Saturday 31 October 2009

This Is Halloween

Halloween - as Simon Pegg says, a time when people of all faiths can come together as one and celebrate evil. My contribution to the celebrations is this, from Tim Burton's excellent 'Nightmare Before Christmas':

Friday 30 October 2009

Senior Met Officer To Head Investigations at Police Complaints Watchdog

What do we know about the Metropolitan Police Commander Moir Stewart?

He was the former Staff Officer to Commissioner Sir Ian Blair who received ‘constructive advice’ from his managers on the recommendation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission for failing to pass on information to his boss on 22 July 2005 - information that confirming the Met had shot and killed an innocent Brazilian.

According to the IPCC’s Stockwell 2 investigation (PDF), this resulted in Blair falsely telling a press conference that the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was directly linked to the operation to catch potential suicide bombers. But like other officers involved in the Menezes case, this was no obstacle to promotion.

Stewart went on to coordinate the Met’s response to the health and safety prosecution in 2007. This involved instructing the force's barristers to smear Jean by claiming he had been killed because he acted in an "aggressive and threatening manner" when challenged by police, suggesting he was an illegal immigrant and dishonestly manipulating a photograph showing Jean Charles de Menezes next to a suicide bomber.

Now Stewart, who subsequently rose to head the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, has a new job starting in January – unbelieveably, a senior officer who has been criticised by the IPCC and condemned by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes is soon to become the IPCC's Director of Investigations!

Seldom can there have been a more inappropriate appointment. It's another nail in the coffin of the already discredited ‘independent’ police complaints body.

Anti-War Culture Jamming Hits Gillingham

Kent Online reports that "posters appealing for people to support this year's Poppy Appeal have been vandalised by anti-war protesters". The BBC reports a spokesman for the Royal British Legion saying, "We do understand that the current campaign in Afghanistan and the recent activities in Iraq are not popular universally in the country."

Source: aldisley
Source: Kent Online

Inquest Into Police Custody Death Opens After Six Years

After a six-year wait, next week the inquest into the death of Mikey Powell in police custody in Birmingham will finally begin at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall.

Mikey Powell was a fit and healthy 38 year old black man and a father of three young children. He had suffered several short episodes of mental illness in the past from which he had recovered. One of these episodes occurred on 7 September 2003. Police had previously dealt appropriately with Mikey and were called again on this occasion by concerned family members. During the incident in which Mikey was detained outside his mother’s house in the Lozells area of Birmingham, officers drove a police car at Mikey, hitting him, then used CS spray and a baton while restraining him. Even though Mikey was injured, rather than taking him to a hospital the officers drove him instead to Thornhill Road Police Station where he died at some point during his detention.

In 2006, there was a three-month Crown Court trial of ten West Midlands Police officers, eight of whom faced charges of misconduct in public office and two of charges of dangerous driving. All were subsequently acquitted. The verdict was met with dismay by the family and their supporters.

After arguing successfully for a jury inquest into Mikey’s death, the inquest was further adjourned from March 2009 because of the family’s legal challenge of the failure of the coroner and the investigating force (Northamptonshire Police) to provide the family with access to 4,000 documents relating to the police investigation into Mikey’s death. The High Court ordered that the family be granted access to these and the new inquest date was set.

Mikey was a cousin of the poet and writer, Benjamin Zephaniah, who is a patron of two organisations I am involved with - Newham Monitoring Project and INQUEST. Another cousin, Tippa Napthali, is a former colleague at the charity I work for in Forest Gate. Tippa said in a press release from INQUEST (PDF):

Such deaths in custody like Mikey’s frequently fade from public interest while the grief and anguish of affected families can continue for many years. We have only ever wanted answers to the many questions as yet unanswered, and hope that this inquest will mark an important stage in our continued quest for truth and accountability for Mikey’s death.
Deborah Coles co-director of INQUEST said:
The truly shocking circumstances of this death will finally be subjected to proper public scrutiny. It is profoundly disturbing that a black man in need of medical treatment and care died following contact with the police and the issues his death raises about the use of force and the care of vulnerable detainees in police stations are as pertinent today as they were six years ago.
The Powell family will be represented at the inquest by an old friend and former Newham Monitoring Project worker Rajiv Menon, now a barrister at Garden Court Chambers.

The family campaign has set up a blog for the inquest at

The inquest starts at 10am on Wednesday 4 November and takes place at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, Upper Clifton Road, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, B73 6AB (close to Sutton Coldfield railway station). Please come and show your support for the family.

Thursday 29 October 2009

What To Expect From Denmark's Police in December

For those heading to Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December - Danish police are no different from British ones. See also this article in the New Statesman.

Hat tip: oxfordbloo

'Anti-Immigrant Porn' Comes To Upton Park

According to traders at Queens Market in Upton Park, immigration officers from the UK Border Agency turned up in force at the market on the last two Friday afternoons and arrested and detained people.

They were accompanied by a film crew who were filming for UK Border Force, a ‘reality show’ that goes out on Sky One at 9pm Saturday nights and features the agency rounding up 'illegal immigrants'. These incidents are not the first time that filming for the show has taken place locally – its film crews have focused before on raids in and around Green Street.

In 2008, the Home Office paid £400,000 to a independent production company called Steadfast Television, whose other classics include CCTV: You Are Being Watched, Sky Cops, Cars Cops and Criminals, and Brit Cops: Frontline Crime. This funding for UK Border Force, a programme that is pure propaganda for the government’s hard-line view on immigration. proved so controversial that Sky decided to hand it back in September 2008 – but not before the first series had already been made.

For anyone who has never seen an episode, the programme has a completely sympathetic and uncritical approach to the UK Border Agency. It ‘embedded journalism’ ignores questions about the impact or fairness of immigration raids (even those based on incredibly flawed intelligence) or to refused entries, embraces jargon about 'clandestines' and ‘illegals’ and offers no context to wider political debate about immigration and asylum or the injustices that lead people to flee their countries to travel to the UK. The portrayal of people on the receiving end of the UK Border Agency’s activities is dehumanising and their fear and desperation is largely invisible, making the series little more than anti-immigrant porn, a brand of unpleasant voyeurism that turns people’s lives into ‘entertainment’.

If anyone spots Steadfast Television’s film crews again, please can they contact Newham Monitoring Project on 0800 169 3111

Wednesday 28 October 2009

The Artist Who Took Sides

Despite still feeling a bit under the weather, I headed over to Stratford Circus this evening to see Call Mr Robeson, the excellent Tayo Aluko's one-man tribute to the black American actor and singer.

I'm really glad that I made it - it was a wonderful performance, one firmly rooted in Robeson's socialist politics that began with his contact with Welsh coal miners in the late 1920s, whom he met whilst performing Showboat in London. His involvement with trade unions in Britain led to solidarity with the Republican cause in Spain, trips to Russia and staunch (and largely uncritical) support for the Soviet Union, the basis for his eventual persecution by the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the late 1940s.

Robeson was prevented from travelling, his passport taken from him and he found it increasingly difficult to record or perform. In an act of defiance that was typical of his refusal to compromise, he sang at a union-organised concert on the American side of the U.S.-Canada border to a 20,000 strong Canadian audience. After six years, Robeson was finally allowed to return to the UK and to travel extensively around the world, before ill health led to his return to the US.

Tayo Aluko's performance of a artist who always took sides, an activist who preceded the civil rights movement of the 1960s but outlived both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (who had asked to meet Robeson shortly before his assassination), captures wonderfully the personality and history of a pioneering black socialist and musician whose achievements only really began to be celebrated after Robeson's death in 1976.

There's only one more show in London, this Friday at the Greenwich Theatre, before it heads to the States. It's well worth checking out.

Blair Denounced As Terrorist At Ibraheemi Mosque

Our future EU 'President' is jeered and called a terrorist by a Palestinian protester while visiting the Ibraheemi Mosque, a location sacred to both Muslims and Jews, during an official trip to the West Bank city of Hebron.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Domestic Extremist - The New ASBO Badge of Honour?

For many of us, the existence of a police surveillance database, highlighted in the Guardian this week, is hardly news at all: I remember hearing details about it from FITwatch at a meeting in April.

Still, it's rather less reassuring that the best Home Secretary Alan Johnston can offer to reassure potential protesters is "the police know what they are doing, they know how to tackle these demonstrations, they do it very effectively."

Good grief, why on earth bother asking the Inspectorate of Constabulary to go to all that trouble to conduct a review of public order policing then? Tell me, Alan, that it wasn't all a public relations exercise?

Rather in the way that ASBOs became something of a 'badge of honour' amongst some inner-city 'yoot', I suspect that 'domestic extremist' - a category so broad that it can encompass almost anyone who believes protest involves more than a stroll from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square - will become a source of pride for many of us too. So much so that I've added a badge to this blog (see right panel) in the hope that that I haven't been a rubbish activist recently and therefore inadvertently missed out.

I pray, however, that if the National Public Order Intelligence Unit has a picture (as at least one person has jokingly suggested) then I'm looking as breezy and cheerful as at least some of those on the now notorious spotter cards. Clearly protesting can be fun (until, that is, you're targeted by the police).

As an aside, this dangerous extremist responsible for the quote above was in Oxford in July - making him a suitable candidate for labelling as... what? A visiting "domestic extremist"? If the police want more information to add to their surveillance database, they need to know that the neutrality of the article about him on Wikipedia is disputed.

For accuracy's sake, you understand...

Climate Change - World Domination

Monday 26 October 2009

Climate Camp - Why Dialogue Is Vital

The November issue of Labour Briefing includes the following response, by Conor O’Brien from the Camp for Climate Action, to my earlier article "Climate Camp - Which Side Are We On?"

We want to respond to the points raised by Kevin Blowe (Briefing, October) when he asked how the traditional left can engage with the climate camp movement. We accept that the Camp for Climate Action has made mistakes, but that there is much still to be gained from dialogue between the Camp and workers.

Climate Camp, with its sophisticated media and outreach groups presenting a well honed image, can come across as being a playground of the bourgeoisie. Though there is a clear objective of building a radical mass movement around the imminent dangers of climate change, its radical nature often gets lost in the process, with the emphasis in discussion on the need for immediate action.

At times there have been too many glib statements about how this is to be achieved which are unrepresentative of most of those who actually get on with the day to day practicalities of the camp and fighting climate change. Likewise, some of the debates and guest speakers have shown a lack of understanding of some of the issues.

The camp is a movement. No one voice represents everyone – which is often forgotten by those outside its processes. Rather, the camp is about debate and dialogue, and it should be seen as a space in which that can happen rather than being the sole voice of grassroot climate change activism. The very openness of the Camp, a deliberate choice, is actually one of its strongest points, as it allows diverse groups to come together and seek solutions. Unfortunately, much of the criticism thrown at us comes from those who misunderstand this openness and assume we are being vague or apolitical.

We are actually very political. Underlying the Camp is a rejection of the state and corporations as they are unable to halt climate change or the exploitation that has led to it. The Camp’s roots are in the anti-capitalist movement and in the G8 protests of 2005, as well as other grassroots, direct action, environmental campaigns – all of which provide radical critiques which guide the Climate Camp.

We are organised on anarchist principles (consensus decision making, flat structures and autonomous working groups), yet we avoid being prescriptive, allowing groups to come together and find common ground. Diversity of opinion (though we reject all discrimination, racism, right wing politics, and so on) is crucial if we are to achieve a critical mass.

This method has side effects. In particular there is a division of labour among those involved. Anarchist and working class activists have focused on the practicalities of setting up the camp, while the liberals and middle classes have presented it to the outside world. Sadly, there is often more focus on the backgrounds of those standing in front of the camera than on discovering the nature of those actually making it all happen.

This is being recognised and rectified, but it is important to realise that the Camp is a sprawling diversity of opinions and people. The success of that engagement alone should not be ignored in an era when political apathy is more and more the norm. We have existed for only four years, and a great deal of energy has been spent on rapid growth as we often punch above our weight (challenging the false solutions of carbon capture and storage, or showing solidarity with the residents of Sipson in the face of the third runway at Heathrow).

It is therefore hardly surprising that there are, as Kevin Blowe rightly points out, many gaps in the knowledge of past struggles. However, there is a willingness to learn, and the Camp has actually created a space for this knowledge to be passed on. It was partly for this reason that Arthur Scargill was invited to the 2008 camp at Kingsnorth.

Another error was not prioritising the need to make closer links with the workers’ movement. This was because for the first few years we were still finding our feet politically. It is now recognised that, in order to help shape our thoughts, a more direct input from workers is needed. This process, begun at Heathrow, has grown since then – if not as visibly as it should.

One achievement of the Climate Camp within the wider climate justice movement has been to start a dialogue with workers. Admittedly, the camp at Heathrow was rocky, though campers did join protests with striking workers. Since then Workers Climate Action has developed into a group to facilitate a more direct rapport between the Camp and workers. Another notable achievement was the solidarity shown by Climate Campers with the Vestas strike, showing it is possible to build links between the workers’ and climate movements.

Dialogue is a two way process needing commitment from both sides, but the criticism levelled by the left is often dismissive rather than constructive. We hope this article dispels some of the myths that have grown up around the Camp, demonstrating that we have more in common than seems the case.

Climate change is real, but if we expect the Government or bosses to provide solutions then we are all in trouble. The position of the Climate Camp is that effective solutions cannot be more of the same. If we are to rely on fossil fuels it condemns us all, workers and campers alike. Protecting jobs in the short term is not a viable strategy when everything will become threatened.

We need a just transition of society which reshapes our industrial base and puts it under the control of workers, but in such a way that environmental concerns are integral. The Climate Camp does not claim to have all the answers. Our hope is that by joining with the workers we can find realistic solutions to the mess that the Government and bosses have got us into, and that together we can reshape the political landscape.

For more information, visit: |

Climate Activists Seize Didcot Power Station

The following press release concerning today's action at N-Power's Didcot power station is from Camp for Climate Action:

Climate campaigners have this morning shut down N-Power’s flagship coal plant at Didcot in Oxforshire.

The twenty peaceful protesters rode their push-bikes past security guards at 4.30am this morning before splitting into two groups. One team has shut down the giant coal conveyors which feed the boilers at the plant, while a second group of nine men and women has climbed the inside of the iconic 200m-high chimney and reached the top. They say they have enough food and water to stay in place for ‘weeks, not days’ - during which time the plant will be unable to operate. Already the activists in the chimney are securing the route behind them to ensure they can’t be reached by police and security guards.

The huge coal plant in Oxfordshire is owned and operated by German utility company N-Power, which is building new coal plants across Europe and wants to build the first new coal-fired power stations in Britain in 30 years.

A small amount of coal was in the boilers as the invasion occurred. That will last for several hours, after which the protesters will scale the flues at the very top of the chimney (which would normally emit 1000 tonnes of CO2 an hour) and abseil into them, with some of the activists then living inside the chimney for the duration of their occupation. Activists will remain in the flues until their food and water runs out, preventing the station from re-opening.

Amy Johnson, 20, one of the protesters at the summit of the huge 200m chimney said:

We’re a bunch of ordinary people who met at the Climate Camp this summer and were inspired to actually do something about climate change. We rode our bikes into the power station this morning and now we’re on the top of the chimney. To be honest we’re quite surprised at how easy it all was. I didn’t quite expect to be here.

Since E-ON shelved their plans to build a new coal plant at Kingsnorth this month, we realised N-Power is the new frontline. They haven’t dropped their plans to build the dirtiest new power stations in Britain for thirty years, and they’re constructing new coal plants right across Europe. We’re going to stay here until they say they’ll stop building new coal plants. We know that might take a while but we’re patient and we’ve got plenty of supplies to stay up here. We’re talking weeks, not days

We decided the most powerful place we could set up a Climate Camp would be at the top of N-Power’s most iconic chimney, and that’s what we’ve done. I’d be a liar if said I wasn’t scared climbing up this smokestack, but climate change scares me a lot more. We’ve got people locked on to the coal conveyors and people are going over the top and inside the actual chimney. There’s no way we can be reached, we’re in control of this power plant and we’re not moving any time soon.

The protesters researched today’s action carefully, putting the safety of N-Power staff and the activists first. The climbers preparing to abseil into the chimney are fully trained and highly experienced. The activists only shut down Didcot after confirming that their actions would not cause power cuts – there is always slack in the National Grid to cope with generating outages, forced or otherwise. If there is a displacement of emissions from coal to gas (or no generation) it will reduce net CO2 emissions in the course of the occupation by tens of thousands of tonnes.

In every country CO2 emissions are linked to economic growth, so in countries like the UK our insatiable hunger for more and more products and consumer goods is driving climate change. The world’s finite resources need to be shared more fairly, and the richest countries which got us into this mess need to take the lead in reducing emissions. We’re on this chimney to demand climate justice as the world prepares to meet in Copenhagen. We’re defending human life and people’s property around the world that’s in immediate need of protection from the ravages of rising temperatures.

While N-Power claims that new coal is necessary to ‘keep the lights on’, in reality its push for new coal plants at Tilbury and Hunterston is motivated by profit, with coal-burning being cheaper than other fuels despite its enormous climate impact. Consultants at Poyry - Europe’s leading independent energy experts - found that Britain could easily meet its energy demands without resorting to new coal as long as the country hits its renewable and energy efficiency targets.

Sunday 25 October 2009

London Drama

The sixth floor members' lounge at the Tate Modern is a great spot for taking photos. I am particularly happy with the drama of this first shot, looking up towards the seventh floor.

See also Louise's pictures taken with her new flashy camera.

Photos from the Stop the War March

It's Time To Show Solidarity With Muslim Democrats

On Saturday 31st October, former al-Muhajiroun space-cadet Anjem Chaudhry will lead the latest reincarnation of his fringe extremism, now called Islam4UK, on a "March for Sharia" from Parliament to Trafalgar Square.

The numbers that Chaudhry can pull out are likely to be as tiny as they always are, but inevitably the march has attracted the attention of fascists and anti-Muslim right wingers. The English Defence League is otherwise engaged with a protest of its own in Leeds, but Casuals United has promised that its "southern divisions" are planning a counter-demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Another group, England United, has called a separate protest at Piccadilly Circus at midday.

More significantly, however, is the mobilisation amongst British Muslims against Chaudhry's antics. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has condemned Islam4UK but last week Inayat Bunglawala, one of the MCB's most prominent media representatives, went further with an announcement in the Guardian that he has sought permission from the police for a broad based counter protest - one that for once isn't racist and anti-Muslim. Bunglawala's proposal has been enthusiastically welcomed by Shaaz Mahboob of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) and looks likely to link up with plans by BMSD to demonstrate against Islam4UK at Piccadilly Circus at 1pm (see also this Facebook group).

Will groups like Unite Against Fascism show their support or will anti-fascists and the left ignore these important initiatives? I hope not. Working together, Muslims and non-Muslims saw off Chaudhry and his mob after the anti-terrorist raids in Forest Gate in 2006 and we need to show our solidarity again this Saturday, or we risk surrendering the streets to the likes of the English Defence League. As Bunglawala says in his article

If you are proud of living in a multi-faith, multicultural democracy where people are free to practise their faith or not to if they so choose, and if you have been appalled at the irresponsible antics of al-Muhajiroun and the Daily Express over the years and the harm they have caused to social cohesion in the UK then please do come along.

Saturday 24 October 2009

On The Road

So there we were again, this time under leaden skies. Strolling from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square along the same old route, conscious that unlike in February 2003, no-one was really listening and we were making very little impact.

Eighteen months ago I argued that "StWC's strategy since 2003 seems to amount to little more than 'keeping on marching', one that has seen increasingly diminishing returns." Nothing seems to have changed. The numbers were fair, perhaps 10 000, but mobilised to what end?

Having left my bike at Trafalgar Square and been unable to find a bus that wasn't packed, I eventually covered the route of the demonstration twice - there and back. I am therefore extremely grateful to Stan from Birmingham for the chance to update on gossip and to Harpymarx, for taking me for tea and cake at the members' lounge at Tate Modern and for putting up with me moaning about how really far away the Tate is from the sound of George Galloway thundering away at the government.

Off out again now - will add photos tomorrow.

Hat-tip for graphic: Antagonista

Friday 23 October 2009

In Defence of 'No Platform'

So the BBC has got what it wanted – its ratings victory for last night’s Question Time.

The British National Party received what it wanted too – an astonishing amount of coverage for a tiny fringe party and the setting of a precedent for further invitations to TV or radio debates. Racist voters will have had their prejudices reinforced about the establishment ganging up ‘their man’ (hence the sympathy for Griffin from callers on this morning's GMTV and the complaints to the BBC). Smug liberals everywhere will be happy too that the uniformly negative newspaper coverage of Nick Griffin’s performance reaffirms what they already believed.

The only losers, it seems, are people whose safety and wellbeing has been further threatened by the spectacularly stupid notion that liars have the right to claim that their falsehoods are nothing more than ‘freedom of speech’. Muslims, of course, and black people living in poor communities in places like my part of the country, in neighbourhoods like Barking, Loughton and Dagenham. People who apparently don't matter all that much to the BBC's ratings compilers.

"The most stringent protection of free speech”, said the American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, “would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." Now let's be clear: Griffin isn’t just someone with unorthodox or unfashionable opinions but a habitual liar, the leader of a thoroughly duplicitous party that deliberately spreads fear through lies - witness the claim today that London has been "ethnically cleansed". Falsely 'shouting fire' is exactly what BBC allowed Griffin to do again and again last night – and providing him with a platform to do so in front of a national audience of 8 million is not its only disgrace.

Hiding behind arguments about 'impartiality', claiming it had an obligation to treat the BNP like any other party and then abandoning the usual format of Question Time demonstrated that the BBC Trust is quite capable of spreading its own lies. The fact that there were no questions about topical issues like the postal workers strike, the Afghan elections or the recession, as there would have been in a normal week, proves that the BBC knows full well that the BNP is not like UKIP or the Greens. So why pretend otherwise?

Throughout the week, people who should know better - including a fair number of liberal bed wetters I follow on Twitter - have been anguishing over the question of Griffin's freedom of speech as though it is some kind of difficult issue. It really isn't. Griffin, his party and everyone who supports them are free to hold whatever warped opinion they like. If they decide to write their blogs, produce their magazines and leaflets or stand out in the street and bellow their lies at the top of their lungs, that's their choice. If they incite violence in doing so then they deal with the consequences like the rest of us - either arrest or a damn good kicking, but consequences nevertheless.

Of course, blaming fascists for conjuring racism in society out of thin air, rather than recognising that the BNP and other far-Right parties simply feed off and exploit popular prejudice, makes little sense. At times you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise listening to groups like Unite Against Fascism, particularly when they give the impression that calling for the state to silence the BNP by banning it will solve everything. But deluding yourself into believing that you can defeat racism by debating with its most vocal proponents makes even less sense. Offering a platform to a party of true believers, people who will never change their views and who are prepared to lie at every opportunity, isn't going to persuade racist voters to stop scapegoating their neighbours. It instead sends a message that their racism is one equally valid opinion amongst many.

'No platform' is not about denying the right to free speech but a conscious recognition that some voices are so irrational and delusional that they don't deserve our help in reaching a wider audience. Every one of the protesters outside Television Centre yesterday understood this and, in the way yesterday's Question Time was staged, I think the BBC instinctively recognised it too.

The problem is that it simply didn't care. That's not an impartial decision, it's a purely commercial one. And whilst we all now have to live with the consequences, some people have far more to lose than the privileged members of the BBC Trust.

UPDATE: One in five 'would consider voting BNP' after Nick Griffin Question Time appearance. Thanks, Mark Byford.

Thursday 22 October 2009

FoI Request On G20 Protests - Now For the Met

Following on from my analysis of the Freedom of Information request made to the Home Office by Solomon Hughes concerning the G20 protests, I have followed it up with my own FoI request, this time to the Metropolitan Police. It reads as follows:

I would like to see copies of any briefings, notes, e-mails or letters prepared by Metropolitan Police Press officers that were produced between 26th March and 8th April 2009 concerning the G20 protests on 1st April.

This includes any memos, papers, emails, minutes or documents held by the Metropolitan Police Press Office relating to either the 1st April 2009 demonstrations at the Bank of England and at Bishopsgate or concerning Ian Tomlinson’s death. This includes any communications between Metropolitan Police Press Office and the Public Order Unit, the Counter Terrorism Command, members of the MPS Management Board, the Home Office and the IPCC on this subject.

This has been acknowledged and I have had a promise of a response "within the statutory timescale of 20 working days". More when I heard back from them.

Why Postal Workers Need Our Support Today

This article originally appeared in the London Review of Books, 8 October 2009.

Old people still write letters the old-fashioned way: by hand, with a biro, folding up the letter into an envelope, writing the address on the front before adding the stamp. Mostly they don’t have email, and while they often have a mobile phone – bought by the family ‘just in case’ – they usually have no idea how to send a text. So Peter Mandelson wasn’t referring to them when he went on TV in May to press for the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, saying that figures were down due to competition from emails and texts.

I spluttered into my tea when I heard him say that. ‘Figures are down.’ We hear that sentence almost every day at work when management are trying to implement some new initiative which involves postal workers like me working longer hours for no extra pay, carrying more weight, having more duties.

It’s the joke at the delivery office. ‘Figures are down,’ we say, and laugh as we pile the fifth or sixth bag of mail onto the scales and write down the weight in the log-book. It’s our daily exercise in fiction-writing. We’re only supposed to carry a maximum of 16 kilos per bag, on a reducing scale: 16 kilos the first bag, 13 kilos the last. If we did that we’d be taking out ten bags a day and wouldn’t be finished till three in the afternoon.

‘Figures are down,’ we chortle mirthlessly, as we load the third batch of door-to-door catalogues onto our frames, adding yet more weight to our bags, and more minutes of unpaid overtime to our clock. We get paid 1.67 pence per item of unaddressed mail, an amount that hasn’t changed in ten years. It is paid separately from our wages, and we can’t claim overtime if we run past our normal hours because of these items. We also can’t refuse to deliver them. This junk mail is one of the Royal Mail’s most profitable sidelines and my personal contribution to global warming: straight through the letterbox and into the bin.

‘Figures are down,’ we say again, but more wearily now, as we pile yet more packages into our panniers, before setting off on our rounds.

People don’t send so many letters any more, it’s true. But, then again, the average person never did send all that many letters. They sent Christmas cards and birthday cards and postcards. They still do. And bills and bank statements and official letters from the council or the Inland Revenue still arrive by post; plus there’s all the new traffic generated by the internet: books and CDs from Amazon, packages from eBay, DVDs and games from LoveFilm, clothes and gifts and other items purchased at any one of the countless online stores which clutter the internet, bought at any time of the day or night, on a whim, with a credit card.

According to Royal Mail figures published in May, mail volume declined by 5.5 per cent over the preceding 12 months, and is predicted to fall by a further 10 per cent this year ‘due to the recession and the continuing growth of electronic communications such as email’. Every postman knows these figures are false. If the figures are down, how come I can’t get my round done in under four hours any more? How come I can work up to five hours at a stretch without time for a sit-down or a tea break? How come my knees nearly give way with the weight I have to carry? How come something snapped in my back as I was climbing out of the shower, so that I fell to the floor and had to take a week off work?

So who’s right? Are the figures down or aren’t they? The Royal Mail couldn’t lie, could it? Well no, maybe not. But it can manipulate the figures. And it can avoid telling the whole truth.

One thing you probably don’t know, for instance, is that the Royal Mail is already part-privatised. It goes under the euphemism of ‘deregulation’. Deregulation is the result of an EU directive that was meant to be implemented over an extended period to give mail companies time to adjust, but which this government embraced with almost obscene relish, deregulating the UK mail service long before any of its rivals in Europe. It means that any private mail company – or, indeed, any of the state-owned, subsidised European mail companies – is able to bid for Royal Mail contracts.

Take a look at your letters next time you pick them up from the doormat. Look at the right-hand corner, the place where the Queen’s head used to be. You’ll see a variety of different franks, representing a number of different mail companies. There’s TNT, UK Mail, Citypost and a number of others. What these companies do is to bid for the profitable bulk mail and city-to-city trade of large corporations, undercutting the Royal Mail, and then have the Royal Mail deliver it for them. TNT has the very lucrative BT contract, for instance. TNT picks up all BT’s mail from its main offices, sorts it into individual walks according to information supplied by the Royal Mail, scoots it to the mail centres in bulk, where it is then sorted again and handed over to us to deliver. Royal Mail does the work. TNT takes the profit.

None of these companies has a universal delivery obligation, unlike the Royal Mail. In fact they have no delivery obligation at all. They aren’t rival mail companies in a free market, as the propaganda would have you believe. None of them delivers any mail. All they do is ride on the back of the system created and developed by the Royal Mail, and extract profit from it. The process is called ‘downstream access’. Downstream access means that private mail companies have access to any point in the Royal Mail delivery network which will yield a profit, after which they will leave the poor old postman to carry the mail to your door.

So if ‘figures are down’ that doesn’t mean that volume is down. Volume, at least over that last few miles from the office to your door, is decidedly up. But even assuming that Mandelson was telling the truth, that volume really is down by 10 per cent, the fact is that staff levels are down even more, by 30 per cent. That still means each postman is doing a whole lot more work.

There are more part-time staff now. No one is taken on on a full-time basis any more. There are two grades of part-time workers: those working six-hour shifts and those working four hours. The six-hour staff prepare their own frame – their workstation, divided into roads and then numbers, with a slot for each address – but they don’t do any ‘internal sorting’ (this is the initial sorting done when the mail comes into the office). The four-hour part-timers come in and – in theory at least – pick up their pre-packed bags and go straight out. They are hardly in the office at all. This means that the full-timers have to pick up the slack. They are supposed to prepare the frames, sort out the redirections, bundle up the mail and put it into the sacks for the part-timers to take out, as well as doing all the internal sorting, and preparing their own frames: all in the three hours or so before they go out on their rounds.

When I first started working at the Royal Mail every postman prepared his own round. These days maybe a third of the staff are part-time. It’s the full-timers who are on the old-fashioned, water-tight contracts, with full pension entitlement, the ones whose pension fund is such a nightmare for the Royal Mail’s finances. As well as being invariably part-time, new staff are on flexible contracts without pension rights.

The pension fund deficit was £5.9 billion last year and is predicted to rise to £8 or £9 billion next year. The deficit is the main reason various people in positions of authority within the government and the Royal Mail were suggesting the partial sell-off earlier in the year. These people included Adam Crozier, the chief executive, and Jane Newell, the chair of the pension fund trustees, as well as the business secretary, Peter Mandelson. But a partial sale of the Royal Mail wouldn’t get rid of the pension deficit. No private investor would take it on. Which means that, whether the Royal Mail remains in public hands or is partly or fully privatised in the future, the pension deficit will always remain the tax-payer’s obligation.

Meanwhile there is increasing tension in Royal Mail offices up and down the country. There was a strike in 2007, and a national agreement on ‘pay and modernisation’, but this year has seen management constantly implementing new practices, putting more and more pressure on the steadily dwindling ranks of full-timers. The latest innovation being forced on an unwilling workforce is the collapsing of frames.

Let me explain what this means. Each frame represents a round or a walk. Letters are sorted on the frame, and then bundled up to take out onto the walk. But mail delivery is a seasonal business. Traffic varies throughout the year. Around Christmas it is at its highest. In the summer months, when the kids are out of school, the volume drops. This is known as ‘the summer lull’. So a national agreement was reached between the union and the management to reduce the number of man-hours in each office during the summer months. And the way this was done was to collapse one of the frames. One frame in the office would no longer have a specific postman assigned to it, but would be taken out by all the postmen in the office on a rotating basis. This meant an average of ten or 15 minutes extra work every day for every postman in the office. This agreement was meant to apply to only one frame and for the summer period only.

Now this has changed. There is increasing pressure to collapse more and more frames – that is, to get the same number of postmen to do larger amounts of work – and not just in the summer months but over the whole year. Management are becoming noticeably more belligerent. For some weeks now the managers have been bullying and cajoling everyone in our office, saying that a second frame would have to be collapsed – ‘figures are down’ – and that the workforce would have to decide which frame that would be. Everyone refused. Collapsing a frame would mean that one person would have to move frames, while another person on a ‘flexible’ contract would lose his job altogether. No one wanted to be responsible for making that kind of decision. No one wanted to shaft their workmates. And then last week it was announced, on the heaviest day of the week, and without notice, that a second frame was going to be collapsed anyway, regardless of our opinion. When the shop steward put in a written objection it was ignored.

Such was the resentment and the chaos in the office that a lot of mail didn’t get delivered that day, and what was delivered was late. If a postman fails to deliver a letter, it is called ‘deliberate withholding of mail’ and is a sackable offence. When management are responsible, it is considered merely expedient. There’s a feeling that we are being provoked, and that this isn’t coming from the managers in our office – who aren’t all that bright, and who don’t have all that much power – but from somewhere higher up. Everyone is gearing up for a strike.

The truth is that the figures aren’t down at all. We have proof of this. The Royal Mail have been fiddling the figures. This is how it is being done.

Mail is delivered to the offices in grey boxes. These are a standard size, big enough to carry a few hundred letters. The mail is sorted from these boxes, put into pigeon-holes representing the separate walks, and from there carried over to the frames. This is what is called ‘internal sorting’ and it is the job of the full-timers, who come into work early to do it. In the past, the volume of mail was estimated by weighing the boxes. These days it is done by averages. There is an estimate for the number of letters that each box contains, decided on by national agreement between the management and the union. That number is 208. This is how the volume of mail passing through each office is worked out: 208 letters per box times the number of boxes. However, within the last year Royal Mail has arbitrarily, and without consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters in each box. It was 208: now they say it is 150. This arbitrary reduction more than accounts for the 10 per cent reduction that the Royal Mail claims is happening nationwide.

Doubting the accuracy of these numbers, the union ordered a random manual count to be undertaken over a two-week period in a number of offices across the region. Our office was one of them. On average, those boxes which the Royal Mail claims contain only 150 letters, actually carry 267 items of mail. This, then, explains how the Royal Mail can say that the figures are down, although every postman knows that volume is up. The figures are down all right, but only because they have been manipulated.

Like many businesses, the Royal Mail has a pet name for its customers. The name is ‘Granny Smith’. It’s a deeply affectionate term. Granny Smith is everyone, but particularly every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline. When an old lady gives me a Christmas card with a fiver slipped in with it and writes, ‘Thank you for thinking of me every day,’ she means it. I might be the only person in the world who thinks about her every day, even if it’s only for long enough to read her name on an envelope and then put it through her letterbox. There is a tension between the Royal Mail as a profit-making business and the Royal Mail as a public service. For most of the Royal Mail management – who rarely, if ever, come across the public – it is the first. To the delivery officer – to me, and people like me, the postmen who bring the mail to your door – it is more than likely the second.

We had a meeting a while back at which all the proposed changes to the business were laid out. Changes in our hours and working practices. Changes to our priorities. Changes that have led to the current chaos. We were told that the emphasis these days should be on the corporate customer. It was what the corporations wanted that mattered. We were effectively being told that quality of service to the average customer was less important than satisfying the requirements of the big businesses.

Someone piped up in the middle of it. ‘What about Granny Smith?’ he said. He’s an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things.

‘Granny Smith is not important,’ was the reply. ‘Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.’

So now you know.

Roy Mayall, a pseudonym (obviously), has worked as a postman for the last five years.

London Needs A Museum of Immigration

New York has one (in fact it has two). So does Melbourne. There’s one in Denmark and the Canadians have one in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Even Paris has one, although it proved so controversial that no senior politician could be found to open it.

And yet London’s only Museum of Immigration and Diversity at 19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields only opens for a few days each year and is in need of urgent repairs.

Despite what the right-wing press says, we should be proud of the history of immigration to London that has helped make the city such an exciting place to live in. If the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is serious about a Cultural Olympiad that reflects the diversity of the capital, isn’t it time it stumped up the cash so that London has a properly funded Museum of Immigration too?

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Rule #32 of Zombieland

You can’t spend all your time worrying about where your next Twinkie is going to come from, so follow rule #32 and Enjoy The Little Things.

Zombieland - great film.

Penal Charity Gets Cosy With Private Security Company

I was somewhat alarmed to receive an e-mail today from David Banks, the Group Managing Director for G4S Care & Justice Services.

G4S used to be called Group 4 Securicor and is a vast international security corporation that runs private prisons and immigration removal centres in the UK. It also owns ArmorGroup, one of the unlicensed private contractors providing mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan that was the subject of a protest yesterday by War on Want. G4S has been targetted by a union global day of action for driving down wages in countries where it operates and denying workers their basic rights.

So, pretty much one of the lowest forms of corporate pond life - why, then, is Mr Banks contacting someone like me? Presumably because I'm a board member of INQUEST, I've been invited to attend a reception at the South Bank Centre to mark the 2009 Koestler Trust Awards exhibition, which G4S is sponsoring.

I can't think of a more inappropriate association for the Koestler Trust to choose to make than G4S. Arthur Koestler was a former Communist who was detained by Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War, wrote the wonderful "Darkness at Noon" and was imprisoned by the French. In 1940 he was held in HMP Pentonville for six weeks - as an illegal immigrant, meaning he has far more in common with the terrified occupants of Dungavel House, Oakington and Tinsley House than he would ever have with the company that runs them.

I suspect this matters little to the charitable trust established in Koestler's name. So no, I won't be joining the select few for drinks and canapes on 25 November. But I'm more than happy to join a picket outside if there is one.

Royal Mail - How to Recruit A Scab Army

According to Dave Osler, even the Daily Mail is aghast at the thousands of scabs the Royal Mail is hiring to break the postal workers strike - not because they have any objection to strike-breaking, of course, but because those recruited will have access to our post but won't have had references checked or been vetted for criminal convictions. Thanks then to A Methodist for this:

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Last Night's Channel 4 Dispatches - Ready for a Riot

Last night's Dispatches programme on Channel 4 asked a pertinent question in the light of the brutality meted out to G20 protesters in April - why, if the vast majority of protests pass off peacefully, does police training continue to focus on the worst-case scenario of riots and petrol bombs? Does crowd control tactics like 'kettling', that bring protestors face-to-face with heavily-protected and armed police officers, actually increase the possibility of disorder?

There are a couple of clips from the programme that have appeared already on YouTube and that relate particularly to Climate Camp - the first from Bishopsgate on 1 April, which shows the degree of violence by police officers. As I tweeted last night, this section also demonstrates the extent of Met Commander Bob Broadhurst's cluelessness and why he should never be left in charge of another public order situation.

The second YouTube video focuses on the Climate Camp at Blackheath and is illuminating for different reasons. As the programme shows, the Met decision to adopt a far more low-key response to protests over the August Bank Holiday was an inevitable consequence of the public pounding they had taken over the previous four months for their brutal behaviour.

But the arrogance of senior officers remained unchecked: witness the pompous superintendent Julia Pendry striding onto Blackheath Common like a visiting potentate and lecturing one Climate Camper with the words "you have to be reasonable" (words that would almost be amusing coming from a Met officer, were it not the fact that they made me wish someone had slapped her across her smug face). Pendry then imperiously says (at 5 mins 50 sec):

"I must make it clear to you that there is absolutely no misunderstanding, that if any of you think I am here, that if I don't want to come in here and meet with you to speak, that I can't do that, that is going to be something that we need to clear up now, because I won't be doing that".

Leaving aside Pendry's mangling of the English language, unrestricted access to the Camp (which was no longer 'public space' but an occupied space) by the police after G20 would have been completely unacceptable to everyone who took part in protests on 1st April. It was not what had been agreed by the decision-making processes that Camp for Climate Action is justifiably proud of and is certainly not reflected in any way in the Open Letter to the Met that had been released a week before and that said "the best thing the police could do to ensure the health and safety of the public at Climate Camp 2009 would be to stay as far away from it as possible." Agreeing to it without consensus would have been a rejection of one of the Camp's basic principles, but sadly, this is where we start to get a level of rewriting of history.

One Climate Camp activist tweeted yesterday, "if they hadn't just marched on, they wouldn't have been allowed on at all." But that is simply not true - the Dispatches footage shows that a prearranged meeting had been agreed on site with Francis Wright of the Climate Camp Legal Team and that Pendry is not only escorted to a closed meeting, but is even offered a cup of tea! How very civilised! An angry crowd gathers, one that the fuckwit journalist and Pendry-admirer Paul Lewis, in his review of the programme in today's Guardian, dismisses as "a few mouthy types", but without their intervention, it is clear that Pendry might have been allowed to get away with believing that she could come and go as she pleased.

Chasing the presumptuous Pendry off the site with a torrent of abuse helped turn the Camp into a space for free discussion and probably helped stop any further conflict, which bringing protestors face-to-face with the police would inevitably have created. I wasn't at Climate Camp at this particular point but I'm starting to wonder whether I may have been too hard on those who were.

For me, an attitude that tension between protesters and the police was now a thing of the past - that Ian Tomlinson's death was a bit of unpleasantness best forgotten about - was summed up with staggering absurdity by someone guarding the 'behind-canvas-flaps" meeting, who asked (at 6 mins 33 secs), "why are you so angry?" - possibly the most phenomenally dumb question asked by anyone, anywhere, over the whole of the summer. See for yourself:

WikiLeaks Release New List of BNP Members

WikiLeaks has released a new BNP membership list from April 2009. which contains nine spreadsheets of detailed, confidential party membership information from December 2006 to 15 April 2009.

The accuracy of the lists have been verified by WikiLeaks in the examples that it has checked, but the site warns that "it should not be assumed that every person with a BNP membership number is a current member of the BNP. For instance, journalists and opponents have sometimes joined the BNP to obtain information about it".

There are slightly over 16,000 unique membership numbers in the "April 15 Updated" spreadsheet. Based on membership number IDs, around 35,000 memberships have ever been awarded. New membership numbers start at 100,000 in an apparent attempt to make the BNP look larger to new recruits and those they talk to.

The full Excel spreadsheet is available here as is a browsable document.

Update: Protest Watch has a version in pre-Office 2007 Excel (xls) format for those struggling to open the xlsb version.

Monday 19 October 2009

Lying Bastard Evades Responsibility - Again

The Independent, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail have all picked up on former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair's biography Policing Controversy, in which he makes the following, astonishing claim about the firearms officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes:

Given what they thought they were dealing with, [SO19 officers] Charlie 2 and Charlie 12, in running towards and getting within a few feet of a suspected suicide bomber, and [surveillance officer] Ivor, who sprang on him and pinned his arms to his sides on the Tube train, should each have been awarded the George Medal.

Instead they live for the rest of their lives with the knowledge that they took part in the killing of an entirely innocent man.

Had he been a suicide bomber and they had not shot him and the train had blown up, then, if not dead themselves, they would have faced an investigation for manslaughter.

As the coroner implied by refusing to allow the inquest jury to consider a verdict of unlawful killing, their decisions were reasonable decisions on what they themselves knew and perceived. The great difficulty is that this is a case in which it appears that so were the decisions of everybody else.

The Justice4Jean campaign has responded by saying:

Ian Blair has always had quite an evasive relationship with the truth and these extracts emphasise that. He seems to be trying to rewrite history because a lot of what he says flies in the face of what the jury at the inquest said.

We are all shocked that Ian Blair is somehow trying to resurrect some kind of respectability. Everyone just wishes he would leave it alone. It is quite insulting to bring it all up again.

The point, if course, is that Jean was not a terrorist - he was just another Londoner travelling to work, unaware of the terrible fate that awaited him. Linking one of the highest awards for civilian gallantry to a catastrophic disaster for the Met and to officers who were lucky (thanks to the protection that the state gives to the police) not to face at least manslaughter charges for killing an innocent man is, quite frankly, appalling.

Moreover if Blair really believed that the "decisions of everybody else" were really at fault, why did he promote Cressida Dick, who was in charge on the day, to Assistant Commissioner?

It's worth remembering too that, whilst the coroner at Jean's inquest shamefully refused to allow the jury to make up their own minds about whether there had been an unlawful killing, jury members delivered a strong critique of the police and its failings within the limited choices available to them. They tried their best to deliver a fair verdict by saying that they do not believe that the police gave a warning before shots were fired, or that Jean advanced towards firearms officers in the tube train.

Jean's family said immediately after the inquest:
Sir Ian Blair has repeatedly evaded any responsibility for the killing of an innocent man, by misleading the public in the aftermath of the shooting so that no-one in his police force is held to account over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
It seems that some things haven't changed and I thought one comment on the Mail website sums up Blair's latest efforts extremely well: "it's like a reckless gambler having lost all his money saying if he had won he would be a millionaire." Quite.

Refusal is a Weapon

The decision by the BBC to invite the loathesome Nick Griffin of the BNP to take part in the BBC's Question Time panel this week is theirs to make, I suppose, but it strikes me that we are missing a trick in our understanding of the tactic of 'no platform' for fascists.

Almost every politician and hundreds of celebrities share something in common: they have all performed under the control of the "ringmaster of our democracy" David Dimbleby on the programme. If they, along with potential future guests, say publicly to BBC Director General Mark Thompson, "if you think it is important to invite Griffin to appear on Question Time, I think it is important not to take part in any future episode", then perhaps Thompson will be forced to decide what is of greater importance to him.

Refusal is a weapon, a form of non-volent direct action that has been employed successfully before. And it is not as if politicians and celebrities are giving up that much by boycotting Question Time for providing a platform for Griffin's bile. Not if they are really outraged by the invitation.

All they have to do is refuse to get on the bus...

Sunday 18 October 2009

Latest Pictures of the Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School

Despite feeling awful yesterday, with a nose like a leaky tap, I cycled over to Hornsey for midday today, for a meeting with other trustees of the Buwan Kothi International Trust. And now I feel fine: it was a good meeting, we have lots of firm plans (including arrangements for visits by school teachers to Haryana in April 2010) and there's nothing like a 20-mile round-trip to clear the sinuses...

Here are some of the latest pictures of the Gilly Mundy Memorial Community School, which the Trust has raised the funds to build since Gilly died in March 2007:

"We're Getting Over-Run At Gate 3"

Nottinghamshire Police have released aerial footage of yesterday's Climate Swoop at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station.

This morning, Chief Inspector Linda McCarthy issued the following statement:

I just want to clarify the situation around those people arrested. There are 52 people arrested for a variety of offences, not 80 as was given as an estimated figure last night. I’m sure you all appreciate the speed at which we were trying to give information throughout the day yesterday – but 52 is the correct figure.

I would like to thank the public who sent their good wishes to our officer who was airlifted to the Derby Royal Infirmary after being injured on duty. He has now been released from hospital and is making good progress.

There have been reports of some protesters receiving dog bites and other injuries as a result of a concerted effort to pull down fences and enter the site.

Of course this regrettable, but it is a combination of reckless behaviour by some of the protesters and us having to respond with a different style of policing.

We are grateful to those people who staged a peaceful protest, but it is clear that many were prepared to use force to enter the site.

Today the A453 has re-opened and the rail network is also open.

Our officers will continue to facilitate peaceful protest at the site but people are free to move away from the perimeter if they wish to do so.

The Camp for Climate Action have responded with their own press release:

Climate change activists have hailed this weekend’s direct action as a “massive success” after repeatedly breaching the fence and spending 24 hours outside Ratcliffe coal-fired power station.

Three activists are said to have recovered from injuries suffered at the hands of the police, while one more activist is believed to still be in hospital after collapsing yesterday afternoon. Footage was released last night of a protester-medic aiding a policeman taken ill at the protest:

Activists gathered in various points on Saturday morning, swooping on the power plant in separate groups to arrive at 1pm. Within five minutes they had already broken down one of the perimeter fences and several had entered the plant.

On Saturday night around 300 activists pitched tents in two camps outside the gates, despite attempt by police to intimidate campers by standing next to the campsite in full riot gear. The police have confirmed 58 arrests, but there are believed to be more arrestees yet to be booked in. Further action is expected to take place today.

Natasha Blair from the Camp for Climate Action said: ‘We’ve achieved what we came here to do: to show that coal has no future and there is a growing movement which is prepared to take action on climate change."

This weekend, activists from around the world met in Copenhagen to finalist plans for similar actions during the UN climate talks taking place in December. The Camp for Climate Action has announced that they will be joining other activists in the 'Push for Climate Justice', which aims to take over the talks for a day.

Natasha Blair continued: "In the run up to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December, acts of civil disobedience to confront big business and governments that are causing catastrophic climate change are gaining support.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Satyajit Ray Retrospective at Rich Mix

Throughout November, the Rich Mix in Bethnal Green is presenting a selection of films by Bengali director Satyajit Ray. One of the great film-makers of 20th century cinema, Ray made three films known as the Apu Trilogy between 1955 and 1959, which were based on the novels of the Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. The original music for the trilogy was composed by Ravi Shankar.

I've only ever seen Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) and I'm looking forward to seeing Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu). Rich Mix is also showing the seldom-screened Teen Kanya (Three Daughters, whose international title is strangely, Two Daughters).

Pather Panchali (115 mins) - Sunday 8 November - 2pm
Aparajito (104 mins) - Sunday 15 November - 2pm
The World of Apu (106 mins) - Sunday 22 November - 2pm
Two Daughters (106 mins) - Sunday 29 November - 2pm

Tickets are £6 (£5 concessions)

Climate Swoop at Ratcliffe-on-Soar

The Great Climate Swoop at E.ON's Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal fired power station in Nottingham began this morning and, with activists planning on breaching the protective fencing around the site, arrests began even before the protest started.

For latest developments see or follow on Twitter at or see the Climate Swoop Facebook page.

UPDATE (12.50pm)

UPDATE (3.40pm)

Friday 16 October 2009

Home Office FoI Release on G20 Protests

A week ago, I mentioned that Home Office had received a Freedom of Information request asking for documemts it held or produced between 1st and 8th April of this year that were either "briefings, notes, minutes, emails or letters prepared for ministers and senior officials concerning the 1 April 2009 G20 'financial fools day' demonstration" or "memos, papers, emails, minutes or documents relating to either the 1st April 2009 demonstration at the Bank of England or Ian Tomlinson’s death".

The Home Office website indicated that these were available "in hard copy only" so I requested them on Monday and, with surprising speed, they turned up in the post today.

There are some 80-odd pages and they have been zealously redacted - in fact in one instance, a civil servant has decided to block out the name and contact details of Charlotte Philips, Head of News at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, even though this information is publicly available on the IPCC website. The lack of names on the e-mails that have been released makes it pretty difficult to follow the conversations that took place, which considering there are no massively embarrassing or scandalous admissions within them makes the process of redaction seem completely ridiculous. Whilst names have been removed and I can therefore only speculate, it is possible that at least some of the following were part of the e-mail correspondence:

Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism: Charles Farr
The then Acting Director of Policing Policy and Operations Directorate: Stephen Webb
Head of Policing Powers and Protection Unit: Peter Edmundson
Head of Public Order Unit, Sarah Severn
Special Advisor to the Home Secretary: Mario Dunn
Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Authority: Nick Hardwick

Where names have been redacted but I have been able to identify them from other sources, I have included them in the narrative that follows.

Despite these difficulties, what is interesting is seeing how the government's news machine operates.

Back in February, the Public Order Unit internally circulated by e-mail this link from the Evening Standard, a typically incendiary piece about anarchists wreaking havoc in the city, which prompted one response about the need for an extensive briefing from the Metropolitan Police, who must be "aware of the huge potential for violence this event could bring". It's interesting to note that the press appeared to be driving discussions within the Home Office from the beginning.

On 4 March, Sarah Severn replied in an e-mail that the Public Order Unit (POU) would coordinate briefings for Home Office Ministers and liaise with Bob Broadhurst, the Met Police's Commander for Public Order and Pan London Operational Support. The following day, a Permanent Secretaries meeting chaired by Gus O'Donnell, the head of the Civil Service, was held to discuss arrangements for the G20 summit. On 26 March a Ministerial briefing was prepared and circulated but there seemed to be some difficulties during March in preparing a government-wide media pack, so the Home Office instead produced a 'top lines' and Question and Answer briefing. In seeking to highlight within this document the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's wish to highlight how much planning had gone into the summit, they were warned (presumably by the Met) against "overstepping the mark in terms of improper political influence/operational independence issues".

The Home Secretary's Rapid Reaction Team was then asked to put together a briefing on policing and security at the G20 Summit for Prime Minister's Questions, which would take place on the day of the protests.

On the morning of 2 April, the day after the protests, the Independent Police Complaints Commission sent an e-mail to the Home Office saying that a man "had collapse in an alley way during the protests" but that the IPCC did "not know yet whether he was a demonstrator". That afternoon, Jacqui Smith's private secretary circulated an e-mail with suggested comments for a statement by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, expressing the government's "thanks and appreciation to the police for their professionalism", along with a briefing for the Chancellor.

On 3 April, the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism circulated draft letters to Sir Paul Stephenson, praising Commander Bob Broadhurst who led police operations on 1 April, and to Bob Quick (the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, who within a week would resign over a security leak)

Six days after Ian Tomlinson died, on Tuesday 7 April, the POU were trying to find out how quickly the IPCC investigations into his death would be concluded, as well as complaining about "speculative and inappropriate reporting" over the weekend. It seemed particularly annoyed and 'depressed' about comments by the Green Party's Jenny Jones on Newsnight. It would seem, therefore, from the absence of released material, that the Home Office was completely unaware that on the previous Friday, independent witnesses told the IPCC that police had clashed with Ian Tomlinson before his death or that the Guardian had told investigators it had photographs of Mr Tomlinson on the pavement at the feet of riot officers. As a result of this ignorance, on Tuesday letters of thanks from the Home Secretary were also sent to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and to the Chief Constables of the City of London Police and the British Transport Police.

That evening, the Guardian posted, on its website, the video of Ian Tomlinson being pushed to the ground by a police officer.

On 8 April, an e-mail from Stephen Webb was sent to the IPCC asking if they would now take over direct control of the investigation rather than supervise the City of London police. The response (presumably from Nick Hardwick, the IPCC's chair) is far from firm or decisive: "on what I know now, I can't imagine that we won't do this an an independent - but we need to make a proper decision. And there are v significant resource issues - city have a huge team on the case which we cannot match."

That afternoon, an e-mail from Anna O'Rourke, the Commission Secretary, confirms that the IPCC intends to resolve the problem of lack of resources by paying the City of London police.

During the morning of 8 April, the Press Office for Policing and Counter Terrorism is busy working on a line in defence of the use of kettling (see also here) but by the afternoon, it is panicked because the Home Secretary has told the BBC that "there needs to be a managed investigation from the IPCC, overseen by police officers". The Policing Powers and Protection Unit, meanwhile, was starting to wonder whether it was altogether sensible for the Home Secretary to tell Sir Paul Stephenson in her letter on the policing of the summit that the Met had shown "admirable leadership and clarity of purpose", when someone had died. Once the IPCC has finally confirmed it is taking over the investigation, a new form of words is agreed for the Home Secretary to push (see also here).

At just after 5.30pm, the deputy private secretary to Stephen Rimmer, Director of the Home Office's Crime and Policing Group, sent out another bombshell: the Home Secretary's Rapid Reaction Team have discovered that Channel 4 has more footage showing that Ian Tomlinson was struck with a baton...

As soon as I work out a way to get all 86Mb of scanned documents online in an accessible way, I'll make them available.

The scan documents are now available in five LARGE Zip files:

FOI-01 [9.4Mb] FOI-02 [16.2Mb] FOI-03 [13.1Mb] FOI-04 [14.7Mb] FOI-05 [9.4Mb]

The following briefings and letters that have been made public can be viewed and downloaded as PDF files:

Home Secretary's letter to Paul Stephenson (Met police) 7 April 09
Home Secretary's letter to Ian Johnston (British Transport Police) 7 April 09
Home Secretary's letter to Mike Bowron (City of London Police) 7 April 09
Draft letter of thanks from Office for Security and Counter Terrorism to Bob Quick 3 April 2009
Draft letter of thanks from Office for Security and Counter Terrorism to Met Commissioner 3 April 2009
Briefing to the Chancellor on 2 April
Home Office 'top lines' and a Question and Answer briefing on 1 April
Prime Minister's Questions Briefing 27 March 2009
Public Order Unit Ministerial Briefing 26 March
Permanent Secretaries Meeting 5 March 2009

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