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

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 (****)


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.


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

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

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.

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