I can’t help admiring the efforts of Stefano Ampollini, a 56-year-old Italian who won €70,000 cheating at cards. His method was so ingenious, his preparations so meticulous. He bought infra-red contact lenses online from China for €2,000. He persuaded two casino staff at Les Princes casino in Cannes to help him.
The casino staff marked up packs of cards with invisible ink so that when Ampollini sat down to play stud poker he knew exactly what he was up against – he could read the back of the croupier’s cards. He also had an accomplice opposite him, another Italian, who “sniffed or snorted”, according to The Daily Telegraph, to help Ampollini choose the right cards, though one wonders whether this was really necessary.
The trouble with gamblers – especially crooked ones – is that they’re greedy. Ampollini was caught because casino security found his behaviour odd, but in particular, as one of their lawyers put it at Ampollini’s trial, “because he folded twice when he had excellent hands, suggesting he knew the croupier’s cards”. This was a mistake. Once the casino became suspicious, it didn’t take the police long to work out what was going on. So now this self-styled “cheat of international renown” is languishing behind bars. The judge “marvelled at his exploits”, said The Daily Telegraph – then sentenced him to two years in jail.
Tony Blair’s £7,000-an-hour flight
Tony Blair likes travelling in style and lately, according to The Independent, has been spotted “descending from the steps” of a Canadian-built Bombardier Global Express BD-700. With its reclining leather seats, two kitchens, and a cabin that can be configured into a state room complete with double bed and private bathroom, it’s a private jet that “turns heads”.
Blair is thought to have used the plane – leased from a Hampshire-based company called Aravco – for a trip to New York state in August, and another to Bangkok in early September. If the plane had been hired at its maximum hourly rate, the journey to Bangkok would cost about £85,000 – the going rate is about £7,000 an hour. When Blair was prime minister there was talk of his having a special jet, a project immediately dubbed Blair Force One, which thankfully came to nothing on cost grounds. Now, happily for the ex-PM, cost is no object.
The disgraceful role of the police in Plebgate
I never believed the police account of the incident that caused MP Andrew Mitchell’s downfall – in particular the claim that he used the word “plebs” in his clash with officers at Downing Street. Now it’s clear the evidence against him was fabricated.
“A year ago, I joined in the castigation of [Mitchell],” wrote Catherine Bennett in The Observer, offering a belated apology to the wronged former chief whip. “Having sponsored the vilification of a senior politician by staff deception, via a leaked document, the Metropolitan Police now affirms with its unconscionable delays and excuses that it cannot be trusted to address misconduct in its own ranks.” Quite. The police have behaved disgracefully. Andrew Mitchell should be reinstated forthwith.
Tabloid money: ‘How can it possibly cost £50bn to build a railway line?’
• “Ed Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy bills has received short shrift from the former Confederation of British Industry boss who once made the mistake of joining Gordon Brown’s ‘government of all the talents’,” says the Daily Express’s Hickey column.
“Lord Digby Jones [once business minister] claimed the Labour leader risked ‘sacrificing Britain’s prosperity on an altar of tribal socialism’ and accused him of ‘hypocrisy of the worst kind’. By the standards of Jones’s previous verdict on Labour… this is tame stuff. Following his departure from the previous government he described his time in the job as ‘one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences a human being can have’.”
• The police have announced that a shotgun licence should cost £200, because that’s how much it costs to process the paperwork and check the owner’s safe is locked, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. “Really? Two hundred quid to put a piece of paper in a filing cabinet and drive over to someone’s house in a diesel-powered Vauxhall Astra? That sounds like nonsense to me. But the trouble is, these days we seem to be losing our minds when it comes to the cost of things. I mean, how can it possibly cost £50bn to build a railway line from London to the north?… Or £10bn to install a computer system at the NHS? And then we have this Costa Concordia business in Italy. They say the salvage operation cost £500m. What?!?! It can’t have done. Not that long ago engineers managed to stabilise the leaning tower of Pisa, which was phenomenally complex and difficult, for £20m. So how can it cost 25 times more than that to right a ship?”
• “We’ve just learned that the average annual boarding school fee of £27,600 has climbed above the average wage (£26,500) for the first time ever,” says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror. “And to think there are still people who say we’re becoming a more equal country, the rich aren’t getting richer and every kid in Britain has the same chance of getting on.”
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