Category Archives: Talks

Magistrates – Judge and Jury? – Richard Gadsden – 21/9/20.

Richard spent 26 years at Sheffield Hallam University, teach­ing stat­ist­ics, becom­ing the Dean of the Faculty. Meanwhile, he spent 25 years as a Lay Magistrate in the Adult Law Courts, based in Sheffield, cov­er­ing South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Lay Magistrates was the topic for today’s present­a­tion.

Types of Magistrate :-

  • A Professional Magistrate, also called a District Judge, who is a sti­pen­di­ary Magistrate and sits on cases alone.
  • Lay Magistrates, who are mem­bers of the public, and sit in a court in groups of 2 or 3.

Types of Courts

  • Adult Courts. All Magistrates start in this court, which deals with any­thing from theft to murder.
  • Family Courts
  • Youth Courts, for people up to 17 years of age

Courts 2 and 3 above con­flic­ted with other interests which Richard had, so he never sat on them.

Who can be a Magistrate.

The Lord Chancellor picks Magistrates. Although he/she keeps an eye on a bal­ance of appoint­ments to reflect polit­ical per­sua­sion, eth­ni­city, sex,  etc., Magistrates can be anyone, unless there is a con­flict of interest, e.g. the police. They must be between 18 and 70 years of age and of ‘good char­ac­ter’. There are not many under 30 years of age. Most are 55 to 70, at which age you must retire. No train­ing in law is required as there is a legal adviser who assists. The main attrib­ute required for being a magis­trate is common sense and you have to be avail­able for at least 26 half days in a year, although it is expec­ted of you to do more.

What do Magistrates do?

All crim­inal cases start in the Magistrates court. Over 90% are dealt with in a   magistrate’s court and include cases on e.g. Council Tax, Education, Environmental Agencies, Fishing licences …….

The Magistrates

  • Hear bail applic­a­tions — They start with the assump­tion, that bail is per­miss­ible. Deciding whether the defend­ant should be free or kept in cus­tody then depends on con­sid­er­a­tions of safety to the public or whether the defend­ant might not come back for trial. So some­times, if bail is gran­ted, there are con­di­tions e.g. tags. Or ‘uncon­di­tional’ bail may be gran­ted but, with the con­di­tion that they turn up for trial.
  • Hear court cases – they listen to the cir­cum­stances of the offences, and decide the outcome/sentence, or whether it should be referred to the Crown Court. The types of cases are :-

- Summary Only – e.g. a driv­ing offence, which will be dealt with by the Magistrates court

- Each Way – for more ser­i­ous crimes. This could be heard in a Magistrates court or the Crown court. The defend­ant can always choose either the Magistrates court, or to be defen­ded by a judge and jury in the Crown court. Some defend­ants think that the Magistrates may be more leni­ent.

- Indictable only – e.g. murder, which is sent to the Crown court.

Magistrates can sen­tence up to 6 months in cus­tody and do it only once more to the same offender, making a max­imum of 12 months.

  • Approve war­rants. For example:-
  • For Statutory Declarations – e.g. those who go to a Magistrates court to alter their names. Permissible as long as they keep the same sur­name.
  • If summoned to court – e.g. because they have not paid a fine. If the defend­ant makes a declar­a­tion that they didn’t get the sum­mons letter, then the pro­cess starts again, until they pay up.
  • An entry war­rant – e.g. if any of the Statutory Undertakers want to enter a build­ing or res­taur­ant.
  • Search Warrant – e.g. if reques­ted by the police. Sometimes these are out-of-hours requests.

How Does the Court Work

  • 2 or 3 Lay Magistrates sit in a court, with the middle one called the ‘Presiding Judge’, and who is the only one who talks for the group and who con­trols any dis­turb­ances. The others, sit­ting to the side are called ‘Wingers’.
  • At the start of a case, the Presiding Judge out­lines the offence. The defend­ant is asked to make a plea. 90% of the time, there is a ‘Guilty’ plea. The Presiding Judge asks for a full report of the case and then decides whether to sen­tence, or to send the case to the Crown Court for sen­ten­cing.
  • If the plea is ‘Not Guilty’ the Prosecution speaks, then the Defense. The Presiding Judge then decides whether there is a case to answer and if there is, he sets a trial date.
  • If there is ‘No Plea’, which is rare, the defend­ant is asked why there is no plea. It may be e.g. that the defend­ant is wait­ing for more evid­ence on the cir­cum­stances of the offence. In this case, the prin­ciple of ‘Newtons Hearings’ is applied. This means that the cir­cum­stances of the offence are dealt with before the trial and the Magistrates decide which ver­sion of the events are to be accep­ted. If it is the defend­ants ver­sion which is accep­ted, then there is a plea of ‘Guilty’, but if the Magistrates decision is not accep­ted, it is still the ver­sion used at the trial in court, but it can be argued at the trial.


2/3rds usu­ally never occur. Because,

  • there can be a change of plea from ‘Not Guilty’ to ‘Guilty’.
  • Witnesses don’t turn up, or alter or with­draw their state­ments.

If there is a trial, both Prosecution and Defense are heard and wit­nesses can be ques­tioned.

Magistrates then decide on the guilt or oth­er­wise and must give a simple but clear reason for their decision.

If guilty, they are either sen­tenced there and then, or reports are reques­ted from e.g. the pro­ba­tion ser­vice. If the court feels unable to decide, the case can be sent to the Crown Court.


Only 20 years ago, guidelines were given to Magistrates and Crown Courts on sen­ten­cing.

Nothing, how­ever, is ever typ­ical, and all cir­cum­stances are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion.

For example :-

  • If it is their first offence. Sentence is less than the guideline
  • Plea of ‘Not Guilty’ but found ‘Guilty’. Sentence pos­sibly more than the guideline
  • Assault where incite­ment was involved and there was only one punch. Sentence is less than the guideline.
  • Assault where there were lots of punches, with a record of viol­ence. Sentence more than the guideline.

Some people ask to go to prison, to give struc­ture to their lives or to help them to over­come an addic­tion.

Richard fin­ished his present­a­tion illus­trat­ing the pro­cess of sen­ten­cing with a his­tor­ical car crash case, where the 2 equally bad drivers approached their court cases in a dif­fer­ent way, and were given dif­fer­ent sen­tences.

An absorb­ing and very inter­est­ing talk which was enjoyed by all.



VIETNAM: The Unwinnable War” Professor Antony Taylor 7th September 2020

Our speaker this week, Antony Taylor, is Professor of Modern History at Sheffield Hallam University.  He had pre­vi­ously vis­ited us in January 2019, when he gave a most even-handed view of Brexit and its rami­fic­a­tions.  He was to repeat this approach in tack­ling todays talk, the sub­ject of which in its day was, for nearly twenty years — along with Nuclear dis­arm­a­ment — per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial and divis­ive topic of our younger years .

Tony began his talk by sketch­ing out the back­ground to this long and cruel con­flict (1955–1975) which was to cost 58,000 American lives. The War sprung from its routes in WW2, as the US aban­doned isol­a­tion and became a Pacific ori­ent­ated power in the after­math of Pearl Harbour. European colo­nial weak­ness, both in battle and supply logist­ics, was demon­strated by the ini­tial suc­cess of Japan before and during the early stages of the War.  Korea, large swathes of China, Indo–China and later, Hong Kong and Singapore were over run. In the vacuum fol­low­ing the fall of Japan in 1945, Communism became ascend­ant in the now restored colon­ies of Great Britain, Holland and France.  All were to exper­i­ence ‘guer­rilla’ activ­ity in sup­port of inde­pend­ence. The US, already heav­ily com­mit­ted to ‘roll back’ com­mun­ism in the shorter Korean con­flict (1950–53), attemp­ted to ‘prop up’ the colo­nial powers, espe­cially France, via ‘Marshall Aid’ funds.  This served only to stoke up the nation­al­ists of the region, espe­cially the Vietminh, who also oper­ated through­out the rest of French Indo-China. Their weapons included light armoury sup­plied from both Russia and China, light­en­ing terror attacks and indoc­trin­a­tion of the pop­u­la­tion.  No mercy was shown to any cap­tured enemy.  The reg­u­lar dis­play of mutil­ated French sol­diers had a grim mes­sage both in the jungle and in Paris.


There fol­lowed a nine year war of attri­tion between the Vietminh and the restored French Empire, cul­min­at­ing in the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.  This was to give inde­pend­ence to the former colon­ies of Laos and Cambodia.  Vietnam was par­ti­tioned along the 17th par­al­lel between a Communist north under Ho Chi Minh and a US backed south under Ngo Diem.  The border was to prove unstable with con­stant incur­sions and in 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin incid­ent -another Pearl Harbour moment- in which US ships were attacked, pro­voked full American involve­ment.  Despite a vast build-up of US forces and hard­ware, America was unable to pre­vent the Vietcong enter­ing the south with impun­ity.  There was a major refugee ‘boat people’ crisis in 1978, as people tried to flee the coun­try.  Secretary State for Defence Robert McNamara acknow­ledged before his death that “the USA could never have won this war”.

South East Asia was to become the ’cock­pit’ of the Cold War with no ‘Yalta’ mech­an­ism for keep­ing the peace. The Vietnam war was to be end­lessly fought on other fronts such as Afghanistan and Iraq, blight­ing the records of Presidents Kennedy, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. With TV cov­er­age, the War attrac­ted a great deal of mainly left wing sym­pathy in the West with the Viet Cong flag (a yellow star on red back­ground) a reg­u­lar sight on uni­ver­sity cam­puses and demon­stra­tions in Trafalgar Square or out­side the White House.  It was to enter deep into pop­u­lar con­science, becom­ing the sub­ject of sev­eral films such as “Platoon”, “Hamburger Hill”, as well as plays includ­ing “ Miss Saigon” and numer­ous books eg,  Michel Herr’s ‘Despatches’.  The com­mun­ist side made much use of pro­pa­ganda pit­ting the under­dog against the bully.


 Tony moved on to dis­cuss a range of factors, which he con­sidered made the War unwinnable for America.  These included:

  • An over-dependence on static defens­ive pos­i­tions, like the French before them, losing con­trol of the coun­tryside which aerial bom­bard­ment, use of chem­ical weapons etc failed to flush out the oppos­i­tion
  • Trying to fight a con­ven­tional war against an uncon­ven­tional enemy that would go to ground min­im­ising open con­flict and tar­gets. The US army used many reluct­ant con­scripts; the Vietminh were battle hardened and had fought both the Japanese and the French before the US
  • Few ‘indi­gen­ous col­lab­or­at­ors’ and lack of sub­stan­tial inter­na­tional allies
  • Anti-war protests at home, bring­ing together young people, the counter cul­ture, black civil rights act­iv­ists and some Hollywood stars.


 Our speaker con­cluded his talk by con­sid­er­ing the con­sequences of the Vietnam War.   While the British had won their war against the com­mun­ists by 1950, with the help of the indi­gen­ous pop­u­la­tion, and then grant­ing (what became) Malaysia full inde­pend­ence in 1957, Tony thought the whole epis­ode had humi­li­ated the USA encour­aging a return to an isol­a­tion­ist stance.  A more con­struct­ive approach might have been to have offered an aid pack­age to encour­age better US sen­ti­ment through greater prosper­ity.  By destabil­ising the region war, broke out between Vietnam and Cambodia, res­ult­ing in the rise of the Khmer rouge under Pol Pot. The US thus caused what it had tried to pre­vent -the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Communism in the region and an example for anti-colonial move­ments else­where.

Before our ‘Zoom Time’ was up Tony took a number of ques­tions which ranged from the role of Harold Wilson (who kept GB out) the War’s impact on France and Algeria, the use of Napalm, to the Soviet exper­i­ence in Afghanistan.   This level of interest was stim­u­lated by another com­pel­ling talk for which our speaker was warmly thanked.



































A forgotten Antarctic explorer? – Tom Crean – Barbara Beard — 17 Aug 2020

This week we enjoyed a very inform­at­ive and well-presented talk on a for­got­ten Antarctic explorer

Barbara ori­gin­ally trained as a nurse then train­ing as a mid­wife first coming to Sheffield in 1971 she then worked in Switzerland and Canada return­ing to the city to work on the renal trans­plant pro­gramme after some time she then retrained and taught pal­li­at­ive care nurs­ing at Hallam University. She has been a volun­teer at St Luke’s for over 25 years. Barbara has had a long interest in Antarctica and her talk today gave us a detailed insight into the life of one of the main play­ers in the ini­tial explor­a­tion of this cold con­tin­ent in the early 1900’s —  one Tom Crean.

Tom was born into a poor farm­ing family in Southern Ireland on the Dingle pen­in­su­lar he was one of 10 chil­dren who lived a dif­fi­cult life during the potato famine. Much to his father’s dis­gust Tom who had no interest in farm­ing joined the navy. He was ini­tially posted on HMS Ringarooma sail­ing to New Zealand in 1900.

When docked in Christchurch an oppor­tun­ity arose to volun­teer to take part in Scott’s first Antarctic Exhibition. The ship on arriv­ing in Antarctica was marooned in the ice for 2 years. During this time the crew prac­ticed skiing and even­tu­ally set out on foot man haul­ing sledges for 149 days in an attempt to reach the South Pole. This attempt was ulti­mately unsuc­cess­ful and the party returned to their base and even­tu­ally home where Tom who had played a major role in the exped­i­tion party who made the bid for the pole Scott, Wilson, and Crean and Shackleton having been left behind as he was suf­fer­ing from scurvy.

Following this Shackleton determ­ined to reach the South Pole and set off on a fur­ther exped­i­tion along with Tom Crean and others, get­ting to within 97 miles of their target before having reluct­antly to turn back.

In the spring of 1909 Captain Scott out together an Expedition set­ting off in the Terra Nova from Cardiff trav­el­ling via Melbourne where Scott received a tele­gram telling him that Amundsen had set off on his attempt to reach the pole. Scott then set off but before set­ting off on his ulti­mately failed attempt had to over winter in the hut at base camp.

In April 1911 Scott chose his team how­ever Tom was not chosen to make the final push and was left at the inter­me­di­ate camp. Scott and his team as we know did not return, Tom and his com­pan­ions left to return to base requir­ing an ardu­ous trek of 730 miles, Evans who was part of this team got scurvy and had to be left with Tom making a solo bid to get help walk­ing 35 miles for 18 hours through bliz­zard con­di­tions with min­imal food i.e. 3 bis­cuits.

Evans was res­cued the her­culean effort by Tom being recog­nised on their return home with The Albert Medal (now The George Cross). In the summer of 1913 Tom returned to Ireland and bought a pub how­ever Shackleton was put­ting together the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–1917. Setting off in The Endurance via South Georgia arriv­ing in Antarctica once again the ship became ice bound. Tom as part of his duties was respons­ible for the dogs that they had been taking for sledge haul­ing and became very attached to them.

The ship even­tu­ally broke up and sank the party being left with only 3 life­boats. Shackleton knew that they had to search for help and rescue and a small party was put together and the three boats set off for South Georgia a mere 800 miles across open ocean with only basic nav­ig­a­tion equip­ment. They even­tu­ally landed but on the wrong side of the island this neces­sit­at­ing another long march in harsh sur­round­ings requir­ing steep and dif­fi­cult climbs and des­cents through water­falls arriv­ing at Stromness then via Port Stanley and Punta Arenas,  the Yelcho then set off  to recover the remain­ing crew in Antarctica. Most amaz­ingly no mem­bers of the party lost their lives and this is one of the most heroic res­cues of recent times.

When Tom got back home he re-joined the navy and in Sept 1917 mar­ried Nell with whom he had 3 chil­dren. Tom opened his pub but his heart was not really in it and it was run in large part by his wife, Tom spend­ing much of his time walk­ing in the hills with his beloved dogs. Tom also spent time build­ing his own tomb where he is now buried fol­low­ing his death in July 1937 of appen­di­citis. Nell his wife died in 1968.

A brave and heroic man whose story was excel­lently presen­ted by Barbara a talk that was much appre­ci­ated by all.

(Photos cour­tesy of Wikipedia.)




Does wealth lead to health? At home with the de Medici Part 1 by Prof. Tim Stephenson 3rd August 2020


The Medici Family Tree

Professor Tim Stevenson has retired as the Clinical Director of Laboratory Medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospital and is now a member of Stumperlowe Probus Club.  His talk was the first of a two-part exam­in­a­tion of the early Medici family and was given using Zoom.

The story starts with Giovanni di Bicci (1360–1429) who dealt in wool in the Lombardy region of Italy.  He intro­duced and con­trolled a stand­ard system of weights and meas­ures in Italy and cre­ated the Medici Bank.

Giovanni di Bicci (1360–1429)

The weights and meas­ures were used to the Medici advant­age as was the con­trol of units of cur­rency, exchange rates and com­mis­sion rates.  This led to enorm­ous power and wealth.  Greater even than the likes of today’s Amazon, Apple and Facebook com­bined.  The family were great pat­rons of the arts.

The family has two branches headed by Giovanni’s sons Cosimo and Lorenzo di Vecchio.  Cosimo Medici (1389–1464) is asso­ci­ated with Florence and sup­por­ted Brunelleschi and Donatello amongst many artists and archi­tects.

Cosimo Medici (1389–1464)

This branch pro­duced Lorenzo the Magnificent and Pope Leo X (1475–1521) who was patron for Raphael. Plus Pope Clement VII.

Lorenzo di Vecchio Medici

The com­bined houses pro­duced 4 Popes, two Queens of France and sev­eral other kings.  With such power there was much inbreed­ing and ill feel­ing with other power­ful fam­il­ies.  For their phys­ical safety, it was neces­sary to live in for­ti­fied palaces and use tun­nels to travel between build­ings.  Family mem­bers there­fore did not enjoy much direct sun­light and were very prone to debil­it­at­ing dis­eases.

The second part of Tim’s talk is eagerly awaited, where the many dis­ad­vant­ages of such wealth and power will be con­sidered.

The Aberfan Disaster of 1966 — Prof Dave Petley — 13 July 2020

Dave Petley gave a superb talk to 41 mem­bers, guests, and an unknown number of wives and girl­friends. It was the second highly suc­cess­ful Probus Zoom present­a­tion since COVID-19 lock­down (thanks to Peter, Graham, Richard and Jacko).

Dave is Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of Sheffield. His research focus is inter­na­tional land­slide mech­an­isms and he advises the Hong Kong Government, blogs with the American Geophysical Union and is a Council member of the Royal Geographical Society. He has a great gift for put­ting over dif­fi­cult con­cepts clearly and con­cisely.

There were seven large spoil tips rising up the hill­side and close to the vil­lage of Aberfan, where 116 chil­dren at Pantglas school and 28 adults lost their lives in the infam­ous land­slide of the morn­ing of 21 October 1966 (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Aberfan land­slide 1966

A prim­it­ive rope­way led to a crane at the top, where there had been loose tip­ping for sev­eral years. The tip­ping gang (Fig 2) arrived at the top at 7.30am and found it had sub­sided overnight.

Fig 2 Ropeway and tip­ping gang on the spoil heap

Finding that the tele­phone to the pit below wasn’t work­ing, one of gang walked down to raise the alarm. The crane driver stayed at the top and saw its tip move again, but rising up ini­tially. The solid mass, as it broke free, rotated and “bull­dozed” ahead, caus­ing the ini­tial rise then the down­hill slide. Rotation pulled away solid blocks which then frag­men­ted into a 40000 ton flow onto the vil­lage

Landslides result from a grav­it­a­tional effect on loose spoil, sat­ur­ated by under­ly­ing nat­ural springs within weak gla­cial depos­its. Solid spoil con­verts to a flow of water, sludge and debris, and a rota­tional slide between loose spoil, gla­cial depos­its and under­ly­ing solid bed­rock occurs (Fig 3).

Fig 3 Mechanics of land­slide form­a­tion

The NCB knew of the Aberfan springs (Fig 4), making no earlier attempt to divert the water and fail­ing to anti­cip­ate, mon­itor and rec­tify

Fig 4 Pre-spoil heap topo­graphy of Aberfan and adja­cent hill­side with the springs circled.

They were aware of sim­ilar tips with land­slide poten­tial. Furthermore, uncon­trolled tip­ping on top of loose layers pro­gress­ively weakened the base to facil­it­ate a slide. There were earlier land­slides in the area at Abercynon (1939), Aberfan (1944 and 1963), and Rhondda (1965). The NCB, nation­al­ised in 1946 and headed by Lord Robens, chose to ignore the danger.

The school was inund­ated and the chil­dren at the rear of the school had no chance. Classrooms at the front remained intact and some sur­vived. Parents, many of them miners, attemp­ted to rescue their own chil­dren and others before the more formal rescue effort could begin.

The Tribunal was con­duc­ted by Lord Justice Edmund Davies, who had sen­tenced the Great Train Robbers. He was highly crit­ical of the NCB, in denial until day 65, but par­tic­u­larly its chair­man Lord Robens, whose invest­it­ure at the University of Surrey was coin­cid­ent­ally and cyn­ic­ally on the night of the dis­aster. He chose not to go to Aberfan. However he even­tu­ally made amends by set­ting up the Health and Safety Executive, a world leader.

Removal of tips was recom­men­ded after the Tribunal but the NCB pleaded it would lead to bank­ruptcy. £150,000 was cov­ertly sequestered (!) from the £1m+ dis­aster fund by the NCB. This was even­tu­ally repaid into the dis­aster fund by the Blair Government, but without interest, until Gordon Brown finally repaid in full. Compensation was capped at £500 for each family, Lord Robens claim­ing that they “wouldn’t be able to cope with a larger sum”.

There was another land­slide at Tylorstown in February 2020, due to rota­tional spoil heap fail­ure. Spoil heaps now have mixed own­er­ship and are not neces­sar­ily well-monitored. Degradation and cli­mate change is renew­ing interest in future poten­tial land­slides in Wales.

Landslides are a major prob­lem around the world. Loss of life is rising with time, con­firmed by evid­ence from Dave Petley’s own data col­lec­tion from 2004. Tibet, Brazil and recently Myanmar have had dis­astrous rota­tional land­slides, in the latter case pre­cip­it­ated by unem­ployed jade miners scav­en­ging and dis­turb­ing spoil heaps.

It was a sur­prise to learn there is no book writ­ten on the Aberfan dis­aster, des­pite the emo­tional memor­ies linger­ing on and a detailed sequence in Netflix series “The Crown”. Dave’s retire­ment pro­ject maybe?

Those inter­ested in more of Dave’s work can access:

Twitter: @davepetley   Blo:

Beware the cliffs!




A Little-Known 18th Century English Polymath — Professor Alan Zinober — 15th June 2020

A poly­math is ‘a person of great and varied learn­ing’ and this cer­tainly described the Reverend John Michell ( 25 Dec 1742 — 12 April 1793).

Michell was a nat­ural philo­sopher and a cler­gy­man and seems to be almost unknown although he was:

  • The first person to sug­gest that earth­quakes are caused by move­ment of rocks beneath the Earth’s sur­face.
  • Someone who pro­duced cheap per­man­ent mag­nets.
  • The one who sug­ges­ted that the force between two mag­nets fol­lowed the inverse square law.
  • The first person to sug­gest that ‘Dark Stars’ (now called ‘Black Holes’) exist.

John Michell was edu­cated at Queens College.

He later became a Professor who taught Arithmetic, Theology, Geometry, Greek, Hebrew and Philosophy.

He had to relin­quish his lec­tur­ing post when he mar­ried because only single men were allowed to lec­ture at the col­lege.

He became Rector at a church near Leeds, but con­tin­ued his interest in Philosophy and Astronomy.

Michell the­or­ised that a very massive sun would have such a huge grav­it­a­tional field that its escape velo­city would be so large that light would not be able to escape from it.

Because of this it would not be vis­ible but it would affect the motion of a binary star nearby.

He called this type of body ‘a Dark Star’.

He knew Cavendish, Benjamin Franklin and Priestley, and he wrote to Cavendish about his ideas about the effect of grav­ity on light.

Michell was not a par­tic­u­larly out­go­ing person so he did not pub­lish his many ideas widely.

This is pos­sibly why he is not well known but is con­sidered by many to be the greatest unsung sci­ent­ist of all time.

Alan Zinober’s Zoom meet­ing con­tained much more inter­est­ing inform­a­tion and was some­thing com­pletely new to Stumperlowe Probus.  It was a wel­come treat for the many mem­bers that ‘atten­ded’.