Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Update On Accessing Newham Council's Accounts

On 19 July, I reported that Newham council has broken the law by failing to publish details of the period when local people have the right to inspect its draft accounts. This failure included both details on its website and a notice in the local newspaper at least 14 working days before the start of public inspection. An e-mail I have seen, from the council's Chief Accountant Barry Stratfull, explains that "following a technicality", meaning a lack of forethought that no-one managed to catch when it happened last year, "we will be reissuing the required public notice detailing when the accounts will be available for inspection".

The council has now managed to post the correct notice online and an advertisement is tucked away on the bottom of page 44 of this week's Newham Recorder. Residents will be able to inspect any and all contracts, invoices, receipts and bills and make copies from 9 August to 7 September 2012.

This remains one of the most powerful rights available to citizens in the UK to uncover the details of how local councils are spending public money. Therefore, if there are burning questions that residents and local campaigners have wanted answers to, from expenditure on the council's headquarters, its payments to consultants or indeed, how exactly the Preventing Violent Extremism budget has been spent, now is the time to pop along to Newham Town Hall on Barking Road, between 10am and 4pm, to try and find out.

The draft Statement of Accounts for 2011-12 can be found here. Happy hunting!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Newham Council Bans Legal Observers From Stratford Park

Photo: Simon Shaw
It may come as little surprise to many that Newham council looks upon local people with deep suspicion, but with the huge Olympic policing and security operation now under way in Stratford, its decisions are quickly becoming a microcosm of the excesses that many predicted. Not only are council security guards searching people hoping to watch Games events at open-air screenings, but now the borough's officers have placed a ban on legal observers handing out civil rights information in public parks.

The council's "Newham Live" events take place in Central Park and Stratford Park, offering the chance, the council says, "to watch all the live action from the Olympic and Paralympic Games on two giant screens". It claims that "all events are free and open entry" but those attending are searched before they enter and there have been complaints this weekend that there are no female security staff at Stratford Park. Notices outside also say that by entering the park, the public agree to be photographed, ostensibly for Newham council's publicity but implying the  systematic recording of all those who are attending. Then today, Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) reported that its volunteer Community Legal Observers were banned from entering Stratford Park because the community group's stop and search rights cards are "making it easy for criminals and giving them tips".

The idea that providing people with information about their rights is in any way a threat to public order or likely to cause criminality is, of course, utterly ludicrous. It is also deeply insulting to local people, whom the council's security evidently look upon with immense distrust, a crowd ready to explode if it discovers that there is no need to provide their names and addresses if they are stopped by the police.

It seems that even the council recognises how ludicrous this is. After NMP made a complaint,  the council's Sue Meiners, Head of Events & Sponsorship, Communications Team Policy, Partnerships & Communications (what a job title!) fell back on the catch-all excuse for banning things: anti-social behaviour. She claimed that the rights cards were causing "litter". Bearing in mind that NMP has very limited funds for its work during the Olympics and its volunteers have been asked to hand out rights cards sparingly to those who actually want them, this seems very unlikely. But when NMP's Community Legal Observers generously offered to stop handing out any further cards, they were still asked to leave the park.

There are legitimate reasons for monitoring the police this summer and the role of legal observers is simply to record what they see, not to intervene. One of NMP's aims is that the very presence of legal observers and the scrutiny they provide may help to moderate potentially excessive policing. People who are prepared to give up their spare time in defence of civil liberties should be applauded for their public-spiritedness - dare I say it, their 'resilience' - not barred from entering a public space by Newham's security guards.

The council has yet to respond to the complaint it has received.from NMP. If it wants to avoid the 'Olympic brand' of the council that tried to ban civil rights protection during this summer's Games, it needs to overturn this mean-spirited decision and let NMP's volunteers get on with their important work.

To find out more about Newham Monitoring Project's Community Legal Observer programme, click here.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Mission Improbable - Photographing The Olympic Park

Over the next few weeks, there will be tens of thousands of photographs taken inside the Olympic Park, so there will be nothing remarkable about mine. Nevertheless, I bought a day pass to the park some months ago and wanted to take a look at the architecture, half-glimpsed over the last year as the construction carried on behind the high security fences (see results on Flickr). I also wanted to see what had happened to the River Lea, which I used to cycle by before construction on the site started.

So in spite of a longstanding scepticism about the Olympics dating back to 2004, this morning I headed over to Stratford and, following the advice of a friend who is an Olympic volunteer, I made my way into the secure zone via the Greenway entrance on Stratford High Street. She had been right: there was no queues and I pass through screening, carried out by soldiers drafted in as replacements for G4S, in under ten minutes.

Inside, the park was very much as expected, although little of the River Lea that I remember was familiar (see photos from today). Prominent reminders of the corporate sponsors were everywhere, with exuberant Coca Cola staff adopting a particularly American style of true-believer perkiness. There were more volunteers, the Games Makers, than was probably necessary at this stage (although the park will become busier when the athletics starts next Friday), armed police (right) on patrol and very few G4S staff. I think I spotted two all day.This being the 'Khaki Games', there was also a very significant military presence.

Mercifully, 'attractions' provided by the likes of BP seemed unappealing to the majority of visitors but queues for the London 2012 Megastore and the world's largest branch of McDonalds were long. It is clear that, like other modern mega-venues, the park is designed to encourage people to shop as much as enjoy the events. I'm glad I took advice, however, to bring in an empty water bottle (a full one won't pass security) and my own food, as everything is incredibly expensive.
Around one, the ominous black clouds over the stadium turned into a thunderstorm and it absolutely chucked it down. For some reason, the park's designers have offered little (non-retail) shelter in the event of rain in a British summer,  which meant that people had to improvise. Hundreds huddled under the bridges crossing the River Lea, an example of crowd behaviour that I don't think the planners ever expected. It was so packed (see below) that, had the park been busier, I can imagine someone tumbling off the river bank.
At around 3pm, by now thoroughly exhausted, I finally met up with my friend at the end of her shift and was able to fulfil the arrangement we'd made beforehand. It was a proud moment (below) as I became the first person to be photographed inside the Olympic Park wearing one of the Space Hijackers' Official Protester™ t-shirts. I guess this explains the extremely cheesy grin - but I also guess it may now be more difficult gaining entry in the future... One for the National Domestic Extremism Unit database I suspect.

Yesterday's Counter Olympics Protest

This morning I'm off to the Olympic Park to take a look around, meet up with a friend who is an Official Olympic™ Games™ Maker™ and maybe take a few photos. This time I may think about sun screen: I'm still recovering form yesterday's small (at most 700 people) but vocal Counter Olympic Network march in Tower Hamlets.

Unlike the massive over-reaction by the police towards Friday evening's Critical Mass cycle ride - which resulted in 182 arrests - yesterday saw on only one incident, a pointless use of police powers that led to a rapid de-arrest as the crowd gathered around and refused to move on. This reflects the relaxed party atmosphere of what inevitably was a largely symbolic expression of opposition to the corporate nature of the Games, one that attracted little UK media coverage. Here a few photos - there are more on Flickr.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Policing and Protest Stories During The Olympics

In an attempt to try and keep on top of what may be a very busy period from today until the end of the Olympics, I have set up two Storify timelines - one on policing during the Olympics and one on Olympics protests.
If anyone has any suggestions for items to include in either timeline, please e-mail me or contact me on Twitter at @copwatcher.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

NMP Launches Olympics Community Legal Observers

This evening, some of the 100+ volunteers who will patrol during this summer's Olympics as Community Legal Observers (CLOs) met up at Theatre Square in Stratford for a photo-call to launch the initiative, organised by Newham Monitoring Project. They also distributed NMP's new stop & search rights cards outside Stratford station, which received an incredibly positive response from the public: people asked for copies to give to their friends.

Teams of CLOs will be out on the streets in their distinctive red bibs from tomorrow, gathering evidence of the misuse of police powers and providing legal rights information in both the north and south of the borough throughout the next six weeks. Here are a few photos from this evening - inevitably, there are more available on Flickr.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

New Report Highlights Clampdown On Protest Freedoms

In the piece I wrote on Monday reflecting on the verdict in the trial of PC Harwood, I mentioned the imminent publication of new research by the Network for Police Monitoring, which provides evidence of how the 'window of opportunity' for change after the G20 protests in 2009 has closed remarkably quickly. That report has now been published and is available from here [PDF, 10.2 Mb].

The report, funded by the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust, covers a fourteen month period from late 2010 to the end of 2011, beginning with mass student protests in London that grabbed the headlines and left lawyers grappling with the legality of holding school-age children using the tactic of containment known as ‘kettling’ for hours on end in freezing conditions.

However, many other protests took place in London and around the country during 2011, many of them raising additional concerns about the proportionality of protest policing. As well as kettling, NetPol's reserach documents the use of solid steel barriers to restrict the movement of protesters; intrusive and excessive use of stop & search and data gathering; and the pre-emptive arrests of people who have committed no crime. These tactics have combined to enable an effective clamp-down on almost all forms of popular street-level dissent.

One of the most disturbing developments has been the use of pre-emptive arrests in advance of last year's royal wedding, which only last week was ruled lawful after an unsuccessful judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice. Ten people on their way to a republican party and a small group of people dressed as zombies were detained while drinking coffee in Starbucks. At the same time, another man was arrested, simply because he was a ‘known anarchist’.There is more information on these cases on the Pageantry and Pre-Crime website.

The report also highlights the use of ‘section 60’ stop and searches, which require no ‘reasonable suspicion’ and have been disproportionately targeted at young people taking part in protests. In some cases under eighteen year olds have been threatened with being taken into ‘police protection’ if they participated in demonstrations. NetPol is also critical of the invasive but routine use of police data gathering tactics, which oblige protesters to stand and pose in front of police camera teams and to provide their personal details. Evidence suggests an increasing misuse of anti-social behaviour legislation to force protesters to provide a name and address under threat of arrest.

Val Swain, commenting on the report’s launch on behalf of NetPol, said:
“The evidence we have gathered has been published just as news emerges of further pre-emptive arrests and other restrictions on the freedom to protest taking place in advance of this summer’s London Olympics. With an apparent willingness by the courts to defend any actions by the police against protesters, we fear that dissenting voices face an even harsher clamp-down in the weeks to come.”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Boris Johnson's Olympic Welcome

This really should be screened in every park in Newham over the summer - Cassetteboy bring us fluff-headed loon Boris Johnson welcoming the world to the London Olympics.

Monday, 23 July 2012

If Not PC Harwood, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?

The Tomlinson family in 2011 lay flowers at the spot where Ian died on Cornhill in the City of London
Last week I spend part of my break from work in an airless room on the second floor of Southwark Crown Court with the Tomlinson family, nervously awaiting the jury's verdict in the trial of Metropolitan Police constable Simon Harwood. Newham Monitoring Project has been providing behind-the-scenes practical support to Ian Tomlinson's family since not long after his death and, having been involved in discussions about how to best respond to the eventual trial verdict, I went along to show some solidarity.

I therefore know that the trial's outcome when it finally arrived was particularly crushing. We had foolishly convinced ourselves that the delays meant at worst a hung jury and a mistrial, even those of us already deeply sceptical about the chances of the legal system holding individual officers to account. That Harwood would eventually walk free after four days of delibersation by jury members was just devastating.

Reflecting on the reprecussions of the trial and its outcome, I've been thinking about the scarcity of 'windows of opportunity': those periods, often very brief, when Britain's secretive, hermetic police forces are dragged towards some kind of change by events beyond their control. The most notable was the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report in 1999, which was followed by a window of opportunity to create lasting reform that lasted for perhaps three years before eventually closing.

A decade later, the aftermath of the London G20 protests in 2009 and the intense scrutiny of public order policing after Ian Tomlinson's death led to the opening of another window. In the months that followed, senior officers were forced to demonstrate that they were actually 'learning lessons' instead of just repeatedly talking about doing so. This was driven by public disgust at video images of the beating of protesters and, most importantly, by footage of the casual brutality by PC Simon Harwood towards one passer-by, a newspaper seller trapped in thw wrong place by police lines who subsequently collapsed and died after he had been assaulted.

There is little doubt too that popular revulsion about Ian's death was intensified by the subsequent appearance that the police had been caught trying to cover up their actions. Had it not been for the Guardian's release of video captured by American investment manager Christopher La Jaunie, it is likely that Ian's death would have even been investigated at all.

The result was a period of almost eighteen months when the police in public order situations seemed to go out of their way to be friendly to protesters. However, this policy of 'adapting to protest' (the name of a July 2009 report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary) started to disappear with the police response to student demonstrations of November 2010 and, as new piece of research by the Network for Police Monitoring that appears this Wednesday will show, the window of opportunity had closed completely with the appointment in September 2011 of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the advocate of a more intolerant 'total policing' stance towards protesters.

Looking back on the months that followed the outcry over the policing of the G20 protests, it seemed at the time that the ability of citizens to film police misconduct and violence might provide a new way to outflank the systemic failures of police accountability and complaints investigation. We all now had the tools to become evidence-gatherers and the power of captured images, graphically showing the extent of police violence against demonstrators, might lead to a greater wariness amongst police officers that might in turn lead to a moderation of their behaviour.

Furthermore, it appeared that the specific evidence of the events that led to Ian Tomlinson's death might finally break the incomprehensible statistic that, after 950 deaths in police custody since 1990, nine that had led inquest juries to record verdicts of 'unlawful killing', no officer had ever been successfully prosecuted.

Whilst there remain compelling reasons to continue gathering as much evidence of police misconduct as possible, we now know that video, no matter how graphic, is simply not enough. We know too that families still have to battle against an institutional unwillingness to see the death of their loved ones as a crime and that there are other obstacles, such as an apparent casual disregard for forensic evidence when an investigation involves the conduct of a police officer.

Now we have the verdict in the trial of Simon Harwood and my worry is that this, alongside the closure of the window of opportunity after G20 and the growing antipathy within the police towards any form of public dissent, sends a clear message. It says that officers have little to fear from either public scrutiny or the courts and that the culture of impunity that exists within their ranks can and will remain unchanged. Far from moderating behaviour, it gives a green light to an even more violent, confrontation interpretation of the new 'total policing' strategy.

Even if Harwood is eventually disciplined and thrown out of the Metropolian Police, I still think the injustice suffered by the Tomlinsons is a huge setback of this sort of proportion. After all, I know from conversations I've had over the last few days that campaigners on the issues of deaths in police custody and of misconduct, violence and abuse by police officers, in my case for almost twenty years, have been repeatedly asking ourselves the same questions over the weekend.

If not PC Simon Harwood, then who? If not now, then when?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Inside Fortress Wanstead Flats

It has been a particularly fraight week, part of it spent in a witness room with the Tomlinson family at Southwark Crown Court, awaiting the verdict of the trial of Metropolitan Police constable Simon Harwood for the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson. I still haven't managed to find the words to describe the extent of my anger and disgust at his acquittal - or what impact I believe the decision is likely to have on the future policing of protest - but I plan to try and write something over the weekend.

Meanwhile, today was the rather poorly-publicised 'public open day' for Fortress Wanstead Flats, which I ventured into with some friends and some trepidation this morning. This was the one opportunity to see inside the Olympics operations base that local people have campaigned so vociferously against and fortunately, there were none of the expected restrictions on photography. What we had confirmed is that up to 3500 police will use the base over the busiest days of the Games and what we discovered was that vehicles will leave via the entrance on the busy Centre Road - effectively cutting off another way out of Newham. Here are a few of my photos: as ever, there are more to be found on Flickr.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Alternative Torch Relay Arrives At Wanstead Flats This Saturday

As part of the build-up to the ‘Whose Games? Whose City?’ protest against the Corporate Olympics taking place on 28 July, this Saturday sees a team of runners from the Counter Olympics Network carrying the Vancouver Poverty Olympics Torch on an alternative torch relay from Stratford, through Leytonstone and finishing at the Metropolitan Police's newly constructed Olympic operations base on Wanstead Flats.

Leaving at 2pm, runners plan to arrive just as a 'public open day' at the base, starting at 11am and aimed at placating some of the intense opposition by local residents to its construction, closes its eleven-foot high gates at 3pm. A further leg of the relay takes place on Friday 27 July, leaving Clissold Park in Hackney and travelling to the unsightly basketball training facility at Leyton Marsh. The Save Leyton Marsh campaign will hold a welcome party for the torch.

The Poverty Olympics Torch was handed over to London at a ceremony at the Olympic Cauldron in Jack Poole Plaza, Vancouver in 2010, visited Glasgow in March 2012 and was received by the Counter Olympics Network at the Bishopsgate Institute in April 2012.

Julian Cheyne of the Counter Olympics Network said in a press release:
“This is a milestone in Olympic protest – the first time, to our knowledge, that a protest torch has been handed from one host city to another. We hope this will be a feature of protest in future host cities.”

For Second Year, Newham Council Breaks The Law on Citizens' Inspection Rights

For the second year running, Newham council has broken the law by failing to publish on its website the details of the period when the local electorate has the right to inspect its draft accounts under the Audit Commission Act 1988.

Every year, for around 20 days, local people have the right to see detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, and bills, make copies and raise points of interest with the district auditor. Since October 2010, this has included the right to examine local authority contracts, including those relating to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contractors. There are many local campaigners who would find this last requirement extremely useful.

From March 2011, every local council has been required under Regulation 10 of the Act to place a copy of the statutory newspaper notice, the one that is usually buried in an obscure corner of the Newham Recorder, on the authority's own website, at least 14 days before the public may examine the documents and files. As I pointed out last year, Richmond-upon-Thames council was forced to revise its inspection period because the original was illegal, as it had failed to comply with this (then) new regulation.

 Inspecting the real detail of council spending is one of the few powerful tools available to us as citizens, so we can find out how public bodies are spending public money. But guess what – transparency-averse Newham council, who failed to comply last year, has failed all over again in 2012.

Apparently Newham's period of inspection opened on 2 July and continues until 30 July. However, I have checked and as the screen shots taken this morning show, there is no record of the legal requirement for a statutory notice on its website, which may explain why so few people will even know about their rights.

If anyone wishes to inspect the council's original documents – and PFI contracts will be fascinating to examine – then they are currently able to visit between 10am and 4pm at Newham Town Hall on Barking Road. If you want to inspect particular documents, arrange that in advance by calling 020 3373 0694 or emailing chief.accountant@newham.gov.uk

Meanwhile, would someone from the London Borough of Newham care to explain why it has failed to understand the new regulations, why it has failed to publicise an important citizens' rights on its website – and whether, when facing the possibility of a judicial review, it plans to now comply with Regulation 10 and restart the inspection period from a future date?


Not only has Newham council failed to publish a notice on its website at least 14 working days before the start of public inspection, but it didn't even manage to get a notice onto page 11 of the Newham Recorder until 20 June - only 8 working days beforehand. Anyone want to guess how much of a council priority it is to publicise the public's right to access?

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Olympic Organisers Try to Ban Derogatory Linking To Its Crappy Website

There have been many times over the last year when the BBC award-winning comedy "Twenty Twelve", a mockumentary about the organisation of this summer's Olympics, has seemed closer to reality than the writers can ever have expected. But the latest nonsense, highlighted by Index on Censorship, seems just like the work of Jessica Hynes' brilliant character, Head of Brand Siobhan Sharpe (see above). In an apparent failure to understand anything about either the Internet or freedom of expression, LOCOG has included the following clause in its website's terms of use:
Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorised association between an organisation, business, goods or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organisations (or our or their activities, products or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner. [my emphasis] The use of our logo or any other Olympic or London 2012 Mark(s) as a link to the Site is not permitted. View our guidelines on Use of the Games’ Marks.
What this means is that, according to the London organisers, I cannot use their web address in a link to the gathering of staggering control-freakery, deranged sponsor-driven boosterism and tacky souvenirs that passes for their principal web presence.

You see what I did there? Well, it's just an opinion. It's a free country, allegedly. Now consider this: how on earth can LOCOG possibly police the expression of personal opinions on hundreds of blogs and websites? Am I to expect a solicitor's letter over the next week, or are the London organisers likely to find that they're too busy trying to fix the monumental cock-up that global security company G4S has dropped in their lap?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Counter Olympics Protestors To Defy Demo Ban on 28 July

I was unable to attend the Counter Olympics Network activists meeting on Wednesday due to work commitments, but I'm told it was packed and agreed that the march on Saturday 28 July, in protest at the corporate takeover of the Games, will “defy an attempt by Transport for London to ban the demo”.

The planned march in two week's time will assemble at Mile End Park at noon and end with a ‘People’s Games for All’ rally and festival at Wennington Green, near Victoria Park. However, when organisers met representatives of the Metropolitan police, Tower Hamlets council and Transport for London (TfL) on 9 July, TfL said it would not sanction a march along Bow Road, claiming it is part of the ‘Alternative Olympic Route Network’ (AORN). This is an alternative route for use during the Games period if the main Olympic Route Network (ORN) should become blocked for any reason.

Counter Olympics Network (CON) spokesperson Julian Cheyne has said:
“The ORN will be used exclusively by the IOC, Olympic officials, sponsors, media, and athletes. Even ambulances are barred. The IOC are getting luxury accommodation in the West End and will ride around in chauffeur-driven BMWs at public expense. They will have priority over all other road users.

Everyone else will be herded onto congested roads and overloaded public transport. The ORN will be a 35-mile ribbon of class privilege running across London for the duration of the Games. It will cause six weeks of blocked roads, traffic congestion, and closed bus routes, cycle lanes, and pedestrian crossings.

But the AORN isn’t even part of this. It will only come into operation if the ORN suffers some kind of breakdown. The idea that you ban free speech and shut down democracy to ensure that the rich have an alternative priority highway is an outrage."
There has been considerable speculation about the prospects for protest during the Olympics and what obstacles the state might impose if protest organisers decided to engage in negotiations. The Counter Olympics Network appears to have gone out of its way to accommodate the authorities by giving early notice of the intention to march, avoiding both the ORN network and the immediate vicinity of the Olympic Park and agreeing to use the parks proposed by the local council. Quite frankly, the fact that the largest protest against the Olympics is barred from anywhere near Stratford is already an enormous concession.

It is therefore understandable that CON spokesperson Albert Beale has confirmed that marchers will defy restrictions and has said:
“We won’t be denied our right to protest, so we will be marching down Bow Road and if we are restricted to the pavement, the stupidity of the resulting congestion and delay will be the responsibility of Transport for London”.
There is an obvious conclusion that others may draw from the experience that CON have been through: perhaps it is better avoid negotiations completely, as they are obviously designed to severely restrict the right to freedom of speech and assembly and banish any protest to the margins. This fits in completely with the state's desire for a sterile, controlled, “Perfect Games”. No wonder so few people have offered to meet with Metropolitan police assistant commissioner and national Olympic security co-ordinator, Chris Allison.

In these circumstances, I hope the march on 28 July involves a massive turnout, as the number of people attending will influence events on the ground. But it also seems that the case for affinity-group, DIY protest that may make an even greater impact has just received a tremendous boost.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Who Is The Tow Path Spotter?

PHOTO: Diamond Geezer
On Saturday, around fifty users of the Lea towpath from Homerton to Bow braved the terrible weather to hold a protest and picnic at the point where the path along the canal near Eastway has been fenced off as a so-called “security” measure for the Olympics. Both police and soldiers in uniform were enforcing the towpath access restriction on Saturday, This was 23 days before the Games even begins and closure has s forced cyclists onto busy roads and denied local residents access to recreational space

It was a good-natured demonstration, as this report makes clear, but on the arrival of the protesters, the soldiers hurried for cover under their orange tarp. Then, as people were leaving, this bloke (right) on a police-style mountain bike was spotted on his radio and moments later, the soldiers were back out and chatting to the line of police.

So who is the Towpath Spotter? And what on earth were the fearless security so worried about?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Clive Stafford Smith Joins Newham Bookshop To Raise Funds For Reprieve

An advance notice for your diaries: on Sunday 30 September, the founder and Director of Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith, will sign copies of his new book at Newham Bookshop's stall at Goldsmiths Row Book Market. The event aims to help raise funds for Reprieve, the campaigning charity that provides legal support for prisoners accused of the most extreme crimes, such as acts of murder or terrorism, which are exactly the kind of cases where human rights are most likely to be jettisoned or eroded.

"Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America" tells the story of Kris Maharaj, a British businessman living in Miami, who was arrested in 1986 for the brutal murder of two ex-business associates. His lawyer did not present a strong alibi; Kris was found guilty and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

Since Clive Stafford Smith took on his case, strong evidence has began to emerge that the state of Florida had got the wrong man on Death Row. However, as Stafford Smith argues, the American justice system is actually designed to ignore innocence. Twenty-six years later, Maharaj is still in jail. The book, which I've heard reads like a detective novel, untangles the Maharaj case and the system that makes injustices like this inevitable.

For those who haven't made it down to Goldmsiths Row Book Market, it's well worth a visit. It started only recently and is situated at the end of Goldsmith Row that meets Hackney Road. Sellers include Pages of Hackney, Brick Lane Books, Newham Books and 20 other traders.

Sunday 30 September 2012, 1pm at Newham Bookshop Stall, Goldmith's Row Book Market, London E2 8QA

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Monday, 2 July 2012

Bosnians Call For Renaming of ArcelorMittal Orbit As 'Omarska Memorial in Exile'

At a press conference this afternoon, which I was fortunate enough to attend, survivors of a Bosnian concentration camp called for the renaming of the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the Olympic Park's twisted Meccano structure, sometimes known as The Tower of Piffle – as a 'memorial in exile' to Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor who suffered and died at the camp at the Omarska mining complex.

Omarska was one of many camps set up in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina by Bosnian Serb forces, in an area that the Dayton Agreement later declared as part of Republika Srpska (the details of this Agreement I know very well: it was the subject of my Masters thesis). During the spring and summer of 1992, approximately 3334 non-Serb inmates were held in appalling and brutal conditions, tortured and killed. In the region, 2916 men, 262 women and 11 children are still missing. In early August 1992, reporters Ed Vulliamy, Ian Williams and ITN's Penny Marshall (shaking hands, above, with Bosnian Muslim prisoner Fikret Alic at the Trnopolje concentration camp) gained access to Omarska and their coverage helped to force the United Nations to investigate war crimes committed in the conflict. Following international condemnation, the camp was closed less than a month later.

In 2004, the complex was taken over by the India steel conglomerate ArcelorMittal and the resumption of mining operations halted exhumations of mass graves by forensic investigators, who had unearthed hundreds of remains of war crimes victims from mass grave sites in the area. On 1 December 2005, the company announced at a press conference in Banja Luka that it would build and finance a Memorial Centre at the site. However, in the seven years that have followed, ArcelorMittal has failed to deliver that promise. In February 2006 it said that it is ‘temporarily suspending’ the Omarska memorial project and until May 2011, war crimes victims were denied access to the site – restrictions that returned in 2012. In a press release in May this year, the company appeared to relent on access but added that “the question of a memorial needs to be decided in consensus with all parties” and that it is “not taking sides in this debate”. Such consensus in the face of genocide seems impossible when the current Mayor of Prijedor, Marko Pavic, says any memorial in Omarska would undermine relations between different ethnic groups and continues to deny that the camp was anything other than an "investigation centre."

A year ago ArcelorMittal proudly announced that the 2200 tonnes of steel used in the construction of the Orbit would contain “symbolic quantities from every continent in the world where the Company has operations, reflecting the spirit of the Olympic Games”. Strangely, its operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina was completely missing from its press release. However, in April this year the Director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor, Mladen Jelača, confirmed to Professor Eyal Weizman of Goldsmiths, University of London and artist Milica Tomic of the Monument Group, Belgrade, that iron ore mined at Omarska had been used in the Obrit's fabrication.
For this reason, the war crimes survivors who spoke movingly at today's press conference – Satko Mujagic, Rezak Hukanovic and Kemal Pervanic – argue that in the absence of their promised memorial, London’s ArcelorMittal Orbit is tragically intertwined with the history of war crimes in Bosnia, as the bones of more victims are mixed in with the iron ore. It must therefore be reclaimed: no longer called the Orbit but the 'Omarska Memorial in Exile'.

Susan Schuppli of Goldsmiths Centre for Research Architecture said at today's event:
As the largest steel producer in the world, ArcelorMittal can surely use their considerable influence to overturn the local politics of denial and actively participate in healing the fractured communities out of which their very fortunes are generated. Yet they insist on not taking sides. Not taking sides in an area where persecution and injustice continue – is not neutrality but taking a political position by default.
By doing to, ArcelorMittal is colluding in the covering up of war crimes. As an Indian multi-national (albeit one registered in Luxembourg) and one of the emerging global capitalist players, the company has attracted less criticism than many of its Western counterparts, despite accusations that it created a "state within a state" in Liberia and condemnation of its environmental record. However, those who spoke today described the public art it has sponsored in the Olympic Park this summer as “a monument of shame, not a monument to the Olympic spirit”. They continue to call on ArcelorMittal to preserve structures like the infamous 'White House' (below), where detainees received particularly savage treatment at the mining complex, and to resume its memorial project at Omarska. Until then, the Orbit will remain a 'memorial in exile', the only public commemoration to the people from Prijedor who died in the worst genocide in Europe since 1945.
The infamous 'White House' at Omarska

For more information on today's campaign launch, see A Memorial in Exile

A Trip On The New Thames Dangleway

On the way home yesterday, I decided on an impulse to check out the new Thames cable car, which opened on 28 June. Officially its the Emirates Air Line but the blogger Diamond Geezer has already christened it the ArabFly Dangleway. The queue was massive, which I should have expected on the opening weekend, but moved pretty quickly: the 'gondolas' move continuously and passengers have to jump on (not as bad as it sounds). They are also pretty small, holding around eight people, but it is possible to get a great view of the Dome and the river. However, as Londonist points out:
What it is not is a major part of east London’s transport infrastructure, despite what TfL says. As we discussed earlier this month, the pricing (adult fares are £3.20 for Oyster users, £4.30 cash) puts it, at a pence-per-minute scale, on the London Eye end of things, i.e. a tourist attraction. Transport chiefs have suggested that it might alleviate the Tube in the event of (not infrequent) Jubilee line breakdowns, but at 2,500 passengers per hour it has nowhere near the capacity of its subterranean sibling.
The Dangleway is fun but essentially one of Mayor Boris Johnson's vanity projects and an expensive one at that: Boris promised it would cost London taxpayers nothing, but Transport for London will need to find £18.6m to cover the project’s £62.6m costs after the sponsorship by Emirates and European regeneration funds are deducted. Moreover, with a single journey time lasting only 7 minutes, it's never likely to compete with the London Eye as a tourist attraction.

What it quite clearly is, above all, is a tourist-friendly way of getting from one Olympic venue (the O2 Arena, where the gymnastics will be held) to another (the Excel Centre, where the martial arts, fencing and other indoor events take place). Perhaps that was the point after all - just another part of this summer's massive circus performance, dressed up as a way of regenerating east London but with a financially uncertain future.

Anyway, there are more pictures of the Dangleway, both prior to its opening and from yesterday, that I've posted up on Flickr.
A view back towards the Dome
Looking down towards the Thames Barrier

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Brompton: The Victorian Way Of Death

I like Victorian cemeteries: I think it may be because I used to work near the one in Tower Hamlets and regularly walked through it (once, memorably, after dark) between different offices of the local branch of the mental health charity Mind. There is something about the Gothic splendour of the headstones and family mausolea that is incredibly atmospheric- and, for me at least, perfect for photographing.

In September 2009 I spent a day looking around Highgate Cemetery and at some point I'd like to visit all of the Magnificent Seven, so when I found out this morning that Brompton Cemetery, near Chelsea FC's ground in west London, was holding its annual Open Day, the one day a year when it is possible to visit its catacombs, I had to pop along.

Some people may recognise the cemetery from the first of the Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Junior Sherlock Holmes films, but it is most famous as the final resting place of the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. Here are a few photos: as ever, there are more on Flickr.
Grave of Emmeline Pankhurst

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