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

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

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.