Horsemeat Lasagne

29 01 2013

Horsey Horsey don’t you stop.
Found in Lasagne that tastes of plop.
Your tail goes swish, in beef you’re ground.
Giddy up you’re UK bound!

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I hate debt collection agencies.

23 05 2012

One of the reasons I decided to study law was the incessant harassment by debt collection agencies for debts I did not have or debts that were at best dubious failings by companies to do their job properly. Most “debts” were companies who had cocked up with cancellation procedures that had in the long run cost me money. I was left out of pocket and having to battle the Debt Collection Agency minefield. The rest of the DCAs to darken my doorstep were looking for a previous owner of my flat who didn’t leave any forwarding address and the door knockers and call centre staff would not believe I was not the person in question.

Out of the two, the latter were more frightening and there were times, steel toe capped boots were placed in my door to stop me closing it on the debt collectors. They wanted proof of who I was, in my home, and were threatening in how they went about it. Being pigheaded, I refused to show them my passport or driving license as I had no debt and was an entirely different person to the one they were after. In the end it was the police who dealt appropriately with the situation. It didn’t stop the phone calls, which continued 8 years for the previous owner.

These companies are vultures who rely on the fear of those in debt to do business. They present the debts in legal looking letters, often in a manner that suggests you are a step away from the high court. Letters appear to come from solicitors, although those you will deal with are merely administrators and not legal professionals. They deliberately plan letter delivery over long weekends and bank holidays, while giving you only seven days from the date of the letter to respond before they threaten court action. All this, regardless of its dubious legal position is designed to intimidate. It is important to remember with this 7 day deadline that for you it is date of receipt of the letter and not date of the letter being sent. A DCA will have to prove you received the letter from them, unless it is signed for recorded or special delivery this is near impossible for them to do. It is always advisable to remind them of this should they ramp up contact 7 days after the letter was printed.

The doorstep collectors above took it to a whole new level.

Of course debt collectors are generally exempt from harassment legislation, and they will rely on this fact when you complain about the five or more phone calls a day, the same number of voicemails and daily bombardment with threatening red letters. They don’t care or even want to know the story of how the alleged debt came to be or indeed that the original creditor (company providing the service) may have been entirely wrong in claiming it was a debt. The creditor/original company have sold on the debt usually to an independent company and from that point on its up to you to prove that it’s them and not you in the wrong.

The “debtor” has very little safeguard if a company decides you owe them money. Without trawling very dry and hard to access legislation and guidelines, it’s difficult to know how to fight these people. If the debt is a real debt, it’s a minefield trying to work out what you really owe and what the DCA has added on for it’s own fees. It’s an unfair practice designed to baffle and confuse ordinary people struggling with finances, especially in times of difficulty, as now. DCAs are profit making companies and have no interest in making things easier for you.

I have been lucky that I have never legitimately been chased by a DCA. It has always been a fault with the original creditor and I have always managed to have the alleged debts cancelled, even if the money the companies had wrongfully taken from me was never returned to me. Of course, DCAs aren’t quite as willing to chase these large corporations for debts on behalf of the little people and after years of trying to get back what is owed, most ordinary people will give up unsuccessfully.

My latest fight with a debt collection agency was ironically around universities fees from my first attempt at studying law. I was at a “new” university undertaking an accelerated LLB degree, which commanded fees of £6000 per year. For a variety of reasons of the universities doing, I was forced to leave. I had been clear about the learning supports, adjustments and information I needed to undertake the course and despite initial reassurances and a statutory duty, when it came time, the university were unwilling to provide me with any of it. I was a cashcow for them and they would say anything to get me through the door, once in it was a different story.

The final straw came when they refused advanced access (pre Christmas holidays) to the next terms timetable, despite knowing well in advance the problems of arranging adequate childcare for babies and my need for this information as soon as possible. It may not seem like much but with waiting lists in excess of 6 months and my daughter not having moved any on multiple lists, not being able to provide specific days and times to nursery meant that none of them could offer us a place. Timetables for term 2 were not released until two days before the start of term, on a Saturday. There is no way I could have sorted out childcare in that time. I had no option but to leave to look after my child.

I heard no more from the university about the fees due and given my letter explaining my reasons, highlighting their statutory failures, naively assumed that was the end of the matter. I was wrong (and yes I know stupid) to believe it was over.

In April 2012, 16 months after leaving university, I received a letter out of the blue from a debt collection agency called Incasso. They wanted almost £3000 but did not say what the debt was for, merely that it was in relation to said new university. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the university had sold the debt on, without so much as approaching me about paying it first. The letter was aggressive, delivered on a bank holiday weekend and gave me 7 days from the date of the letter to respond with a payment plan or face court action. The first working day back they started calling my partners mobile phone and being rude to both him and me. The lady on the phone felt compelled to say, “I know it’s you because your husband handed the phone to you” when I pointed out I had no husband she replied, “don’t lie to me”. So apparently now I married but noone thought to tell me. Her attitude was appalling and she was on the offensive from the start.

I refused to communicate in any medium other than written posted letter. This ensured I had a paper trail. All responses were sent recorded or special delivery, so I had proof of receipt, all at my own expense. I disputed the debt, quoting legislation and regulatory guidelines they are obliged to follow and requested they returned the debt to the university to allow us to negotiate the situation. They would only communicate via email except for threatening letters. Their communication consisted of “please call us immediately”.

Incasso did not respond to any of my letters and kept sending more threatening letters, each time increasing the debt by considerable sums. Of course I didn’t leave it at that. I contacted the university to request they stop Incasso from chasing the debt until we had discussed and investigated the matter.

I had a huge degree of success from the university. I presume they realised they were in a difficult legal position regarding their treatment of me and their unwillingness to make reasonable adjustments. As a gesture of “goodwill” they erased the debt completely. Far cheaper than have me take them to court under the Equality Act and all the negative publicity that would bring them.

Noone thought to tell Incasso. I have received more threatening letters since the university informed me of their decision to wipe the debt. The debt amount has risen.

I am no longer going to communicate with Incasso. They failed to respond to any of my letters, they failed in performing their duties under the regulations that govern their industry, they are chasing a non-existent debt and long may they continue to do so. I look forward to the letter informing me they are taking me to court and only then shall I provide all the evidence necessary, that I have undertaken all the duties required of me in trying to sort this problem out. This shall cost them money and I don’t care.

Morally I should do the right thing but I am under no legal obligation to do so and given the perpetual harassment of innocent people by the likes of Incasso, I shall let them do what they do best.

When I hear of debt collectors harassing people I get so angry. They rely on people not understanding their rights or the law and they play on people’s fear of the law. They are c**ts.

I cannot recommend enough the likes of The Consumer Forums in help navigating the debt collection minefield. They provide fantastic template letters and support when you are at your most panicky and worrying. If you have problems with debt collection agencies chasing for non-existent debts, I suggest you get help from the forums. Even if the debt does exist, I would still recommend getting advice there and speaking with the Citizens Advice Bureau on your rights.





Whose rape is it anyway?

23 04 2012

I’m glad those who named Ched wassisname’s victim are being investigated.

Why a bunch of men and women feel that they have the right to lift the legally granted anonymity of a rape victim is beyond me. Where is the humanity in that? All for a fucking football player. Are we so desperate to worship our heroes that we will assume they can do no wrong? That they are somehow above the law? That they don’t deserve the same punishment as Joe Average on the street committing the same crime in the same circumstances?

Has society really not advanced from believing that owning a vagina makes it and its owner public property?

These aren’t only typical laddish and misogynistic football fans harping on about the victim being at fault, oh no there are young females too blaming the victim for being raped, calling her a drunken slag and more. I wonder if they’d feel the same should it happen to them. With current statistics suggesting 1 in 4 women are being raped or subject to attempted rape, there is a high chance it will be their turn soon. Of course in their psychic wisdom and human invincibility, they “know” they will never get themselves into that kind of situation, so they’re safe to sit in their ivory towers and pass judgement. I’m sure the victim in this case never expected to be raped either. If only life was so black and white. If only they could guarantee their safety, because as we all know every rape is the same, every time. NOT. Based on current popular thought, being sexually assaulted was obviously my fault for walking my dog at 10am on a weekday, entirely sober and dressed in huge baggy denims, jumper and cap. The fact it was behind a police station was obviously a challenge.

I wonder what I did to “ask for it”? I wonder how that set up could have made me a slag? Or was I an acceptable victim of sexual assault because I didn’t actively put myself out there to be attacked? Because i didn’t know my attacker? Or was my being in the wrong place at the wrong time somehow my fault because i happened to be the one with the vagina in the locale?

Does it honestly make a difference what a person was wearing or what they had agreed to prior to withholding consent? NO MEANS NO, and it means NO from the start, just as much as it means NO half way through the event.

Now I understand NO is a difficult concept for some to grasp, so lets take sex out of the equation for a moment… Let’s look at it another way.

You go out for dinner with a friend/acquaintance/complete stranger, there is every chance you’ll eat something, but it’s well within your right to say no thanks. As it turns out you’re not hungry so you nibble on a few breadsticks and when it comes to ordering say “No thanks”. Chances are your friend may ask you a few times more, double and triple check, “Are you sure?”, they may even egg you on a bit more… Gosh this is feeling a little awkward, eh? Your friend may be a bit annoyed at your decision, but the chances of them pinning you down and force feeding you are slim. The friend may give you the cold shoulder afterwards but a decent friend would understand that you may be full up, that you have your boundaries… A decent friend would respect this.

But what if you order dinner and start eating, and then change your mind half way through the main course? Do you admit it and stop eating? Do you carry on against your wishes to avoid a scene? What if you decide to stop eating but your friend disagrees with your decision? What if your friend thinks, ‘hang on they said they wanted dinner, they’re fucking we’ll gonna eat it’, and forces you to continue eating be that by fear, guilt, coercion or force? Is the friend within their rights? Is it ok? Do you expect to get a hard time from third parties because you lost your appetite and were forced to eat anyway?

Why is it so different if you change your mind about sex?

Whether its eating or sex, a person is well within their rights to stop at any point in time. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, including mid sexual act. It may be a little awkward but that’s the worst it ever should be.

What if A and C are out for a meal and they are consensually munching away at their nachos when B joins them. C is kinda full and wants to stop eating, or perhaps C doesn’t fancy any desert. Can gatecrasher B forcefeed C against her will, because C originally agreed to have dinner with A? Let’s not forget, consent could be given to person A but not person B. Does that mean B can just take what they want from C because their mate A was allowed? Can B force feed C because C was happy to have dinner with A?

Can you see how ridiculous the argument seems with an analogous yet highly unlikely restaurant situation? Why does the fact that sex is part of the equation make it OK in the minds of some to force themselves on others without consent, whereas force-feeding would never be considered acceptable? A reasonable person would never blame, attack and harass C for not wanting to finish dinner, or for refusing an additional course in a meal; yet for many it is fair game to do so if the meal is replaced with a scenario concerning sex.

Young men and women seem to think that because an intoxicated girl took the company of one footballer and consented to sexual intercourse with him, that his mate was free to turn up, join in, take what he wanted and face no repercussions. There are two massive issues with this. The first is regarding consent as discussed above, the second related to the first, that the girl was intoxicated and in no position to give consent. Not just a wee bit tipsy but out of her face, fucked up drunk, she may even have been drugged. She may not have been at that point of intoxication with person A, but all evidence suggests by the time B turned up she was, and she had no recollection or control over what she was involved in from then on.

Many people seem to think its her own fault for getting into such a situation. “She was drunk, she should have know better”. Perhaps she should have been wiser about the company she kept that night or the amount of alcohol consumed, but she should NEVER have to consider that someone will rape her just because she is intoxicated. It shouldn’t matter what state she was in, she has the right to feel and be safe at all times. Being drunk is not an open invitation to be violated. Just because someone is drunk doesn’t mean they deserve any less respectful treatment. For people who believe that is not the case, they really have to stop and consider what they are suggesting.

Such degree of intoxication means that she could never have given consent, anyone having sex with her in that state is guilty of rape. That’s the law at its most basic. It’s also common decency not to take advantage of someone unfit to make informed decisions, albeit temporarily. A decent human being would have clearly understood she was in no fit state to make such a decision regarding consent, especially regarding gatecrasher B. This of course relies on the concept of a decent human being. There are few in the UK who have not experienced intoxication to a debilitating, mind altering degree, I’m sure everyone who has experienced that state would hope that those around them would not see fit to manipulate and take advantage of them, especially not to commit a despicable and violating crime against them.

This girl may have consented to sex with person A, as the court agreed she did, but person A had an equal moral responsibility to ensure her safety, not to just pass her onto his mate when he was done with her. She wasn’t a piece of meat or property or a joint to be shared around, she was a human being with feelings and a compete loss of capacity to make any decisions regarding sex.

Now here is what really gets to me about this victim blaming, especially in the aftermath of a conviction; this young girl is someone’s daughter, she could be someone’s sister, one day she may be someone’s partner or mother… Of all those blaming her for what happened to her, would you say the same of your mother, sister, daughter, wife, friend?

When someone takes sexual advantage of a woman in no fit state to consent, they are by legal definition committing a sexual assault. Any decent and reasonable human being would take a few moments to assess the situation and wonder whether sex with an intoxicated, possibly drugged and passed out human is morally justified. Now think about how you would feel if it was your sister or your daughter who was drunk and being raped?

And when sex is meant to be a pleasurable experience, who really benefits from sex with a person so intoxicated they have no idea what they are doing? It can’t be the most interesting sex, it’s unlikely to be reciprocated and at this point, any normal rational human being would stop what they were doing and have a wank instead, if they were even daft enough to start in the first place.

I get sickened seeing how people are defending the actions of a convicted rapist. His appeal at this stage is irrelevant. Until his appeal, he is still a convicted rapist. He’s more than a very naughty boy, he’s a sexual predator who took advantage of an extremely drunk girl without her express consent. She is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s future wife and/or mother. It may not be sexy to stop and say “do you consent?” but it sure as hell could save you from 5 years inside prison if you do so. Life isn’t some Hollywood movie, moving seamlessly from bar to sofa to bed. There are practicalities. It’s not ideal but its safe and surely safety is the most important thing of all?

Those who are now naming this girl on social networks and yes even Sky news, believe they are enacting justice. How can anyone justify that kind of illegal behaviour? It takes some kind of deranged fanboy/girl to want to punish a rape victim further and prolong her agony, all because their sporting hero was caught and convicted. The attack itself may not be something she can recall but the associated thoughts, feelings and fears of the aftermath will always be there.

When you have been sexually assaulted you are left with a fear, not necessarily of the attack itself but for your future safety. You have been violated in the most intimate way and you cannot guarantee it will never happen again. It’s not something you are aware is going to happen when you wake up one day, and the unknown is the scariest part of it. I know that I feared repercussions when I was sexually assaulted. The fear was irrational, they didn’t have my address, although it wouldn’t have been hard to find out back then. All it took was the idea there was a nutter relative wanting to teach me a lesson or shut me up and I was trapped in a prison far worse than the attack itself. The agoraphobia and fear of the unknown for me was worse than the attack. Seeing my attacker 5 years later in the street walking his dog sent me into a panic, what if he remembers me? What if he finds out where I live? I didn’t go home for days afterwards.

Now there is a young girl who has deranged lunatics online, naming her and threatening her and defaming her, all because their football team has lost a decent player to illegal behaviour. He chose to break the law, she did not choose to be the victim of a Rape or the resulting vigilante behaviour, after his conviction. There was no if, but, or maybe about it, he was tried and convicted in a court of law by a jury of his peers in front of a professional time served judge. His co-accused was let off. This does not strike me as injustice. One accused had a case to answer, the other, regardless of how morally reprehensible his behaviour was, did not.

I honestly cannot get my head around the actions of people who feel it is their duty to name and threaten a girl who is almost certainly left doubting many aspects of her life and relationships. Placing her in a greater state of fear than she will have as a natural response to the assault, makes these nutters just as bad as the rapist. Worse because they hide behind the cloak of anonymity. Or so they seem to think. I sincerely hope that those who are making threats and revealing personal details about this girl will experience the full force of the law. I hope that those who advocate the actions of the rapist footballer never find themselves, or someone they know and care about, in a similar situation as the victim in this case. Although I’ll be perfectly honest it took a lot of soul-searching not to wish such an experience on these people to teach them a lesson and for that I am not proud.