Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Balloon priest's body found

The body of a Brazilian priest who floated out over the ocean suspended by hundreds of helium-filled party balloons, has been found off the coast of southeastern Brazil, police have confirmed.

The corpse of Father Adelir Antonio de Carli was spotted by a tugboat at sea near the city of Macae, three months after he disappeared while flying a contraption buoyed by balloons over the Atlantic Ocean in a fund-raising stunt.

"We were almost certain that it was the priest due to various elements, such as the clothes and material used in the balloon trip," Macae's chief of police, Daniel Bandeira, said on Monday. "The DNA only confirmed our suspicions."

The priest disappeared on April 20 after he called friends from his mobile phone to say he was about to crash into the ocean.

He staged the stunt to help raise money for a chapel for truckers in his highway parish.

Ruff Justice

A dog has appeared in court in the eastern Indian state of Bihar accused of breaching the peace. Police demanded severe action against the dog for biting people. Its owner says it has only attacked burglars.

The dog, named Chhotu, has been in trouble with the law before. In 2003, a magistrate sentenced Chhotu to death. Neighbours complained he had gone mad and bitten several people. But animal rights activists managed to get the decision reversed.

Chhotu made his latest appearance in a crowded court on Thursday in the town of Purnea.

"The court was compelled to issue a summons to the dog since the police found that it was a threat to peace and feared that it might create a law and order problem," district official Rajiv Ranjan said.

In court Chhotu appeared to have been on best behaviour. "Despite the presence of so many people in the courtroom the dog did not bite or bark at anyone," the canine's lawyer Dilip Kumar Deepak said in defence of his client.

The case continues and Chhotu has been ordered to appear in court again on 5 August, together with his owner, childless widow, Rajkumari Devi.

Got change for $10bn?

Zimbabwe's central bank has said it will introduce a new currency on 1 August as part of efforts to fight the effects of hyperinflation.

The bank's governor, Gideon Gono, has announced zeros will be lopped off the Zimbabwe dollar, making 10bn dollars one dollar.

Only last week, the government introduced the Z$100bn note.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dwarf in suitcase stunt

Swedish airport staff were not amused when a team from a TV comedy show tried to check in a suitcase with a dwarf inside.

Employees at Bromma airport called police when the dwarf hopped out of the suitcase at the check-in counter.

Police soon found that it was a stunt being filmed by a hidden camera for a program on private TV network Kanal 5. Police spokesman Mats Eriksson says airport staff decided against filing charges even though they were "shocked and humiliated" by Wednesday's stunt.

Kanal 5 spokesman Dan Panas told Swedish news agency TT that the show was meant to be "provocative and entertaining."

He said the stunt was not meant to make fun of little people, but to make entertainment out of "extreme situations."

Chocolate tart wins Edible boat race (Update)

An edible boat race which is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK has been won by a chocolate tart.

About 30 contenders sent their vessels out to sea in the event at Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders. The race was not without controversy as a number of entrants - including melon skin boats - had to be ruled out for not being entirely edible.

Head judge Steven Walter said he had been highly impressed by the entrants for the race. A prize for the best design went to a "pepper outrigger". The most seaworthy was judged to be a coracle of slow-baked lasagne sheets.

In the battle to be crowned the overall best boat, the healthy option of an apple raft, with cabbage leaf sail, narrowly lost out to the chocolate tart filled with sweets.

Mr Walter said: "I don't think anybody expected the number of exhibits that turned up. And I don't think anybody expected the originality of many of the designs, indeed all of the designs."

The Eyemouth Herring Queen committee - which organises an annual festival in the town - wanted an event to commemorate the seafaring traditions of the area.

The overall winner, schoolboy Toby Smith, was delighted with his victory. "My mum gave me a bit of help with it because I couldn't really do the cooking," he admitted. But I thought I wasn't going to win - because it tipped over half way through."

Piggin' marvelous!

Two men on a tandem towing a giant blue pig are due to end their epic ride from Glasgow to London at 1200 BST today. Steve Hunt, from Chippenham in Wiltshire, and Glaswegian Gordon McKirdy set off with the pig in tow on 6 July, collecting money along the way.

The pair cycled for nine hours a day and visited about 50 towns and cities. They had to be rescued by the AA near the start of their ride when the pig - which is the size of a small car - broke free from its chassis.

The cyclists had already raised £87,000 for Cancer Research UK by running marathons and the idea for the giant piggy bank on wheels came up during a "think tank" in a pub after a race. They hope to raise a further £60,000 thanks to their, and the pig's, efforts.

Mr Hunt, 46, said: "We thought our legs and knees would suffer the most as cycling uses a completely different set of muscles. "But actually it is our backsides which have taken the battering. We are rather saddle sore."

When Mr Hunt was nine he lost his father to cancer and Mr McKirdy, 33, who now lives in Loughton, Essex, has lost close friends and relatives to the disease.

"Everyone is touched by cancer at some point so we all have a responsibility to do something to help," Mr McKirdy said. "This is our way of doing it." He added: "We had a few early mishaps, not least with the pig breaking loose from the chassis. But since then he has behaved himself. And he is built to last. We'll crumble away before he does."

The pig - which is bright blue, weighs 77lbs (35 kilos) and is 6ft (1.82m) tall - does not yet have a name and they are encouraging people to come up with ideas.

Man shoots mower

A 56-year-old man from the Midwestern US state of Wisconsin has been arrested after shooting his lawn mower in his garden because it would not start. Keith Walendowski was charged by police in Milwaukee with disorderly conduct and possession of a sawn-off shotgun.

He could face a fine of up to $11,000 and a maximum prison sentence of six-and-a-half years if convicted.

Police officers said Mr Walendowski had told them: "It's my lawn mower and my yard, so I can shoot it if I want." Police found the shotgun, a handgun and a stungun, as well as ammunition, when they detained Mr Walendowski in the basement of his house.

Witnesses told police that he appeared to have been drinking.

The lawn mower was found sitting outside Mr Walendowski's house, which he shares with his mother, with the rubbish on Friday.

A local retailer said that Mr Walendowski might now have difficulty getting his lawn mower repaired. "Anything not factory recommended would void the warranty," said Dick Wagner, of Wagner's Garden Mart in Milwaukee.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Scrabble champ disqualified

A young Scrabble champion from Senegal has been stripped of his title at the Francophone World Championships (French Scrabble) for lying about his age, local media say.

Mamadou Youck had been named winner of the "blitz" competition for 14-15 year-olds before officials discovered he was 16, Senegal's APS news agency reports. In the "blitz" category, players have just one minute to complete each move.

The 37th Francophone Scrabble World Championships are taking place this week in Senegal's capital, Dakar.

The country's Sports Ministry, which accords Scrabble the same importance as football, has declared the competition a national priority.

About 600 competitors from 21 countries are participating.

Despite having a literacy rate of just 40%, Senegal's holds nine world titles in Scrabble.

Oldest bible goes online

The oldest known surviving copy of the New Testament gets the modern touch Thursday when parts of it go online for the first time. The British Library plans to begin publishing the Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th century text handwritten in Greek, on its Web site. The Gospel of Mark and the Book of Psalms go online Thursday. The full manuscript is to be online in a year.

Translations of the Codex Sinaiticus have long been widely available, but publishing images of the manuscript online will let anyone see pages that, until now, have been viewed in detail mainly by academia.

As the Web site becomes operational, it will show photographs of each page of the text, with links to translations in English and German. There will also be a search function.

"It contains the earliest complete copy of the New Testament," said Scot McKendrick, the head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library.

While the Codex contains all of the New Testament, it also includes part of the Old Testament and originally contained the entire text of the Christian Bible. The manuscript also includes the Apocrypha, 14 disputed books of the Old Testament that are usually omitted from the Protestant Bible. It also includes two early Christian texts: the "Epistle of Barnabas" and the "Shepherd of Hermas."

The library announced plans three years ago to digitize the 1,600-year-old book, a tough job since pieces of the manuscript reside in four countries.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


A New Jersey man trying to exterminate insects in his apartment blew it up instead, the New York Daily News reported on Monday.

Isias Vidal Maceda was unhurt in the incident, but 80 percent of his apartment was destroyed, Eatontown, New Jersey police told the newspaper.

The accident occurred as Maceda was spraying for pests in his kitchen. Somehow the bug spray ignited a blast that blew out the apartment's front windows and triggered a fire that quickly spread, the newspaper said.

Police told the newspaper that the Saturday blaze also caused smoke damage to the apartment above.

Plane Stupid

A campaigner against Heathrow Airport's third runway has attempted to glue himself to Gordon Brown at a Downing Street reception. Dan Glass, a member of Plane Stupid, was about to receive an award from the prime minister when he stuck out his superglued hand and touched his sleeve.

Plane Stupid says Mr Glass, from north London, then "glued his hand" to Mr Brown's jacket as he shook his hand. But Downing Street said there had been "no stickiness of any significance".

Plane Stupid recently gained publicity by mounting a protest on the roof of Parliament.

Spokesman Graham Thompson said Mr Glass - a 24-year-old post-graduate student at Strathclyde University - had smuggled a small amount of glue through Downing Street security checks in his underwear at about 1700 BST.

He met the prime minister during the reception at about 1830 BST. Mr Thompson said his organisation was attempting to make Mr Brown "stick to his environmental promises".

Sand Castle Hotel

The world's first ever sand hotel has been made in Dorset and is accepting its first guests for £10 a night. It took 1,000 tonnes of sand and a team of four sculptors working 14 hours a day for seven days to build the structure on Weymouth beach.

Guests can book to stay in the hotel, which includes beds made out of sand, until the rain washes it away. The structure was created by a hotel company to celebrate a resurgence of holidaymakers flocking to the seaside.

Research by predicts 37 million people will enjoy British beaches this year and some won't.

The beds are made of sand so it can get everywhere, especially between the toes
Mark Anderson, sand hotel sculptor. The sand hotel offers a twin and double bedroom, while the roofless structure gives guests the chance to "star-gaze" at night, the firm said.

But there are no toilet facilities and people were warned the sand "gets everywhere".

There's a BBC video HERE

Bridge opens after 55 yrs

Driving along India's eastern National Highway 31 got easier last week when a bridge was opened across the Torsha river near the Ghoksadanga-Pundibari area. There were celebrations at its inauguration in the state of West Bengal. But not many people were aware that it had taken 55 years for the 454-metre long bridge project to be realised.

The delay has been blamed on red tape, litigation and natural disasters.

A junior engineer, Kripasindhu Rakshit, made the first survey of the area for the bridge in 1953. "The survey for the bridge over Torsha and the approach road was my first assignment as a junior engineer in the Development (Roads) Directorate - after the year I joined service in 1952," Mr Rakshit recently wrote.

Apparently nothing more happened until the 1980s when "the central government asked us to go for another set of survey, soil testing, design and give a cost estimate".

To his surprise he discovered that another team had prepared a fresh design and estimate for the bridge about 10 years back.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Heavy Metal Monk

At first glance, Cesare Bonizzi looks like the archetypal Capuchin monk - round-faced, stout, with twinkling eyes and a long flowing white beard. But beneath his robes beats a heart of metal.

Brother Cesare is the lead singer in a heavy metal band which has just released its second album. A former missionary in the Ivory Coast, he lives in a small friary in the Milan hinterland.

The 62-year-old monk's love affair with heavy metal began when he attended a Metallica concert some 15 years ago.

"I was overwhelmed and amazed by the sheer energy of it" he says.

Hard rock and heavy metal have, over the years, been criticised as the work of the devil. Its a claim which Brother Cesare, also known as Brother Metal, says is nonsense.

He started playing and recording cassettes, firstly with "lighter" metal music, but gradually he realised that what really moved him was the hard core.

The members of his band were at first sceptical at the idea of teaming up with a Capuchin monk but their doubts soon evaporated.

"Five minutes after meeting Brother Cesare I decided to go ahead, because he manages to convey so much energy, that other musicians and youngsters often don't manage to express," lead guitarist, Cesare Zanotti, told Reuters.

There's a BBC Video HERE

NEW York maze

A recreation of the Statue of Liberty 10 times bigger than the original has been unveiled in North Yorkshire. Farmer Tom Pearcy cut the image of the New York landmark in fields a few miles from York, the city after which the American metropolis was named.

The 1,300ft (400m) long maze has been made using more than a million living maize plants and covers about 18 acres. The original statue is just more than 111ft (34m) tall, from the heel to the top of the head.

Mr Pearcy has been creating mazes every summer for the past five years on land just off the A64, near York. His previous creations have included a Viking long ship, the Flying Scotsman and Big Ben.

This year the farmer has moved his attraction to a new location near the Yorkshire Air Museum, at Elvington.

He said: "As a 'new' York Maze it seemed appropriate to base this year's design on New York. I also wanted to mark the links between York and New York.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trashy prize

A French air hostess will become one of Europe's pioneer space tourists after picking a chocolate wrapper out of the rubbish and finding a winning number in a competition to fly to the upper reaches of the earth's atmosphere.

Mathilde Epron, 32, said she had bought a Kit Kat chocolate bar at her local supermarket but initially threw the wrapper in the bin, telling herself that "it's only others who win."

Two hours later, thinking back to the competition, she decided to try her luck and fished the wrapper out of the bin, only to find a code marked inside.

"For someone who works in air travel it's really a dream come true," she told France Info radio.

A spokeswoman for Nestle in France confirmed that Epron had won the prize to take a flight on a four-seater, fighter-sized aircraft built by Rocketplane, a company that builds aircraft intended to provide cheap flights into space.

She will receive four days of astronaut training in Oklahoma City in the United States before boarding the Rocketplane XP aircraft which will reach an altitude of 100 km (60 miles) and allow a five-minute experience of weightlessness.

Cardboard Gandhi

An American artist has made a 17ft cardboard statue of Mahatma Gandhi – and published step-by-step instructions on the internet to help others do the same. The over-size sculpture of the Indian icon - complete with glasses and walking stick - has been unveiled at the Eyebeam gallery in New York.

The model is a tribute to Gandhi’s 248 mile Salt March across in India in 1930 in protest against British taxes. Artist Joseph DeLappe built the statue after recreating the march with the help of a treadmill and the online world Second Life earlier this year.

DeLappe spent 26 days walking with a digital Gandhi character across the game’s virtual landscape. The steps he took on the treadmill powered his Gandhi avatar's progress through Second Life.

"After walking with Gandhi for 240 miles I decided it would be interesting to recreate him in monumental scale,” he said.

The cardboard Gandhi, which is the same height as Michelangelo’s David sculpture, took 24 days to build and is held together with glue alone.

DeLappe created the sculpture in pieces so it could be taken apart and stored, or shipped to new venues.

Unfortunately DeLappe's made a blog about it HERE

Burnt lot

The first guitar to be burnt by Jimi Hendrix onstage is set to fetch £500,000 at auction. Hendrix's 1965 Fender Stratocaster, which was famously set alight on stage during a performance at London's Finsbury Astoria in 1967, is going under the hammer with other historic artifacts from the world of music.

Among these are Jim Morrison's final notebook of poetry and musings before his death from Paris in 1971 and the last surviving drum-kit of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham.

The Doors lead singer's manuscripts are likely to sell for up to £100,000 while Bonham's drumkit could go for as much as £20,000.

But the pick of the musical collection will be Hendrix's guitar, from the opening night of the Walker Brothers tour on March 31 1967.

At the end of his show Hendrix set fire to the base of his Fender Stratocaster – as the astonished audience looked on and petrified venue staff ushered the performer off.

While Hendrix was being treated for minor hand injuries, his guitar was retrieved by his roadies, and eventually returned to Garland's London offices.

The guitar was then kept at the home of Noel Redding - bass player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience - before Garland collected the guitar and stored it at his parent's garage in Hove.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Biggest family tree

A British pensioner believes he has produced the world's largest family tree after tracing nearly 10,000 relatives. Roy Blackmore, 76, has spent the past 28 years and £20,000 scouring census registers, cemeteries and archives to find the names of 9390 family members.

Included among them are Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror as well as a Wild West cowboy, Civil War soldiers and a former French king.

Blackmore has applied to the Guinness Book of World Records in the hope of claiming the title of having the world's largest documented family tree.

"When I started I never planned to go back that far but the more I looked the more interested I became," he told The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Britain.

"There have been some very frustrating times when I seemingly hit a brick wall.

"But there is always a way around or over an obstacle but I think I'll leave it as it is."

Blackmore's interest in exploring his heritage stemmed from being an orphan as a child.

He has now been able to trace his relatives back to the Cerdick family in AD500.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Edible boat race

Preparations are under way for what is believed to be the UK's first edible boat race later this month. The event will be held at Eyemouth beach in the Scottish Borders with the winning boat being the one which manages to float the longest.

The competition is open to all ages but all the vessels must be made entirely out of edible materials.

The event is backed by Eyemouth Herring Queen Committee and the St Abb's and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve. The seafaring challenge takes place on 23 July.

Liza Cole, National Trust for Scotland ranger for the marine reserve, explained how the surprising idea had come about. She was approached by the organisers of Eyemouth's annual celebration - the Herring Queen Festival - to discuss the possibility of a paper boat release.

Ms Cole said: "I was really pleased that the committee had thought laterally rather than just going for a balloon release, as these result in burst balloons littering our beaches and choking marine wildlife.

"However, I had reservations as paper only biodegrades in seawater very slowly, and I had visions of incoming tides of papier-mache. So, it was my turn to think laterally, and that's when I came up with the idea of an edible boat race."

She said she believed the event was the first of its type.

"I have put the word out with all my contacts around the country and as far as I am aware there has never been a boat race of this kind before," she said. "So we will be making history as well as having a bit of ecologically-friendly fun."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bug Jewelry

SANDWICH, Mass. - Two 17-year-old jewelry makers from Cape Cod, Massachusetts are hoping swarms of customers will want their latest creations: earrings and necklaces made from dead bugs.

Katheryn Maloney and Brady Cullinan are selling jewelry made out of the cicadas that swarmed their town of Sandwich this summer.

The pair charges $10 for earrings or necklaces made out of the bugs' lacquered carcasses.

They tell the Cape Cod Times that some people find the jewelry gross, but others are impressed with its uniqueness.

Maloney and Cullinan began making the bug jewelry in mid-June after Cullinan's mother suggested the idea.

Scilly job advert

To be an air traffic controller you need many talents, including quick decision-making skills, calmness under pressure and – crucially – good eyesight.

But at one airport with a vacancy, application forms are being offered in Braille – despite stating the job r­equires 20/20 vision. St Mary's airport, on the Isles of Scilly, says it must include the small print for its equality policy.

'It is just common sense that you would not employ an air traffic controller who is blind or partially sighted,' said one aviation insider. 'It's just one of those things they have got to put on forms. It's got to go on everything these days, whether it's relevant or not.'

All air traffic controllers have to meet international standards and pass a medical, including a stringent eye test.

'They would have to meet the same requirement as an airline ­pilot,' a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said. 'They would need good 20/20 vision.'

The new post touts a salary of up to £36,000 for the right candidate. Yet, at the bottom it adds: 'If you require this in larger text, Braille, or in audio format, contact the community relations officer.'

'The islands are always at the cutting edge of innovation,' said Radio Scilly controller Keri Jones. 'So it would certainly be something to have the world's first blind air traffic controller.'

Finnish wife carrying

Inviting dead voters

England - South Cambridgeshire District Council sent out 7,500 ballot papers for tenants to vote for representatives on a housing association committee.

Among those were 533 papers for people who had died.

"We apologise in particular to the relatives of those people for any distress this caused," a spokesman for the council said.

"Due to an administrative error some voting papers... have been sent out to a number of people who are no longer tenants of the council either because they have moved away, given up their tenancy, or regrettably, have passed away," the spokesman said.

Officials said the voting papers would be reissued and a new election held.

Beggars' fortune

When 60-year-old Laxmi Das recently deposited her earnings in an Indian bank in Calcutta, it was a bit more than the usual mundane money transfer. Ms Das handed over 91kg (200lb) of coins - the produce of 44 years of hard begging - enabling her to open an account and qualify for a credit card.

Laxmi began begging near Hatibagan, a busy road junction in northern Calcutta, at the age of 16. Officials say she could have saved as much as 30,000 rupees ($692).

"She would spend frugally from her daily collection and save the coins. She was very possessive about them," says her sister Asha.

Ms Das saved the coins in iron buckets covered with jute bags at her home in a shanty town near the crossing. In all, she collected four buckets of coins - of all denominations - some even minted as far back as 1961 and now clearly out of date.

"But we will accept those coins as well because she is poor and needs all our support," said Central Bank of India spokesman Shantanu Neogy. He says there is a directive from India's Reserve Bank to accept all such outdated coins and reimburse the depositor in full.

She chose to ignore - or did not know about - a thriving racket in this part of the world in which old Indian coins are smuggled and melted down in Bangladesh to make razor blades that sell for up to seven times their value as coins. The practice has caused an acute coin shortage in eastern India, forcing government mints to cut down on the amount of metal they use to make the coins.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Drunk ref helped off field

MINSK, Belarus -- Referee Sergei Shmolik was helped off the field with back pain while officiating a Belarus league match, but later was shown to be drunk.

In TV footage shown Wednesday on Russian television, Shmolik staggered as he was helped off the field at the end of Saturday's match.

The Belarusian sports Web site Presball reported that the crowd in Vitebsk stadium, where the local team was hosting Naftan, was amused with the referee's strange behavior through the second half.

Shmolik was hardly moving by the end of the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw, officiating from the central circle by the end of the game.

Presball said Shmolik got help after the match but later was taken to the hospital for a test, which showed high levels of alcohol in his system.

The Belarus football federation said Shmolik's case will be subject to a disciplinary committee.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cat adopts Panda

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands- A zookeeper's house cat has adopted a baby red panda abandoned by its mother and is nursing the cub along with her own kittens, the Artis zoo said Wednesday.

The panda's mother rejected her two cubs after they were born on June 30. "She left them there, lying in the cold," said zoo spokesman Bart Kret.

The zoo initially kept the cubs in an incubator. But a keeper's tabby cat had just given birth to four kittens, and let the two panda cubs join the crowd.

One of the cubs was too weak and died Thursday :(

The surviving cub is still smaller than the kittens, who were born three days before her. However, if she survives to be an adult, she will be slightly larger than a cat.

Kret said the cub will drink milk for about three months, after which she can start eating bamboo and fruit.

The cub doesn't have a name yet, but the zoo says that, through its adoption program, anyone willing to sponsor her will be allowed to name her.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Fake FBI agent

When Bill Jakob, a federal officer specialising in drug enforcement, offered his services to a tiny town in Missouri that was struggling with a wave of methamphetamine use, the local officials couldn't believe their luck.

Here was a man who was the image of the tough but reliable FBI agent - stocky build, close-cropped hair, military boots and trousers and a determination to get results. He came sporting a badge, federal ID and a gun at his side.

He said he would not cost the local community of Gerald a penny - he was a gift from the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington to help the town clean up its drug problems. As an added incentive, he arrived in town driving an unmarked police car, equipped with siren and police radio, that he promised to leave behind him when the job was done.

There was only one problem: "Sergeant Bill", as he came quickly to be known by the 1,200 townspeople of Gerald, was not a federal agent, and never had been. He was in fact unemployed, a former truck driver with a criminal record who had fallen into debt and filed for bankruptcy.

But for almost five months from the day he showed up in town in January, he built himself up to be the policing king of Gerald. He led the town's existing five officers in numerous raids against suspected drug users. Wearing a black T-shirt with "Police" emblazoned on it, he took part in the arrest of the local pharmacist and in a series of at least 17 raids. He cut corners, brushing aside demands for an arrest warrant with the boast that as a federal agent he didn't need one.

And the results followed. Mayor Otis Schulte had dubbed Gerald "a meth capital of the United States," but he watched as the problem was brought under control.

But there were doubts too. Linda Trest, a reporter with the local paper, the Gasconade Country Republican - where news coverage normally involves rodeos and school sack races - grew suspicious.

She began making inquiries. Was it true federal agents had no need of search warrants? Had Jakob been security cleared? An hour's research on her computer was enough to throw up the incriminating evidence - of a sex abuse conviction against him when he was 22, his $180,000 debt and bankruptcy, and the fact that he held no police credentials at all.

He did, it transpire, come from Washington - though not DC but Washington, Missouri, just 30 miles away. And his police car was indeed a police car, though he had bought it from a used car dealer.

The town was in shock. "He was everything that you'd think a federal officer would be," said Schulte. "This guy just really screwed this town up."

In the fallout, three of the town's five police officers, including the chief, have been sacked. Seventeen residents have issued federal lawsuits claiming up to $11m (£5.5m) each for violations that included being kicked in the head, threatened at gunpoint, and, in the case of one elderly woman, forced into a psychiatric hospital after refusing to cooperate.

Mike Withington says Jakob raided his house, pounding on his door and throwing him in handcuffs on to his front garden. "[Jakob] was definitely in charge - it was all him," he told the New York Times.

Angry townspeople have organised a petition of 159 names to have the mayor removed, complaining that "this incident has made Gerald the laughing stock of the whole state".

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rescuer rescued

A woman who climbed 20ft up a tree to help a trapped cat had to be rescued by firefighters after getting stranded. The woman, aged in her 20s, went to help feline Mercedes who had been trapped in a neighbour's tree for almost two days.

But a branch broke beneath her and she was also left stranded in the tree in Colchester, Essex. Fire crews helped the woman down from the tree using ladders, while the cat eventually made its own way down.

Local resident Elly Hinkins said she had called the RSPCA after she heard a cat's cries for help and spotted Mercedes up a tree in her driveway. Ms Hinkins, who is not Mercedes' owner, was told to inform the fire brigade if the cat remained trapped after three days.

But she called them a day earlier after spotting the would-be rescuer stuck up the tree along with the cat.

Ms Hinkins said: "She (the woman) got up there and was quite a confident climber but the branch she was standing on broke. She didn't want me to call the fire brigade but I said there was no way I was having her falling out of the tree and she just couldn't get down. I think she was actually quite chuffed to be rescued by some hunky fireman."

The woman, who has not been named, was led down to safety by a firefighter using a triple extension ladder on Monday night, a fire service spokesman said.

Drunk attempts to row home

A last drink proved one too many for a 78-year-old Swede who fell asleep while trying to row home - from Denmark. Reports say the man had been drinking in the Danish town of Helsingor but found he did not have enough money for the ferry home to Sweden.

Instead of waiting until morning, he stole a dinghy and tried to row the 5km (three miles) across the Oresund Strait to Helsingborg, police said. But he fell asleep half way and drifted until he was rescued by the coastguard.

The man, who has not been named, was found still asleep in the bottom of the boat, and towed back across the strait - a busy shipping lane - to Denmark.

He was put on the next ferry home after he had sobered up, writes the Danish news service Ritzau. Police said the owner of the dinghy had decided not to press charges.