Archive for the ‘Tim Minns’ Category

April 27, 2010

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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For Alec Salmond to believe that ANYONE wants to hear his incoherent ramblings on national television shows a supreme level of arrogance – even for a politician. It beggars belief that a man leading a party holding just SEVEN seats in his own country’s parliament (out of 59, if you’re counting) thinks he has some God-given right to offer any kind of comment on the direction of the entire UK. It is enough to make anyone sick. Now I have nothing against the Scottish people, who pay their taxes like everyone else and are entitled to fair parliamentary representation in Westminster – I, indeed, know better than anyone about the concerns of the people of Scotland, due to there being a strong line of Scotch heritage in the Minns ancestry. Where my problem lies is with these jumped-up, devolutionary types such as Salmond, who spent years campaigning for their own separate parliament, only to now turn around and moan that it’s not good enough because they don’t get a national platform with the three main UK political parties. Salmond’s whinge about the fact that, up until recently, he was only allowed to participate in the Scottish leader’s debate is a bit rich, to be honest. You can’t have it both ways, Alec – either you’re in or you’re out. Of course, now he’s managed to allow himself to part with a bit of money (a minor miracle), he’s somehow wangled his way into an upcoming debate on the BBC. No-one outside of Scotland cares about his views (and neither, it would seem, most of those IN Scotland), but here he is, ploughing away regardless.

The man is a joke, and his appearance will only serve to distract viewers from the core issues of this election, as well demeaning his entire country.

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There’s been a lot of talk recently over how newspapers have been supposedly “biased” against certain political parties in the run-up to the General Election. I can assure you that this talk is unfounded, and that all print journalism takes itself extremely seriously across the spectrum. I know better than anyone the need to remain impartial – it comes with the job. We respect our readership and would never pander to political point-scoring in order to sell newspapers. At the end of the day, it’s the public who matter – and I genuinely feel the public would benefit from change. It’s time for some fresh blood, fresh ideas and a fresh approach from a government untarnished by years of mistakes, as Labour currently are.

The Conservatives, under the positive leadership of David Cameron, are well-placed to offer the kind of change this country is crying out for. Of course, it is up to the electorate on polling day just which party they feel possess the necessary credentials to successfully govern through a challenging economic period, but what I would say is think carefully – is another 5 years of Gordon Brown really what this country needs? Cameron offers a solid platform for recovery and the Conservative manifesto offers hope across the board.  His message is positive, decisive and clear – real change comes from everyone across the land contributing to change in a certain capacity, which stops short of any governmental control per se, but involves everyone in shaping government policy going forward. It’s both an important and impressive message, which appears very much to delegate power back to the people of this country. David Cameron knows as well as I do the issues facing the next government. Knowing him, as I do, I can honestly say is a true man of the people, who, despite his privileged upbringing, is fully aware of the realities facing this country going forward. The reality is that this country is broken – society is broken, the economy is in disrepair due to Labour’s frivolity and our collective faith in British politics is shattered. Cameron is the only party leader who understands this and is, I believe, the right man for the job. I think he has the confidence and the dynamism to fix “Broken Britain” and take this country forward. It’s time for change. It’s time for us to face reality.

And from an impartial viewpoint, the reality is clear – there’s only one sensible choice on May 6th

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March 3, 2010

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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Regular readers of my column will know full well my views on the fat cats who run the BBC. Bloated, complacent pigs who love nothing more than to gorge on OUR licence money until their bellies burst through the front of their Marks & Spencer shirts. I’ve always hated the idea of the BBC. It has nothing to do with the fact they’ve never commissioned a single one of my ideas, nor the fact that I write in the printed media, which many refer to as a dying medium. No, I hate the BBC because it is frivolous and wasteful with OUR money. There is nothing I can’t stand more than irresponsibility when it comes to public finance. Those in charge should be accountable AT ALL TIMES. I myself know this better than anyone, having seen financial mismanagement on numerous occasions throughout my journalistic career. I don’t have any particular examples of this, but how many times do we open up a newspaper or switch on the television to see yet ANOTHER instance of public money being frittered away needlessly, be it by local authorities, NHS trusts or by the BBC?

Nearly a year ago, in this very column, I called upon BBC director general Mark Thompson to make sweeping changes after a litany of public finance misuse. I actually said that he needed to put the squeeze on the BBC’s output and that certain radio stations, such as the Asian Network and 6Music, should be sacrificed in order to streamline the corporation’s overall landscape. And what happened? He did just that. Good for him – and me. Who wants to listen to specialist music anyway? Specialist idiots, that’s who. I know better than anyone what it takes to create good, wholesome, mainstream output and I know that no-one in their right minds would want to listen to a load of random, indistinguishable guitar noise, or ghastly, so-called “rap” music (surely someone missed the “c” off the start of that?). As a broadcaster it is your responsibility to provide output which is both popular AND relevant. 6Music didn’t do that. Who cares about the latest Matmos single? Wouldn’t people rather know about what Craig Davids has been up to recently? Remember, this is PUBLIC money we’re talking about here – and the public likes Craig Davis, NOT unlistenable dross like Florence Machine.

I’ve long been of the opinion that the BBC should make drastic adjustments to its output. I know better than anyone, having worked in regional commercial broadcasting, that the BBC cannot continue lumbering along in such a dinosaur fashion. It needs to be streamlined in order to compete with its commercial rivals, who now hold all the cards when it comes to public taste. I would go further, if I were Mark Thompson, and cut back to just two national radio stations and two television channels. And I would do away with the BBC’s news output completely, as I, for one, find it particularly biased. OK, newspapers are biased too, but they’re biased THE RIGHT WAY. No-one can replace or recreate the wondrous experience, as the working man begins his day by opening the pages of his daily newspaper and absorbing the world within its crisp, informative sheets. Nor the swelling anger which erupts in the pit of his stomach as he realises just how bad its journalists believe the world to be, his working-class heart pounding in apoplectic agreement over the REAL problems in this country, such as immigration, the government and the BBC. There really is no substitute for high quality print journalism.

You only have to think back just over a year to remember who gave us “Sachsgate” – yep, that’s right, OUR BBC. And it doesn’t stop there. Endless telephone voting scandals, together with the recent outrage surrounding the appearance of pop group N-Dubz on Radio 1, clearly show how the BBC has outstayed its welcome with the people of this country, and is now in terminal decline because of it. You only have to open up a newspaper to see just how far this once-great broadcasting body has now sunk.

Things clearly need to change…

January 25, 2010

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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You may remember just over a fortnight ago how I carried out an undercover “sting” on a Dutch airline, smuggling on board a potentially lethal writing implement without detection. Well, in the light of this, and several other compelling pieces of evidence, the government has now taken the decision to raise the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe”. Having played a major part in highlighting fundamental security flaws in airports, I know better than anyone the importance of this decision and the reasons why it was undertaken. What may surprise many of you is that one of those reasons was the increased threat posed by women.

It beggars belief that women could ever be involved in something so heinous, so masculine and so ultimately destructive. What next? Suicide-bombing babies? Elderly cripples with a kilo of semtex concealed in their false leg? Where will this end? How many more questions need to be asked? Three? Four? Five? Or will we never find any answers?

The other factor which played a prominent part in the government’s decision was the fear that some Al-Qaida terrorists had trained women, who may not have Arabic appearances, to carry out suicide bomb attacks. Now this presents the very real threat of white, middle class women being involved in terrorist atrocities – an idea which, until recently, would probably been laughed all the way down the boarding tunnel. I know better than anyone the threat posed by white, middle class people, having easily smuggled a dangerous item on board a Dutch aircraft at the start of this year – something which you may remember me referring to at the start of this article. Mind you, I was most probably too shrouded by the cloud from their funny cigarettes for them to have noticed. And even if they had they’d probably be too busy eating biscuits and crisps to bother apprehending me.

In all honesty, although it was the right decision to escalate the threat level, the government could have noticed this a lot sooner. If I can effortlessly smuggle a weapon on board a commercial flight, then how many others could have already done something similar? How many flights could this have conceivably occurred on? How many pens in how many pockets will it take for anyone to face up to the very real threat of white middle class terrorism?

It makes my blood run cold to think of how many potentially dangerous items have been innocently taken on board flights over the last few years. It only takes one passenger to flip, to lose a vital part of their faculty due to the altitude and perform an act so far removed from civilized society it doesn’t bear thinking about. And the fact that something like this could involve a woman is genuinely terrifying. No doubt this woman would be “in love” with one of these people, brainwashed by the alluring and hypnotic power of a highly-trained Al-Qaida “soldier”. Her moral compass would be distorted so much that she would eventually turn her back on her wealthy (and no doubt frantic) family and think nothing of indulging in an evil act hitherto completely incongruous with her background. So spellbound would she be that, to her, it would represent the greatest act of love one person could perform. By this point it would be too late and the terrorist lowlife (whom I would be more than happy to impale with a garotte spike) will have easily achieved their warped aims, and no doubt will laugh in the face of the powerless British authorities.

How low will the Al-Qaida eventually stoop? Allah only knows, but I know one thing – better than anyone, in fact – security must be STEPPED UP in order to prevent this FEAR from becoming a REALITY.

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Congratulations to Denise Van Outen and her husband Lee Meade on the birth of their first child. Knowing them both as I do, I know how wonderfully overjoyed they will be feeling right now. I know better than anyone that Denise will make a fantastic mother and I’d like to be the first to wish her, Lee and “Teapot” all the best for the future.

“Teapot”, by the way, came from when they had dinner at my place towards the end of last year. I suggested to Denise that they use an alias for their baby when it was born, because it would be fun and also it would provide a clever way to retain some privacy from the press (the other reason was that they didn’t have a proper name in mind at this point). I told her to name the first thing she saw, which in this case just happened to be a teapot. Luckily, with my help, they’ve now thought of a name. Unfortunately for you, you’ll just have to wait to find out what it is – I already know, of course…

January 18, 2010

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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I don’t know about you, but for me Frozen Britain has shown up everything that is wrong with this country. Schools closed, factories closed, gas supplies critically low, no snow ploughs and a lack of grit in more ways than one. Why this country came to an economic standstill over a few inches of snow, I’ll never know. But I do know one thing better than anyone – it CANNOT be allowed to happen again.

I myself know better than anyone how important it is for local councils to clear roads quickly and efficiently so that Britain’s workforce can function at full capacity. Indeed, I myself actually suffered from our council’s incompetence as I was forced to wait indoors for SEVERAL HOURS – missing an important meeting in the process – before our road was eventually made safe enough to drive on. Had I been in charge of the operation I would have made sure that salt and grit stocks were ADEQUATE enough to cope with this adverse weather, and I would have made sure several gritter lorries were ready to go AS SOON AS this weather was forecast. It seems simple when you take a minute or two to think about the logistics, and it doesn’t take a genius to highlight these shortcomings in hindsight.

Airports in chaos, rail networks ground to a halt (because of “iced up lines”, apparently. No, me neither.) – how on earth could all this be allowed to happen after – and let’s be honest here – a light sprinkling of snow? Countries such as Finland and Sweden have far worse winters than this EVERY YEAR, and they make DAMN SURE they’re adequately prepared. Britain gets a winter like this once every 30 years and the whole nation goes into tailspin. We are a laughing stock among our European counterparts, and for good reason. This country is a joke, and one that is no longer funny.

Another tragic thing about this weather, aside from the deaths, is how it has thrown up the kind of slackers who love nothing more than skiving at home in front of Jeremy Kyle rather than getting to work. Although there are no actual examples of this, you can pretty much fill in any blanks – and whilst I don’t have access to the audience figures for the last two weeks of that show, I wouldn’t mind betting they doubled over that period. Coincidence? You decide. I know better than anyone about the sort of households who love nothing more than to let the country work for them and how this weather has provided them with the perfect excuse for a lie-in and some daytime TV. I would guess that at least half of those off work COULD HAVE got to their workplace had they REALLY wanted to. It doesn’t take much to work that out…

The laziness of the average British citizen is topped only by the stupidity of the government and local authorities, who are only too happy to tell us all to do our bit to combat global warming – all the while COMPLETELY UNAWARE that the implications actually mean COLDER winters for Britain. Where has the preparation been for THAT? I know better than anyone the importance of adequate preparation for adverse weather having seen for myself countless news items showing the devastating effects of this, day in, day out. To me, it seems that the authorities are more concerned with ploughing taxpayers money into dodgy Icelandic banks rather than into essential services and equipment which would almost certainly have prevented the widespread devastation witnessed across all sections of the media over the last 2 weeks. Although I myself am unfamiliar with the ins and outs of council budgeting, what I do know better than anyone is that taxpayers money should definitely NOT be frivolously gambled overseas by the kind of workshy idiots who probably make up the majority of people mentioned in my previous paragraph.

Apparently now we’re being warned of floods due to all the snow and ice melting in the warmer weather. Surely the authorities could see THIS coming? I mean, it doesn’t take much to work out that ice melts in warmer temperatures before turning to water – a fact which clearly eludes our government. What next? A Shortage of sandbags? Overflowing drains due to essential maintenance budgets being frittered away on recycling boxes? It just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Clearly, the real danger lies in the frozen thinking and melting minds of this Labour government, who, like the weather, this country will be only too glad to see the back of.

Man Undercover: Tim Minns smuggles dangerous pen on board Dutch aircraft

January 5, 2010

An Al-Qaeda could easily do this

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Undercover reporter Tim Minns has proven just how easy it is for terrorists to smuggle potentially dangerous items on to a commercial flight, by smuggling a potentially dangerous item on to a commercial flight.

Minns passed through Schiphol Airport (nicknamed “Schit-hol” by locals) carrying a retractable biro and boarded a jet bound for London just FIVE DAYS after the Christmas Day terror attack on another flight from the SAME airport.

“It could easily have been used as a makeshift stabbing device – or worse – it could have contained dangerous substances such as Zyclon-B or nitroglycerine for all anyone knew,” said Minns yesterday. “I know better than anyone about the need for stringent security measures at airports and in this instance they were sorely lacking. Even in the wake of the Detroit attack Schiphol appear not to have implemented any additional security measures, such as precautionary pat-down searches, which would have easily located the pen in my jacket pocket. The fact they didn’t even bother with such a simple procedure is very worrying indeed.”

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Mightier than the sword: This could be dangerous if shoved into a neck

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Although in this instance the pen carried by Minns was harmless, in the wrong hands – such as those of a trained Al-Qaeda operative – it could easily be used as a deadly weapon for stabbing on-board crew members, or for writing detailed terror plans in arabic or some other equally deadly language. The other potential danger with pens is that – especially in the case of the simple biro – the outer shell can be ground into a powder which can, in theory, be thrown into the face of a pilot by a crazed Islamic fundamentalist.

Had Mr. Minns been challenged or questioned at any point, being a responsible journalist he would have immediately revealed that he enjoyed crosswords and produced a newspaper to support this. However, Mr. Minns was never apprehended at any time during the check-in procedure and had easily managed to graffiti two lavatory cubicles by the time he boarded. Fortunately, Minns’ graffiti consisted of nothing more than light swearing on this occasion, although the obvious fear is that a Taliban soldier COULD HAVE used this particular medium to plan terrorist attacks IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE.

“Clearly Schiphol has some questions to answer here,” declared Minns last night. “We cannot stop pen users from travelling but equally these items have to be able to be detected because a terrorist could get through security with them. I know better than anyone the damage a pen can do to human flesh and over five years ago I actually called for the use of body and internal scanners in ALL airports as a matter of urgency. This would help especially for the detection of any writing implements hidden inside jacket pockets.

“Technology is not the only answer. We need good intelligence and proper profiling combined with sophisticated scanning. At the moment this clearly isn’t happening. It shouldn’t take a reporter to highlight these security flaws – these measures should be in place already.”

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We get the point: Minns with pen outside Schiphol Airport

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Items such as pens, which are designated as sharp objects, should not be taken on board unless the passenger can prove he or she needs them for crosswords, or at the very least a Sudoku puzzle. Pens are often provided on board specifically for this purpose, although many are of inferior quality prompting a number of passengers to carry their own.

If not declared, security staff are expected to find them and then demand that the passenger tells the truth about their intended use. Staff are then expected to pick up on micro-signals to determine whether the passenger is lying or not.

The pen which Mr. Minns was carrying could have contained a number of EXPLOSIVE agents in its cartridge, but luckily didn’t. These explosive agents could then have been combined with another theoretical substance, which in theory could possibly have set light to a theoretical pair of trousers in a similar way to those of Detroit bomber Umar Abdulmutallab. This may appear highly unlikely given the circumstances described in this particular investigation, but that doesn’t mean it cannot happen – and for that reason many passengers should be SCARED.

To reiterate the point yet again, Mr. Minns was stunned at how easy it was to breach Schiphol security as he retraced Abdulmutallab’s footsteps last Wednesday COMPLETELY UNNOTICED. “No-one even saw the pen or bothered to ask me about it. I even left the top part of it protruding from my pocket to make it as obvious as I could, but nobody there was even remotely suspicious.”

Minns simply walked through unchallenged.

It is important to make clear that at no point did Tim Minns or his travelling companion attempt to evade security or break the law.

November 9, 2009

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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I see the Press Complaints Commission has dismissed recent allegations of phone tapping against the News Of The World newspaper. I’m glad that common sense has prevailed and that the good gentlemen (and ladies) of the press are able to go about their business once again. Even though I don’t work for that particular newspaper I know better than anyone how much of a landmark this ruling is in the wider field of tabloid journalism, being a journalist myself. It is important for newspapers to have the freedom to use any method (within reason) that they deem fit to help bring items of importance to the public at large. I can’t see how stifling members of our profession – whether by unnecessary imprisonment in the case of my good friend Clive Goodman, or through the enforced resignation of another friend of mine, Andy Coulson – can help matters.

Now I must make clear that I don’t for a moment agree with what Goodman did back in 2007 – phone-tapping members of the Royal Family (or anyone, for that matter) is a gross intrusion of privacy, something which I myself know better than anyone. After the break-up of my first marriage I believe to this day that my phone line was being recorded, though I could never prove this at the time. My point is that it’s not a particularly nice situation for anyone to experience, and in that particular case Goodman and the private investigator Glen Mulcaire clearly overstepped the mark.

Goodman – who is, as his name suggests, a good man – made an honest mistake in employing a private investigator to hack into the phone lines of Royal Family members. I’m not disputing that for a moment. I know better than anyone that the Royal Family have aides, and that these aides are the people you go to when you need information regarding any Royal. You certainly don’t invade their privacy by intercepting phone messages or listening into their private conversations. With that said, however, I feel that the judgement in their case was a clear breach of human rights which only served to suppress the press’s entitlement to free speech.

It is not the place of the courts to pass judgement on the press – any cases of malpractice involving journalists should always go through the correct channels, i.e. the Press Complaints Commission. It is then up to the PCC to decide whether the newspaper in question should publish a printed apology or not, depending on the severity of the crime. Thankfully, in this most recent case it did the sensible thing and rightly dismissed the allegations out of hand.

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My heart goes out to the poor woman who this week suffered the indignity of having her surname misspelt by the Prime Minister as he rushed out an obligatory letter of condolence after her son was killed in Afghanistan. The scribbled note from Gordon Brown contained several basic grammatical errors and was probably written on the back of a receipt whilst he was down the pub for all we know. Being a journalist, I know better than anyone about the importance of atention to detail, as our written words affect the views of millions on a daily basis. It is important not to make fundemental errors in any story because it devalues the point we are trying to make. And the point here is that the Prime Minister has screwed up big time, defiling the memory of a brave young soldier.

Now I don’t know all the facts surrounding this case, but it seems pretty clear to me that Mr. Brown had other things on his mind at the time he wrote his “letter”. Perhaps he was too busy thinking about buying himself a personality on eBay, or possibly working out how to close his mouth between sentences. Whatever happened, the fact still remains that he took his eye off the ball with devastating consequences. Had I been in the Prime Minister’s position I would have made sure I had spelled their family name correctly, although I wouldn’t have sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place – but that’s beside the point. It seems so obvious when you think about it, so why did Brown make such a heinous error of judgement? I know better than anyone how annoying it is to have your name misspelt at the best of times (yes, BBC, I’m talking about you – it’s MINNS with two N’s, by the way – just so you know) – let alone how terribly that sort of fundamental error can be compounded in times of grief.

I only hope that Gordan Brown has learnt a lesson from all this…

October 21, 2009

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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Greater Manchester Police have blundered once again in letting an armed gang of criminals escape the scene of a crime and further threaten the public at large. How many times do we see this happen? Time and again these lawless scumbags are allowed to ride roughshod over law-abiding members of society completely unchallenged, most likely because police officers are too busy filling in forms as opposed to upholding the safety of the British public. This is yet another example of the police force being stifled by unnecessary levels of bureaucracy, something which I myself know better than anyone, having previously worked in an advisory capacity with the police.

I don’t know the full facts of this particular case, but in my understanding it appears that a video has been released showing 3 men armed with crowbars attempting to rob a security van before running over a police officer as they fled the scene in a black BMW. The officer in question fortunately only sustained a suspected broken leg and ankle, though the case is now being treated as attempted murder.

How the police managed to let this situation escalate to the point where a simple robbery has now become an unsolved attempted murder is completely beyond me. Where was the backup? Why was this policeman only flanked by two CSOs and not by proper trained officers? Why didn’t they block the path of the BMW with the patrol car instead of trying to apprehend these armed suspects on foot? These are all basic flaws which I know better than anyone having observed alongside the police on numerous occasions.

I know better than anyone about the spiralling rate of crime in this country. The statistics on violent crime are a damning indictment on the state of modern Britain and show a staggering rise in cases year-on-year. Just how many officers do we have on our streets nowadays? I suspect it’s a lot less than before the New Labour administration – it’s obvious when you look at all the crime statistics, really.

Det. Supt Geoff Wessell of Greater Manchester Police was apparently reported as saying about the need “…to catch these men as clearly they have no problem in using violence to get what they want.”

I disagree. Of course they need to catch these lowlife scumbags – that’s just stating the obvious. What they should have done was not to allow them to escape in the first place. Now I wasn’t at the scene, but I know better than anyone about the need for greater police presence at the scene of a violent crime and I would have made sure there was adequate backup in place to prevent this from happening. I haven’t seen the video yet, but it seems clear to me that certain protocols weren’t followed correctly at the scene of the crime. How else would these thugs have escaped otherwise?

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Having watched Whitney Houston’s performance on X-Factor last Sunday, I think it’s pretty clear she must have been on something, as she just didn’t look right to me. I don’t know the facts surrounding her rehabilitation from the dangerous world of hard drugs, but I do know better than anyone about the high levels of drug use in showbusiness, having been witness to much of it myself. I know how difficult it can be for showbiz performers to tear themselves away from the seedy underworld of class A drugs, which are always so readily available to them in plentiful supply.

Whitney gave a reasonable vocal performance despite a “wardrobe malfunction” midway through, but I think anyone could see from her confusing interview with host Dermot O’Leary that her troubles are far from over. To me, it looked like she was on cocaine because she was fidgety and unable to focus her eyes. These are tell-tale signs of cocaine use, which I myself know better than anyone having seen numerous media professionals use this substance over the years. Her heart must have been racing throughout, as this is another known side-effect of cocaine use – this would also explain why her dress-strap broke loose during the performance.

Now I’ve never met Whitney before, but having witnessed several newspaper articles detailing her struggles over the last few years it looked as though she’d go the way of countless celebrities who have died through their seedy and debauched lifestyles. You only have to open a newspaper and you will see the likes of Robbie, Britney and Amy live out their constant struggles in the public eye. It’s only then that it really hits home just how close to death these people really are. If Whitney continues down this perilous path, which I suspect she has, it won’t be long before her untimely death – and the world will once again be robbed of another shining beacon of talent gone to waste…

October 5, 2009

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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Staff Sergeant Kim Hughes recently told Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth about the need for “more troops on the ground”, as British forces were currently “stretched”. To have a man like Hughes say such a thing should serve as a massive wake-up call to the Prime Minister, who has ignored this issue for far too long. The reason Hughes gave for this was that it would allow the formation of a counter-IED taskforce to train ground troops better. Indeed, I myself know this better than anyone, having written extensively about the shortage of British troops in Afghanistan from as far back as 2006. In fact, in a column I wrote back in April of that year, I actually put forward the idea of forming a taskforce specifically aimed at training ground troops, having identified this need through my time spent working alongside the armed forces.

Knowing Staff Sergeant Hughes as I do, I can honestly say he is a man of great composure and integrity who gets on with the job in hand and never complains, no matter how desperate a situation he is faced with. I know this better than anyone, having had the privilege of being one of the few journalists invited to observe alongside his regiment at the newly-formed Camp Bastion in March 2006. Throughout my time at the camp I saw first-hand the kind of discipline, dedication and bravery that would put the vast majority of British people to shame. Although I was confined to the camp for my own safety, I was still able to witness what these incredible people went through on a daily basis – and I have to say it was a truly humbling experience.

One can only imagine what it must be like to be stranded in an arid desert, miles away from civilisation and battling daily in the face of the constant hostile threat posed by the Taliban. The emotional anguish of being separated from loved ones thousands of miles away coupled with the very real potential of death every day is something which most people would find unthinkable. Indeed, it was initially very difficult for me to come to terms with during my time at the camp. To see Sergeant Hughes’ regiment go about their profession completely unfazed by any of these things was a true honour and something which I will remember for the rest of my life.

The sheer power of the weaponry these troops use on a daily basis is awe-inspiring and towards the end of my stay I was privileged to become the first journalist invited to fire an assault rifle within the boundaries of the camp. For this manoeuvre I was required to wear ear defenders and an old S.W.A.T. helmet, as even this relatively small weapon possessed incredible firepower. I noticed that the “S” on the side of my helmet actually looked more like a “T”, though when I asked Sergeant Hughes about this he told me that a bullet had ricocheted off it causing the “S” to become misshapen, though the helmet was still perfectly safe to wear. He also told me that the soldier who originally wore this protective hat had since died in the course of duty and that no-one could bring themselves to wear it since. He stifled a laugh just after saying this, though he explained that this was an involuntary reaction to grief from which he had suffered since childhood.

I fully understood their reluctance to wear this particular helmet due to its history and I was more than proud to honour their fallen colleague, “Twatty” Tony Watt. I’m just glad my wearing of the helmet seemed to raise everyone’s spirits against the sobering backdrop of such an unrelenting and bloody war. It’s important to keep a sense of humour in such situations and I take my hat off to these guys for being able to find enjoyment in these unforgiving and spirit-crushing circumstances.

The enjoyment was short-lived, however, as the very next day a young soldier no older than my daughter was brought back to the hospital. As I saw her extensive injuries I imagined my own daughter lying on that bed injured and helpless and I became completely overwhelmed. It was damn hot in that tent and the smell was so putrid that I vomited into my hands and narrowly avoided several members of the surgical team as I stumbled towards the door. I’m not ashamed to admit that I sat outside and sobbed throughout the entire procedure, as I myself know better than anyone what it’s like to have a daughter. That experience changed my outlook on life forever and although I didn’t actually see anything they did, the surgical team can be rightly proud of their efforts on the day.

I certainly learned a great deal about myself during my time at Camp Bastion and I feel that I owe much of this to the impressive calibre of everyone I encountered throughout my stay. I am forever in debt to the courage and indomitable spirit of Sergeant Hughes and his comrades and only wish I knew of a way I could fully pay tribute to their wonderful hospitality during such difficult times. Their incredible guts and moral fibre make them a true credit to their country.

I salute you all…

September 21, 2009

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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Having been involved in BBC’s Panorama investigation into employees at Lloyd’s Banking Group advising wealthy clients about how to avoid UK taxes by channelling their money through China, it is now with some relief that I see HM Revenue & Customs are finally pursuing the matter based on the evidence we presented them. I, along with many others, spent months planning this particular documentary, which culminated in our now-legendary undercover sting that took place at the offshore branch of the bank in Jersey.

It was originally planned that I would pose as a customer at the branch with £4million to invest, but due to my extensive involvement in regional television there a few years ago, John Sweeney (who was fronting the documentary) decided to use a businessman called Tony Donnelly instead. Knowing better than anyone how crucial this stage of such an investigation is, I was more than happy to stay off-camera completely, as I was conscious that my level of recognition could ruin months of hard work by many of my respected colleagues.

We actually ended up capturing footage of a branch employee at Lloyd’s TSB Offshore advising our reporter about how income earned on deposits made in Jersey is then paid to clients via Hong Kong in order to “get round” the European Savings Tax Directive – something which I myself know better than anyone due to having lived there a few years ago. These practices were commonplace even back then and I knew of several people (none of whom I am permitted to name in this column) who took advantage of this loophole, so I was in a good position to advise on the overall direction of this part of the documentary from behind the camera.

I also advised John and his team that Northern Rock were doing something similar in Guernsey and that it may be worth expanding the investigation to include them too, seeing as they were now, somewhat ironically, owned by the taxpayer. John was keen to investigate this avenue and we managed to add this to that section of the programme, despite it being done at the last minute.

I’d like to use this opportunity to thank the tireless work and dedication of everyone involved in the documentary, especially John Sweeney who did an incredible job throughout – often under difficult circumstances.

I hope that HMRC appreciate our efforts.

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Congratulations to my friend Simon Cowell on another ratings-busting series of X-Factor. That man knows how to put on a good show and I know better than anyone exactly what X-Factor means to him.

I remember we spoke shortly after the second series of Pop Idol had finished and he said that, although it had been massively successful, he sensed that the public wanted something fresher with a more wide-ranging appeal. I made an off-the-cuff remark about how it might be a good idea to have, say, three categories – over 25s, 16-24s and groups – and that you could retain a judging panel of three industry professionals, each of whom could act as a “mentor” for one of those categories.

I knew better than anyone that the public wanted more variety from these shows, as I had spoken with several other journalists who all said the same. Simon told me he thought it was a good idea and that he would think about a way in which he could make it into a marketable franchise, with a view to replacing Pop Idol. The rest, as they say, is history…

I’m glad Simon’s still doing well and I’m also pleased that he tried out the live audience idea, too. I had a chat with him from the front row on the recent series of Britain’s Got Talent and I told him that the live crowd added an important dimension to the show and that it might be worth trying for X-Factor. Looking at the current audience figures I think we might have been proven right!

I for one will certainly be glued to this incredible show.

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Message to Strictly Come Dancing: You may remember a few months ago how I withdrew from appearing on this current series because I knew better than anyone how the show would suffer from making unnecessary changes to the judging panel. You may wish to take a look at your latest viewing figures for confirmation. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

August 25, 2009

Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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The Home Office has now finally got around to addressing the problem of so-called “legal highs” and is proposing a ban on unclassified drugs such as GBL and BZP by the end of this year. And thank goodness they have, as it’s long overdue in my opinion. This issue has been around for many years but the governing parties in this country have always buried their heads in the sand over it. I know better than anyone the dangers of real (and fake) drugs as one of my first jobs in the media was writing for Melody Maker back in 1988 during the so-called “Second Summer Of Love”. I was actually among the first group of journalists to try the dance drug ecstasy (which had just been invented at the time) several months before it was released to the public. People in the club scene were buzzing about this crazy new drug that could make you dance all night, but in my view it was overrated. As a young music writer I went to several house parties around that time and, whilst there was a lot of ecstasy about, it wasn’t the only thing available by any means. GBL and BZP were probably the most popular drugs in the underground scene and those of us in the know preferred them over ecstasy because they were more exclusive and not so commercially available. The problem with ecstasy was that it became old hat the moment anyone other than music journalists took it, so whilst it became popular in the provinces very quickly it died here in London by the autumn of 1988 as the underground scene was already moving on by that point.

Whilst GBL and BZP were better drugs than ecstasy the downfall occurred just over 18 months later after a young person on the underground scene (another music journalist who was also a good friend of mine) died as a result of mixing them with ecstasy. I knew better than anyone on the scene at the time that drug cocktails would become more and more dangerous as scenesters searched for more subversive chemical highs over the years, and despite the constant warnings I gave him he pushed the boundaries too far and died in January 1990, aged just 22. I decided to write an article detailing his life and death in the underground dance scene and it ended up being published in the Observer magazine. It was my first major article for a mainstream publication and I was pleased that it maintained an edgy, underground feel throughout. I felt that, although I had lost a good friend, I was lucky to be in a position whereby I could communicate with the people of my generation about this issue without being preachy or condescending. Who knows how many lives I potentially saved by writing that article…

If only the government at the time had read it…

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On the subject of drugs, you may remember in one of my columns last month how I mentioned that the death of Michael Jackson was more than likely down to the pharmaceutical drug propofol. At the time there was a lot of speculation surrounding the exact cause of the singer’s death but I knew better than anyone due to my friendship with his doctor Conrad Murray. Conrad was always very concerned about prescribing sedatives to someone in such a weak physical state and I shared his concerns. I remember a long trans-atlantic phone call we shared a few weeks ago in which he told me how he’d lost confidence and was considering quitting medicine. I said to him “You’re as good a doctor now as you have ever been. Don’t let media pressure affect your decision-making.” He was all over the place and was close to tears. He asked me what I would do in his situation and I told him that I would administer propofol, but only in small regular amounts so as not to place too much strain on his heart. I know better than anyone about propofol, as it was popular in the underground scene in the late 1980s for getting over the come-down from BZP. It was a drug that we always used in moderation and you had to respect its’ potency.

He was thankful for my help and actually offered to introduce me to his brother Jermaine next time I went to visit. When I did go to see Conrad he was indeed true to his word and I met Jermaine several times during the trip and we became good friends, although tragedy struck when Michael died before I got the chance to meet him. I was touched when Jermaine invited me to Michael’s memorial concert which was a moving and poignant tribute to such a wonderful and influential artist.

I only wish I could have got to know him myself.

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Finally I’d like to offer my congratulations to England’s cricketers who this week won the Ashes 2-1 against the old enemy. You may remember that was my prediction in this column on the eve of the first test match. I don’t like to brag or anything…..