Veteran garda (58) jailed for two years after child porn found on his laptop

A garda convicted of possessing images and videos of children being sexually abused has been jailed for two years.

Joseph O’Connor (58), of west Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to five counts of possession of child pornography at his home on dates between July 30 and August 2, 2011.

In August 2011, gardaí investigating an allegation of assault made against O’Connor seized evidence from his home, including a laptop. An analysis of the laptop found videos in the computer’s ‘recycle bin’ depicting boys under the age of 10 being sexually abused.

Two videos depicted boys under 17 being subjected to sexual acts with a male adult. There were also multiple copies of 16 different images of children sexually exposed or being subjected to sexual acts with other children.

After a trial last November, a jury convicted him of four counts. The jury acquitted him of one count which dealt with 56 duplicates of two images found on his laptop.

Detective Superintendent Colm O’Malley told the court, at a hearing last month, that O’Connor had been a garda for 25 years before his suspension from duty in 2012.

He agreed with Paul Carroll SC, defending, that O’Connor had a good work record and had not re-offended since these offences came to light.

Yesterday, Judge Elma Sheahan noted the severity of the images and quoted a previous judgment which states that even though these type of images are private “they cannot be created without a child being violated somewhere, often unspeakably”.

She said his position as a garda meant his offending brought that organisation into disrepute and placed his culpability at a high level. Against that, she said, a term of imprisonment will bring an additional hardship because of this position.

A psychologist report placed O’Connor at a low risk of re- offending but Judge Sheahan said it was difficult to take this into consideration as there was no acceptance of responsibility and no willingness to engage in therapy.

She set a headline sentence of three-and-a-half years which she reduced to two years after taking into consideration O’Connor’s position as a garda and the support of his family.

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‘Novichok’ scientist denigrated in Russia

A Russian scientist who worked on nerve agents like novichok says leaflets have appeared in his home town suggesting that he is a paedophile.

Vladimir Uglev denies that claim. He told BBC Russian that he removed leaflets from his office wall and a local shop. He lives in Anapa, a southern town by the Black Sea.

He was also questioned by police, he said. He is not facing any charges.

Novichok, a nerve agent, was used in the Skripal case in Salisbury last March.

Speaking to the BBC last April, Mr Uglev said he had created the poison used against Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city. It has been identified in Russia by the code A-234.

Mr Uglev, who has a family including relatives in the US, used to work at a state laboratory in Shikhany, in Russia’s Saratov region.

He showed the BBC’s Svetlana Reiter copies of the defamatory, anonymous leaflets targeting him in Anapa. Similar to police “wanted” posters, they show his photo, full name, date of birth and address.

The text alleges that “Uncle Vova gets to know children near schools, gives them toys”. It claims he messages children on vKontakte – the Russian version of Facebook – and “asks them to send him revealing photos”. “You need to recognise this paedophile,” the leaflets say.

“I tore down the first poster from the office door, where I work. Then a second from that same building. I did the same with a third one, at our shop – how many more are there?” Mr Uglev said.

Three police officers later came to his home, questioned him and looked for any photos of children on his laptop and tablet, he said.

Anapa police contacted by BBC Russian did not deny checking Mr Uglev’s circumstances, but said they were not aware of any official investigation concerning him.

The UK government says two Russian GRU intelligence agents – identified as Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin – carried out the Salisbury attack against Mr Skripal and his daughter.

Mr Skripal, who is now at a secret location, had been helping the UK’s MI6 spy service.

The investigative news site Bellingcat says it has now identified a third GRU officer linked to the Salisbury attack – Denis Sergeev, who had the cover name Sergey Fedotov.

The Russian government denies the UK’s allegations over the attack and denies that novichok was developed by Soviet military scientists.

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Thousands of UK kids skip school for climate protests

LONDON (AFP) – Thousands of schoolchildren went on “strike” across Britain on Friday (Feb 15) in a protest against climate change, with hundreds rallying in London’s Parliament Square.

Children of all ages chanted, “Save our planet,” cheered as flares were lit and clambered onto statues in the shadow of Big Ben to call for action and to raise awareness.

“As humans, we got ourselves into this predicament, it’s our responsibility to get out of it,” said 15-year-old Hal, who normally attends a school in Hammersmith, west London.

“As well as being a message to the politicians, it’s a way to spread awareness to everyone,” added the teenager, who was wearing his school uniform “to accentuate the fact that I should be at school”.

The protesters waved makeshift placards reading “Make Earth Cool Again”, “Don’t Mess With My Mother”, “We Stand For What We Stand On” and “I’m Getting Detention For This”.

There were similar protests in dozens of towns and cities, including Brighton, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford.

Many of the children said their schools had shown them leniency in attending the “Youth Strike 4 Climate” event, part of a Europe-wide movement that has seen walkouts in Belgium, France, Germany, and Sweden.

“I’m originally from Germany so my friends already did it, then I saw people talk about it, and I said ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to come’,” art student Emily El-Harake, 17, told AFP.

The teenager called on politicians to get Brexit sorted quickly in order to focus on “more important issues” like the environment.

“Young people are a lot more conscious of it, most people I know, we buy our clothes second hand,” added friend Erin Mantle, 16, who said their school was supportive of their strike.

“It’s the little things that we are doing, but it’s the government that needs to do the big things.”

‘STOP BEING SELFISH’

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said it was good that young people were “engaged in the issues that affect them”, but that the protest “wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for”.

The movement was inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl who held a solitary protest outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm last year.

Geography student Paige Reardon, 16, said her teacher was “happy that I was going” to the protest, and urged politicians to take action.

“They need to consider it’s their children and grand children who are going to suffer. Stop being selfish.”

Some parents were also in attendance, including Minnesota native Sally Hodgkinson, 42, and her 11-year-old daughter Isis.

“She expressed an interest, as did some kids from her school, and I thought it was a good way for them to get engaged,” said mother Sally.

“It has to be put to the top of the agenda.”

Student Hal said that social media was helping young people to coordinate action worldwide.

“It would’ve been a much smaller cause without it. It’s a really good thing social media brought all these people together.”

READ MORE STORIES ON CLIMATE CHANGE

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‘Italian Job’ thieves hunted over Wallsend shopping centre raid

CCTV footage of smash-and-grab raiders driving though a shopping centre has been likened by police to a scene from the 1960s crime classic The Italian Job.

Thieves used a car to crash through the doors of the mall in Wallsend, North Tyneside, before heading to the O2 shop where they broke in and stole phones and other expensive tech.

They then made their getaway and remain at large.

Unlike the iconic movie, however, where Michael Caine’s gang used red, white and blue Mini Coopers to carry out their heist, the real-life crooks used a black hatchback in their dawn raid at the town’s Forum Shopping Centre.

Police were alerted to the theft, which happened shortly after 4am on 29 January, when an alarm was triggered.

Releasing security film of the burglary, the Northumbria force said the scene “wouldn’t look out of place in the film The Italian Job”.

In a statement, PC David Hudson said: “The significant damage to the shopping centre and the burglary has caused substantial financial loss for the businesses involved.

“An investigation has been launched and I urge anyone with information, or who may have been in the area at the time and witnessed something, to get in touch.”

:: Anyone with any information should contact police via 101, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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Gucci accused of culturally appropriating Sikh turban

Luxury Italian designer sent white models down catwalk at Milan fashion week wearing religious headpiece.

    Sikh commentators and organisations have criticised Gucci for using turbans in a recent runway show, saying the fashion brand has culturally appropriated their religious headpiece.

    A host of models wore turbans in Gucci’s show on Wednesday as part of Milan fashion week.

    By Friday, thousands had shared messages of anger and disappointment that the brand had used the Sikh religious symbol for profit.

    Many of the world’s 27 million Sikhs – both men and women – wear the turban.

    It covers the knot of hair which followers of Sikhism allow to grow naturally out of respect for God’s creation.

    Most Sikhs live in India.

    The models who wore the Gucci turban were mostly of European origin.

    The New York-based Sikh Coalition civil rights group tweeted on Friday: “The Sikh turban is a sacred article of faith, @gucci, not a mere fashion accessory. #appropriation. We are available for further education and consultation if you are looking for observant Sikh models.”

    In a tweet shared by 1,500 people, India-based restauranteur Harjinder Singh Kukreja said: “Dear @gucci, the Sikh Turban is not a hot new accessory for white models but an article of faith for practising Sikhs. Your models have used Turbans as ‘hats’ whereas practising Sikhs tie them neatly fold-by-fold. Using fake Sikhs/Turbans is worse than selling fake Gucci products.”

    Several social media users noted that Sikhs are often discriminated.

    Diaspora Sikhs in the West were particularly targeted in the post 9/11 era, when followers of the faith were frequently mistaken for Muslims, and attacked.

    Tina Daheley, a British broadcaster born to a Sikh family, was among those who shared the story of a racist attack in Britain, which took place on Wednesday.

    An Indian Sikh man had been waiting at parliament in London to meet Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, a Labour Party MP, when an attacker attempted to rip off his headpiece and said “Muslim go back home”.

    There are more than 400,000 Sikhs in Great Britain. 

    “While Gucci sends white models down the catwalk wearing turbans, a Sikh environmentalist has his turban ripped off outside parliament in a hate attack. As someone whose family has been on the receiving end of this sh** for decades, this is utterly depressing,” said Daheley.

    User @kingkang3211 said: “Wearing a turban as a Sikh makes me smile, privileged & truly honoured. People across the globe battle issues & get bullied because of it. @gucci used the beautiful turban as a fashion accessory, the question remains why a Sikh man couldn’t model for them? We have so many Singhs.”

    @gurpycolors tweeted: “Appropriation! Sikh men are profiled and discriminated against every day for wearing a turban, yet when you put in on a white person, it’s suddenly fashionable and cool?!?!”

    Fashion brands are frequently scrutinised for cultural appropriation.

    Earlier in February, high-street retailer Zara was mocked online for selling a checkered skirt that had a striking resemblance to a lungi, a loose garment worn by men in South Asia.

    In 2017, Marc Jacobs featured white models wearing their hair in dreadlocks.

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    School children to strike over ‘lack of climate change action’

    School children across the country have swapped the classroom for the picket line today, as they strike over the government’s perceived lack of action on climate change.

    Eco-conscious youngsters are taking part in more than 50 planned Youth Strike 4 Climate protests in the UK.

    It is unclear how many British students will be involved in the walkout, but up to 70,000 are thought to striking across the world.

    The group Youth Strike 4 Climate has posted on its Facebook page: “The world is finally waking up.

    “Millions of young people are realising it’s now or never and are looking to take direct action on the climate action.”

    The group is inviting students in the capital to “come down to Parliament Square” and “tell the government you’re prepared to break the rules to tackle climate change”.

    Protests have also been organised in at least 53 locations across the UK, including Bristol, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth and Norwich.

    School children are expected to be taking part in strikes in 270 towns and cities worldwide.

    Zoe Bonnett, 14, will be striking in Bristol and has written a letter to her headteacher explaining why.

    She wrote: “As you may know, this Friday, hundreds of young people will take to the streets to display their passion for addressing the climate crisis and to demand change.

    “I will be one of them, and have been coordinating the strike in Bristol.

    “I strongly believe that far from enough is being done to combat the emergency that we are facing, and system change is needed.

    “The climate crisis should be top of everyone’s agenda, especially the government’s, because it is the biggest threat that the human race faces today.”

    The students are following in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl who held a month-long protest over the issue outside of her country’s parliament.

    But school leaders and Education Secretary Damian Hinds have warned students they should not miss lessons to take part in the strikes.

    Mr Hinds said: “I want young people to be engaged in key issues affecting them and involving themselves in causes they care about.

    “But let me be clear, missing class won’t do a thing to help the environment; all they will do is create extra work for teachers.”

    He said the government was taking “lots of action to combat climate change, £2.5bn is being invested through the Industrial Strategy to support low carbon innovation in the UK”.

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    Man (20) 'weeps' in court as he's charged with manslaughter of Kerry man

    A 20-year man appeared in court this morning charged with the manslaughter of a man in Co Kerry last weekend.

    Christian Fleming, of Mount Lyne in Killorglin, Co Kerry, was charged with manslaughter of Stephen O’Connor just after midnight and was brought before Killarney District Court at 10.30am this morning.

    Mr O’Connor (32), of Glencar, Co Kerry, died after suffering fatal injuries in a suspected assault in the early hours of Sunday morning last at Main Street, Killorglin.

    Mr Fleming, who wept during proceedings, was granted bail, despite the state objecting to bail given the seriousness of the crime.

    Sgt Micheal Quirke outlined the state’s objections to bail, which included the nature and strength of the evidence, which the court heard included CCTV and witnesses statements, and the likely sentence on conviction of life imprisonment.

    Gardaí also claimed that he posed a danger to the community given the nature of the alleged crime.

    Defence solicitor, Brendan Ahern, argued that Mr Fleming posed no flight risk and was not likely to interfere with witnesses, which gardaí conceded.

    The court was told that Mr Fleming was co-operative during a search of his home on Sunday morning and that he presented himself to gardaí yesterday by appointment and was interviewed four times before being arrested and charged with the offence at 12.23am on February 15.

    He made no reply to the charge.

    Mr Ahern said his client had put forward a certain defence to the charge during interviews. He also said that he had concerns about the clarity of the CCTV.

    Judge David Waters said Mr Ahern was not to go in to specifics of evidence.

    The court heard that Mr Fleming, whose family was in court, is a bar-tender in a Killarney hotel and comes from a good family. Mr Ahern said that a cash lodgment could be made to alleviate garda concerns.

    Judge David Waters said that Mr Fleming was entitled to bail on strict conditions including that he observe a curfew from 11pm to 8am when working and from 8pm to 8am when not working. He also warned him to have no direct or indirect contact with the victim’s family or witnesses in the case and be of sober habits.

    He must also sign on daily from 9am to 9pm, surrender his passport and give an undertaking not to apply for any travel documents.

    He must also reside at Mount Lyne, Killorglin and within 48 hours provide a new number to gardaí as his phone has been seized.

    Mr Fleming lodged €2,000 of a cash bond to the court and will appear again at Killarney District Court on Tuesday next, February 19.

    Mr O’Connor’s funeral was held place this morning in Glencar.

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    Business, politics and a vote to close Budapest's bars

    Government-tied business owners need not worry about closing their bars at midnight after low turnout invalidates vote.

      Budapest, Hungary – Budapest’s “party district”, a historic downtown area full of bars, clubs and restaurants, held a referendum to close businesses between midnight and 6am after years of resident complaints about noise and waste.

      But late Monday evening, the municipal government said the vote was invalid because of low voter turnout.

      “All of the rubbish, the vomit, it’s become unliveable here,” Judit Sakali, an elderly resident of the seventh district where the bars are found, told Al Jazeera on a recent February morning.

      Sakali said she wanted bars and restaurants to close at midnight so she could sleep. Noisy tourists have prevented her from doing so.

      Residents in the district, called “Elizabeth Town” by locals, came together to form the Livable Elizabeth Town group to organise themselves and document property destruction in response to rowdy partygoers.

      They often post notes addressed to tourists on the streets: “We understand. You want to have a good time, but you need to understand that … our streets are not your toilet.”

      Months of activism took place to get the referendum.

      Atilla Vajnai, a left-wing politician and resident of the seventh district, told Al Jazeera the efforts began as a way to placate unhappy locals.

      “Then, when they saw how popular [the issue] is, they began to worry,” Vajnai said.

      The referendum faced challenges at the local and national level. An unnamed party tried to stop the vote in Hungary’s High Court the week before it took place. The challenge was dismissed.

      In 2017, a commissioner said the district’s UNESCO World Heritage Site designation blocked the local council from making the decision. 

      Though a local issue, the party district’s fate was the intersection of politics and business in advance of April elections.

      Vajnai pointed to connections between bar owners and the ruling Fidesz party and the amount of money they make from these locales.   

      Tourism boom

      Tourism has spiked in recent years, partly due to an increase in budget flights to Hungary and Budapest’s growing reputation as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

      In 2016, the last year for which the Hungarian government has data, more than eight million tourists visited the country of 10 million people, the highest number on record.

      The bars of the seventh district, including the famous “ruin pubs” – housing complexes that had fallen into disrepair but were bought by developers in the 1990s and converted into clubs – are a big draw for Western Europeans.

      Though there are no publicly available figures for private revenue, the district brought in more than $25m in tax in 2016, figures from the Ministry for National Economy show.

      Many of the establishments in Budapest’s popular district belong to Prime Minister Victor Orban’s political allies, Antonia Radi, a Hungarian journalist who investigated bar ownership in the area, told Al Jazeera.

      These people view the recreational district “as a place which can produce great benefit”, Radi said.

      Closely connected

      Roy Zsiday, a Hungarian restaurant impresario, gave Orban’s eldest daughter an internship at his business in the seventh district.

      She now teaches a class in Hungary’s Corvinus University and often invites Zsidai to speak as a guest lecturer, Radi said.

      “They do not cover their close relationship at all,” Radi explained.

      The connections don’t end there.

      The Fidesz government has long been criticised for limiting critical media in favour of pro-government outlets.

      One such outlet is Origo, a former opposition media company that is now widely viewed as pro-government after the editor-in-chief was reportedly forced to resign after publishing a report on the spending of one of Orban’s aides.

      Istvan Szaras, the previous CEO of Origo, owns a cocktail bar in the district. Origo’s new CEO is Adam Matolcy, son of the Hungarian central bank chief Gyorgy Matolcsy.

      Balint Fulop Somlai owns another location in the district. He is the chief of the TV division of New Wave Media, the company that publishes Origo.

      Somlai took out a mortgage on the property from the NHB Bank, which is also connected to Matolcsy, Radi’s research shows.

      When asked about these connections, a government spokesperson said it has “no duty with district issues”.

      Looking to April

      The seventh district’s mayor is Zsolt Vattamany, a Fidesz member. Istvan Bajkai, the Orban family’s lawyer, is vice mayor and a parliamentary candidate in Hungary’s April elections.

      However, Fidesz does not have a majority on the district council. Janos Stummer, a member of the populist Jobbik party many view as far-right, typically serves as the swing vote to decide issues.

      Stummer is the politician who originally proposed the referendum in 2017, but he later voted against it, siding with Vattamany.

      On the national level, Jobbik has positioned itself as a populist alternative to Fidesz, focusing on raising wages for Hungarian and Eastern European workers, among other issues.

      Many say Fidesz has gone further to the right on issues of refugees and immigration, as well as adopting a campaign against Hungarian American liberal philanthropist George Soros, who funds civil society organisations throughout the region.

      For Vajnai, the left-wing politician, the local alliance between Stummer and Vattamany has implications for the April election.

      Fidesz is projected to win a majority of seats in parliament in April elections, but it could fall short of the numbers required to form a government on its own.

      Polls show Jobbik coming in second. A coalition between the parties could conceivably form a party.

      Jobbik members have repeatedly stated that a coalition with Fidesz won’t happen. Still, Vajnai believes it could.

      Though the referendum was deemed invalid due to low turnout, both Vajnai and Dori Garai, the founder of Livable Elizabeth Town, saw it as a success.

      About 80 percent of the votes cast on Sunday night came from the inner-city area directly impacted by the party district, and 78 percent were in favour of closing bars at midnight, Garai said in a statement.

      Following the referendum, Vattamany has promised to take measures to improve the lives of party district residents.

      Vajnai was encouraged by the Fidesz mayor’s promise to improve living conditions.

      In his view, a group of people were organised to challenge Fidesz, which made a concession. This shows “big power” shortly before the election, Vajnai said.

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      Garda probe as young man found dead in pub

      Gardaí are investigating the sudden death of a young man who was found unresponsive in a pub.

      The 26-year-old male was discovered in an unresponsive state in a premises in Greystones, Co Wicklow at 9.30pm on Thursday night.

      It is understood he was found in a serious condition leaning on a pub table, and emergency services were notified.

      Efforts were made to revive the man, who is from the Kilcoole area, and CPR was performed.

      However, he was pronounced dead a short time later.

      His body was transferred to a nearby hospital and gardaí are awaiting the results of a post-mortem examination.

      Gardaí confirmed that they are investigating the sudden death, but the incident is not being treated as suspicious.

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      West ups defence spending to keep ahead of Chinese tech

      MUNICH (REUTERS) – The United States led a rise in Western defence spending in 2018 as it moved to keep ahead of Chinese and Russian pushes into advanced military technology, a report said on Friday (Feb 15).

      And US President Donald Trump will likely press European states to spend even more at a Nato conference in April, the International Institute for Security Studies (IISS) said. European powers would together have to find an extra US$102 billion (S$138.53 billion) to meet his latest demands, it added.

      Worldwide outlays on weapons and defence rose 1.8 per cent to more than US$1.67 trillion in 2018 – with the United States on its own responsible for almost half that increase, according to The Military Balance report released at the Munich Security Conference.

      Western powers were concerned about Russia’s upgrades of air bases and air defence systems in Crimea – the peninsula it seized from Ukraine in 2014, the annual report said.

      Its stationing of an S-400 air defence system there increased Moscow’s reach in the Black Sea, where it seized three Ukrainian ships last year.

      But “China perhaps represents even more of a challenge, as it introduces yet more advanced military systems and is engaged in a strategy to improve its forces’ ability to operate at distance from the homeland”, it added.

      China’s stated ambition to modernise its People’s Liberation Army by 2035 was “supported by defence spending that has been on a relentlessly upward trajectory”.

      Slower Chinese economic growth had caused a slight deceleration in spending – but the defence budget still grew nearly six per cent between 2017 and 2018.

      MISSILES, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

      “Chinese naval capability is entering a new phase,” as it launched cruisers and began sea trials for its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the report said.

      Beijing was also improving its air force and pushing into new technologies, including very high-speed cruise missiles and artificial intelligence.

      Western states “still retain an edge over adversaries, but the gap is narrowing. The pace of change may mean that in the future, advantages – if they exist at all – may be held only fleetingly, before the other side catches up”.

      Mr Trump would probably keep up his pressure on Nato allies to increase their defence spending to 2 per cent of their gross domestic product, the report said.

      “As of late 2018, doing this would mean that Nato European states would have to find an extra US$102 billion, on top of the amount they currently spend,” it added.

      Major US and European arms makers that would benefit from any increase include Lockheed Martin, Airbus and Rheinmetall.

      The institute said there was a serious lack of transparency regarding military expenditures in the Middle East and North Africa, where known military spending accounted for 4 per cent to 11 per cent of GDP.

      No assessment was available for Syria, Libya, or”particularly opaque” states such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, it said.

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