Welcome to garethmiles.com the website for ... er ... Gareth Miles

Welcome to garethmiles.com the website for ... er ... Gareth Miles

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Food terrorism by mice

US man accused of pizzeria 'mouse sabotage' attempt

Police said the mice found in a bag concealed in a pizzeria had been purchased at a pet shop
A pizzeria owner in Pennsylvania sought to sabotage competing shops by infesting them with mice, police say.

Nikolas Galiatsatos has been charged with animal cruelty and other offences in Upper Darby, near Philadelphia.

He was arrested after officers found a man had stuffed a sack containing live mice into the space above a ceiling panel in a pizzeria bathroom.

Investigators said Mr Galiatsatos, 47, had been grappling with a mouse problem in his own shop, Nina's Bella Pizzeria.

"We have never had anything like this where mice have been used as an instrument of crime," Upper Darby Police Supt Michael Chitwood told reporters.

According to local media reports, on Monday a man walked into Verona Pizza in the suburban town and asked to use the bathroom.

The owner then saw footprints on the toilet and noticed a ceiling panel had been disturbed. Above the panel, the owner found a bag.

Fearing the bag contained drugs, he turned it over to two police officers who happened to be eating lunch there. In the bag were three white mice, Supt Chitwood said.

Police watched the same man walk across the street to Uncle Nick's Pizza, dropping a bag into the rubbish there. In the bag, police found five live mice and one dead one.

On Monday afternoon Mr Galiatsatos remained in police custody, the Associated Press reported. He has not commented on the charges.

Police said the mice had been purchased from a pet store.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Eau du Monkey

Capuchin monkeys have what at first glance appears to be an odd habit: they urinate onto their hands then rub their urine over their bodies into their fur.

Now scientists think they know why the monkeys "urine wash" in this way. A new study shows that the brains of female tufted capuchins become more active when they smell the urine of sexually mature adult males. That suggests males wash with their urine to signal their availability and attractiveness to females.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lapland brothers guilty of misleading customers

Two brothers have been found guilty of misleading thousands of customers at a Lapland-themed park.

Victor Mears, 67, and Henry Mears, 60, operated Lapland New Forest at Matchams Park on the Hampshire-Dorset border in 2008 before it closed.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court found both men guilty on eight counts of misleading advertising.

The men, both from Brighton, had denied the charges. They will be sentenced at a later date.

The trial has heard Victor Mears, of Selsfield Drive, and Henry Mears, of Coombe Road, could have made more than £1m from up to 10,000 advanced ticket sales.

The brothers were earlier found guilty of five charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading action under the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The jury decided they had misled customers with adverts on the firm's website, in three local newspapers and in advertising flyers.

Henry Mears said, in his opinion, the park was everything the brothers promised it would be
Jurors continued to deliberate on three charges of engaging in a commercial practice which is a misleading omission and returned guilty verdicts during the afternoon.

These charges related to accusations the brothers failed to tell customers there was an extra charge for ice skating.

Visitors to Lapland New Forest were offered a "winter wonderland" with snow-covered log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs, polar bears and other animals, as well as a bustling Christmas market, the court was told.

Within days of opening, hundreds of disgruntled visitors complained to trading standards officials that they had been ripped off.

Less than a week later the attraction closed, with its owners blaming the media and sabotage by "New Forest villains" for the decision.

There have been a series of delays in the trial due to Victor Mears' health.

He has in the past undergone an operation for cancer, but doctors ruled he was fit enough to continue.

Victor Mears admitted to the court he took a "bit of a gamble" in setting up Lapland New Forest without investing any money but he said he believed the money would come in as people bought tickets.

He also claimed he had been bullied and harassed by staff and, because of illness, he had handed over the running of the theme park to his son and brother.

Henry Mears told jurors his role was to organise the advertising and co-ordinate the theme park's website but he said he later took on more of a managerial role.

Victor Mears said he took a 'bit of a gamble' setting up Lapland New Forest without investing any money
He was to receive 10% of ticket sales but said a £100,000 cheque given to him by his brother Victor bounced, the court heard.

"Victor's idea was to do the ultimate Christmas grotto, outside as opposed to inside," he told the court.

He admitted the photographs on the website were not of Lapland New Forest.

"It was showing the Christmas spirit to good-minded people," he said.

He said that, in his opinion, the attraction was everything they promised customers it would be.

Henry Mears added: "Whatever you do, you will find the public complain about something."

Sunday, February 13, 2011


A former RAF officer persuaded to give his home to a spiritual healing centre has spoken out for the first time.

Richard Curtis, 53, won his house back last month after bringing a court case for undue influence against the Self-Realization Meditation Healing Centre.

The Somerset-based centre, a registered charity, is appealing against the ruling.

Mr Curtis, from Brecon, told the BBC's Inside Out West programme he wants the law on charity donations to be changed.

He said: "I am fighting a battle not just for myself but for all the other people that have given all to god and guru and been left with nothing."
'Presumption of influence'

Mr Curtis had been a follower of the centre's guru, Rena Denton, who goes by the name Mata Yogananda Mahasaya Dharma.

A statement issued by the centre, which is run by a group of members called the Alpha-Omega family, said: "The court found only that the failure by Mr Curtis to seek independent legal advice meant that the presumption of influence could not be rebutted.

"This is a far cry from the allegations of brainwashing and cultism which Mr Curtis, and now the media, sought to portray.
Self-Realization Meditation Healing Centre A number of similar complaints about the centre have been uncovered

"Since (2004) the centre has introduced a requirement that anyone wishing to donate to the centre must first seek independent legal advice."

The centre, based in Queen Camel, near Yeovil, has lodged an appeal against the High Court judgement that its "undue influence" had been present when Mr Curtis signed a declaration of trust gifting the family home in Edwinsford near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, in 2004.

"We didn't seek legal advice, because we were enraptured," said Mr Curtis.

"We had a guru working with us and for us who had a direct link to god. What she said was good enough at the time."

An investigation by Inside Out West has uncovered a number of similar complaints made against the centre by former members.

Lizzie Davies, from Bath, was given an out-of-court settlement for £690,000 by the centre in 1996 after she claimed she had handed over her savings to the centre while under undue influence.

It accepted no liability in agreeing the settlement.

She said of her decision to leave the centre in 1993: "I had nothing. I had absolutely nothing and I found the courage to leave."

Lizzie Davies was given an out-of-court settlement for £690,000 by the centre in 1996

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "(In 1995/6), we identified areas of significant concern with the apparent lack of management control by the entire trustee body over the charity's affairs.

"We advised that the trustees must ensure they have direct controls over all funds...and that the charity's book-keeping be improved."

The centre also has associated but independent organisations in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2003, Helen Williams left the centre in Christchurch with NZ$330 and a few personal belongings after agreeing to donate her property and savings to the centre.

She said: "I can only speak for the Christchurch centre but anyone throughout New Zealand who joined had to bring everything they owned."

Alistair Mclean, of the Fundraising Standards Board, said: "The use of undue influence in soliciting donations from beneficiaries is quite simply unacceptable."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mutiny at the airport

Spanish police have removed more than 100 Belgian students from a plane that was due to fly from the Canary Islands to Belgium.

The Irish budget airline Ryanair says police were called after the university students became disruptive.

They refused to carry out instructions after some objected to being charged a fee for excess hand luggage, it said.

Most of the students are now stranded in Lanzarote because other flights are either full or too expensive.

Spanish newspaper La Provincia said airline staff had tried to charge one passenger extra for carry-on baggage and his friends on the plane "mutinied".

A spokesman for the Spanish interior ministry said the pilot was preparing for takeoff at Guacimeta airport bound for Charleroi, Belgium, when she radioed for police assistance.

The spokesman said that of the 168 passengers on board, fewer than 70 were allowed to re-board the flight.

Ryanair confirmed that passengers "became disruptive and refused to comply with crew instructions" over a fee for outsized luggage.

In a statement, it said police had required the entire aircraft be off-loaded and each passenger identified.

"Following further disruptive behaviour, the police required for security reasons that this entire group be refused travel," the statement said.

Some of the students - from the University of Brussels - were later able to find alternative flights, but about 70 were still stuck on Lanzarote on Sunday evening.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Malawi row over whether new law bans farting

Two of Malawi's most senior judicial officials are arguing over whether a new bill includes a provision that outlaws breaking wind in public.

Justice Minister George Chaponda says the new bill would criminalise flatulence to promote "public decency".

"Just go to the toilet when you feel like farting," he told local radio.

However, he was directly contradicted by Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga, who says the reference to "fouling the air" means pollution.

"How any reasonable or sensible person can construe the provision to criminalising farting in public is beyond me," he said, adding that the prohibition contained in the new law has been in place since 1929.

The Local Courts Bill, to be introduced next week reads: "Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way shall be guilty of a misdemeanour."

Mr Chaponda, a trained lawyer, insists that this includes farting.

"Would you be happy to see people farting anyhow?" he asked on the popular "Straight Talk" programme on Malawi's Capital Radio.

He said that local chiefs would deal with any offenders.

When asked whether it could be enforced, he said it would be similar to laws banning urinating in public.

The sport of geeks

Another brilliant story from the BBC...

I'm nervous. My palms are sweaty and my heart is racing. I've got 10 minutes to prepare for a race that, 30 minutes ago, I didn't even know I was taking part in.

I've found out so late that I've almost missed the pre-race briefing - a briefing that veterans of this race that I interviewed earlier told me was unmissable if you were taking part.

Add to that the fact that nature and upbringing have not conspired to make me any kind of athlete.

The only race I've ever won was the obstacle race at junior school when a catastrophic error at the beanbag toss by favourite Peter Reilly let me, thanks to my long legs, sneak first place.

I'm more the indoor-pursuits-with-no-heavy-lifting type of guy. Yet here I am, girding an apron around my flabby torso getting ready to compete.

At least it's all for a good cause.

The race in question is held every year in Las Vegas to find out who can build a PC the fastest. The complete PCs, 30 in total, will then be donated by organisers CA and Systemax to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Be prepared
Stephen Fung, BBC Stephen Fung celebrates being the first to finish building the PC

In the run-up to the event, I talked to old and new competitors to find out how they approach the event. The event brings together hardware experts, journalists and even celebrity geeks such as iJustine.

Some competitors like Thomas Lower have not built a PC since the 2010 competition. Others, like Frank Dimmick from the Overclockers Club, do it every day. Putting together a PC from scratch, he says, is a 25-minute process.

That bald statement fills me with trepidation now I know I'm taking part. I've upgraded every PC I've ever owned so I know my way around the innards of a computer. I've even built one from scratch. However, it took me substantially longer than 25 minutes.

I miss about half of the unmissable briefing. Arriving, I'm handed a sheaf of papers that explain the steps involved in turning the pile of parts on each table into a functioning machine.

I arrive in time to hear a warning about the right way to connect up a set of particularly tricky wires. Which wires? I missed that part. And then the briefing is done.

As we stand in front of our tables full of parts and my heart rate climbs, veterans of the competition indulge in trash talk and banter. Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe invokes Conan in declaiming what will be best about the competition.

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!"
Screwing up
Hiawatha Bray, BBC Hiawatha Bray flips through the instructions for building the PC.

And we're off. First, I turn the PC on its side to make it more stable and easier to get at all the slots and screw holes. First in are the memory sticks. They snap into their slots with a satisfying click.

Next, the power cord for the motherboard. It can only go in one way and, after a glance at the connectors, I orient it correctly and it eases into place. No click but it is snug.

Now the connectors for the hard drives. Two of them, with two wires apiece. Get them wrong and it will not boot. This is the tricky part. The part I missed the briefing about.

I make a choice and go by colours. Dark blue for one and light blue for the other.

Now to screw the hard drive caddy into place. I get it in position and, in a miracle of dexterity, screw it in despite the small space, stumpy screws and chunky fingers. Then I realise. It's in back-to-front. There are penalties for parts being in the wrong way or loosely secured.

I'm unscrewing it when, suddenly, there's a commotion. Someone has finished. In a little over four minutes.

That throws me and I fumble a screw which tumbles into the PC's innards. A shake of the case and I've got it back.

Someone else has finished.

The hard drive is out, turned round and slotted back into place. More finishers. I drop the screw. Again and again I drop the screw. Seven times in all as cheers, back-slapping and congratulations break out all around.

I'm playing for pride now. Can I avoid being stone dead last?

Next is the CD-Rom drive, taking care to put power and data cables in first. Sound card, graphics card and wi-fi card pass in a blur. They go well. But I'm in a minority now. Far more have finished than not.

Final step - power cords, monitor, mouse and keyboard. Then I hit the power button and realise - I have no idea if it will work.

It does.

It boots, pings the competition server to get my time. 12 minutes, 47 seconds. I finished 21st out of 30. I even beat some veterans.

My joy is short-lived as I see that the winner, Steven Fung, finished in four minutes, nine seconds. Chatting to him afterwards, my self esteem sinks further.

"I could have gone faster," he said. "I made a few mistakes on the way."

So did I. And I know I can do better. I also know a few tricks now to shave seconds, maybe minutes, off that time.

Next year. Next year I will crush my enemies, trample them before me and hear the lamentation of their women. This year, though, I'll settle for 21st place, a small glow of pride and a celebratory cocktail. It is Las Vegas, after all.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Poisonous Nanny

A nanny has admitted trying to poison Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold by lacing her food with screen wash.

Allison Cox, 33, of East Grinstead, West Sussex pleaded guilty at Guildford Crown Court to administering poison with intent to annoy.

She was hired by multi-millionaire lingerie and sex toy tycoon Ms Gold, 50, to look after her child at her home in Whyteleafe, Surrey.

Cox was bailed on Thursday to await sentencing on 4 March.

She was originally charged with a further two counts of attempting to poison Ms Gold with sugar and salt, but the indictment against her was amended during the hearing.

Prosecutor Rachel Davies said Ms Gold, who she referred to as Ms Cunningham, was not harmed after eating the food laced with screen wash on 5 October last year.

"The harm wasn't physical. It was anxiety, really, that this was happening to her," she said.

"There was, it appears, some animosity from the defendant towards the cook which then caused the defendant to put certain articles including the screen wash and the salt and sugar into certain food items consumed by Jacqueline Cunningham.

"She put it into the food to cause the cook to be questioned about it."

Ms Gold, who is known as one of Britain's most successful businesswomen, did not attend the hearing.

Alistair Harper, for the defence, said Cox was of previous good character.

Adjourning sentencing for reports, Judge Christopher Critchlow said she would get credit for pleading guilty but all sentencing options remained open.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Brazil man 'locked wife in cellar for eight years'

A Brazilian man has been arrested on suspicion of keeping his wife locked in a cellar for at least eight years while he lived upstairs with another woman.

Acting on a tip, police found 64-year-old Sebastiana Aparecida Groppo lying naked in a filthy basement in the city of Sorocaba in Sao Paulo state.

Her husband Joao Batista Groppo told officers he had locked her up because she was mentally ill and aggressive.

Police said Mrs Groppo appeared to be in good physical health.

But they said she showed signs of mental problems that could have been caused by her confinement.

Police inspector Jaqueline Barcelos Coutinho told the Associated Press news agency she was shocked when she arrived at Mr Groppo's house and found Mrs Groppo behind a padlocked iron gate in the cellar.

"She was lying nude on a concrete bed inside a foul-smelling, humid cubicle with no electricity or ventilation," Ms Coutinho said.

"She was in a degrading situation unfit for animals".

Mr Groppo, 64, initially said he had kept his wife confined for 16 years but then revised the time to eight, Ms Coutinho said.

"He told us that locking her up was the only way he could think of to prevent her from wandering off and getting lost," she added.

The couple have been married for more than 40 years.

Mrs Groppo was treated in hospital and then taken to the house of her son in a nearby city.

Mr Groppo and the other woman he lives with are facing charges of false imprisonment.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dutch prisoner 'too big for cell'

A Dutch prisoner described by his lawyer as a giant has gone to court over the size of his single cell, arguing that it is inhumanely small.

The prisoner, 2.07m tall (6ft 9in) and 230kg (36st), says he cannot properly sleep or use the toilet.

Prison officials have tried to relieve his discomfort by adding a a 2.15m plank and an extra mattress to his bed.

Named by his lawyer as Angelo MacD., he is asking to complete his two-year sentence for fraud under house arrest.

His lawyer, Bas Martens, told a court in The Hague that his client's conditions of detention violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

He insisted that MacD. was not trying to get out of serving his time.

"My client just wants to serve a comparable sentence without pain," Mr Martens told Radio Netherlands.

Speaking to the BBC News website, Mr Martens sought to convey the sheer size of MacD., whose picture was not available.

"He is 2.07m tall and a metre wide and a metre deep," he said.

"He is not obese. He is a giant. He even walks like a giant, like out of the comic books."

MacD. began his sentence on 29 September and is not due for release until 12 April 2012.

His cell in a prison in the south-western town of Krimpen aan de IJssel would probably be adequate for most prisoners but for him, the problems start in the doorway, where he must bow his head to pass through.

His bed, which is fixed to the wall, is 77cm wide and 1.96m long, according to a sketch provided by Mr Martens.

This means that his client must sleep on his side.

While the plank and extra mattress supplied by the prison authorities were meant to make him more comfortable, he now has to "sleep with one eye open in case he falls out of bed", Mr Martens said.

To take a shower, he must first wedge himself into the cubicle, then crouch down under the head.

So tiny and low is his toilet, he complains, that "visits" must be kept to the absolute minimum.

Other alleged problems included a lack of adequate space for family visits and suitable seating in the prison canteen.

Mr Martens pointed out that his client was unable to do prison work for similar reasons, despite this being a requirement of his sentence.

A court ruling on the case is expected early next month.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Japanese pensioners' shoplifting hits record high

More than a quarter of shoplifters arrested in Japan in 2010 were over the age of 65, police have said, as the number of pensioners committing the crime hit a record high.

In an annual report, the National Police Agency said 27,362 pensioners were arrested for shoplifting in 2010 - almost equalling teenagers.

Most of them stole food or clothes rather than luxury items, the NPA said.

Japanese society is ageing rapidly and its economy remains stalled.

More than 20% of the population are now over the age of 65 - a figure which is expected to rise to about 40% by 2050.

A police official told the Mainichi newspaper that pensioners were shoplifting not just for financial reasons "but also out of a sense of isolation peculiar to the age".

In recent decades the traditional three-generation household structure has changed - more young people have moved to cities to find employment, leaving elderly parents on their own.

Pensioners who want to work have also found it harder to find jobs because of the economic crunch.

Police say the record high - with pensioners comprising 26.1% of all shoplifters - represents a persistent trend.

When record keeping began in 1986, the number of pensioners arrested stood at 4,918. It has climbed since then, hitting 10,000 in 1999 and 20,000 in 2004.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Virtual kids vs Real kids

A South Korean couple have gone on trial charged with allowing their baby daughter to starve to death while they played an online computer game.

Prosecutors said they fed the baby once a day and left her alone for hours while they visited internet cafes.

They said the couple were obsessed with playing a game in which they had to raise a virtual girl.

The 41-year-old man and 25-year-old woman were arrested in March, five months after reporting the death.

Last month, a police officer told the Yonhap news agency they appeared to have "lost their will to live a normal life".

He said they "indulged themselves online" to escape from reality.

The couple, who have been charged with negligent homicide, were said to have become obsessed with nurturing a virtual girl called Anima in the popular role-playing game Prius Online.

The game enables players to interact with Anima and as they do so, help her to recover her lost memory and develop emotions.
An autopsy showed the baby's death had been caused by a long period of malnutrition.

The couple are due to be sentenced on 16 April.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says some lawyers have suggested the couple were addicted to the game, a fact which could be taken into account by the judge.

South Korea boasts the fastest average broadband speeds in the world.

There are some two million internet addicts in the country, according to the government, which recently announced a series of measures to tackle the problem.

When Easter egg hunts go wrong

Two US teenagers on an Easter egg hunt have found a body in a park, police say.

The two found the man's body after they wandered away from their younger siblings on the hunt in Des Moines, Iowa.

Police Sgt Chris Scott said the teenagers came across the man's body in a wooded area of Beaverdale Park on Saturday morning.
About 100 children were taking part in the annual event.

Foul play is not suspected, police say, and an autopsy is planned for early next week, KCCI News in Des Moines reported.

The name of the man, whose body was found at around 1000 (1500 GMT), has not been released while the family is being informed.

Police would neither confirm nor deny reports that the body had been found hanging from a tree.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Honduras policemen arrested for robbing bank

Police in Honduras say six of their own officers have been arrested for allegedly trying to rob a bank.

Prosecutors say the policemen forced their way into the bank in the capital, Tegucigalpa and tied up the security guards at gunpoint.

A passer-by raised the alarm and police fought a gun battle with the alleged robbers, injuring one of them.

A police spokesman said the six were "bad apples" who had sullied the name of the force.

He said the agents had already been suspended, and would face the full force of the law.

Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said he would ensure the fight against corruption within the police force was sped up.

Fireworks may have caused Arkansas bird deaths

US scientists believe fireworks may have caused thousands of birds to fall from the sky over an Arkansas town on New Year's Eve.

Karen Rowe, of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the red-winged blackbirds probably flew low to avoid explosions and collided with objects.

However, she stopped short of declaring the mystery solved, saying further tests on the dead birds are planned.

Officials say more than 3,000 birds fell over the city of Beebe.

The few that survived their fall stumbled around like drunken revellers, witnesses said.

Birds were "littering the streets, the yards, the driveways, everywhere," said Robby King, a county wildlife officer.

"It was hard to drive down the street in some places without running over them."

Initial laboratory reports said the birds had died from trauma, the AGFC said.

Residents reported hearing loud fireworks just before the birds started raining from the sky.

Severe weather over Arkansas could also be the cause of the mystery deaths.

"They started going crazy, flying into one another," said AGFC spokesman Keith Stephens.

The birds also hit homes, cars, trees and other objects, and some could have flown hard into the ground.

"The blackbirds were flying at rooftop level instead of treetop level" to avoid explosions above, said Ms Rowe, an ornithologist.

"Blackbirds have poor eyesight, and they started colliding with things."

Beebe police chief Capt Eddie Cullum said they were inundated with calls from residents who saw the birds fall.

Poisoning has been ruled out after several cats and dogs that ate the dead birds suffered no ill effects, he added.

However, another theory is that a violent thunderstorm could have disoriented a roost of blackbirds.

Tornadoes swept through Arkansas and neighbouring states on 31 December, killing seven people.

City authorities have hired a specialist waste disposal firm to collect the dead birds from gardens and rooftops, and remove them.

Alien Hand Syndrome sees woman attacked by her own hand

By Dr Michael Mosley
BBC Four's The Brain: A Secret History

An operation to control her epilepsy left Karen Byrne with no control of her left hand.

Imagine being attacked by one of your own hands, which repeatedly tries to slap and punch you. Or you go into a shop and when you try to turn right, one of your legs decides it wants to go left, leaving you walking round in circles.

Last summer I met 55-year-old Karen Byrne in New Jersey, who suffers from Alien Hand Syndrome.

Her left hand, and occasionally her left leg, behaves as if it were under the control of an alien intelligence.

Karen's condition is fascinating, not just because it is so strange but because it tells us something surprising about how our own brains work.

It started after Karen had surgery at 27 to control her epilepsy, which had dominated her life since she was 10.

Surgery to cure epilepsy usually involves identifying and then cutting out a small section of the brain, where the abnormal electrical signals originate.

When this does not work, or when the damaged area cannot be identified, patients may be offered something more radical. In Karen's case her surgeon cut her corpus callosum, a band of nervous fibres which keeps the two halves of the brain in constant contact.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

It would take things out of my handbag and I wouldn't realise so I would walk away; I lost a lot of things before I realised what was going on”

Karen Byrne
Cutting the corpus callosum cured Karen's epilepsy, but left her with a completely different problem. Karen told me that initially everything seemed to be fine. Then her doctors noticed some extremely odd behaviour.

"Dr O'Connor said 'Karen what are you doing? Your hand's undressing you'. Until he said that I had no idea that my left hand was opening up the buttons of my shirt.

"So I start rebuttoning with the right hand and, as soon as I stopped, the left hand started unbuttoning them. So he put an emergency call through to one of the other doctors and said, 'Mike you've got to get here right away, we've got a problem'."

Out of control
Karen had emerged from the operation with a left hand that was out of control.

"I'd light a cigarette, balance it on an ashtray, and then my left hand would reach forward and stub it out. It would take things out of my handbag and I wouldn't realise so I would walk away. I lost a lot of things before I realised what was going on."

Karen said the condition had been brought under control with medication
Karen's problem was caused by a power struggle going on inside her head. A normal brain consists of two hemispheres which communicate with each other via the corpus callosum.

The left hemisphere, which controls the right arm and leg, tends to be where language skills reside. The right hemisphere, which controls the left arm and leg, is largely responsible for spatial awareness and recognising patterns.

Usually the more analytical left hemisphere dominates, having the final say in the actions we perform.

The discovery of hemispherical dominance has its roots in the 1940s, when surgeons first decided to treat epilepsy by cutting the corpus callosum. After they had recovered, the patients appeared normal. But in psychology circles they became legends.

That is because these patients would, in time, reveal something that to me is truly astonishing - the two halves of our brains each contain a kind of separate consciousness. Each hemisphere is capable of its own independent will.

Brain experiments
The man who did many of the experiments that first proved this was neurobiologist, Roger Sperry.

In a particularly striking experiment, which he filmed, we can watch one of the split brain patients trying to solve a puzzle. The puzzle required rearranging blocks so they matched the pattern on a picture.

First the man tried solving it with his left hand (controlled by the right hemisphere), and that hand was pretty good at it.

Then Sperry asked the patient to use his right hand (controlled by the left hemisphere). And this hand clearly did not have a clue what to do. So the left hand tried to help, but the right hand did not want help, so they ended up fighting like two young children.

Experiments like this led Sperry to conclude that "each hemisphere is a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting".

In 1981 Sperry received a Nobel prize for his work. But in a cruel twist of fate, by then he was suffering from a fatal degenerative brain disease, called kuru, probably picked up in the early days of his research while splitting brains.

Most people who have had their corpus collosum cut appear normal afterwards. You could cross them in the street and you would not know anything had happened.

Karen was unlucky. After the operation, the right side of her brain refused to be dominated by the left.

She has suffered from Alien Hand Syndrome for 18 years, but fortunately for Karen her doctors have now found a medication that seems to have brought the right side of her brain back under some form of control.

Even so I felt it was tactful, when I said goodbye, to give both hands a firm "thank you" shake.

Karen's story features in The Brain: A Secret History - Broken Brains BBC Four, Thu 20 Jan 2100GMT, repeated Tue 25 Jan 2300GMT or online via iPlayer (UK only) at the above link.