Friday, 19 December 2008

Christmas drink-drive campaign catches more than 100 drivers

MORE than 100 motorists have been arrested by Avon and Somerset Police for drink-driving offences since the launch of a Christmas crackdown at the start of the month – 15 of them in the West Somerset policing area.
The arrested drivers have failed breath tests or refused to provide a specimen, or were driving while unfit through drink or drugs.
With the Christmas party season well under way, police today reminded people not to drink alcohol before driving.
Supt Andy Pullan, head of the road policing unit, said: “There is no failsafe guide as to how to stay under the legal drink-drive limit, or how much you can drink and still drive safely.
“That is why we are urging people to not drink at all if they have a vehicle with them.”
Police have been carrying out high visibility roadside checks across known drink-drive hotspots throughout the force area and at the same time have taken the opportunity to provide law abiding motorists with some car crime prevention advice.
They estimate that officers will have stopped 10,000 motorists by the end of the festive period.
The crackdown is part of a nationwide initiative led by the Association of Chief Police Officers throughout the month of December.
However, Supt Pullan said although there was a focused campaign at this time of the year, the drink-drive message applied on all 365 days of the year.
Supt Pullan said: “Of course, it is recognised that over the festive period there is a greater risk, which is why we are putting extra resources in place throughout the next six weeks.
“But it will not stop there and our efforts will continue throughout the year.”
Anybody with information about drink-drivers should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where they do not have to give their name and could receive a reward.
In urgent cases where it is suspected somebody is driving or about to drive while drunk and thereby putting life at risk, people should dial 999.
  • Our photograph shows a roadside breath test being carried out by a police officer. Photo submitted.

Poison alert for pet owners on Quantocks as buzzard dies

PET owners are being warned by police to be vigilant after the death of a buzzard on the Quantock Hills which had been poisoned with a banned pesticide.
The dead buzzard was found by a walker on the hills. It was lying on top of a dead pheasant not far from a game bird release pen.
Post mortems on the buzzard and the pheasant showed both had the banned pesticide carbofuran in their bodies.
Carbofuran was once widely used to control insects in a variety of field crops, including potatoes, corn, and soybeans, and is known to be highly toxic to birds with just a single grain causing death.
Police said they believed the pheasant may have been baited to target animals which preyed on game birds, but they were unsure if was left specifically for buzzards.
Together with officials from Natural England, police officers searched the Quantocks earlier this month for any signs of the banned substance and to carry out safety checks on pesticide stores.
Police wildlife crime officer Sgt Andy Whysall said: “The indiscriminate poisoning of wildlife is a serious matter which affects all who use the countryside.
“Pet owners walking on the hills are advised to avoid contact with animal carcasses, suspect baits, pesticides, or pesticide containers.”
Natural England spokesman David Trump said: “Dogs have a tendency to pick things up while walking and some pesticides are fairly quick acting, so sometimes by the time owners realise their pet is unwell it is too late.
“It is also potentially hazardous to children and people in general.
“We want people to be aware and to report anything suspicious to the police.”
Animal Concern charity spokesman John Robins said bird poisonings were often difficult to solve because they took place in remote areas and the birds could fly some distance away from where they took the bait.
Mr Robins said: “We urge people to contact the police immediately and not to touch anything they find because it is evidence and it can be lethal.”
It is a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine of £5,000 to supply, sell, store, or use any non-approved pesticide.
The Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme investigates deaths of wildlife where there is evidence that pesticide poisoning may be involved and has appealed for information about the buzzard’s death.
Anybody with information should call 0800 321600.
  • Our photograph shows the carcass of the buzzard found on the Quantocks. Photo submitted.

EXCLUSIVE: Shock at sudden job losses 'to protect newspaper profits'

A ROUND of job losses in the past week has shocked staff at the larger of West Somerset’s two paid-for weekly newspapers.
The Newsquest-owned Somerset County Gazette has made redundancies in every department to cut costs following dramatic falls in advertising revenue.
The highest profile victim was the newspaper’s deputy editor Bob Drayton, who had worked for the company for most of the past 40 years.
Mr Drayton, who lives in Ilminster, received the MBE in the Queen’s 2003 New Year Honours List for his services to the newspaper industry and his local communities of Chard and Ilminster.
He began his career as a reporter on the Chard and Ilminster News, one of the Gazette group’s titles, and went on to be editor of the newspaper before taking over as deputy group editor in Taunton in 1987.
Another high profile executive to lose his job was popular distribution manager Courtenay Popple, who had been with the Gazette since it acquired the Star series of newspapers in the late 1980s.
The Post understands Mr Popple was told at short notice to clear his desk on Friday of last week and was not even allowed to tell fellow staff that his job had been axed.
One junior reporter on the paper also left voluntarily during the week, and the Gazette is said to be looking to cut one more from its reporting staff.
Mr Drayton headed a team of nine sub-editors - the people who put the editorial content on to the news pages and write the headlines and lay out the pages - and two more are expected to be axed, leaving a skeleton staff of just six in the department.
Earlier in the year, the Gazette shed many of its sales staff and also merged responsibility for circulation with the role of the paper’s editor Ken Bird.
Newsquest has also cut more than 200 editorial jobs since June at its papers across the length and breadth of the country and in Wales and Scotland.
The job losses have affected everybody from senior management and editors to editorial assistants and librarians.
Other cost cutting measures adopted by the Canadian-owned group include closing a £17 million printing plant, shutting some of its weekly newspapers, closing district offices, scrapping some editions of daily newspapers, merging the sub-editing departments of different newspapers, imposing a pay freeze, and non-replacement for vacancies.
A common tactic has been to hand out redundancy notices to large numbers of staff and to then ask them to reapply for fewer vacancies.
Across the world, Canadian owners Gannet has been making thousands of job cuts.
National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear said journalists and editorial standards at Newsquest newspapers such as the County Gazette were being sacrificed to protect the owner’s profits.
Mr Dear said: “The companies are not unprofitable and many major analysts expect them to remain so in to the future, so the slash and burn is not about saving an industry but about maintaining artificially high profit levels.
“Owners can no longer expect to fleece the industry to the tune of 30 per cent-plus, they are going to have to accept lower profit margins.
“If they will not, they should get out and let people who care about newspapers’ public service role take over.
“Instead of greater investment in quality online content, more localised coverage, and strengthened editorial teams, for years the vast profits of local newspapers have been largely shovelled into shareholders’ pockets, directors’ pay rises, and executive pension pots, amid reckless borrowing and poor investment decisions.
“Now, the very people who plunged the industry into this crisis by demanding such excessive profits believe the solution is to axe journalists and freeze pay.
“It is a false economy to put the ability to deliver scoops, quality content, and strong local coverage in jeopardy.
“Local newspapers in print and online remain viable and profitable businesses. We cannot stand by and see this profiteering destroy our industry.”
The union has also urged newspaper editors to work alongside their journalists to defend their editorial independence and integrity.
In an unprecedented move, the NUJ is planning a ‘jobs summit’ to co-ordinate action across more sections of the newspaper industry, which will be held in London on January 24.
More information about the NUJ summit can be obtained by emailing

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Holnicote Estate rural workshop destroyed in electrical fire

A WORKSHOP on the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate was almost completely destroyed by fire early today.
The alarm was sounded by a tenant farmer at isolated Horner Farm, near Luccombe, at about 9 am.
A fire and rescue crew was initially sent to the scene from Minehead, but on arrival the officer in charge realised the incident was much more serious and called in further crews from Dulverton, Wiveliscombe, Nether Stowey, and Lynton.
It is thought an electrical fault was to blame for setting alight the converted barn premises.
The fire quickly ripped through the 164 feet by 33 feet building, although nobody was hurt in the incident.
It took several hours for the firefighters to put out the blaze using compressed air foam, two hose reel jets and one main jet.
Approximately 70 per cent of the building was destroyed and machinery and tools inside the workshop were even more badly damaged.
National Trust senior rural surveyor Andrew Lawes said although a detailed fire investigation report was awaited, it appeared that faulty electrics were to blame.
Mr Lawes said: “Our insurers and loss adjusters will visit in the New Year to survey the extent of the damage to the barn.
“We are relieved nobody has been hurt and are grateful to the fire and rescue service for their efforts in containing the fire so quickly and preventing the spread of damage to other parts of Horner Farm.”

EXCLUSIVE: £1 million High Court patent case hangs over West Somerset employer

AN award-winning former Watchet company is jointly facing a landmark High Court action against it with the potential for damages and costs of greater than £1 million if the case was lost.
Choice Stationery Ltd, which was based at the Smithyard, just outside Watchet, and has since relocated to Taunton, is part of the Choice Media Group which used to own Quaywest Radio.
The company expects to be in court for a trial which has been set for next June, when it will defend an action brought against it by ink cartridge manufacturer Seiko Epson Corporation.
Whichever way the case goes, the result will have major implications for the way ‘compatible ink cartridges’ are produced and sold by UK firms such as Choice Stationery.
Seiko Epson Corporation has filed allegations of a total of 10 patent infringements by Choice and two other firms, Medea International Ltd and Ebuyer (UK) Ltd.
The corporation filed its first case against the trio in February, 2006, but has since settled out of court with Medea in respect of the six specific allegations within the legal action.
It is still pursuing Choice and Ebuyer for what it says are ‘patent infringements caused by their dealings in certain ink cartridges which are compatible with Epson printers’ and this is expected to reach the stage of a trial in June, 2009.
Seiko began a second case against Choice, Medea, and Ebuyer regarding a further four similar allegations in October of last year.
Choice produces its own brand of compatible ink cartridges, called Think, which it says offers 80 per cent savings on manufacturers’ originals.
In 2005, it introduced the ThinkPlus cartridge in an apparent bid to head off possible legal action by Seiko Epson.
Choice said at the time the new cartridge was the ‘first major patented innovation in inkjet cartridge construction since their conception’.
The firm boasted: “This is the future of compatible cartridges, and although more expensive to produce than past products it still offers a huge cost saving against originals
“With the original manufacturers fighting to regain their stranglehold on replacement printer cartridge supply by threatening legal action against manufacturers and suppliers of compatible cartridges, there are many competitors ‘selling off’ lower quality products to reduce stock holdings.
“Epson’s actions will force competitors out of the market, even some of the legitimate ones who cannot face the cost of defending themselves.”
The move, however, did not stop Seiko Epson launching its two legal actions against Choice, which are said to hinge on the use/copying of a patented cartridge design and/or the use/copying of a patented ink formula.
Seiko has already earned itself a reputation worldwide for ‘suing the pants off people who manufacture compatible cartridges on the grounds of patent infringement’.
Koichi Endo, Seiko Epson’s chief operating officer, consumer products operations division, defended the legal actions.
He said: “As one of the world’s leading imaging companies, Epson commits a significant human and financial investment to product research and development.
“Although Epson welcomes fair competition in the ink cartridge marketplace, infringement of Epson patented technology and innovation undermines this investment and provides an unfair advantage to those companies acting illegally.
“As such, we intend to protect our patents against any infringement and we continue to pursue our legal action.”
Choice Media Group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, was founded, and is now chaired, by Paul Andrews, who is also well-known a Special Constable in West Somerset.
It has combined with long-established Taunton firm Wessex Malthouse to offer design, office supplies, and printing.
Its group headquarters in Taunton was officially opened last autumn by MP Jeremy Browne, and it more recently moved into new premises in Minehead’s Mart Road Business Park.
Choice has twice won ‘Best Consumables Supplier’ in the Computer Active Awards, and Wessex Malthouse won the British Office and Stationery Supplies Dealer Excellence Award in 2006.
Last year, Choice was runner-up in the BOSS Technology Award for its investment in an innovative website.
  • Our photograph shows Choice Media staff outside their group headquarters building. Photo submitted.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Last rites administered for Woolworths jobs

THERE will be no Christmas cheer for staff of Woolworths’ in Minehead as the town’s store is set to close in the next three weeks, according to the company’s administrators.
Deloitte said today that failing a last-minute purchase of the firm, all 807 Woolworths stores around the country will close by January 5.
The first stores will start to close on December 27, with all 30,000 employees eventually losing their jobs.
Neville Kahn, a partner in administrators Deloitte, said some interest had been shown in parts of the business but the administrators were not even close to finding a buyer for the company outright.
Offers to take over the leases of around 300 Woolworths stores had been received from a range of food, clothes and ‘value retailers’, and Deloitte said it would try to ensure those losing their jobs were put in touch with the potential new employers.
Mr Khan said staff would be paid until the end of the month, after which they would need to apply for statutory redundancy.
He said: “It is a very difficult situation for people, particularly the employees, and we are trying to deal with it in as sensible a way as possible.”
Last week, Woolworths saw record sales as it began a closing down sale with up to 50 per cent off items - its largest ever sale.
And even larger discounts of more than 60 per cent are being planned in order to shift remaining stock.
The Minehead store will display a countdown in its shop window showing how many days were left before it closed.
Following the closure, some of the Minehead staff will be retained for a few days before their jobs go.
Woolworths went into administration three weeks ago with debts of £385 million.
Millionaire entrepreneur Theo Paphitis, one of the stars of BBC television’s Dragon’s Den series, initially showed an interest in buying the company but quickly pulled out of any deal.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Rescued tourism guide launched for Exmoor 2009 season

EXMOOR’S premier tourism guide, Exmoor Coast and Country 2009, was officially launched today, following months of hard work by the board of Exmoor Coast and Country Ltd.
The guide was rescued last year in a deal between the Exmoor Tourist Association and West Somerset Council following the debacle surrounding the collapse of tourism promoter Visit Exmoor.
It is distributed throughout the UK and is seen as an important publication drawing visitors from across the country to enjoy the delights of Exmoor and West Somerset.
Strong partnership working between the tourist association and the district council has been credited with saving the publication when its future was thrown into jeopardy after last year’s tourism season.
The official launch celebrations took place in Exmoor's highest village, at the Rest and Be Thankful Inn, Wheddon Cross, which has been refurbished by owners Eric and Julie Norman, with many key figures in local tourism attending the event.
Council leader Councillor Keith Ross said: “We are delighted that we have been able to produce the guide again this year, and we are pleased with the support it has received from local advertisers.
“Given the current economic uncertainty, it may be tempting to cut advertising costs but local businesses have chosen to support the guide.
“Tourism plays a vital part in the local economy, and Exmoor Coast and Country plays an important role in promoting Exmoor and West Somerset’s coastal area.
“Launching Exmoor Coast and Country before Christmas is great timing as many people use their time off to plan their summer holidays.
“We will also be able to use the guide to promote Exmoor at tourism trade shows early in the New Year.
“Indeed, with the pound at such a low against the dollar and the euro, there has never been a better time for visitors from abroad to come to Exmoor, and we aim to promote the area as widely as possible.”
Tourism association chairman Antony Brunt said: “We are really pleased to launch the 2009 guide.
“It stands out at shows and exhibitions for its excellent quality, which makes it very popular and gives high expectations for all those planning to visit the area.
“It is now up to everybody in the tourism sector to ensure those high expectations are fulfilled.”