Thursday 25 October 2012

Why Hold Firework Night On Ravaged Site of Olympic Police Base on Wanstead Flats?

The photographs above were taken this afternoon and show that, a month on from the end of the Paralympics, the site of the Olympics police operations base on Wanstead Flats is still a mess.

Some effort has been made to reseed the ground (see the previous pictures taken a few days after the Metropolitan Police left and you'll see what I mean). But it will still take months to recover. So why has Newham council been granted permission to hold its Fireworks Display on the Flats on 4 November, rather than in, say, Central Park?

One of the council's websites warns, "Display held on soft ground.", which may win the 2012 award for understatement of the year. It also reminds us - just in case there's anyone left in the borough who has missed having this message rammed down their throat - that "the event is brought to you for free by the Mayor of Newham" (out of his own pocket? Well, no, not quite), adding that it takes place "by kind permission of The City of London, Conservators of Epping Forest".

I suppose the "Conservators" got together and thought: what this site really needs is thousands of people walking all over it. Not for the first time, I'm left wonder what on earth the City of London Corporation thinks it is doing with an open space that belongs to us?

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Mostly Harmless - Pictures from Saturday's TUC March

Flick here for full screen.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Newham Council Apologises For Heavyhanded Action By Its Enforcement Officers

In September I reported that campaigners trying to save the Old Spotted Dog pub on Upton Lane had been stopped from leafletting outside of Forest Gate station and given a advice warning by Newham's 'Law Enforcement' officers. After activists received legal support from a local solicitor and the issue was raised at a public meeting at Durning Hall, something surprising happened - the council actually apologised.

A letter from Planning Enforcement Manager Christine Lyons, published on the Save the Old Spotted Dog website, says:
I understand there was an issue prior to this public meeting which left you and your group unhappy with the actions of this Council. It would seem that your campaigners were leafleting outside Forest Gate Station and received advice from the “law enforcement officer” that you were to cease this activity immediately. I am unsure as to the reasoning behind this request but have been informed that this advice was incorrect. I have spoken at length with the Service Manager for these officers Mr Al Thomas and he can only apologise for the actions of his officer and should you wish can be contacted on 02033733084 to discuss this matter.

It is of course gratifying that council has admitted its error, but it wouldn't have happened in the first place in the 'Law Enforcement' officers who intervened had actually understood the limit of their powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. What this points to is a lack of basic training, summed up by the fact that officers evidently had no idea what constitutes 'designated land' under the Act but arbitrarily chose to apply their sweeping powers anyway. If this had been an entirely isolated incident then perhaps it could be brushed aside as a simple mistake, but this is not the first time that there have been complaints about enforcement officers, either about the misapplication of anti-social behaviour powers or a certain high-handedness in the way they are enforced.

The council's apology, whilst welcome, means little if the same situation keeps arising again and again in the future, because officers do not recognise that enforcement powers are potentially oppressive and intimidating if not used sparingly and correctly - or if the latest talk of a 'crackdown' gives the misleading impression that, for the greater good, no-one is really going to care if a few errors occur. It really shouldn't be necessary for local people to be forced to raise complaints or seek legal advice if enforcement officers are properly trained and act with caution and common sense.

If anyone has a story about the way that anti-social behaviour powers are incorrectly enforced in the borough then please let me know - I'd like to start compiling evidence and publishing it. You can e-mail me here.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Book Event: Still Counting Sri Lanka's Hidden Dead

On Friday 16 November, former BBC foreign correspondent Frances Harrison will be discussing her book Still Counting the Dead - Survivors of Sri Lanka's Hidden War with the Sri Lankan born artist and writer.Roma Tearne, at the Trinity Community Centre in Manor Park. The event is organised by Newham Bookshop, in partnership with Newham Monitoring Project..

Harrison covered the civil war in Sri Lanka from 2000 to 2004 and has written the first account of the end of the least reported major conflict of recent times. She is one of the few foreign journalists to maintain contact with those trapped inside the war zone until the very end. In 2009, as the war between the Tamil Tiger guerrillas and the government reached its bloody climax, thousands of schoolchildren, doctors, farmers, fishermen, nuns and other civilians were caught in the crossfire. However, the Sri Lankan government maintained a strict media blackout so that the world was unaware of their suffering. A United Nations Panel of Experts has reported that estimates of up to 40,000 dead are credible and has called for war-crimes investigations. Still Counting the Dead recounts the human stories and faces behind the war.

Friday 16 November  2012
at 7 pm at The Trinity Centre, East Avenue, Manor Park E12.
Nearest tube: East Ham
Tickets are only £3 and available from Newham Bookshop: telephone 020 8552 9993 to reserve

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Monday 8 October 2012

A Different View Of 'Successful' Olympic Policing

On Saturday, I attended a really fun celebration, at The Arches in Canning Town, of the work carried out by Community Legal Observers (CLOs) organised by Newham Monitoring Project during this summer's Olympics. It included a first look at some of the key trends that emerged from the evidence they gathered, which the organisation plans to document in more detail in a forthcoming report and resource aimed specifically at young people. The event also meant that CLOs could also receive a surprise memento of their volunteering during August and September - a medal bearing the famous 'human rights salute' protest by Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Normal at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.
Volunteer Community Legal Observers pose with their 'Olympic' medals at Saturday's event
As Newham Monitoring Project's Director Estelle du Boulay explained on Saturday, the evidence collected by CLOs paints a very different picture to the overwhelmingly upbeat impression of Olympic policing painted by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Away from the main venues, on side streets and estates, young people in particular complained of the excessive use of stop & search powers by officers who were often rude and aggressive, as well as incidents involving illegal strip searching in the backs of police vans. A number of young people chose to avoid Stratford altogether or made sure they travelled in groups no larger than two, for fear of the dispersal zone restrictions in place. CLOs also reported consistently positive feedback from local people to the rights cards that NMP distributed and a belief that basic civil liberties still needing protecting, even when an event as huge as the Olympics was taking place. However, there were reports that people arrested were denied the right to call NMP's 24-hour emergency helpline and cases of threatening and intimidatory behaviour by individual officers towards volunteers who were observing the policing .of the Games.

A full report with case studies will be published by Newham Monitoring Project shortly and I'll try and summarise it as soon as it is available. Meanwhile, I too am now a proud recipient of one of the incredibly rare CLO medals, which look like this:

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