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Justice for murdered Brit

The guilty verdict for four ex-Khmer Rouge members who murdered British land mine clearer Christophe

Four ex-Khmer Rouge members were found guilty and jailed for the murder of Christopher Howes, head of a Mines Advisory Group (MAG) land mine clearing team in Cambodia, twelve years ago.

Howes and his team of around 30 were kidnapped and when Howe refused to leave his team to collect a ransom, he and his translator were interrogated and shot. The rest of the group were freed.

“Obviously we are very very pleased with the outcome,” MAG Chief Executive Lou McGrath told “It's been twelve years and it's been a long hard road. I think this will finally send the message to those who commit crimes against humanitarian efforts: it doesn't matter how long it takes they will be brought to justice.”

Howes' father was instrumental in bringing the murderers to justice, said McGrath. His mother passed away in 2007.

“His father was very vocal all the way through. He has been very good about pushing the Cambodian and British authorities. I'm so happy for him and Howes' sister Pat. It's unfortunate that his mother died last year: the whole situation broke her heart, it would have been nice for her to see that justice was finally done.”

Howes, from Blackwell, joined the MAG in 1993 after gaining bomb disposal expertise during his seven years in the Royal Engineers. He dismantled bombs in Iraq for two years before working in Cambodia for the British-based international charity.

He was abducted near Siem Reap in 1996 and murdered near the 12th century Angkor Wat temple.

MAG has remained in contact with the relatives of Houn Hourth, the translator who was shot alongside Howe. Hourth had a wife and two sons, aged 8 and 10, at the time of his death.

“It was a great struggle for his wife to bring up two young boys. We've tried to support her through this time,” said McGrath. “He was murdered because one of senior officials could speak English. They found no use for him.”

The bodies of Howe and Hourth were burned by their murderers, delaying the discovery of the bodies for two years. Five ex-Khmer Rouge officials were finally arrested last year.

McGrath attended the trial in Cambodia. “There was a concern as the most senior officials were at the trial. There was a feeling that that might effect the outcome. Last night when I heard they were found guilty I was very relieved.”

The Khmer Rouge's military commander, on orders from Pol Pot, wanted Howes killed because they believed that foreigners in the country were helping the Cambodian government. The men on trial accused another former guerilla, who has since died, of firing the shot that killed Howes.

Three men were jailed for 20 years and a fourth for 10 years, while a fifth man was acquitted.

Howe was posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal in 2001. MAG continues to work in Cambodia.

Photo: Getty Images
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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.