Monday, January 31, 2011

Let's put the notion of an autumn start to the League where it the bin

John Fogarty

THE GAA likes to regurgitate. Strike that, they don’t. They have no say in it. It’s a force of habit. It’s tradition, you see. Bring back what went before. Sure, it didn’t do us any harm then, did it? Served us well then so why shouldn’t it now?

Never mind there might have been a valid reason why it was done away with, the past is still seen as offering the best. There’s a motion on this year’s Congress Clár to resurrect the ritual of the All-Ireland winning minor captain giving an acceptance speech after it was stopped last year. Where’s the harm in saving a teenager from the onerous task of articulating the victory?

Then there was the mark, something which was brought in, defeated, then brought in again as an experimental rule to reward the art of high-fielding. Ultimately, it was counter-productive (and worryingly it could be back in time for next year’s league).

On the odd occasion, it works. The revival of the four divisional league structure. Good idea. Made sense. Why was it ever changed in the first place?

Restoration of the autumn league start? Bad idea. Bad, bad idea.

Roscommon club Elphin have put forward the motion calling for a return to October league starts, which has been endorsed by the county.

Chairman Michael Fahey last week explained: "The first few months are incredibly busy between National Leagues, third level and under-21 championships. It leaves very little room for club games, which is frustrating for a great many players.

"It's a problem in every county and Roscommon's view is that playing a few league games in October and November would prove very helpful in spring.”

Fahey’s heart is in the right place but why should the National League, the second biggest competition in the GAA, have to compromise for the sake of the college and under-21 teams? A real case of the tail wagging the dog if that were to materialise.

And, frankly, the idea that the move would give clubs more time earlier in the year is a myopic and retrograde one when the business end of club championships will still invariably be staged in October and November and clash with any autumn league fixtures.

The other argument Roscommon have highlighted is the lack of promotion the GAA suffers in the autumn months when club action is hardly a match for Heineken Cup and autumn international series rugby and Premier League soccer.

Those two other sports aren’t without their own fallow times of the year. July and most of August are vacant rugby months while barring a World Cup or European Championship soccer’s desert can extend from May to mid-August.

In fact, three rounds of National League fixtures in October and November when the circus has packed up and left the third weekend in September is hardly promotion. You’d reckon the Dublin County Board would find it painfully difficult to shift tickets for a pre-Christmas Croke Park double-header with Cork and Tipperary just a handful of weeks after the culmination of their exhaustive seasons and still in the midst of deserved celebrations.

No, there’s genuine excitement about the upcoming games at headquarters partly because it’s a new year and with that comes invigorated hope for the romantic Dubs and supporters across the country. Right now, everything is up for grabs because nobody else has got their mitts on it yet.

The GAA should not feel it has to compete with rugby and soccer at a time of year when it “hibernates”. The thing is the Association never sleeps. And this is the biggest misnomer about our national games – it’s not always about the county.

For some though, it is, but players have clubs to play for as well as feet to rest. Asking them to line out for their counties for two more months of the year when they are devoting more than enough – sometimes too much to the cause – would be downright irresponsible of the GAA.

Aside from the player welfare argument, what’s most preposterous about the autumn start is the manner in which it would undermine the National Leagues. Teams’ performances in October and November would be nothing like their displays February onwards.

Were the National League have started last October, it would hardly be surprising if Cork footballers and Tipperary’s hurlers were coming into the new year with zero points from three games. Would it be reflective of their attitude, their talents? Hardly. Flog a dead horse and you get a desperately poor race.

The National League has suffered enough ignominy without having to be split into two sections, which would play out as two completely different competitions.

Sponsors Allianz have warned they won’t accept it – and who could blame them? In fairness, they’ve put up with quite a lot over the years. League finals clashing with all-Irish Heineken Cup semi-finals, repeated rule changes... others would have walked.

Still, the league has endured and Allianz have rightly pointed out it has become less of a stepping stone and more of launch-pad to the championship (Cork were the fifth Division One winners in the last five campaigns to go on and do the double). Chop three games off the run-in to May and its gravitas is lost.

Just when they (and the majority of managers) were rightly looking forward to the 2011 running where there will be no rule changes, along comes this motion. We know where it’s coming from, we know it’s well-meant but it’s misdirected. A vote for it is a backward step.



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Weather warning upgraded as storm approaches

A storm moving its way from the U.S. will affect 100 million people when it is finished with us.


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Have your say on new homes plan for former care home site

WEST HULL: Residents are being the given the chance to air their views on plans to build new homes on the site of a former care home.

As the Mail has previously reported, ten bungalows have been earmarked to be built on the cleared site of the flood-hit Rokeby House in Rokeby Avenue.

The home was demolished last year after a two-year wrangle over its future.

The proposed new �1.5 million development is being backed by a �539,000 grant from the Government's Homes And Communities Agency.

It is being led by Hull-based housing association Pickering And Ferens Homes.

Details of the planning application for the new two-bedroom bungalows will be displayed next Tuesday from 2.45pm to 5pm at Rokeby Park Primary School, Gershwin Avenue, and again on Thursday from 4pm to 7pm at the school.

Roger Elliot, director of Pickering And Ferens Homes, said: "We are delighted the grant from the Homes And Communities Agency has been approved and that the scheme is on schedule to be progressed.

"We anticipate the work will be undertaken by a local contractor which will provide work in the area."

Work will start on the site at the end of March.


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Hockey: St. Ignatius 11, Walsh Jesuit 1

The Wildcats showed why they are atop the Red North Division. Paddy Spellacy, Michael Abood and Miles McQuinn combined for eight goals, with Spellacy getting half of them.

The defending state champs improved to 24-5, 7-2. Walsh is 8-12-5, 1-6-2.


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Super Bowl XLV news roundup ... for those Browns fans who are rooting for the Packers on Sunday

You can't be a Packers fan without the latest Packers news. Read about Charles Woodson, the advantage of playing indoors and order your very own cheesehead.

charles-woodson-celebration.JPGView full sizeBraylon Edwards may not believe it, but Cleveland absolutely can embrace a Michigan man like Charles Woodson.

There might not be a more rabid fan base in the NFL than the cheeseheads in Wisconsin, but the brown-and-orange-clad residents of the Dawg Pound might compete for the title - and this week, many of those Browns fans are cheering for a Packers Super Bowl win.

Here's the latest news on your new "favorite NFL team."

Charles Woodson shows he's leader of the pack.

Despite Braylon Edwards' claims, Cleveland can embrace a Michigan man. Hey, our team's new head coach was born in Ann Arbor after all. The Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz profiles our team leader.

Now that the Packers have reached Super Bowl XLV, Woodson, voted by his
teammates as one of the club’s captains for the playoffs, will deliver
the keynote address before Green Bay faces Pittsburgh next Sunday night,
just as he did prior to the previous three postseason games.

Cowboys Stadium may be friendly to Packers' big offense

Conveniently for Browns/Packers fans, we're in the mood to embrace a new offensive-minded era. So what better team to root for than the Packers? Looks like the Super Bowl venue could help us out.

In 12 career indoor starts, Rodgers has thrown for 25 TDs with six interceptions. His 111.5 indoor passer rating since 2008 is No. 1 in the league.

'You can't do anything but smile' at playing indoors, said Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings, one of five Packers who caught at least 40 balls.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wants to know how far you're traveling to get to Super Bowl XLV. We could totally make it in about 19 hours. Who's in?

And if beating the Steelers isn't reason enough to root for the Packers, The Plain Dealer's Bill Lubinger introduces us to Curtis Young, a Glenville graduate now on the Packers' practice squad. Other Ohio connections on the Green Bay roster include Clay Matthews III, son of Browns great Clay Matthews Jr., and Ohio State alums Matt Wilhelm, Ryan Pickett and A.J. Hawk.

And finally today, as if we needed any reason to believe that the Packers playing in the Super Bowl in 2011 is a sign the Browns will be there soon enough, looks back on how this team started the process 20 years ago with Ron Wolf and - guess who - Mike Holmgren.

Oh yeah. One more thing. You can't be a Packers fan without a cheesehead. $24.99 on Amazon and I think Amazon user reviewer lilakmess sums it up best: "I love my Cheesehead Hat; it makes people happy."


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Ex-student is guilty of �17k fraud in benefits

A former student who fraudulently claimed more than �17,000 of benefits has been given a suspended jail sentence.

Marie Buyoya started off by legitimately claiming jobseekers' allowance and housing and council tax payments in May 2006.

She then enrolled on a three-year business studies course at Leicester's De Montfort University the following September and received thousands of pounds in student grants and loans, but failed to notify the authorities of a change in her circumstances.

Adrian Harris, prosecuting, said Buyoya (31) falsely signed 78 confirmations saying the information the authorities had was accurate. He said she failed to declare that during the three years of studying she received �9,600 in student grants and about �8,000 in student loans, which she received via a friend's bank account.

Mr Harris said the benefits overpayment totaled �17,815, although if she had been truthful she would have been entitled to council tax benefits of about �1,300.

Some of the money has been repaid.

Buyoya was caught out by cross-checking between Government agencies.

When questioned she said she thought the student income was "just for school stuff".

Mr Harris said: "She's intelligent and was on a business studies course and would have known what she was doing."

Buyoya, of Portmore Close, Beaumont Leys, Leicester, admitted three counts of benefit fraud, between 2006 and 2009.

She was given an 18-week jail term, suspended for a year, ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work and placed on a curfew.

The court heard that in June 2006 she received a suspended term for her involvement in a credit card fraud, when she obtained �6,500 in goods and cash.

Sentencing, Recorder Geoffrey Solomons said she "richly deserved" to go to prison and her previous conviction was an aggravating feature, but he told her: "I'm prepared to take a risk with you and suspend the sentence."


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More staffing changes at the White House

Jake Tapper lays it out:

Sources tell ABC News that President Obama will announce a number of staffing changes this afternoon, including the appointment of two new deputy chiefs of staff: current head of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle and current White House director of Scheduling and Advance Alyssa Mastromonaco.

White House insiders say Robert Gibbs' replacement as White House press secretary will be Jay Carney, the current communications director for the Vice President, though the president has yet to inform Carney or any of the other candidates -- deputy communications director Jen Psaki, in particular, but also deputy press secretaries Bill Burton and Josh Earnest -- of his decision.

Other job announcements include a role for Assistant to the President for Special Projects Stephanie Cutter as deputy to senior adviser David Plouffe and a senior staff role for David Lane, a longtime aide to chief of staff Bill Daley, on Daley's team. Rob Nabors, currently a senior adviser to the White House chief of staff, will become director of legislative affairs; the current director, Phil Schiliro, has long been expected to leave after a very active two years.

It's worth noting that, as of late, Cutter has been leading the communications effort on behalf of the Affordable Care Act and DeParle ran the White House's Office of Health Reform. So one way or the other, there's going to be a lot of knowledge and interest in the fate of the health-care bill among the top staff at the White House.


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Join race to help diabetes research

Runners in Leicestershire are being urged to sign up to help raise money for research and treatments for diabetes.

National charity Diabetes UK is hoping people will run the 2011 Great North Run, which takes place on Sunday, September 18, in Newcastle.

Last year, Team Diabetes UK comprised more than 800 runners. The charity is hoping to recruit more than 1,000 runners for this year's event.

The public ballot for places closes on Monday, February 7.

Diabetes UK has a limited number of places for the event. Anyone who is not successful in getting a place through the public ballot will be able to apply for one of the charity's slots.

Funds raised by members of Team Diabetes UK will go towards supporting the 208,197 people in the East Midlands who have diabetes.

All runners will receive weekly training plans to help them achieve the fitness required to complete this half- marathon.

Lisa Stafford, regional fund-raising officer for Diabetes UK, said: "Running for Diabetes UK means that you will be making your miles go further by helping to fund vital research work and other diabetes-related projects."

To register in the ballot go online at the address below. To run on behalf of Diabetes UK, select the charity from the drop-down list.

For more information on securing a place in the Diabetes UK team call Lisa Stafford on 01325 488606 or e mail:


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Patrols increased to catch burglars in Clarendon Park, Leicester

Police have stepped up patrols in an attempt to catch burglars who have been targeting homes in in Clarendon Park, Leicester, in the past two months.

Officers have also urged residents to take basic steps to protect their homes.

At least a dozen homes, many of them occupied by students, in the area have been burgled since the beginning of the month.

A similar number of homes were raided in December.

Then, police delivered crime prevention leaflets to hundreds of homes in the neighbourhood to encourage people to take some simple steps to protect their properties.

Pc Emma Jayne, beat officer for the neighbourhood, said the number of offences was still unusually high for the area.

She said: "We are staging extra patrols to try to catch the people responsible.

"Most of the break-ins have happened during the day.

"It includes some student houses.

"Criminals know student homes are not like family homes and they will find four laptops, four iPods and so on.

"The message we're trying to get across is people need to be mindful of home security.

"It's simple things like making sure windows, doors and garden or alley gates are locked.

"People can also leave lights on when they are out or use timer switches so lights come on at intervals, so it looks like their house is occupied."

Clarendon Park resident, 20-year-old student James Curren, said: "I live with three other people and it's easy sometimes to forget to lock a door or window and just assume one of the others will do it.

"We've all agreed to take responsibility to make sure everything is safe and locked.

"Between the four of us we've got a lot of valuable stuff and we wouldn't be able to afford replacements if we did get burgled."

The University of Leicester has said previously it frequently reminds students to take basic home security measures when they move into the private rented houses off its main campus.

Crime prevention advice is available from Leicestershire police on 0116 222 2222 or at:


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Medina Gymnastics Academy competes in Twistars USA Invitational

Medina Gymnastics Academy kicked off its Optional season at the 2011 Twistars USA Invitational in Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 7.


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Well-traveled filly goes for first stakes win Saturday at Tampa Bay downs

By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
Friday, January 28, 2011

OLDSMAR — She is C C's Pal, whose initials symbolize the filly from Florida.

Cross-country. Coast-to-coast.

C C's Pal has raced at seven tracks in seven states, traveling nearly 7,000 miles. Today she can win her first stakes in the $50,000 Manatee (Race 9, 4:10 p.m.) at Tampa Bay Downs.

This will be the 4-year-old debut for C C's Pal, who has three wins, three Grade III-placed finishes and career earnings of $209,886. She has been off since a second-place showing in the $70,000 Witches Brew on Oct. 31 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. C C's Pal was freshened at Vinery in Summerfield.

"We have to start her back somewhere," trainer Derek Ryan said. "She's a blue-collar horse who always shows up."

C C's Pal, who was nominated to the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff, drew Post 3 in the 7-furlong Manatee race. She faces 10 rivals under jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr.

Ten of her 15 career starts have been in stakes, four graded. The Grade III stakes placings came last year. She was second in the $175,000 Florida Oaks at the Downs (no longer graded) and third in the $200,000 Monmouth Oaks and $100,000 Comely at Aqueduct in Jamaica, N.Y.

That capped a solid 2010 for C C's Pal, who had one allowance victory, at Monmouth Park, eight top-three finishes from 10 starts, and earnings of $185,136 for New York owner Eric Fein.

The filly by Alex's Pal and out of the Noactor mare Roca was somewhat of a problem child when Ryan purchased her privately last year at an undisclosed price from Cathy Courtemanche.

"She was (difficult) in the paddock, and she was acting up in the gate," Ryan said. "As she's gotten older, she's settled down nice. She's a sweetheart, quiet as a mouse."

Ryan learned C C's Pal was for sale after the Florida-bred ran third against the boys in an allowance-optional claiming race at the Downs. C C's Pal was defeated that day by Schoolyard Dreams, a Ryan-trained colt that lost the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby by a nose.

C C's Pal showed promise early in her career. After losing her debut at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., she won her next two races at Retama Park in Selma, Texas, dominating maiden-special weight and allowance 2-year-olds by 26 total lengths.

Ryan said C C's Pal performs best at two turns. Her past two workouts were tops on those respective mornings at the Downs.

"She deserves a stakes win," Ryan said. "She's a classy, classy filly."

greyhounds: Keith Dillon, 95, an industry icon who bred and raced champion dogs including Havencroft, Keefer, Perceive and Understood at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, died Monday in Olathe, Kan., where funeral services are today.


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I talked with Hopkins about God

Our young actress Marija Karan proves that dreams come true if there is strong belief in them. Recently there was a premier of her first Hollywood film ?The Rite?. Together with legendary Anthony Hopkins who is in the main role, she walked along the red carpet.


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2A-10 district soccer: Shorecrest reaches final on penalty kicks

Bob Putnam, Times Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG — Regulation had spilled into overtime in Thursday's Class 2A, District 10 semifinal between Sarasota Out-of-Door and Shorecrest. That did not settle things either.

So after 100 minutes of soccer, the game would be decided by its harshest of verdicts: penalty kicks.

Five players from each team set the ball 12 yards from the goal. Through one round, the score was tied 3-3. Out came another group of players.

Chargers captain Matt Reese did not want a part of this. He asked to be excluded from the first round of kicks and had to be convinced to be part of the second.

Reese blasted his shot through the net then watched Out-of-Door's Michael Finnazzo send a shot that hooked wide. That allowed Shorecrest to advance to tonight's final against top-seeded Bradenton St. Stephen's at 7.

"I was definitely nervous when I went out there," Reese said. "I just kept my head down and focused on the ball. I knew that shot was going in."

The victory was redemption for the Chargers, who lost to Out-of-Door in last season's district semifinals on a goal with 20 seconds left in the second overtime.

"This was sweet for us," Shorecrest coach Jeff Diedrich said. "We had this one on our radar all season."

Both teams scored a goal in the second half of regulation. The Chargers (9-8-2) went ahead on a shot from Rheese Wiltshire from 25 yards. The Thunder tied it with about 20 minutes left when Finnazzo headed in a shot off of a corner kick.

Both teams had chances in regulation that were saved, blasted high or sliced.

"It was a tense game," Diedrich said. "We just had to take a deep breath, especially after the (first) round of penalty kicks. We made a big save at the end of the first round that gave us the momentum we needed."


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5A region soccer: Naples Gulf Coast 1, Freedom 0

Kyle Bennett, Times Correspondent
Friday, January 28, 2011

TAMPA — Freedom (11-2-3) was not able to repeat its shootout heroics from a week ago as Naples Gulf Coast (14-3-3) nailed four of its five penalty shots to win 1-0.

The game was a defensive struggle that featured nearly five hours of soccer and three different playing fields. Scoreless through regulation and overtime the teams only managed nine combined shots with five of them coming in overtime.

Stephanie Rodriguez sealed the victory for the Sharks. She was the fifth shooter and rifled a perfectly shot ball in the bottom right corner, past the diving effort of Freedom goalkeeper Emily Ball. Rodriguez was the fourth consecutive shooter to score for the Sharks.

Although only facing five shots through regulation and overtime Gulf Coast keeper Kaeta Choquette stepped up when it mattered most, denying two penalty kicks.

Freedom High School was the scheduled host site for the regional matchup, but the teams were forced move to the University of South Florida soccer field due to power outages at Freedom.

Regulation was decided at USF before a circuit breaker blew, which led to an hourlong delay before the decision was made to move the teams, once again. Wharton was the third and final site for the game.


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Recruiting: Is 4.4 in the 40 real or a dream run?

By John. C. Cotey, Times Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011

TAMPA — In about the time it takes you to read this sentence, a high school football player can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds.

Or at least that's what he'd have you think.

But don't believe the hype. The truth is, most kids aren't that fast.

"Everybody says they run a 4.4," said Larry Blustein, a Miami recruiting analyst who has been scouting Florida for more than 40 years. "But very few do."

Why do so many athletes claim they run so fast? Because they are convinced it gets them noticed. It's hard to argue that, given recruiting services and football fans' infatuation with speed.

The magic number: 4.4.

"It's going to catch people's eyes," said Charles Fishbein, director of Elite Scouting Services. "But I think it's one of the most overrated things out there."

Every evaluator has his favorite tool for sizing up a player. Fishbein's is the vertical and broad jumps. He thinks they measure a player's explosiveness much more than a 40 time.

For ESPN national director of recruiting Tom Luginbill, it's the three-cone drill and the short shuttle, which measure a player's quickness and change of direction.

"You want speed, no doubt about it," he said. "But how often do you run unabated in a straight line for 40 yards on a football field?"

Both analysts have seen their fair share of timed sprints at various camps and combines, but rarely have they seen a 4.4 pop up.

"The 4.4 is almost like a myth," Fishbein said.


More often, the most highly rated prospects at the skill positions are running in the 4.5-4.65 range.

"Most of the time when a high school coach says a guy is 4.4, he's at least 4.5 or 4.6," Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis said.

"All high school guys lie about their height and weight and speed. And there's nothing wrong with that; they should be trying to get their kids' names out there."

NFL draft expert Gil Brandt, who has perhaps timed more people in the 40 than anyone in the world, chuckles when thinking about how many times he has had to give the bad news to a coach that his player is not as fast as he said the player was.

"You want to win a wager?" the former Dallas Cowboys chief talent scout said. "Ask someone how tall they are. If they say 6-2, bet 'em that they are closer to 6 feet. Ask a guy how fast he runs, and it's the same thing."

Every analyst warns that a reliance on the 4.4 standard is not a recipe for success. Faster players have failed, and slower ones have succeeded.

At last year's NFL combine, former Largo High standout Dexter McCluster ran what was considered a disappointing 4.58. But anyone who watched him play at Ole Miss saw a much faster player.

"Speed is a lot of times misleading," Brandt said, though the craving for it continues.


Even in a year when the Tampa Bay area high school talent pool has never been deeper, the true 4.4 athlete is scarce.

"I call 4.4 speed scary fast," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "Lindsey Lamar (a former Hillsborough player now at USF) was scary fast. You don't see many of those guys."

Nature Coast Tech's Ja'Juan Story and Robinson's Frankie Williams might be the closest, though the 4.5-4.6 range has been plenty sufficient for Plant's James Wilder Jr., Jefferson's Andre Davis, Countryside's Alex Dixon and Pasco's Jamie Byrd, to name a few.

"You don't have to run a 4.4 to be a great football player," recruiting analyst Blustein said. "I think kids get too caught up in that number."

Blustein said no college scout relies solely on the 40 time. He said those scouts focus on finding kids who can play. But, he said, recruiting services give more weight to the 40, even adjusting their rankings based on the latest times.

Brandt said 50 percent of the people timing players don't know how to do it right. Callahan said that to record a 40 time to sell to a college, he's unwilling to let someone he doesn't know or who isn't qualified do it as a hedge against getting a time that could end up hurting one of his players.

The 4.4 is repeated so often, players lose sight of how fast that — or even 4.5 and 4.6 — really is.

Many high school coaches, such as Lakeland's Bill Castle and Jacksonville Bolles' Corky Rogers, don't want their players participating in camps and combines, even if most players enjoy the one-on-one drills, instruction and chance to measure up to their contemporaries.

"There's only a few guys that I know that have gone to a combine and got something off it," Clearwater Central Catholic's Davis said. "One was Louis Murphy (Lakewood), who goes to Miami and runs a 4.4, and that puts him on everyone's chart. He was on an 0-10 team that year, but he ran so well, it got him noticed. And (former CCC wideout) Riley Cooper ran a really good time, and so did (CCC linebacker) Colin McCarthy."

Murphy and Cooper are in the NFL, and McCarthy, who played in college at Miami, could join them this year.

Analysts Fishbein, Luginbill and Blustein don't blame coaches who are leery of the 40 times recorded at camps and combines.

"You can be a player that produces for three years on the field, and you go to a combine and run a bad 40 time, and those three years get thrown out by some kid who hasn't produced but runs a 4.4," Fishbein said. "People get skewed into thinking that guy's the better football player."

Recruiting and assessing talent is a science for which there is no perfect formula. But the 4.4 endures.

It's just one piece of the puzzle. But it's a bright, shiny piece we can't take our eyes off.

"A few years ago, the time was 4.6," Davis said, "then it was 4.5, now it's 4.4, and we're starting to hear that there's 4.3 guys out there.

"I don't know where these guys are. My stopwatch never seems to stop on 4.4."


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Injured Tampa Bay Buccaneers healing well

By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011

TAMPA — The Bucs finished the season with 13 players on injured reserve, some of them among their most valuable. Eight were starters at the time they sustained their season-ending injuries, leaving the depth at key positions depleted.

As a result, this otherwise quiet portion of the offseason represents some of the most critical days of the 2011 season, which — dependent on the outcome of the league's labor squabble — is eight months away.

Getting those players healthy is one of the team's highest priorities, especially given the serious nature of some of the injuries.

The good news: General manager Mark Dominik, says everything is proceeding on schedule, with most of the hurt players on track to partici­pate in offseason workouts to varying extents.

"I've been really encouraged by everything (head trainer) Todd Toriscelli's told me about the progression guys are making right now," Dominik said. "That's encouraging that all those guys will be back and participate as much as they can."

Remember, last offseason is when the team really began to jell. It's when WR Arrelious Benn (torn ACL) started getting in synch with his quarterback and S Cody Grimm (broken leg) began learning a defense in which he eventually excelled.

The remaining starters lost to injury: LB Quincy Black (broken arm), CB Aqib Talib (torn hip tendon), DT Gerald McCoy (torn biceps), C Jeff Faine (torn triceps), G Davin Joseph (broken foot) and DE Kyle Moore (shoulder).

Another critical injury is the one to reserve DT Brian Price. The 2010 second-round draft pick sustained a pelvic fracture that required surgery. After months of painful attempts to practice last offseason, Price had the problem discovered after the start of the regular season. He was robbed of nearly his whole rookie year.

Given the apparent delicate nature of the injury, Dominik was asked whether there is long-term concern for Price.

"We don't believe so," he said. "We think it's taken care of."

If all these players are on track to get back on the field in some capacity this offseason, the Bucs will benefit. Imagine Grimm spending a whole offseason with the first-team defense, something he did not do last year. Picture McCoy having a season's worth of film to assess before suiting up for workouts.

Benn, whose injury occurred in Week 16, is clearly behind the others. It seems unlikely he would see any action until training camp. But for the most part, the Bucs could soon have some key pieces back where they're needed most:

On the field.

JOSEPH'S FATE: Joseph, a first-round draft pick in 2006, will soon become an unrestricted free agent. But don't expect the Bucs to let him walk without making an effort to retain him.

Then again, we don't know how much flexibility is built into Dominik's philosophy of predetermining a player's value and proceeding accordingly.

"We have to look at each guy individually and kind of figure out what we're going to allocate for that position and for that player specifically," he said. "We're just at the start of that now."

Joseph's bargaining position won't be helped by him coming off a season that was not one of his best. Dominik applauded his performance, but it can be argued Joseph wasn't as dominant as he was in past seasons.

TANARD UPDATE: The Bucs aren't allowed to have contact with suspended FS Tanard Jackson, but word is Jackson is taking the necessary steps to be ready if commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates him in September. That's when Jackson's yearlong substance-abuse suspension is scheduled to end.

Dominik refuses to commit to anything, but don't be surprised if the Bucs extend open arms to Jackson, whose rights they own for another year.

FAMILIAR FACES: Former special teams coach Rich Bisaccia attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last week with his new team, the Chargers. He watched workouts from the stands with, among others, former offensive line coach Bill Muir (now with the Chiefs) and current Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson.

For the record, the Chargers called Bisaccia, not the other way around.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at


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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Disused pub set to be demolished

Demolition of a disused pub is expected to take place in the next few weeks, ahead of a �2 million redevelopment project.

The Invincible, which has stood empty in Eyres Monsell, Leicester since 2004, will be knocked down to make way for new shops.

Once work on the new retail area is complete, the Exchange shopping precinct on the estate will be demolished and replaced with new homes.

Ben Shepherd, development consultant for MF Strawsons, which owns the site, said: "There have been delays. At the moment, we're waiting on an asbestos survey but we are making arrangements to demolish the site in a few weeks."

The pub has been repeatedly targeted by vandals, arsonists and fly-tippers in the past few years.

Once the site is clear, it is hoped building work can begin at the end of March.

Nearby residents have been waiting for years for the site to be redeveloped and welcomed the news.

Sue Green, 65, from Queens Park Way, said: "It's really good news. We were getting down about things not being done but now that's turning around. It will make the area a lot more attractive."

Wayne Natzel, 32, of Featherstone Drive, said: "As with every boarded up building, it attracts vandalism and unsightly graffiti.

"But once the pub is gone, it'll brighten up that part of Eyres Monsell."

Ward Councillor Rory Palmer said: "I'm pleased to hear work on site is beginning soon. As far as I'm concerned, the sooner the pub comes down the better.

"Any large regeneration project like this has its problems, like the recession we're coming through, but the area desperately needs new shops and new investment."


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Hillsborough: Girls basketball district tournament preview

By Eduardo A. Encina, Times Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011


Without hesitation, Sickles coach Mark Key says he believes he has Hillsborough County's top two players. "We're talking two Division I kids," Key said Wednesday after Sickles' 72-56 win over Tampa Bay Tech. "They could be two of the better kids in our classification." And it's difficult to argue. There's no doubt that two-time Parade All-American Amber Henson, a 6-foot-4 center who will play at Duke next year, is one. And junior point guard Bre Crum spent most of the season as the county's leading scorer. For the pair, who are in their third season playing together, this postseason is their last chance to take Sickles to its first state tournament — and last opportunity to play for a state title.

But as good as Henson and Crum are — the two missed a combined 18 games due to injuries this season — the Gryphons (15-9) will go only as far as their supporting cast takes them, Key said.

"I think we're a lot better because we've got some young kids who have really showed up," Key said. "They've learned they've got to play. We told the kids all year long that if were going to make a run, they all had to fit in. And that's one of the things we've worked on."

Henson, who is averaging 19.7 points, 13.6 rebounds and 7.3 blocks, has missed 12 games — most of November and December — due to complications from her offseason knee surgery. Crum missed six games with an ankle injury and played in several games when Key said she was maybe 50 percent.

Their absence was obvious. Mid December was the low point — a three-point loss to Chamberlain, followed by a 37-point loss to Freedom, which cost Sickles the No. 1 seed in this week's Class 5A-9 district tournament.

"Oh my God, it was hard to watch, especially when we were losing," Crum said. "Because they wouldn't know what to do and you'd be trying to coach them up, and when you see them not execute, it was just hard to watch your team like that.

Said Henson: "I was the biggest cheerleader. Bre can tell you that. I hated watching it, but I had to stay positive."

Henson and Crum still have their moments of frustration when a pass goes through the hands of a teammate or an easy layup is missed. But out of their absence emerged a third scoring threat in sophomore Sara Hartman, a former perimeter role player who held the team together when the stars were out.

"We knew she was going to be good, but she's done things this year we didn't expect," Key said. "She's been unreal."

"I definitely think we're better because of it," said Hartman, who scored 32 against Alonso earlier this season. "We had to step up and do everything we could to win. And now with them back, it's so much easier."

After advancing to the region semifinals two years ago, and losing to Boca Ciega in the region final last season, anything but a trip to state would be a disappointment.

"I think it's good and bad, because the deeper we go, people are going to think that if they get the two of us out of the game, they've got the game," Crum said. "That's when it's going to get a little bit harder and when everyone else is going to have to step up.

"I think we're getting better as the season goes on with that. Sara's been doing a good job of that. I think she'll spread a lot of people out."


Admission: $5 per session

6A-8 at Alonso

Tuesday: Alonso (4) vs. Bloomingdale (5), 7 p.m.; Wednesday: Wharton (2) vs. Brandon (3), 6; Plant (1) vs. Alonso/Bloomingdale winner, 7:30; Friday: final, 7

5A-9 at Gaither

Tuesday: Chamberlain (3) vs. King (6), 6; Hillsborough (4) vs. Gaither (5), 8; Wednesday: Sickles (2) vs. Chamberlain/King winner, 6; Freedom (1) vs. Hillsborough/Gaither winner, 8; Friday: final, 7

5A-8 at Durant

Tuesday: Armwood (4) vs. East Bay (5), 5; Tampa Bay Tech (2) vs. Plant City (7), 6:30; Durant (3) vs. Newsome (6), 8; Thursday: Riverview (1) vs. Armwood/East Bay winner, 6; TBT/Plant City winner vs. Durant/Newsome winner, 7:30; Friday: final, 7

4A-9 at Jefferson

Tuesday: Strawberry Crest (4) vs. Blake (5), 6; Jefferson (1) vs. Lennard (8), 7:30; Wednesday: Steinbrenner (3) vs. Robinson (6), 6; Spoto (2) vs. Middleton (7), 7:30; Friday: Steinbrenner/Robinson winner vs. Spoto/Middleton winner, 6; Jefferson/Lennard winner vs. Strawberry Crest/Blake winner, 7:30; Saturday: final, 7

3A-10 at Berkeley Prep

Tuesday: Berkeley Prep (4) vs. Clearwater Central Catholic (5), 7; Thursday: St. Petersburg Catholic (2) vs. Academy of the Holy Names (3), 6; Tampa Catholic (1) vs. Berkeley Prep/CCC winner, 7:30; Saturday: final, 7

2A-10 at Calvary Christian

Thursday: Tampa Prep (4) vs. Bishop McLaughlin (5), 7; Friday: Brooks-DeBartolo (2) vs. Calvary Christian (3), 6; Indian Rocks Christian (1) vs. Tampa Prep/Bishop McLaughlin winner, 7:30; Saturday: final, 7

A-9 at Tampa Bay Christian

Tuesday: Lakeside Christian (4) vs. Tampa Bay Christian (5), 5:30; Cambridge (3) vs. Canterbury (6), 7; Friday: Academy at the Lakes (2) vs. Cambridge/Canterbury winner, 5:30; Keswick Christian (1) vs. Lakeside Christian/Tampa Bay Christian winner, 7; Saturday: final, 7

A-8 at Seffner Christian

Tuesday: Citrus Park Christian (4) vs. Bayshore Christian (5), 6; Thursday: Bradenton Christian (2) vs. Hernando Christian (3), 5; Seffner Christian (1) vs. Citrus Park Christian/Bayshore Christian winner, 7; Saturday: final, 7

Other teams to watch

Jefferson (22-1): The Dragons are indisputably the county's top team. With wins over Tampa Bay Tech, Tampa Catholic, Sickles (twice) and Plant, Jefferson has beaten all of its top county opponents under coach Jim Baxter, a former college women's assistant and boys high school coach coaching high school girls for the first time.

Tampa Catholic (19-4): The Crusaders are the county's hottest team, entering the postseason on a 16-game winning streak. Tampa Catholic hasn't lost since Dec. 4, and recent wins over St. Petersburg Catholic and Sickles have the Crusaders' confidence riding high.

Riverview (23-2): The top-seeded Sharks have flown under the radar most of the season, but when they handed district foe Tampa Bay Tech a 13-point loss in mid December, you had to take notice. Riverview heads into the postseason having won 17 of its past 18 games.

Plant (18-5): Another team that's quietly productive, the Panthers went 8-0 in district play. They're battle-tested with a tough non-district schedule — all five losses came to district No. 1 or 2 seeds.

Tampa Bay Tech (17-7): The Titans might have one of the most talented all-around teams and one of the deepest. They've played a tough schedule with two state showcases on their slate. But they'll have to rebound from recent losses to Durant and Sickles.

Seffner Christian (16-7): The Crusaders will likely get a fight from No. 2 seed Bradenton Christian in the district final, but Seffner, led by Wharton transfer Tesha Hanson (24.0 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game) could make a deep postseason run.


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New �5m shopping centre on its way for Orchard Park

Orchard Park will have a new long-awaited shopping centre within a year, the Mail understands.


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USF Bulls earn second Big East victory, 71-60 over DePaul Blue Demons

By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011

TAMPA — USF coach Stan Heath has talked about the need for his team to get that final big run in a game, that "last knockout punch" to seal a victory.

And in the Bulls' 71-60 win over DePaul on Thursday night at the Sun Dome, they finally got one, with sophomore guard Jawanza Poland delivering some of the biggest blows.

Poland had two highlight-reel dunks and an alley-oop pass during a 12-3 second-half run, helping USF hand DePaul its eighth consecutive loss and extend its conference losing streak to 21 games.

"I thought Poland was a lightning rod out there for us with some of the energetic plays he made," Heath said. "As much as the dunks were really, really impressive, I thought the passing-lane deflections and really the defensive intensity is what I really liked the most."

One big key for USF (8-14, 2-7 Big East) was handling DePaul's pressure and cutting down on turnovers, which have plagued the Bulls all season. They entered Thursday with the nation's worst turnover margin (minus-5.9) but committed just five in the first half while taking a 10-point lead. USF had 13 overall; DePaul had 14.

"We finally won that (turnover battle)," Heath said. "That was a big difference for us."

Several Bulls stepped up. Forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, a Tampa native, scored 11 off the bench, and guard Hugh Robertson led the way with 16 points, including a big 3-pointer in the waning minutes when DePaul had cut its deficit to six. "That, I thought, was the dagger," Heath said.

But when the Blue Demons' press began to get to the Bulls late, Poland's big plays helped give them breathing room.

First, there was a coast-to-coast drive and dunk with about five minutes left, which extended USF's lead to 10 and wowed the announced crowd of 3,465. Less than a minute later, Poland stole a pass at midcourt and cruised in, spinning for a reverse dunk.

"Ballgame," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell deadpanned.

Considering how rough the Big East season has been for USF, facing the last-place Blue Demons (6-14, 0-8) was a welcome reprieve. In beating DePaul for the fifth straight time, the Bulls have some momentum heading into Wednesday's road game in Providence, the only other conference team they've beaten.

"We needed this win," Heath said. "If you're going to have a week off, you want to feel good about yourself. And having a win does that."

Joe Smith can be reached at


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Mitrovic believes that his wife?s sister and her husband were poisoning him

Zeljko Mitrovic, owner of the ?Pink? TV believes that he is a victim of poisoning. His list of suspects includes his wife?s sister Lola and her husband Zlatko Krmpotic, former footballer of the ?Red Star? FC.


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Sports in brief

Times wires
Thursday, January 27, 2011


Contador camp: Spain accepts drug explanation

MADRID — Spanish federation authorities have accepted Alberto Contador's defense that his positive Tour de France doping test resulted from eating contaminated meat, Contador's spokesman said Thursday.

The federation has proposed a one-year ban for Contador, rather than the standard two-year penalty, after his positive clenbuterol test at last year's Tour.

Spokesman Jacinto Vidarte said the federation accepted Contador's contention that the result was due to "unintentional ingestion" of the banned substance.

If the ban is adopted, Contador would be stripped of the Tour title and miss this year's race.

"I'm motivated and focused on my work," Contador said from the Saxo Bank team training camp in Palma de Mallorca. "That's what brings you rewards in the future."

Contador has until Feb. 9 to present more evidence before the federation's disciplinary committee renders a final verdict. That decision can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the International Cycling Union or the World Anti-Doping Agency. Contador has vowed to appeal a ban.

figure skating

Ellenton pair 2nd in short program

Pairs team Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, 2010 Olympians who train at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Manatee County, were in second place after the short program at the U.S. championships in Greensboro, N.C., 1.43 points behind leaders Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin (64.30 points).

In fourth were defending champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, 2010 Olympians who used to train at Ellenton but changed coaches to improve their artistic side and are now based in Coral Springs. Denney fell on their side-by-side triple toe loops.

The free skate is Saturday.

In the women's short program, 2008 winner Mirai Nagasu took a narrow lead over 2009 champ Alissa Czisny. Defending champion Rachael Flatt was third. The free skate also is Saturday.

et cetera

Tennis: Women's pioneer Fern Lee "Peachy" Kellmeyer, who lives in St. Petersburg, was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the contributor category. Kellmeyer, 66, joins Andre Agassi in the 2011 class. She was the first director of the WTA in 1973 and now is a consultant for the women's tour. Hall induction is July 9.

Times wires


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Nearly 1,000 homes will be built within six years

Almost 1,000 new homes will be built by 2017 as part of a huge development in the north of Leicester.

A major local employer is also in the frame to move on to the Ashton Green site, it has emerged.

Council documents have laid out the timeline for the 320-acre site to the north of Beaumont Leys.

The aim is for work to begin on the site next year and for 950 homes to be constructed within five years.

The total development of 3,000 homes will take 15 to 20 years to complete.

Planning approval was given last month and the council will attempt to find a potential developer this year.

City regeneration spokesman Abdul Osman said: "We're at an advanced stage with a local employer planning to relocate around 200 staff to the site."

Mr Osman said he could not give any details about the employer but added: "Things are looking positive and we're planning to push ahead with finding a developer and aim to get around a third of the planned houses constructed by 2017.

"The development will be a brand new community with healthcare, a school, shops and much more."

The site has been allocated for the development since the mid-1970s but city leaders said last year that the time was right to start work to meet growing housing needs.

Almost one-third of the housing would be rental or lower-cost homes.

The proposal include plans for a 420-place primary school, community and health facilities and shops.

Homes will be fitted with solar panels so that the site is carbon neutral, as well as extra cycle paths and bus routes to help make the area eco-friendly.

Many people living in the surrounding area have raised concerns about the predicted increase in traffic, the impact on house prices and the loss of green fields.

Alan Corney, 40, who lives near Highcliffe Primary School, in Birstall, said: "There are still a lot of concerns about the effect such a massive development will have on this area.

"Loads of people bought houses here over the years without any idea that this transformation was on the cards.

"I just hope there won't be much disruption to residents who live nearby."

Eric Parker, 67, of nearby Harrowgate Drive, said: "It's a massive project. I'll be 87 by the time this is all finished.

"The more I hear about it the more it sounds like it'll be a brand new town rather than a housing estate. It worries some people."

He added: "It's good news though that there's a local business interested in moving to this site."


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5A-11 district soccer: East Lake 8, Tarpon Springs 2; Seminole 4, Clearwater 1

Lauren Burg, Times Correspondent
Friday, January 28, 2011

EAST LAKE — In the Class 5A, District 11 semifinals, one game featured a team that was unstoppable while the other was a defensive battle.

In the first game, East Lake quickly took care of Tarpon Springs, building a 5-1 lead by halftime en route to an 8-2 win.

The scoring began early in the first half when Anthony Giordano broke free, firing a shot past Tarpon goalkeeper Charlie Hatcher. Ryan Wankat then scored his first of a hat trick when he took a pass from Cooper Coughlin and fired it past Hatcher for a 2-0 lead. Giordano then found Gunnar Kruse streaking down the center of the field and passed to him for his first of two goals. Kruse then got his second goal when Cameron Coughlin found him streaking down the left side and passed to him for a 4-0 lead not even midway through the first half.

East Lake scored just before halftime when Hunter Davis took a pass from Tanner Guy and fired into a wide-open net.

In the second semifinal, Seminole started slow but heated up late in the first half en route to a 4-1 win over Clearwater.

Clearwater started the scoring midway through the first half when Jarrett Lyons fired a shot past Seminole keeper Kenneth Matthews.

Seminole then scored two goals in the final four minutes of the first half. The first came when Garret Bocon fired his first of two goals past Clearwater keeper Keegan Lathan to tie the game at one. Just two minutes later, Ben Seltzer fired a shot past Lathan for his first of two goals and a 2-1 halftime lead.


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Friday, January 28, 2011

Lifesaving boat will be shipshape

A BOAT set to save lives on the Humber estuary is taking shape in an East Riding workshop.

Humber Rescue's current vessel has been credited with saving 50 people.

But after 14 years of service on one of the world's most dangerous estuaries, it is showing signs of wear and tear.

Now, a state-of-the-art replacement is being built in a farm workshop.

Dave Roberts, a founder member of the charity based on Hessle Foreshore, said: "We expect the boat to be delivered in around a month-and-a-half.

"It is the same model as the old one – 8.5m long. But it is 40cm wider. This will make it a lot easier to carry out resuscitations on board."

The XS Ribs 850, currently under construction, costs �71,000.

For the past six years the charity – launched in 1989 – has raised funds to pay for it.

As previously reported, an un-named woman left �25,000 in her will to Humber Rescue and that donation helped the charity reach its target.

Mr Roberts said: "That donation was the icing on the cake and allowed us to order the boat.

"It will be capable of reaching speeds of up 40 knots."

Humber Rescue's current boat was built by Tornado.

That firm that has since moved its work abroad but many of its workers transferred to XS Ribs which is manufacturing the new boat.

Laurence Lock, managing director of XS Ribs, said: "Some of the guys who worked on the old boat are now building this one.

"This craft is highly specified to suit the specific requirements of Humber Rescue.

"The environment of the Humber is very testing of any boat and the sea conditions can be rough."

Several businesses contributed to fund the boat – which is the same model as that used by Humber Police's marine search unit - including Sainsbury's at Hessle, which chose Humber Rescue as its charity of the year.

Hull City's new owner Assem Allam, owner of Melton-based manufacturing firm Allam Marine, also made a donation.

Mr Roberts said the charity would use the old boat for training purposes.

"We are looking to extend the boathouse to accommodate both boats," he said. "When we get the new boat we will need to find somewhere secure to store our old one."

Humber Rescue has 20 fully-trained crew members and three trainees, supported by a four-strong fundraising team.

If you are able to offer Humber Rescue a temporary storage facility, call the boathouse on 01482 648200.


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Humberside Police loses 56 officers as jobs freeze takes effect

Humberside Police lost 56 police officers in six months, new figures have revealed.

A recruitment freeze in place at the force meant 56 officers who retired or left between March and September 2010 were not replaced.

Chief Constable Tim Hollis previously told the Mail the freeze will be in place for up to three years.

Figures released by the Home Office show the force employed 1,961 officers in September, compared to 2,028 in March. In September 2009, the force had 2,071 officers.


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Suspended, on full pay - councils paying staff as they sit at home doing nothing

Between them, the city and county councils have 35 suspended employees. our hospitals have none, the two universities in Leicester, just one. why the massive – and very costly – discrepancy? Adam Wakelin reports

Who wouldn't love to sit at home on full pay for a year, or even longer? Nice work if you can get it, you might think, picking up a salary for twiddling your thumbs.

Well, no, not really, not if you're suspended from your job, suffering all the uncertainties and stresses that such a predicament inevitably brings.

Anyone who's had half an eye on the news in Leicester will know that De Montfort Hall manager Richard Haswell has been in that situation for more than 15 months now.

Leicester City Council chief executive Sheila Lock, the politicians and Mr Haswell himself – more vehemently than anyone – all say they're desperate to see the matter resolved. And, so far, there's absolutely no sign of it.

It's hard not to think of Jarndyce v Jarndyce from Bleak House, the never-ending and incomprehensible dispute that only ended when everyone was dead or exhausted and the entire estate was eaten away by legal costs.

Dickens' novel even has a character called Sir Leicester Dedlock, apt in more ways than one. There are a lot of Leicester deadlocks in this story.

The case of Mr Haswell isn't unique, we've discovered. Far from it.

Three other city council staff, like him, have been suspended from work for more than a year.

Another six employees have been suspended for between six months and a year by the authority, nine more for between three and six months.

Now prepare yourself for a real suspension of disbelief. One city council employee was paid to kick his or her heels at home for 45 months – nearly four years – before the authority finally sacked him or her in May 2009.

Things are little better at Leicestershire County Council.

Three of its employees have been suspended on full pay for more than a year now – one of them for 18 months.

Six more at the county have been suspended for between three and six months.

A total of 22 people are currently suspended by the city council, costing the authority �44,000 a month in salaries for people who are doing nothing.

The county has 13 staff suspended. The cost of those suspensions, so far, is �201,381.

Both sums are hard to justify when services are being squeezed and both councils are in the process of making people redundant.

City council Tory opposition leader Ross Grant doesn't even attempt to justify it.

"The current situation is unacceptable," he says. "It is a disgrace and the council is failing its staff and the people of Leicester.

"This is a waste of money. Only in exceptional circumstances should any case take longer than six months.

"The council also has a duty to resolve cases quickly in the best interests of the suspended employee, to do the least harm in terms of stress."

Mohammed Dawood, Labour's cabinet lead for human resources, says the authority has taken strides in the last two years to reduce the length of suspensions.

"Times have been improved by 50 per cent," he says. "But this is obviously something we need to continue to address.

"I am working with the council's HR department to improve this scenario." Employment law specialist Jo Cosgrove is at a loss to explain why both authorities have so many staff suspended for so long.

"It's very unusual," says Jo, an associate solicitor at Harvey Ingram in Leicester. "A suspension should only be for as long as necessary to carry out a proper investigation.

"I've certainly never come across a suspension for more than a year."

Each case is different depending on its particular facts, adds Jo, but companies in the private sector rarely suspend anyone for more than three months. The situation is resolved, one way or the other.

So the private sector, which has less bureaucracy and, perhaps, less regulations regarding employees' rights, simply finds it easier to get disciplinary issues resolved? Could that let our councils off the hook? Well, actually, no.

The Mercury, in the interests of balance, contacted some of Leicestershire's other major non-private sector employers to find out how many people they had suspended and for how long.

The largest, the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, has 11,914 employees. None of these are currently suspended.

None of the 2,742 staff at De Montfort University are suspended either. The University of Leicester, which employs 3,747, has one person currently suspended – for between six months and a year.

Leicestershire police has four staff suspended – one for less than three months and two staff from three to six months, and one for 23 months. The total cost of those suspensions, so far, is �128,545.

No other organisation seems to have such a problem with long-running suspensions as our local authorities. Even the police, who we can assume have the most complicated and legally fraught cases to deal with, compare pretty favourably.

So what is going on?

Fiona Skene, director of human resources at the city council, issued this statement: "We have made it a priority to adopt more robust procedures to reduce the length of time that employees are on suspension, which has led to a significant drop in the duration of suspensions in recent years. However, some investigations can be very complex or involve civil or criminal issues and, therefore, in some cases long-term suspensions can be unavoidable.

"Suspension of staff is a last resort and generally occurs only when there are serious issues of potential gross misconduct.

"It is a neutral act that does not imply guilt and it often allows any investigation to be carried out more easily."

She should, perhaps, try telling that to Mr Haswell, said to be furious by the length of his suspension and the stubborn stain it has left on his reputation. He is, say friends, absolutely desperate to clear his name.

Yet Mr Haswell, despite being suspended in October 2009, wasn't even officially spoken to by the council until shortly before Christmas last year.

The recent arrest of a staff member at De Montfort Hall and the latest audit investigation into goings-on there have absolutely nothing to do with him.

A council spokesman, finally, confirmed that much to this newspaper last week.

Beyond that, they were saying nothing. So what is the hold-up in getting this situation sorted? No one seems to know, least of all Mr Haswell.

For the record, we named Mr Haswell – something we've not done with other suspended council employees or the De Montfort Hall person recently arrested by police – because we had little choice.

As the DMH manager, his ongoing absence couldn't be ignored.

Initially, when Mr Haswell was first suspended with two other employees, the council said it was to allow "investigations" to take place.

Those investigations, however, were concluded many, many months ago.

A funeral going at such a pace would be moved on by the police. So, is it a case of due diligence or interminable buck-passing and paper shuffling? We can only speculate.

We asked the Local Government Association if anyone there might be able to help. They couldn't.

Nick Rushton, the Conservative cabinet lead for finance at Leicestershire County Council, is the politician who has responsibility for suspensions.

Situations, he says, are often "very, very complicated" and you can't "rush" them.

It is, he says, "better to be safe than sorry".

Few would disagree. Staff shouldn't be frog-marched out of a job, or whitewashed of any wrongdoing, before a proper and thorough investigation has taken place.

But why is it that the private sector and the rest of the public sector can do it so much faster?

Someone at the county, as we've already said, has been suspended for 18 months. That's an awfully long time, whatever the circumstances.

"If you're telling me the health service is better at dealing with it, then I don't know why. I can't understand it," says Coun Rushton.

"I will certainly be asking why. This is on my agenda. I'll find out, then I'll be as wise as anybody.

"What surprises me is the number (of staff suspensions). It seems like a big number to me. That �200,000 (the cost of those suspensions) would be far better spent on something else."

Leicestershire Constabulary has a policy of reviewing its suspensions on a monthly basis.

"We are mindful that the public deserve a value-for-money police service," said a spokeswoman. "Where appropriate, an officer or police staff member will be returned to the workplace in a different post if we are satisfied that a return to work will not affect or influence any disciplinary proceedings against them."

Coun Dawood believes local authorities could perhaps learn lessons from how our universities, the police and the health service handle staff suspensions.

"Maybe we need to look at them and evaluate our processes," he says.

"I completely agree that having someone suspended for a year is too long. We are looking at ways to shorten the process."

Are you one of those suspended for more than a year? Perhaps you were the person sacked after being suspended for 45 months?

If so, we would like to hear from you.

Call Adam Wakelin in confidence on 0116 222 4236.


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