Thursday, 30 December 2010

New Anti-Terror Powers - The Devil Is NOT In The Detail

It's a quiet news period and the lobbyists at the senior levels of the police have been busy again. Yesterday's Guardian reported an anonymous briefing to journalist Vikram Dodd, which said that senior officers are demanding new anti-terrorism stop & search powers to replace section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was struck down by the courts. The 'compromise' they are proposing is a time limit to focus these powers around a particular event - such as an international summit and. inevitably, the Olympics in 2012.

The closer we get to the Games, the more it's likely to become an convenient excuse for ever more draconian security powers. It hardly requires a vivid imagination to see the impact of a geographically specific power to stop and search people in poor and ethnically diverse areas like Stratford and its surrounding communities. If you are young, male, black or Muslim - especially if you are all four - then it's almost certain that you'll have discretionary police powers used against you again and again. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for anyone who decides to mount a protest, however peaceful, anywhere near the Olympic site in 2012.

It doesn't matter, of course, that anti-terrorism stop and search powers simply do not work - in 2009, there wasn't a single arrest made for terrorism offences following more than 100,000 stops under section 44. That's not the point. The plan is to create a tightly-controlled 'exclusion zone' around the Olympics in 18 months time and that means the return of powers that inevitably are deeply discriminatory. I can foresee too that the 'extraordinary circumstances' of the Olympics will lead to an exemption to any proposed restriction of these powers for a"specific period of 24 to 48 hours".

What I find really infuriating, furthermore, is the incredibly stupid comments from the director Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. It's as if her endless search for respectability has given her short-term memory loss. "The devil will be in the detail", she says. No it's NOT. Policing powers that are used in a racially discriminatory way, that have never had adequate safeguards or public scrutiny but make absolutely no difference whatsoever to preventing acts of terrorism should be opposed immediately - or what on earth is the point of an organisation like Liberty even existing?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Newham Council Intervenes In Wanstead Flats Consultation

This will come as a shock, but I have to call it like it is - congratulations to Newham council for once. No really, I'm not kidding.

In early December, Redbridge council said that it intended to undertake the bare minimum of its statutory responsibilities over the planning consultation for the Metropolitan police's plans for Wanstead Flats. This was confirmed in an e-mail to me from the City of London Corporation's Paul Thomson, the Superintendent for Epping Forest, who denied that any promise had ever been given to residents from either Newham or Waltham Forest about their full involvement in the consultation. This is not what I remember from the pledges made by Met or Corporation representatives at the residents' public meeting that took place in October.

However, following lobbying by local people in Forest Gate, Newham council has stepped in to demand that its residents are not excluded. A letter from the Mayor's office to a member of the Save Wanstead Flats campaign says:


We have advised Redbridge that in our opinion the correct consultation procedures have not been followed and all affected Newham residents should have been sent a formal notification letter in the same way that residents in Redbridge have been.

I understand that Redbridge has now agreed to consult our residents on this application.

The scope of this wider consultation is still limited to streets closest to the Flats, but it is an important step for Newham council to take and one that further confuses exactly when the planning consultation will actually end.

For such a controversial application, I would have expected Redbridge council - and the City of London Corporation on whose behalf Redbridge is acting - to have ensured that every stage of the process was conducted with as much care as possible. Like so much else to do with the Met's proposed Olympic fortress on Wanstead Flats, however, the opposite seems to have been true and it is only right that Newham council has chosen to intervene when the "correct consultation procedures have not been followed", are needlessly hurried and poorly executed.

So what about residents in Waltham Forest? Will their council step forward too?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Films Of The Year 2010

Another year passes and it's time to reflect on the films I've seen in 2010.

I became a regular film-goer in 2003, when I agreed to try and see one film every week and post a review of each one online. After stubbornly succeeding in winning this particular bet I stopped reviewed every film, which is just as well: I've seen loads of movies and this year, I've managed to make it to the cinema on 32 33 occasions. Totting up the numbers, this came as something of a surprise considering the serious injuries I sustained in a traffic accident in March.

But probably because of my limited mobility, the majority of these films (29 in all) have been seen at my local Stratford Picturehouse. Maybe I should be given my own seat in the bar...

In keeping with previous years, I only count actual trips to a cinema - not films on DVD - and as usual I've rated the films I've seen. You can find ratings for previous years here

Ratings:
5 stars: Unmissable!
4 stars: Definitely worth seeing
3 stars: Decent film
2 stars: Disappointing
1 star: Pants
No stars: Why was this released?

In date order - five star films highlighted in bold

Sherlock Holmes (****) - review
The Book of Eli (***)
Daybreakers (***)
Avatar 3D (****)
Up In The Air (****)
The Wolfman (**)
The Lovely Bones (**)
MicMacs (****)
Invictus (****)
Green Zone (***)
A Single Man (*****)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (*****)
The Ghost (***)
Erasing David (**)
Iron Man 2 (***)
The Bill Hicks Story (***) - review
Bronco Bullfrog (***)
Twilight - Eclipse (***)
Inception (*****)
The Girl Who Played With Fire (****)
Scott Pilgrim v The World (**)
Made in Dagenham (*****)
The First Movie (****) - review
Restrepo (**) - review
Let Me In (***)
Skyline (**)
Unstoppable (**)
Monsters (*****)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (***)
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest (****)
The Tourist (*)
Tron: Legacy (**)
The Way Back (****)

POSTSCRIPT

I'd like to make a plea for wider circulation of the "Code of Conduct" for film-goers (see below - click to enlarge) devised by film critic Mark Kermode and his Radio 5 Live sidekick Simon Mayo. I'm sure we've all witnessed these flagrant breaches of simple cinema etiquette. Oh, before I forget, hello to Jason Issacs... obviously.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Golden Globe Goes To... Hell

The Golden Globe nominations are out and how, asks Mark Kermode, is it even possible to take the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seriously?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Lloyd Hudson From Ilford: You're A Genius

According to dashperiod, a disgruntled Harrods employee, fired from his job as the toy department’s Father Christmas, back in spectacular style last night.


Gaining access to a maintenance control room, Lloyd Hudson, 35, from Ilford, Essex, was able to locate the chart and corresponding switches for Harrods’ 10,000 external lights.

Barricading himself in, Hudson disabled the correct lights until he could spell out his feelings to Harrods bosses and Christmas shoppers alike. He was removed by security guards after an hour-long stand-off, then handed over to police.

"He had drunk the best part of two bottles of whisky,” said a spokesperson for the iconic London store, “and it’s that kind of behaviour that got him the sack in the first place.” Hudson has since been released on police bail.

Knightsbridge visitors were stunned.

"Honestly, I am disgusted," said Irene Rider, 59, from Gary, Indiana. "I was with my grandchildren. We had just gotten off the bus. I said 'look everybody' and pointed up to the lights – but you know what the lights said? They said f**k off. And that is not an appropriate message for a child. At least not at Christmas time."

It's just a shame that it's a spoof...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Ruling Says Telegraph Misled Readers Over Custody Death

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruled today that The Telegraph "significantly misled" its readers about the outcome of the inquest into the death of Mikey Powell. The Telegraph admitted it was representing the police version of events.

Mikey Powell was handcuffed by police and put on the floor of a police van which drove to Thornhill Road Police Station in Birmingham in September 2003. The jury found in December 2009 that Mikey Powell died of positional asphyxia in the back of a police van and that he was lying on his front on arrival at the police station, contrary to the van officers’ evidence at the inquest. The jury also found that he was made more vulnerable to death by positional asphyxia from one or more of these events: contact with a moving vehicle ( a police car); being sprayed with CS; being struck by a Casco baton; and/or being restrained on the ground in Wilton St whilst suffering a psychosis and extreme exertion

The PCC’s adjudication upheld two complaints by Mikey's mother Claris Powell about how The Telegraph columnist Alisdair Palmer characterised the findings of the inquest jury about Mikey Powell’s death. Firstly, the Telegraph website claimed the jury had rejected the allegations that the way officers restrained him had caused his death. The PCC’s adjudication states that “readers would have been significantly misled as to the full position.”

Secondly, the jury made no findings at all about the role of race in police conduct. The coroner did not ask them to. Unsurprisingly therefore the PCC also found that the article’s assertion that the jury had decided that he did not die because the police treated him in a way they would not have treated a white man breached Clause 1 of its Code, i.e. not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

The PCC have accepted that The Telegraph’s publication of a clarification was sufficient remedy, and that publication of a version of a letter from Claris Powell was sufficient to answer her other points of complaint.

Sieta Lambrias, Mikey’s sister, said:


Mum and the family are pleased with the outcome and to have won. Shame on The Telegraph for reporting the police’s views as if they were the jury’s findings. I am amazed and saddened that despite the inquest verdict and the evidence that the jury took into account on reaching that verdict, the West Midlands Police and Telegraph both chose to report the Mikey’s death in a misleading manner. This confirms my opinion that the police seem to continue to feel the need to disguise the true events so they are seen to have acted appropriately and in a good light.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

Misinformation has been a feature of many contentious deaths in custody and we see once again attempts by the media and police to deflect attention away from police wrongdoing. The lack of accountability of individual police officers and senior management is exposed by the failure to respond effectively to the findings of this inquest.

The PCC adjudication is available online here.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Newham Faces Maximum Cut in Council Funding

Today the government announced its expected massive cuts to council budgets - and Newham is amongst those councils facing the maximum cut of 8.9%.

According to figures released today by the Department for Communities and Local Government [Excel spreadsheet], the borough faces a £32.8 million reduction in its 'revenue spending power', an estimate made up of government grants, NHS support for health and social care and council tax receipts. This comes after £5.7 million of emergency 'transition grant', set aside for the country's poorest areas, has been included. Newham's cut is considerably higher than the average this year, which the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the Commons today was 4.4%, with wealthier (Tory) authorities far less affected. What a surprise.

The impact of this huge reduction in government funding for the local authority is obvious - sweeping cuts in services and major job losses. This is an attack on some of the country's poorest and most vulnerable people, but we know the prospect of Newham's councillors resisting cuts is precisely zero. So it looks like its down to the rest of us to defend our services from the Tories' assault.

Mapped: How The Cuts Will Hit London’s Councils

Captain Ska Tries To Emulate Rage Against The Machine's Success

In the absence of a better idea, it's often tempting to repeat the same tactic again and again. That has certainly been the approach adopted by the Stop the War Coalition over the years.

The plans to 'kettle' Scotland Yard tomorrow at 1pm, in protest at the injuries sustained by Alfie Meadows at last week's student demonstration, is another case in point. It's essentially a repeat of a similar stunt by the United Campaign Against Police Violence in May 2009, one that wasn't exactly successful when it was tried the first time after the death of Ian Tomlinson. So let's see whether the latest attempt to emulate Rage Against The Machine's crushing of last year's X-Factor winner has more success. Launched yesterday, the anti-government 'Liar Liar' by Captain Ska hopes to challenge some insipid non-entity called Matt Cardle, who apparently won the X-Factor final yesterday, for the 'coveted' Christmas number 1 single.

'Liar Liar' is available as a download from iTunes and perhaps, as RATM guitarist Tom Morello said last year, it too can tap "into the silent majority of the people in the UK who are tired of being spoon-fed one schmaltzy ballad after another". Lacking RATM's considerable fan base, I have my doubts that Captain Ska will have the same impact and it seems a lot like repeating the same tactic for want of a better idea.

But it's worth a try and spending 79 pence to publicise the campaign against government cuts, as well as the chance to infuriate Simon Cowell for a second year, seems like a small price to pay.


UPDATE

As expected - the single didn't even make it into the Top 40 (it came in at a poor 89th)

Saturday, 11 December 2010

'Police Only' Hospital Tries To Turn Away Injured Protester

It's shocking enough that a young protester, Alfie Meadows, had to undergo an operation to treat bleeding on the brain after being hit on the head by a police truncheon during Thursday's tuition fees demonstration. But this interview with his mother is really shocking: Chelsea & Westminster hospital tried to turn him away because it said it had been reserved for 'police only'.

It took the intervention of the understandably furious ambulance driver to ensure that Alfie received treatment for his serious injuries - based on clinical need, not whether he was wearing a uniform. The Independent Police Complaints Commission are apparently investigating, for all the difference that will make - but in the mean time, Professor Sir Christopher Edwards, the Chair of the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, as well its Chief Executive Heather Lawrence, have some serious explaining to do.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Wanstead Flats - Register Your Objection!

Now we know about plans to ignore Newham and Waltham Forest residents when publicised the Met police's planning application for Wanstead Flats, it has been left to the Save Wanstead Flats campaign, which has no money, to make sure that local people are aware they can submit objections. There's a lot of work to do: we need to distribute leaflets to hundreds of properties. If you can help, please get in contact at savewansteadflats@gmail.com

A copy of the flyer that has been produced by the campaign is available temporarily here - it will be up on the campaign website over the weekend.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Student Protests - Like A Scene From The Movies

The first picture is a still from the brilliant film 'V for Vendetta'. The second was taken by Rowena Davis at today's student protest in London.

Newham and Waltham Forest Residents Ignored By Wanstead Flats Planners

"Never believe a thing you're told by the powerful" has always seemed like good advice to me. Back in early October, the City of London Corporation and the Metropolitan police publicly promised that once a planning application had been submitted for the Met's proposed Olympics operational base in Wanstead Flats, this would be widely publicised so that local people, particularly those living close to the site, would have an opportunity to comment.

But that promise has been broken. The case officer responsible for the application has written this to one resident:


I am writing to advice you that, contrary to my earlier advice to you, and given the vast number of households located within a radius of 800m of the application site, we will not be writing directly on this matter to households located outside of the London Borough of Redbridge boundaries. However, a significant number of Site Notices will be displayed around the site and a press notice placed which is considered to comply with the Regulations set out in Circular 15/92, Publicity for Planning Applications.

It doesn't matter how controversial the police's plan has already been - Redbridge council intend to stick to their regulations, do as little as they can get away with and completely ignore all those who live in Newham and Waltham Forest.

I really thought I'd seen the limits of the contempt that is felt by the powerful for local people around the plans to set up 'Fortress Wanstead Flats' - but it seems not. If you live in Newham or Waltham Forest, complaints about this disgraceful decision should be sent to planning.enquiry@redbridge.gov.uk

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Home Office Screws Up Wanstead Flats Consultation

Remember Nick Clegg's promise back in May to reverse Labour's "obsessive lawmaking" through what he said would involve "the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832"? Already, that speech seems like one from a different era, a time when the Deputy Prime Minister wasn't loathed as just another mendacious politician.

If ever there was a law in desperate need of repealing, however, it would be the hugely contentious Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (LRRA) - a classic piece of New Labour illiberal excess passed in 2006 that was described by Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth as the "Abolition of Parliament Bill" during its passage through the Commons. The LRRA provides government ministers with extremely broad powers to amend, repeal or replace any law that is perceived by bureaucrats to be "outdated, unnecessary or over-complicated", with minimal scrutiny and debate.

Six months ago, this would have seemed like am obvious example of 'obsessive lawmaking', but times have changed and government enthusiasm for a new 'Great Reform Act' has evidently waned. Now Clegg's Cabinet colleague, Home Secretary Theresa May, is perfectly happy to use the LRRA to meddle with legislation - notably, the Victorian law that protects Epping Forest and Wanstead Flats, just so that the Metropolitan police can site an Olympics operational base on the Flats in 2012.

Tomorrow is the deadline for public responses to a Home Office consultation on plans to create a Legislative Reform Order to amend the Epping Forest Act of 1878. If successful, there will be limited discussion on the issue in parliament. But as the lawyers in the Save Wanstead Flats campaign has pointed out in its submission to the Home Secretary (see also this more detailed legal argument), attempts to bypass democratic scrutiny in order to mess around with existing laws can often be fraught with risk - not least because this time, the Home Office has apparently managed to completely screw up.

This is a little complicated, especially for a non-lawyer like myself, but bear with me. Under the terms of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, a minister must identify a 'burden' that requires replacement or removal before an order can be granted. This could be financial, administrative or a criminal offence. The Home Office's entire consultation on Wanstead Flats has been premised on removing the 'burden' of part of the Epping Forest Act that, back in 1878, created a criminal offence of enclosing land in the Forest without authorisation.

However, what the Home Office has failed to realise that the particular 'offence' they want to remove actually lapsed somewhere around 1882. The current offence involving enclosure of land does exist but is instead covered by the bye-laws of the City of London Corporation, who are supposed to act as 'Conservators' for the Forest. As the Corporation can make and amend bye-laws as it sees fit, without needing to refer to parliament, there has never been a need for a Legislative Reform Order and the long period of consultation, started in September, as been based entirely on a failure by Home Office lawyers to understand exactly what they are tinkering with.

Unfortunately, as this involves the Olympics, for which all rules can apparently be broken if necessary, the Home Office may decide to plough ahead anyway, despite the legal muddle it has created for itself. If that happens, there is a real danger that messing around with sections of the Epping Forest Act will change the duties and obligations placed on the Corporation. In effect, the law protecting Wanstead Flats will be gutted completely, creating a dangerous precedent that threatens the long-term future of a vital part of London’s green belt. All this so the Met has somewhere to brief its officers and stable its horses during the Games.

This is what happens when governments try and force through decisions in a hurry - but if the they think they can get away with this, what else do they have in store for us in two year's time?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Nothing Changes As Police Talk Up Prospect Of Violence

Whenever the Metropolitan police start talking up the prospect of violence at a demonstration, it's usually a sign they are gearing themselves up to crack some heads. Remember these comments immediately prior to the G20 protests in 2009?


"...the Metropolitan police was understood to have contacted a number of protest groups warning that the main day of protest, Wednesday, 1 April would be "very violent", and senior commanders have insisted that they are "up for it, and up to it", should there be any trouble."

Guardian, 27 March 2009

"Metropolitan Police commander Bob Broadhurst warned London would be hit by "a coming-together of anarchists, anti-globalisation groups and environmentalists."

Metro 26 March 2009

The officer commanding the police response said that a hard core of protesters was intent on storming buildings and provoking violence. “Everything is up for grabs. That is the aspiration, to get in and clog up these City institutions as best they can,” Commander Bob Broadhurst, of the Metropolitan Police, said."

Independent on Sunday, 29 March 2009

We all remember how that turned out. Now Commander Bob is at it again, according to the Press Association today:

Police are warning that this week's anti-fees protests could be hijacked by "violent youths".

Thousands of students and lecturers are expected to take to the streets on Wednesday and Thursday to demonstrate against the Government's plans to treble university tuition fees.

But the Metropolitan Police raised concerns that troublemakers could use the protests as an "excuse" for violence.

Protests held last month against the proposals were marred by violent clashes and resulted in numerous arrests.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, head of the Met's Public Order Branch said: "We have seen groups of youths descending on the last few student protests as the day progresses, purely with the aim of using the event as a venue for violence and to attack police.

"It has been obvious that these particular elements are not genuine protesters and they have no intention of protesting about cuts to tuition fees or any other issue. They have turned up purely to take part in violence and disorder.

"We will work with all protesters who want to peacefully protest and we acknowledge and respect their right to do so, but I would warn them to be aware of this violent element, which could harm them and their cause."

Mr Broadhurst called for parents to advise their children of the dangers of attending a protest as youngsters are more at risk if violence breaks out.

Many school children, including some dressed in school uniform, attended previous demonstrations, and the Met was criticised after pupils were "kettled" for several hours during the second of a series of protests on November 24.

"Violence and disorder is often a result of a minority who are determined to cause trouble," Mr Broadhurst said.

Oh, and let's not forget this gem from Broadhurst in the aftermath of the G20 protests:

"I have not seen anything that particularly concerned me. They were responding in the way I trained them to."

A review by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, parliamentary hand-wringing and even a Civil Liberties Panel - and yet absolutely nothing has changed, except a new set of protesters discovering that the police have no interest in 'facilitating' the right to protest.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Wrong Cure / Tame The Vampire Squid

Two interesting campaign videos - the first from False Economy and the second from the New Economics Foundation:


Friday, 3 December 2010

Students Take Protest To Party Facebook Pages

Congratulations to occupying students from SOAS for the imaginative protest they organised on the Tory and Lib Dem Facebook pages today. Sadly, the page administrators didn't see the funny side and have removed the offending Wall posts, but the following shows how they briefly managed to get their message across:

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Smile Or Die - Animated

I reviewed Barbara Ehrenreich's fascinating book Smile or Die back in March - this animation from the RSA is a superb summary.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Redbridge Street Enforcement - Inept Or Wilfully Obstructive?

I have written before [see here, here and here] about the decision of Redbridge council to send me three fixed penalty notices by for allegedly fly posting leaflets about the Save Wanstead Flats campaign.

Those notices were begrudgingly withdrawn after they were challenged, with the caveat that “as long as there is no repeat if the original offence, you will not hear from us again.” As there never was an 'original offence' involving anything I have ever done, I have tried to understand this puzzle: how did Redbridge council reach the decision to target me, when my name does not appear on the campaign's publicity? Did they just just pick the first name they could find on Google?

So on 20 October, I made a Data Protection Act request, requesting the release of information that the council's Street Scene Enforcement team holds on me within the statutory 40 calendar days. Just days before the deadline on 29 November, a package arrived at work - and sadly, it was a very long way from illuminating.

The released information contains a short hand-written notebook entry recording where the flyers were found, a copy of the poster (complete, I note, with the words NOT FOR FLYPOSTING printed on the bottom), five photos of the offending posters pinned to trees, copies of my own correspondence with the department and short - very short - action logs. But nowhere is there any information about how the case officer who issued the threats of legal action reached the decision to connect a flyer with no personal details on it to a named individual.

Basically, this means one of two things. Either Redbridge's Street Scene Enforcement team is incompetent, keep the most incredibly lax records and are in breach its own Operating Procedures [PDF], which states that investigations "will be carried out in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice and agreed procedures". For those unfamiliar with PACE, Code D is very demanding on the importance of keeping accurate and reliable records when exercising statutory powers to identify persons, in order to "provide safeguards against mistaken identification."

Or alternatively, the council has breached the Data Protection Act by failing to provide all the information it holds.

So which is it - ineptitude or wilful obstruction? Either way, the package I received in the post has done nothing to change my view that Redbridge’s Street Scene Enforcement officers remain completely out of control.

Day X2 - Students Protest In The Snow

This morning Chris Greenwood, the crime correspondent at the Press Association, tweeted that "the gods of public order have surely answered the Met's prayers as heavy snow falls in Westminster". Predictions, however, that the weather would dissuade students from protesting again today proved wildly inaccurate: the power of prayer is obviously as unreliable as ever.

In London at midday, hundreds of police poured from Horseguards Parade to cut off large numbers of demonstrators marching to Parliament Square, but instead of allowing themselves to be corralled inside a 'kettle' in Whitehall, protest tactics had changed. At 2pm, students avoided police lines and spread out around central London, leaving behind a small rally in Trafalgar Square. Trying to contain a peaceful but mobile and flexible protest was then apparently as difficult as herding cats - when the police attempted to corral students on Aldwych, they simply didn't have the numbers to contain the demonstrators.

It was only when students drifted back to Trafalgar Square that the police were able to return to their normal public order tactics, blocking every road around the Square to try and impose one very large kettle - but reports say it leaked like a sieve, with protesters adopting widely circulated advice on targeting the weak points in the police lines.


Around the country, there were large demonstrations in Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Brighton, whilst council offices were briefly occupied in Oxford and Birmingham. This evening, a small group of students remained inside a kettle in Whitehall, but Met Commissioner Paul Stephenson's claim that the "game has changed" has turned out to be more accurate than he realised - with young protesters rather than the police rewriting the rules.

Picture: Cillygrrl14

POSTSCRIPT

This is hilarious... Police chase protesters across London, set to Yakety Sax (the theme from 'Benny Hill').

First Snow Of The Winter

It'll probably be treacherous tomorrow, but the snow was rather lovely today. The first couple of pictures are from up on Wanstead Flats at lunchtime and the last was taken up on the roof of the hostel at Durning Hall - more on Flickr

Monday, 29 November 2010

Tomlinson Family Statement on Misconduct Charges

I've posted this as I spent lunchtime today helping the Tomlinsons to draft their statement. From the campaign website:


The Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced that PC Simon Harwood, the officer caught on video assaulting Ian Tomlinson shortly before his death, faces internal disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct and could face dismissal without notice.

Julia Tomlinson, widow of Ian Tomlinson, spoke on behalf of her family today to say:

“We cautiously welcome the fact that Deborah Glass from the IPCC has said that 'there has been an overwhelming public feeling that the officer seen to strike Ian Tomlinson should be held accountable for his actions'.

However, the possibility Harwood might lose his job is not the genuine accountability that our family have waited so long for. Whilst we believe that any disciplinary hearings must be held in public, we have already been badly let down by the Crown Prosecution Service and have real worries that these misconduct proceedings will lead to yet another whitewash. We are also gravely concerned that holding hearings before the inquest takes place may prejudice its outcome and further undermine the possibility of the kind of justice that overwhelming public feeling demands.”

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Let's Make 29th April Local Heroes Day

I guess there are plenty of other people who, like me, really couldn't care less about next April's wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton. I suspect that even those who express their enthusiasm for the couple's nuptials are more fascinated by the celebrity of the groom than they are moved by feelings of reverence for the royals.

But here's a thing: how much difference do us republicans really think they can make by complaining that it's all nonsense? Yes, it is bizarre that the nation has been granted a bank holiday, a day-off, the kind of absence from work that businesses vehemently complain about when it involves strike action, for nothing more than the wedding of a upper-class young man and his upper middle class girlfriend. It is just as preposterous that this is happening for no other reason than his biological accident of the groom's birth into staggering privilege. But in all honesty, how much of an impact do we hope to make by simply responding in a curmudgeonly manner?

Don't get me wrong: I share the view that an obsession with the Windsors speaks volumes for the immaturity of our 'advanced' democracy and for the way that fame and notoriety, driven by the media's need for cheap, disposable 'news', has elbowed aside genuine achievement and distinction. So here's a though: how do we offer an alternative that celebrates individuals from working class communities, people whose contributions are usually ignored by the national fixation with the supposedly 'beautiful people'?

Rather than grumbling about the ridiculous pomposity and excess of the royal wedding day, let's make that day - 29 April 2011 - our 'Local Heroes Day'.

I bet we all know people who we think are amazing. I can immediately identify the person who regularly checks in on housebound pensioners because the council's social services help is so erratic; someone who gives long hours to helping people navigate the complexities of dealing with the UK Borders Agency; or even the friend who cooks and delivers free food to people who have just come out of hospital (and brought round some of the best chana masala I've ever tasted when I came out of the Royal London). Then there's my friend Vivian and the fantastic literary events she organises, or the campaigners who have struggled long and hard to make sure that Queen's Market in Upton Park remains open. Without people like these, life would be poorer, bleaker and far less interesting.

I'm not suggesting something like the ludicrous Pride of Britain awards, with its royal patronage, corporate sponsorship and z-list celebs. On 'Local Heroes Day', all we really need to do is make a point of going out of our way to thank the people we think matter to our communities.

We don't do it enough - and it's a far, far better use of a bank holiday than ranting at the TV or finding ways to desperately avoid the royal wedding coverage.

Friday, 26 November 2010

London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911

To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the siege of Sidney Street, the Museum of London Docklands opens a new exhibition in December, London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911.

In partnership with the Jewish East End Celebration Society, the exhibition will set the murders and the siege in their historical and social context, exploring immigration at the time and the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill's role at the siege.

The siege of Sidney Street, popularly known as the "Battle of Stepney", was a gun battle in 1911 where over 200 armed police and a detachment of Scots Guards laid siege to 100 Sidney Street in Stepney. It ended with the deaths of two members of a politically-motivated gang of burglars supposedly led by "Peter the Painter", and sparked a row over the involvement of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, whose on the spot advice included refusing to allow the fire brigade access to the building when it caught fire.

London under siege: Churchill and the anarchists, 1911 opens on 18 December 2010 and runs until April 2011 at the Museum of London Docklands, No1 Warehouse, West India Quay London E14 4AL [Map]. Entry is free.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Student Protests - Leaderless Doesn't Have To Mean Disorganised

It’s is entirely reasonable that students involved in yesterday’s protest on Whitehall are enraged about brutal police tactics, particularly the use of enforced ‘containment’ or kettling and the repeated baton-charges of young people. Simon Hardy of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts speaks for many when describing the actions of the Metropolitan Police as “absolutely outrageous".

But as well as quite rightly condemning yesterday’s oppressive police behaviour, we mustn’t forget it was only last year that the use of similar tactics caused the death of Ian Tomlinson, drew the same angry response from G20 protesters and led to a review of public order policing, Adapting to Protest, by Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Dennis O’Connor. At the time some saw this as a significant turning point, although O'Connor's review didn’t propose to abandon the use of kettling, only new guidance and better training. Now it seems that nothing has really changed. However, if we see yesterday’s police brutality completely in isolation, there’s a real danger that outrage over the policing of protests eventually becomes little more than an annual expression of frustrated impotence.

So why didn’t the supposed ‘reforms’ promised after the G20 protests in 2009 stop the aggressive policing we witnessed yesterday? There are two very different ways of explaining this. The first is to say that the police are essentially benign, have a difficult job but do their best to ‘facilitate’ protesters, so the blame must lie elsewhere. Before yesterday’s protest, the Green Party’s London Assembly member Jenny Jones argued on Liberal Conspiracy that the cause of police brutality is the provocation provided by “the people who have come along for a punch up”. She says:


For example, one of the reasons for the appalling policing of the happy, peaceful, singing, dancing G20 climate camp protesters who put up their tents in Bishopsgate last year is that they were dealing with police officers who had been through a hard time with less than peaceful demonstrators earlier in the day at a different location.

It’s an appalling argument, one that is riddled with holes. To begin with, placing the blame on a supposedly ‘violent minority’ makes a huge assumption that the police are either able or willing to make a distinction between violence and ‘civil disobedience’ – even though experience shows that confrontational tactics such as kettling lump everyone together and do not differentiate between those who are peaceful or belligerent. Indeed, they are a direct reason why crowds react with increasing hostility to their treatment by police officers. Moreover, it’s an argument that sets up an ill-defined boundary around what is ‘acceptable' protest, one that can be continually tightened and controlled by those with little interest in supporting the right to demonstrate.

The other, more logical explanation for the apparent failure of last year's public order review to stop police beating teenagers with batons yesterday is that the 'reforms' were always entirely meaningless – the police simply reacted to unexpected criticism last year by promising a new approach, knowing that memories are short and public opinion is fickle. Furthermore, the one thing that hasn’t changed is an underlying, historical fear within the ranks of the police of ‘the mob’ – unruly, leaderless and difficult to contain – and that their role has never really shifted from suppressing protest rather than ‘facilitating’ it.

This explains their favoured form of ‘acceptable’ demonstration, along a prearranged route with organisers, stewards and perhaps a rally, and why anything outside of this kind of ‘self-kettled’ protest is always likely to lead to a violent response. However, the problem now facing senior officers, as I argued last year, is that “many protesters became disillusioned with this kind of sterile ‘stroll through the streets’ after the massive anti-war demonstrations failed to have any impact on the government”. Yesterday’s student demonstrations around the country were an obvious example of this - organised using social media, they had little involvement from trade unions, the National Union of Students or other political organisations.

The conclusion to draw from all this is that aggressive police tactics are not just “absolutely outrageous" – they are entirely to be expected. On the one hand, this means that anyone who really does want to “come along for a punch up” understands that they’ll almost certainly lose a pitched battle against one of the most powerful instruments of the state, face the prospect of prosecution and possibly a long prison sentence.

But it also means that a new generation of protesters who want to demonstrate creatively, no matter how peacefully or disobediently, should have no illusions about the police’s role – they intend to stop you at all costs, Direct action therefore involves preparation and planning, knowing what your legal rights are, setting up affinity groups and learning ways to avoid tactics like kettling: much of which has already been tried and tested over countless protests.

Unruly, leaderless and difficult to contain may well be the future of protest – but that doesn’t have to mean disorganised.

See the Activists Legal Project and The SchNews Guide to Public Order Situations for more information on taking part in protest with your eyes open.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Lawrence Archer Shows Why Juries Matter

Like most jurors, Lawrence Archer was a typical, not especially political member of the public, a BT engineer who was called for jury service at the Old Bailey in 2005 and became the foreman of the jury during the infamous "ricin plot" trial. What made yesterday evening's discussion in Stratford, about his book on the trial and its aftermath, so completely fascinating is how his experience was revelatory - and how it has changed him into a campaigner against the injustices of the 'war on terror' here in Britain.

In 2003, anti-terrorism police raided a north London flat after a tip-off from the Algerian government, which was almost certainly based on evidence extracted using torture. They had alleged that there was an Al-Qaeda plot to attack the London underground using the poison ricin. Five men were arrested and Tony Blair said the threat of international terrorism was "present and real and with us now and its potential is huge". In the incredibly paranoid and hysterical period after 2001, the press inevitably went berserk, with The Sun reporting the discovery of a "factory of death" (an sensationalist claim that was recycled following the police raids in 2006 of my neighbours in Forest Gate). The Daily Mirror front page (above), which was reprinted and displayed last night, had a map of the UK emblazoned with a skull and cross bones and the headline: "It's Here".

But after the jury had spent six months hearing evidence, they had heard that no ricin had ever been found, that biological weapons experts at the government's Porton Down Laboratory knew this within two days and that there had never been a sophisticated plot, only loose associations between the five men. After taking a then-record 17 days to reach a decision, they acquitted four of the defendants and found a fifth guilty of the Victorian-era offence of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, a charge dug up specially for the trial.

After the trial was over, however, the jurors saw that the media coverage of the trial bore little relation to the evidence they had heard. Journalists, who had faced a media black out during the trial and hardly attended the court proceedings, preferred to rely on briefings from the police and security services. The story they told was a pack of lies. Britain's most politicised police officer, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, went further: he used the failure to convict to demand legislation for “acts preparatory to terrorism”, because 'terrorists' operate using “very loose-knit conspiracies.” The then home secretary, Charles Clarke, duly obliged.

Remarkably, a number of the jurors decided not to simply walk away but to investigate further, meeting the defence lawyer Gareth Peirce, and the some of the defendants themselves. Lawrence Archer was one of those who spoke out when several of the men were rearrested and threatened with deportation. He has given evidence at the secretive Special Immigration Appeals Commission hearings and expressed his horror that the 'ricin' plot was used by Colin Powell as alleged proof that Saddam Hussein had been secretly arming terrorist groups in the approach to the war in Iraq. Last night he described his scepticism whenever he hears reports about 'intelligence', calling it "guesswork based on fourth hand sources, some extracted under torture."

A jury trial not only prevented an injustice - it also led some jurors, people like Archer, to take a greater interest in the way the state operates and to continue to believe in a 'duty of care' beyond the courtroom. None of this would have happened without the jury system and the involvement of citizens in the criminal justice system. It's the reason why defending the principle of trial-by-jury is so important and explains why the security establishment, if it could have its way, would favour its abolition in alleged terrorism cases.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ricin! The Terror Plot That Never Was

Tomorrow evening, Newham Monitoring Project and Newham Bookshop present Lawrence Archer talking about his book Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot That Never Was.

Archer was the jury foreman in the trial of an alleged al-Qaeda cell that anti-terrorism police alleged had planned to release the deadly poison ricin on London in 2003. However, the Old Bailey trial revealed that the ‘ricin plot’ had been a shameless distortion by government, media and security services: there was no ricin and no sophisticated plot. In 2005, defendants Samir Asli, Khalid Alwerfeli, Mouloud Bouhrama and Kamel Merzoug were all cleared.

The event takes place at 7 pm at St John’s Church, The Broadway, Stratford E15. Tickets are still available and cost £5 from Newham Bookshop

'Police' Lose Tug-of-War To Residents On Wanstead Flats

On Friday, the police finally submitted their application for the Olympic operations base they plan to construct in 2012, so it was definitely the right time for local people to 'Take Back Wanstead Flats' and remind the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Corporation who the land really belongs to.

It's amazing what you can buy on the internet - such as one kilometre (I'm not kidding) of 'Police Do Not Cross' tape, for example - see right. Starting at around 11.30am, a group of us met up on the west side of the Flats and with gardening canes and our new rolls of tape, we marked out the boundaries of the planned police base, so that everyone could have their first opportunity to see how much space that Fortress Wanstead Flats would occupy if the Met's proposals are allowed to go ahead. And it's absolutely vast - a massive area of public land that will be enclosed by a solid 11 foot high wall.

Early on, we realised we were being watched from a distance by two police officers in a Land Rover and a couple of us made a point of speaking to them to find out what they wanted. An officer called PC Snowden, whose card says he is from something called the 'Olympic Site Support Unit' (and who I've since been told has a background in 'forward intelligence') said they had seen today's event advertised "by anarchist groups involved in the student protest", naming the Whitechapel Anarchist Group and its tiny membership in particular. Frankly it's laughable - but this is how far the 'domestic extremist' agenda has now come. If the police are turning up to a local residents' protest because of something they have seen on a website, it's obvious that 'anarchists' are now firmly back in the frame for close surveillance.

The two officers today seemed satisfied that there were no scary anarchos around - if only they'd realised the sterling support provided to the Save Wanstead Flats campaign by members of Action East End... or my own political sympathies, for that matter.

By about 2.30pm, around a hundred residents had gathered and together we walked around our freshly cordoned-off area, 'beating the bounds' in the ancient custom to protect the land. We returned for free baked potatoes and a 'Residents versus Coppers' tug-of-war contest - which as there was such a marked reluctance to don a policeman's helmet and join the 'Coppers' team, was won decisively by residents.

I'm now completely exhausted, but today has been enormous fun and another chance for those who care about the future of Wanstead Flats to gather together in its defence. Over the next few weeks, the priority has to be to encourage as many local people as possible to submit objections to the Metropolitan Police's proposals.

The planning process is handled by Redbridge council and the application is available online at http://bit.ly/wansteadflatsplanning. The campaign intends to produce a briefing on making an objection, which will be available at the end of the coming week.

I didn't take loads of pictures today but there are a few more on Flickr

Friday, 19 November 2010

Local Paper Picks Up Redbridge's Fixed Penalty Zeal

The following is from this week's Wanstead and Woodford Guardian. Thank goodness the photo in the paper isn't also online - but many thanks to Dave who e-mailed to say I haven't changed a bit since I was 21!

By the way, if there is anyone reading this from Redbridge council, you only have until Monday 29 November to comply with my subject access request under the Data Protection Act. If you fail to meet that deadline, I'm ready to see a court order to force you to release the information you hold on me.


Campaigner condemns 'overzealous council officers'

Cracking down on flyposting has helped Redbridge Council rake in more money than most councils in the country in recent years.

However, a campaigner against the plan to put a police headquarters on Wanstead Flats for the Olympics in 2012 has criticised council officers as being overzealous.

Kevin Blowe is a lead campaigner against plans for the Metropolitan Police to have a base on Wanstead Flats in 2012.

He says he was issued with three fixed penalty notices by Redbridge Council for flyposting in relation to the Flats campaign, however, he was adamant it was not him as he was at work in Forest Gate at the time of the alleged offences.

Figures from the Department of Food and Rurual Affairs for 2007/08 and 2008/09 show Redbridge to be the most prolific local authority in the country for issuing fixed penalty notices to flyposters.

Between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, the council issued 401 fixed penalty notices and from the 181 penalties which were paid, the council collected £8,230.

Only Milton Keynes Council and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council made more money for flyposting and the FPN's issued by Redbridge Council accounts for a quarter of the notices issued that year all over the country.

Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, Redbridge Council issued 206 FPNs and collected £3,070, according to DEFRA figures.

For the amount collected from flyposting FPNs, the authority was fourth in the country only behind Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, Manchester City Council and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

Mr Blowe, 42, of Rothsay Road, Forest Gate, said: "The really surprising thing is not only that Redbridge are among the highest in the country but what really struck me is half of the notices issued last year were cancelled.

"If nothing else, that's going to bring the system into disrepute - all that effort for about £3,000 is astonishing."

DEFRA figures show that in 2007/08 Redbridge Council issued 401 FPNs and although none were cancelled, 220 were not paid and no further action was taken.

In 2008/09 the council issued 206 FPNs, with 101 being cancelled and 52 not being paid and no further action being taken.

Mr Blowe, who found out on October 18 that his FPNs had been waived, claims the council plucked his name off the internet in connection with the Flats campaign and decided to issue the FPNs .

He says his name was not on the flyers and the council has no evidence he was responsible.

He said: "I have been offered an apology 'for any distress', but that's simply not good enough.

"Council officials can't exercise what are considerable powers with a complete disregard for the law or their accountability to the public."

A spokeswoman for Redbridge Council said: "We can't comment on individual cases, however Redbridge Council now takes a proactive zero tolerance approach to flyposting and this has shown a substantial decline in this type of environmental crime.

"Our Enforcement Officers are not overzealous and act on behalf of the public interest.

"The majority of flyposting relates to one-off events which normally result in the organisers disappearing after the event has taken place, therefore we find that we are unable to pursue a prosecution and subsequently the matter has to be closed.

Newham Council Seeks £80m Loan For West Ham United Whilst Planning Massive Cuts In Local Services

Next week, there are two secretive public council meetings. Those who live outside of the borough of Newham might wonder what this means - how can a meeting be both secret and public? They'll be unfamiliar with a local authority where every elected member belongs to the same political party and assembles with regimented, almost cult-like discipline. But next Tuesday, a meeting of the Cabinet takes place, with every Labour councillor in attendance. Those councillors will then remain in their seats for a full Council meeting. The public and press will be excluded from a discussion on 'Securing a Community and Regeneration Legacy of the Olympic Stadium', although really the decision has already been made. And then councillors will nod through a vote to take out an £80 million loan so that it can support West Ham United plans to lease the Olympic Stadium after 2012.

Why is such a massive decision happening behind close doors? To protect West Ham's financial and business affairs, apparently. It is perhaps just as well that so many councillors are attending the Cabinet meeting, as a number of its Members and Mayoral Advisers have benefited from the football club's hospitality or are season ticket holders - they must declare an interest and exclude themselves. This includes the Dear Leader himself, who has made numerous visits to the Chairman's Suite at the Boleyn Ground. But the decision to take on such a massive debt, at the same time that the council is planning 25% budget cut over four years, will still go through. That's the way things work in Newham.

Anyone else would think such a decision was insane. Who would borrow £80 million to give to a club that already has staggering debts, estimated at £110 million by its new owners at the start of the year? Then there is the obvious question of West Ham's current position at the bottom of the Premier League. At the start of this month, co-owner David Sullivan admitted that West Ham's debt still stands at £85 million and that relegation gives him "sleepless nights" because the club might not survive a drop down to the Championship. Why give council tax payers' money to such a high-risk partner? And why finance a proposal that a survey of West Ham fans shows has little support?

The money itself will ultimately pass to the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), who take ownership of the Olympic Stadium and the park after the Games. It has no funds of its own, as its Chief Executive Andrew Altman told me in a meeting just after his appointment. The OPLC, which will soon disappear as it is subsumed into Boris Johnsone's 'Mayoral Development Corporation', is completely reliant on deals such as the one planned with West Ham to pay for the transformation of the Olympic Games site into a new Royal Park in 2013. Who would have thought that 'Olympic legacy' meant burdening the people of one of the poorest boroughs in the country with an enormous debt to pay, indirectly, for London's newest park?

And who could have dreamed that this decision would have been taken in secret - at a meeting where councillors also plan to rewrite the terms and conditions of its own staff, slashing redundancy/severance payments, cutting annual leave and destroying staff morale (see this PDF for more on these plans)?

People say that other local authorities behave in this way too, but I guess you have to live in Newham, dreading the impact that devastating cuts will have on local people, to appreciate just how terribly, terribly wrong this is. After Tuesday's meeting, any councillor with even a ounce of conscience should hang their heads in shame for the decision they are about to make.

Photo of work on the Olympic stadium is from September 2009 - see here

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Plastic State Of Mind

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Reminder - Take Back The Flats This Sunday

A reminder that this Sunday at 2pm is the chance to Take Back Wanstead Flats, where campaigners intend to mark out the boundaries of the proposed site of the police's Olympic operational centre (shown in red on the map above). This will provide the first opportunity for local people to properly see for themselves how much space the police base will occupy during 2012.

The Save Wanstead Flats campaign has argued that maps or drawings can never make as much sense to local residents as seeing its massive size for themselves but campaigners would prefer not to wait until construction starts and it’s too late to stop these plans.

Don't forget to wrap up warmly - the BBC are predicting cold northeasterly-winds and the possibiliy of a few showers. See you there at 2pm!

Newham Campaigners In High Court To Fight City Airport Expansion

Tomorrow, local residents are heading to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand to ask the High Court to overturn Newham Council's decision to expand London City Airport.

Campaigners from Flight The Flights are opposing Newham's decision to allow a 50 per cent increase in flights at London City Airport because it has failed to consider changes to government policy on climate change or properly consult boroughs and residents in the surrounding area. The council’s decision, made in October 2008, would increase flights from the airport from 73,000 to 120,000 a year. However, on 15 January 2009 the government announced its intention to reduce aviation emissions to below 2005 levels by 2050. Newham Council decided to proceed with expansion anyway, reconfirming their decision at a planning meeting on 8 July 2009 and issuing formal grant of approval.

The High Court hearing starts at 9.30am and will last for two days. Campaigners are represented by Friends of the Earth's Rights and Justice Centre and will be joined by Friends of the Earth London Campaigner Jenny Bates, Lib Dem MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford and London Assembly Member for the Green Party Darren Johnson. A decision is expected at the end of the year or early in 2011 and if the Judicial Review is successful. Newham Council would have to reconsider the application.

Fight the Flights Chair Anne-Marie Griffin said:


"The residents who make up and support Fight The Flights have worked tirelessly for the past three years to stop the expansion of this airport, which already causes so much disturbance and pollution. This hearing will allow those who were not consulted, and those who were not listened to by Newham Council, a chance of justice."

Friends of the Earth's London Campaigner Jenny Bates said:

"More flights will mean more noise and air pollution for local people – these damaging plans must be overturned. Expanding the airport would increase climate changing emissions as well as adding to breaches of air pollution limits and worsening noise disturbance locally. London is not on track to meet either its own climate change targets or EU legal air quality limits - we should be developing plans that improve the situation, not make it worse."

Gita Parihar, Acting Head of Legal at Friends of the Earth, said:

"We believe Newham Council has acted illegally by failing to adequately consult on its proposals and failing to consider Government policy on tackling climate change. This legal challenge aims to give both the planet and local people a voice in decisions that affect their wellbeing now and in the future."

See the Fight the Flights blog for more information

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Humiliated Met Police Is An Enemy Of Free Speech

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that a powerful institution like the Metropolitan Police, wrong footed and deeply embarrassed by the student protest at Millbank on 10 November, would throw its resources into a major operation to hunt down the protesters who had humiliated them. Buoyed by the ‘shop-a-student’ campaign organised by the Daily Telegraph and the obnoxious right wing blogger Guido Fawkes, there have already been more than fifty arrests.

At the same time as issuing the media with CCTV images of protesters it wants to question, the Met has also turned its vengeful eye onto the blog run by FITwatch, which campaigns against intrusive surveillance of protesters and is loathed by the police because it has successfully challenged the actions of its Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) officers. According to a report in the Guardian, the Met’s Public Order Unit CO11 have alleged that a recent posting on the blog (see here) was “attempting to pervert the course of justice” by providing guidance to students who fear they might face imminent arrest. Instead of approaching FITwatch directly about for the offending post, however, the Met's e-crime unit contacted the website’s US-based hosting company, JustHost.com, requesting the closure for entire site for 12 months. Currently it remains down, although there is apparently a back up and it can only be a matter of time before the site is moved to a new host.

FITwatch has rejected the police’s interpretation of its advice to students, saying the post was a direct response to the hysteria in the right wing press, contained nothing more than basic common sense and was comparable to solicitors’ warning to a client to say 'no comment' during a police interview. On one level, shutting the site already looks to have backfired badly – FITwatch has been provided it with more publicity than it could ever have hoped for and the post that has so upset the police has already been republished by other bloggers. The same advice to students, meanwhile, has remained online at the November 10 Defence Campaign website.

However, what is really alarming is how easy it has been for a powerful institution to lean on a website hosting company, even one outside the UK, to silence one of its more vocal critics. Perverting the course of justice, usually associated with threatening or interfering with witnesses and deliberately concealing evidence, is a serious indictable offence that would require proof of intent to secure a conviction for inducing others to fabricate or dispose of evidence, which seems like the allegation that the Met is making. Instead, the police didn’t bother with gathering evidence, making an arrest or even require a court order - one heavy-handed e-mail was enough to shut down a website without the hosting company seeking clarification for its owner or offering a opportunity to appeal.

It goes to show that there is no need for a Great Firewall or draconian legislation to censor the internet. All it now takes is a craven hosting company that cares only about making money - and a bitter, ruthless, largely unaccountable public body like the Metropolitan police that decides to suppress the right to free speech as a reprisal for its public humbling by a crowd of teenagers.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Former Foundry Bar Gets Anti-ConDem Makeover

There are those who look back with fondness on the Foundry, the dingy bar, venue and art space on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch that closed in May and is due to become the site of a depressingly corporate 18-storey hotel. My own recollection of the bar, based on the occasional and reluctant visit, was that it was a complete dump, the artwork was awful and it was full of pretentious tossers pretending that cod-bohemianism is somehow revolutionary. Well, I suppose that appeals to some people.

Far more impressive is the 'Great Brain Robbers' mural by Dr D that has been plastered on the front of the now empty building - a brilliant piece of anti-government propaganda. See here for more pictures.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

NETCU Uses Friendly Journalists To Send Message To Government

Tucked away at the end of a piece in today's Observer about the National Union of Students' plan to 'decapitate' senior Lib Dems at the next election is this passage:


"As police face continued criticism for failing to control the march, the Observer has learned that defence firms are working closely with UK armed forces and contemplating a “militarisation” strategy to counter the threat of civil disorder.

The trade group representing the military and security industry says firms are in negotiation with senior officers over possible orders for armoured vehicles, body scanners and better surveillance equipment.

The move coincides with government-backed attempts to introduce the use of unmanned spy drones throughout UK airspace, facilitating an expansion of covert surveillance that could provide intelligence on future demonstrations.

Derek Marshall, of the trade body Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS), said that such drones could eventually replace police helicopters. He added that military manufacturers had discussed police procurement policies with the government, as forces look to counter an identified threat of civil disobedience from political extremists".

The idea of a a “militarisation” strategy is incredibly alarmist and has certainly alarmed some people - or at least those prepared to believe that links between the police and the security industry is some kind of new development.

In reality, the rise of paramilitary-style policing in Britain over thirty years has resulted in the steady growth of an industry to supply the police with new gadgets and equipment. The trade group mentioned in the report is itself the result of a merger between three older industry bodies: the Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers, the Defence Manufacturers Association and the Society of British Aerospace Companies. Companies that are members of ADS are not talking to the police because of a new threat of civil disorder - it's what they do all the time. ADS has itself denied that its comment to the Observer about sale of kit to police forces has anything to do with recent protests.

So why pretend otherwise? I believe there is a different message being conveyed here and that the presence in the byline of Mark Townsend, the Observer's Crime, Defence & Legal Affairs correspondent, should have been an immediate indicator of the need to exercise an enormous amount of scepticism.

Some may recall that Townsend was responsible for a thinly disguised propaganda-piece for the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) in November 2008, written with a former army officer called Nick Denning, which claimed a "growing threat from eco-terrorists" and linked this to activists involved in Climate Camp. It was such blatant police spin that the Observer subsequently withdrew the story. Townsend is clearly in close contact with NETCU and today's hysteria about 'militarisation' is followed by a more telling piece of spin - another opportunity for the Observer to act as NETCU's mouthpiece, with unnamed 'police sources' claiming an increase in "the criminal intentions of political extremists" and “extreme leftwing activity”.

In September, I wrote a short piece for the Manchester Mule suggesting that as police numbers are cut, the government may be persuaded of the benefits of cheaper alternatives such as "targeting potential 'troublemakers' even more than at present." With the debate growing over why the police were so unprepared for the student protest at Millbank, it looks as though NETCU is simply issuing a few reminders through the press to its government paymasters. It is using its friend at the Observer and its contact at the Sunday Telepgraph to say to ministers that, whatever else is cut, its role must be protected or further disorder cannot be prevented.

A substantial increase in covert surveillance of anyone deemed a potential 'domestic extremist', a term that has no legal definition and can apply to almost anyone, is far more alarming - and far more likely to actually happen - than any nonsense about a supposed 'militarisation strategy'.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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