All posts by David Corns

Forensic Sciences – Dr Stefano Vanin — 26th February 2018.

Dr. Stefano  Vaningave gave  a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the world of Forensic Science , stress­ing that its role is to  provide evid­ence by recon­struct­ing the crime scene for others to make their judge­ments.  He is a Reader in Forensic Biology at Huddersfield University.  He said that Forensic Science is the applic­a­tion of the sci­ences (from archae­ology to zoology)  to crim­inal and civil laws and can give evid­ence for the pro­sec­u­tion or the defence .   It covers all crimes from murders, rape, burg­lar­ies to less obvi­ous offences  such as art fraud, com­puter hack­ing and money laun­der­ing.  The sci­ent­ists col­lect, pre­serve and ana­lyse sci­entific evid­ence. They can travel to the scene of the crime or have a labor­at­ory role per­form­ing the whole spec­trum of ana­lysis.

A French sci­ent­ist, Edmond Locard , developed the prin­ciple that crime cannot happen without leav­ing a trace. He stated whenever two objects come into con­tact with one another mater­i­als are exchanged.   Wherever you stop, touch or step you uncon­sciously leave a silent wit­ness to your pres­ence . ( I now real­ise why the TV detect­ive pro­gramme was so called)  However, the prob­lem with sci­entific evid­ence is the human fail­ure to find it, study it and  inter­pret it cor­rectly, thus dimin­ish­ing its value. Again, Locard states that you are never alone. Your body is covered by bac­teria with each of us having a micro­bial cloud which dif­fer­en­ti­ates you from another. In short we are dis­pers­ing ourselves all the time a boon for the forensic sci­ent­ist to check our move­ments.

Everybody has a unique genetic pro­file called DNA and like fin­ger­prints can spe­cific­ally identify you.  DNA was first used in 1984 developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys who real­ised the vari­ation in genetic code could be used to identify  indi­vidu­als and tell one from another.  Sir William Herschel was  per­haps the first to see the bene­fits of finger print­ing and today it has been developed into the power­ful tool in the armoury of the forensic sci­ent­ist.

Stefano described sev­eral invest­ig­a­tions which demon­strated many forensic tech­niques includ­ing  the ana­lyse of plants, pollen, soil , bal­list­ics , decom­pos­i­tion of bodies, insects and a whole range of evid­ence at the crime scene acting as a silent wit­ness.  A most inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing talk, prompt­ing many ques­tions from our mem­bers.


I Used To Be A Football Referee But I Am Better Now — Jeff Jacklin — 27th November 2017

Jeff gave us an enter­tain­ing and inform­at­ive look into the world of the foot­ball ref­eree, but it is very doubt­ful if he per­suaded any of our mem­bers that their lives would have been enhanced by taking up the whistle.    Immediately, he chal­lenged us to name the 7 items a ref­eree takes on the pitch – we got 6 but forgot the ball!

He star­ted ref­er­ee­ing at the tender age of 17, gave it up for many years and resumed at the more mature age of 47. The title of his talk may be catchy and a little self-deprecating, but he clearly enjoyed his time in the middle.  He recoun­ted his very first game, a local needle in  Scunthorpe between Scawby Youth Club and Scunthorpe Youth Centre, both under-17 teams. The first is always mem­or­able but even more so when you forget the coin to toss for ends.

Games could not be played without a neut­ral ref­eree who needs to be a cer­tain type, out in all weath­ers, sworn at, abused by play­ers and spec­tat­ors alike, with rarely any thanks.  Why do they do it?  Is it the power?  Is it the sat­is­fac­tion of being part of a well fought, enter­tain­ing game?  It is not for the money unless you are a top, full time offi­cial.  Indeed, when you start cur­rently it costs around £245 to cover the train­ing, regis­tra­tion, kit, secur­ity checks etc. You cer­tainly need to be keen and motiv­ated,

Jeff played a few film clips to encour­age dis­cus­sion cov­er­ing the rules of the game which we did sur­pris­ingly well and posed the ques­tion ‘What would you do next?’  This clip showed a streaker dis­rupt­ing a game who was even­tu­ally rugby tackled (excuse the pun). The ref­eree booked the player for viol­ent con­duct, with the streaker pre­sum­ably dis­ap­pear­ing into the crowd.   It appears there are 17 laws of the game with the unof­fi­cial 18th being com­mon­sense which should have pre­vailed.

Referees have been assisted by sev­eral recent innov­a­tions which have been intro­duced or being tri­alled, includ­ing goal line tech­no­logy, goal line offi­cials, replay videos and the use of 2 ref­er­ees. Possibly, goal line tech­no­logy and replay videos may have altered foot­ball his­tory if they were avail­able at the 1966 World Cup or when Maradona scored that dis­puted goal. Women ref­er­ees and offi­cials are becom­ing more common in our modern game.

There is no doubt the ref­er­ees’ lot is a strange one.  The man in black is often lonely, unloved, must pos­sess eyes in the back of their heads, have the abil­ity to make split second decisions and wish they had the powers of hind­sight.  He has recently pub­lished a book which is avail­able on Kindle and  in paper­back ver­sion : a local parks referee’s tales of  life on the edge.

Referees are vital to our national game and it was heart­en­ing to listen to Jeff who was an enthu­si­astic and com­mit­ted ref­eree.




Thoughts on the History of Crime, the Courts and Capital Punishment — Peter Stubbs — 16th October 2017.

Peter attemp­ted to sum­mar­ise 900 years of legal his­tory in just over an hour , cov­er­ing the quirks and wisdom of English law. –no mean chal­lenge  .  Today, we have trial by jury , no death sen­tence and our jails are full includ­ing over 300 inmates on life sen­tences alone.  No longer are  the guilty flogged, hung, immersed in boil­ing oil or burnt at the stake.  Clearly, justice and the pen­al­ties for crime have moved on a great deal since the medi­eval ages although many offences are very sim­ilar.

Before Trial by Jury, we had the pleas­ant­ries of Trial by Water, Trial by Fire and Trial by Battle.  

Trial by Water would see the accused  immersed in a pond if they sur­vived they were guilty, if they didn’t they were not guilty !!!    Trial by Fire con­sisted of put­ting a piece of red hot iron into the clench fist of the accused , whilst Trial by Battle was settled in a 60 foot square where the accuser and the accused would fight to the last man stand­ing to settle the ver­dict. All very prim­it­ive stuff.  Trial by Battle is hardly a modern way of set­tling legal mat­ters but this didn’t stop an aggrieved motor­ist who had received a fixed pen­alty notice from asking the DVLA for the name of their cham­pion to resolve the dis­pute.  Needless to say the DVLA did not respond and the motor­ist was still fined.

Up to, and includ­ing the 12th cen­tury, the power­ful clergy were involved in admin­is­ter­ing the law, but they were often cor­rupt and in 1215 they were for­bid­den from involve­ment in legal mat­ters.   The concept of Trial by Jury was estab­lished in the 14th cen­tury and is now enshrined in our laws.  Peter emphas­ised the point that once a jury has given its ver­dict this must not be changed.  He went on to illus­trate this point by giving us examples of some high pro­file cases where the juries decisions were unex­pec­ted. In 1380 a law was passed making it illegal to con­tact jurors during the trial.  Trial by Jury may have its crit­ics but is largely favoured by ex- jury mem­bers as the  best way of admin­is­ter­ing justice.

The death pen­alty has caused a great deal of dis­cus­sion and con­tro­versy with many in favour and many against , quot­ing mis­car­riages of justice.  In the 50’s and 60’s moves were made towards abol­ish­ing the death pen­alty.  In 1957, the Homicide Act was passed which removed the death sen­tence for domestic murders leav­ing the sen­tence for the murder of police­men . In 1969, the death sen­tence was abol­ished for all murders.

Peter gave us a most inter­est­ing and pol­ished present­a­tion as he raced through 900 years of legal his­tory, prompt­ing a whole host of ques­tions from a very attent­ive audi­ence.

Yorkshire Air Ambulance -Robin Simpson — 7th August 2017.

One of our mem­bers has every reason to be indebted to Yorkshire Air Ambulance as it most cer­tainly saved his life. Taken ill with a heart attack whilst walk­ing with a group in the Derbyshire Peak District, he was too far from public roads for an ambu­lance and too ill to walk or be car­ried. Calling the emer­gency heli­copter was the only hope. The heli­copter was there within 20 minutes and landed on an out­crop of rock sur­roun­ded by peat bog. The patient was air lifted to Chesterfield hos­pital where he received life saving treat­ment — all in a day’s work for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA)

YAA was star­ted in the year 2000 and since then 7200 people have reason to thank this superb facil­ity, which is avail­able 7 days a week and 365 days a year, cov­er­ing 1500 incid­ents last year ( 3 incid­ents on aver­age a week). YAA has 2 bases at RAF Topcliffe near Thirsk and Nostell Estate near Wakefield which ensures 90% of Yorkshire’s pop­u­la­tion of 5 mil­lion can be accessed within 20 minutes. The prime target is to get the patient to a trauma centre within one hour of the incid­ent hap­pen­ing. The ser­vice covers Yorkshire but will respond to emer­gency calls in North Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire as required..

When YAA was formed they had one ageing heli­copter 20 years old. Last year they pur­chased 2 new heli­copters cost­ing £6M each giving all the bene­fits of modern machines in terms of per­form­ance and clin­ical equip­ment. There are 8 pilots, mostly from a mil­it­ary back­ground, para­med­ics and doc­tors. A heli­copter would nor­mally be crewed by a pilot, 2 para­med­ics and a doctor. At base, a para­medic is on duty to screen emer­gency calls, assess the situ­ation and decide whether to call out the heli­copter which could involve road acci­dents, indus­trial, sports / leis­ure acci­dents and sudden ill­ness.

YAA costs £44M a year to run or around £1200 a day . It is a pro­fes­sion­ally run char­ity depend­ent on the gen­er­os­ity of its sup­port­ers and gen­eral public. An excel­lent present­a­tion by Robin who is a volun­teer clearly com­mit­ted to the cause.

Narrow Gauge Railways — David Williams — 19th June 2017

David Williams, a retired engin­eer, is a narrow gauge enthu­si­ast but appar­ently not a great fan of the stand­ard gauge (4ft 8.5ins). He defined narrow gauge broadly as: Big, around 3 ft; Middle, around 2ft; Small, around 15–17ins and gauges below would be con­sidered appro­pri­ate to model rail­ways.

Narrow gauge rail­ways are with us because they are cheaper to con­struct and run, more flex­ible in their con­struc­tion and can be laid and taken up rel­at­ively quickly. We see narrow gauge rail­ways in many aspects of our lives. They are used in mines, quar­ries and large con­struc­tion sites, trans­port­ing mater­i­als and sup­plies. Many large man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pan­ies have or had their own internal rail­way, often narrow gauge, trans­port­ing goods and mater­i­als around their sites, link­ing up with stand­ard gauge rail. In World War One ammuni­tion and sup­plies were often trans­por­ted by stand­ard gauge and trans­ferred to narrow gauge for onward car­ry­ing towards the front line.

‘Northern Chief’ on the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway.


Narrow gauge is rel­at­ively easy to lay and take up, a pri­or­ity in war con­di­tions.
David described the work of the early pion­eers of narrow gauge, aptly called the 15-inch club, which included Heywood, Bartholomew, Basset Lowke, Greenly and Zoborowski. Early 20th cen­tury was a time of great pro­gress for narrow gauge with devel­op­ment of more power­ful engines and improve­ments in track. He touched on a number of light rail­ways in the UK, includ­ing Northants Iron Stone (3ft), Welsh Highland Railway (2ft), Ashover to Stratton (2ft), Leek and Manifold (2ft 6ins) Vale of Rheidol (10.25ins). He men­tioned rail­ways in Japan, Denver, Rio Grande and South Africa.


Narrow gauge engines on the North Gloucestershire Railway

Perhaps the most famous narrow gauge rail­way, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch was the cul­min­a­tion of the dreams of two men, Howey and Zoborowski, and was con­struc­ted in the 1920s and opened on 16th July 1927. Operated as a 15-inch track fully work­ing steam rail­way, ini­tially it ran for eight miles from New Romney to Hythe but in 1928 it was exten­ded from New Romney to Dungeness, increas­ing the over­all length to 13.75 miles . It was reduced to a single track in 1947. During the war the line was requisi­tioned by the War Department who cre­ated their own mini armoured train which was used in build­ing PLUTO (Pipe Line Under the Ocean) which fuelled the allied inva­sion. Over the years it has been used com­mer­cially, haul­ing stone for Kent County Council and cur­rently has a school trans­port con­tract. However, today the rail­way is a massive tour­ist attrac­tion, trav­el­ling as it does through pic­tur­esque Kent coun­tryside appeal­ing to all ages.

It was an inter­est­ing talk, par­tic­u­larly for the rail enthu­si­asts but even the non-enthusiast will be temp­ted to learn a little more about narrow gauge rail­ways.

Lord Byron — Dennis Hill — 6th February 2017

Lord Byron was the greatest romantic poet of all time. Born George Byron on 22nd January 1788, he became Lord Byron, the sixth Baron Byron, at the age of ten in 1798 when he inher­ited the title from his great uncle, William Byron of Newstead Abbey.

He was a com­plex char­ac­ter who led an uncon­ven­tional life­style, but his writ­ings live on forever and pos­sibly more has been writ­ten about Byron than even Jesus Christ.

Byron atten­ded Harrow School and later, from 1805 until 1808, Trinity College Cambridge where developed a love of sport — cricket, boxing, shoot­ing, horse riding and swim­ming — des­pite having been born with a club foot.

Boxing was a par­tic­u­lar pas­sion. At Trinity dogs were banned as pets but he man­aged to work round petty rules by having a brown bear. During this time he engaged in many sexual adven­tures and fell deep into debt through gambling. After uni­ver­sity he embarked on a grand tour through the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas.

Upon turn­ing 21, he took his seat in the House of Lords but only made three speeches, mainly in sup­port of the Luddites who were cam­paign­ing against the intro­duc­tion of machinery which would result in put­ting people out of work. Byron through­out his life cham­pioned the under­dog.  His first volume of poetry, ‘Hours of Idleness’ in 1808, was attacked by the lit­er­ary estab­lish­ment in Edinburgh but Byron retali­ated with the satir­ical poem ‘English Bards and Scottish Reviewers’ which attacked the elite with wit and satire. This gained him his first lit­er­ary recog­ni­tion.

Byron gained a repu­ta­tion as a woman­iser and there were sug­ges­tions that he was also bi-sexual which appar­ently Byron had never admit­ted. His praise by London soci­ety pro­pelled him into a series of love affairs includ­ing with no less than Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of the future prime min­is­ter Lord Melbourne. She described him as ‘mad, bad and dan­ger­ous to know.’

In September 1814, Byron pro­posed to Annabella Milbanke and they mar­ried in January 1815, having a daugh­ter born in the December. However, the mar­riage was short-lived, fin­ish­ing in the January amid his drink­ing, gambling and affairs. The daugh­ter was Ada Lovelace, who worked with Charles Babbage the com­puter pion­eer and she was attrib­uted as being the first com­puter pro­gram­mer.

Byron’s life of debauch­ery and lust con­tin­ued but he man­aged to pen his greatest poem ‘Don Juan’ which was a change from the mel­an­choly ‘Childe Harold.’ In 1823 he accep­ted an invit­a­tion to sup­port the fight for Greek inde­pend­ence from the Turks, selling Newstead Abbey and sink­ing all his sav­ings into the cause. On 15th February 1824 he fell ill and died at the age of 36.

He became a Greek hero and to this day his name and memory are cel­eb­rated in parts of Greece. He was mourned in England and buried in the family vault at Hucknall Church, Nottinghamshire. Clearly a remark­able, tal­en­ted and com­plex man, his poems and his memory are still revered 200 years on and he is regarded as one of the greatest British poets. He is best known for his bril­liant use of the English lan­guage and also his promis­cu­ous life­style.