a tabloid hack asked, “Are you anti-union Dr Muffett”? Prodding the journalist in the ribs, Muffett (who was six foot, two inches tall with a booming voice) replied: “I’m not anti-union, Buster. I’m pro-kids.”

In 1960, Muffett arrested and jailed a northern Nigerian tribal chief called the Tigwe. The chief had been so impressed with the ability of the local tax inspector to obtain money on demand that he decided to acquire the powers for himself by eating the fellow.

Muffett seemed less bothered by this “misdemeanour” than he was to protect the members of a visiting UN delegation. The chief was locked up until the delegation had passed, to put them he said: “beyond the reach of [the Tigwe’s] culinary aspirations.”

* * *

imageA stolen painting by Leonardo da Vinci called The Madonna of the Yarnwinder has been recovered by police in Glasgow.

The painting, worth £25 million, was taken in August 2003 from Drumlanrig Castle, the home of the Duke of Buccleuch (pic). It is the only privately owned da Vinci.

Four men were charged: three Lancastrians and a Scotsman.

The Scotsman in the frame is Glasgow-based lawyer Calum Jones, a partner at the law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing.

* * *

The results of the UK Bodily Injury Awards Survey were released this month showing that for every £1 paid out in insurance compensation for motor accident claims an additional 43 pence has been paid in legal fees. This is up from 30 pence paid in 2005.

For the past 10 years, the number of personal injury claims has risen by three per cent each year despite the number of road casualties falling by a fifth over the same period.

Not surprisingly, the finger is being pointed at the legal profession.

The director general of the Association of British Insurers, Stephen Haddrill, said that the average claim is taking two years to settle. He said too much money was being paid for exaggerated or frivolous claims and that £40 of the average insurance premium is now spent on lawyers.

* * *

The wife of an elderly High Court judge is reported to have said to her husband, “Let’s go upstairs and make love”.

His reply: “Darling, it’s either one or the other.”