FEN DIARY: Jack Straw's surprise visit to Whitemoor Prison - and the start of mischief making

SURPRISE visitor to Whitemoor Prison, March, yesterday was Justice Minister Jack Straw. And it was he, of course, who made the not altogether unsurprising decision last year to ban comedy courses for the inmates. Unlikely

SURPRISE visitor to Whitemoor Prison, March, yesterday was Justice Minister Jack Straw.

And it was he, of course, who made the not altogether unsurprising decision last year to ban comedy courses for the inmates.

Unlikely that this was the first topic of conversation since Mr Straw is faced with increasing pressures from the prison about the large influx of Muslim inmates to Whitemoor. Latest estimates show a third of the 400 or so prisoners at the jail are Muslim, and this is causing increasing tensions.

Malcolm Moss, our MP, went to Whitemoor with prisons minister David Hanson last year but he wasn't on the guest list for yesterday. Mr Moss told me the first he knew of the visit was the day before when an official from the Justice Ministry phoned him. 

"The official told me he apologised for the delay in notifying me," said Mr Moss. "He notified me, but didn't invite me to join him." Mr Moss has been a long standing critic of aspects of the regime at Whitemoor and has frequently raised the issue of Muslim inmates at Whitemoor. "I think Mr Straw wants to find out for himself some of the issues affecting Whitemoor. The prevalence of Muslim inmates at Whitemoor is way out of kilter with any other high security jail in this country." Last year the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Ann Owers, said the growing unrest among staff at Whitemoor about the numbers of Muslim prisoners needed addressing urgently. br />  GOLLY gosh, I'm feeling refreshed and its all thanks to my chums who adorn the corridors of power in the council chamber. It's only been a few days into campaigning for next month's county council elections and already the snipers are out: Brakespeare's inbox is beginning to hiss with the venom of scores being settled and mischief making of the finest order. Two eminent councillors have already had to deny an alleged spat which, if true, would have enlivened the week even more. However with all Fenland seats up for grabs- and candidates of each main party in all wards- be assured these will not be your usual cut and dried hustings.  ONE councillor causing some fuss this week is Mark Archer, who claims he was offered the enticement of vice chairman of Fenland District Council if he declined standing as an independent in the county council elections.

His intended opponent, Geoff Harper, just happens to be leader of Fenland Council and he's denied any such offer was made.

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However Cllr Archer is expecting the furore to reduce his committee memberships at Fenland Hall and he will, almost certainly, not be invited to 'renew' his membership of the standards committee.

All is not lost, though, for its unlikely the powers that be will remove him from the overview and scrutiny committee- that wouldn't look so good when the Audit Commission pops in to inspect the council.

To lose the only independent councillor from such a committee would not play out well with the commissioners. The on-off-on saga of Cllr Archer deciding to stand as a county council candidate can be explained in part by the onset of a brain tumour. Left shocked by its discovery last year, he thought all politics would need to be put on hold but, happily, he's still fine and now rearing to launch his county campaign.  ASTONISHING that Cambs Police now employs the equivalent of two and a quarter full time staff working near on full time on Freedom of Information requests. Last month you can see why, with 60 requests, all now documented on the force's website. Some strange requests too, including a request about the number of serving officers who declare their religion as Jedi. Apparently Cambs has none, unlike a Scottish force which confirmed that eight of its serving officers listed their official religion as Jedi. In Cambs we also wanted to know about police officers who had been declared bankrupt, about bonuses paid to senior officers, stop and search, domestic violence incidents, crashes involving police, and the cost of training officers to use Tasers. So far this month the force has had no requests, to relief all around no doubt.  COULD an end be in sight to this eyesore of a wreck in High Street, Wisbech? I only ask since I spotted a for sale board up this week, and further investigation revealed its to be sold at auction on May 28.

The building has planning consent for a shop and four flats and the guide price is a relatively modest �80,000.

One cheer for now - two when it's sold and the third cheer when someone, at last, moves in.

 I LIKED the observation from organiser John Smith re the Wisbech dawn chorus event. "We didn't see any Blue Tits, apart that is from the pair the PCSO saw on the topless drunken female he chased across the park at 4am," reports Mr Smith.  WITH the floodgates open on wind turbine applications for Fenland, it's getting increasingly more difficult to remember which ones I've told you about.

But just in case you missed it, there will be a public exhibition at Doddington Village Hall on May 16 from noon to 5pm to show off five turbines planned for Burnt House Farm, between March and Turves.

The company behind the application says the scheme can power 5,600 homes per year- not that they will be Fenland homes. If the publicity is to be believed we probably generate enough power already for the whole of Cambridgeshire.

Fivestone Ltd, which is backing the latest scheme, tell me they believe the site is "well suited for wind turbines" and that this view is reflected in Fenland Council's recent consultation documents.

Try telling that to nearly every councillor at the moment who seem, surprisingly, unanimous on saying enough is enough and no more.  THE very distressing experience of Lynda Bubb of Manea, who lost her partner because of the mistake made by a German locum who administered a lethal doze of diamorphine, has been well reported this week on our website and as well in the national press. However it was the letter of apology that struck me as particularly harrowing, and not simply because of the distress caused to Lynda and her family. 

Inadvertently the erring doctor, Daniel Ubani, got right to the heart of what's wrong with the on-call emergency service by explaining how he came to be undertaking weekend duties in the Fens. Thanks to the Guardian, who published the letter, I'm offering this extract: it is miss-spelled through but I've tried to tidy up some of the spelling and punctuation from the original. Dr Ubani explained that "the circumstances arose from the confusion between the drugs pethidine and diamorphine, which was administered in a very high dosage, a drug I have not been conversant with, which we do to normally use here in Germany in call duty. "Secondly the day before my first shift, I underwent a tremendous stress situation , flying in from Germany, taking a car hire to drive to Colchester to meet my Job Agency for instructions. From there driving to Ipswich, River Side clinic for couching, after which I still had to make my way to the Newmarket base, arriving there around 4am 16th Feb. "These journeys on the highway were very tortuous, taking into consideration of the left hand drive in the UK in contrast to right hand drive in Germany and also not easily finding the directions with out navigation system. I could only have just about 3hrs rest before I started my shift. "My nerves were overstretched. I was too tired and lacked concentration and these factors played a major role in the mistake that occurred." Of this matter, I'm confident, we have not heard the last.  AND finally, just when you thought it couldn't get any better (!), comes news of the European elections being held on the same day as the council elections.

Our Fenland interest will be on Len Baynes, former branch chairman of UKIP, who is one of the leading lights of the newly formed and is now supporting the breakaway UKF party.

A healthy respect for litigation dissuades me from publishing come of the anti European comments made on the British Democracy website involving UKIP and its Fenland connections, but I heartily commend it to anyone looking for a little devilment.

All I will say is that the most recent comment invites one contributor to "please substantiate these claims or withdraw and apologise. You also have the standard 24 hours in which to comply."

As one correspondent remarked: "It's truly bizarre as far as I am concerned, but there you go.