Monthly Archives: January 2007

Policing in Northern Ireland

All that has been said about policing in Northern Ireland and collusion between police and far right politicians is being verified by evidence. Not surprisingly the debate about working with the police and judicial services in giving a lot of heartache to Sinn Fein and the matter is now being put to a ballot. This is at a time of the Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Derry.
The current news from the Troops Out Movement gives some views currently held in the debate. There are many links to historical aspects of the struggle for equality and freedom in a united Ireland.
During my visit to Belfast a few years back I went to Portadown, the site of Drumcree and Loyalist marches. This was the place where Robert Hamill had met his death at the hands of Loyalist thugs, incredibly watched by police from their armoured car. I understand the feeling.

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Think -it’s not illegal yet

This was one of the slogans on the tee-shirt of one of the thousands of Americans who went to Capitol Hill to drum into the President that they do not want the ar in Iraq to continue, and they don’t like a lot of his other policies either. Others across the globe were encouraged to sign petitions of support, which I gladly did.
The Washington Post report said that there were no figures collected to say how many people had come. Some stayed to lobby senators. It looks as if there will be further challenges to Bush in the coming weeks, but he has already declared “I am the decision taker” (democratic license?) so it will be iteresting to see how much poert the neocons still hold. Quite a bit I suspect, just as Blair continues to rampage on the scene in his dying hours in office. Interestingly Gordon Brown had been distancing himself from Blair and Iraq in an interview p at long last.

African leaders question Blair’s priorities at Davos

What African countries need is investment say the leaders of South Africa and Liberia. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had been arguing for developing education.
A few years ago Blair helped set up the Commission for Africa, but what has happened to that?
“Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the Liberian president, and Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, both said Africa needed more investment in its infrastructure if the continent was to move forward.
‘We need investment in infrastructure, not education … real infrastructure that will enable us to attract private investment,’ said Ms Johnson-Sirleaf. She also asked for Liberia’s debt to be wiped out. Her comments, made at a discussion entitled ‘Delivering on the promise of Africa’, were echoed by Mr Mbeki who urged the G8 not to add new programmes when it meets in Germany in June. ‘We don’t have the capacity to do the things that we said we would do,’ he said. “
Source: Independent 27/1/2007).

Dumping our Values

Don’t get me wrong, I’m British, English with a touch of Irish here and there. While I didn’t have any choice in the matter there are many things I enjoy about it. Once again the Government instructs us that we are supposed to feel good about it and need to teach children it’s a good thing, never mind where their origins. Jack Straw adds to his (usually bad) ideas having already made it clear what he tnings about Islamic practices. Alan Johnson has now joined the fray. (I had hoped better after he, alone amongst the New Labour bunch, seemed to have been saying something sensible about children in care).
What I didn’t enjoy was reading about what happens to the waste we make. There has been news about the power of supermarkets who seem to have a lot of power: over their suppliers, over the high street, over us. What we don’t see or know about, one aspect at least is the subject of today’s Independent (26.1.2007). Dumping our waste in China.
“Lianjiao, a remote Chinese village in the booming southern province of Guangdong, is a long way for a plastic bag to travel; but it is where almost all British supermarket carrier bags end up. And the foil-lined crisp packets. And the triangular hard plastic packaging for your bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches from a top high-street chain. Because China is rapidly becoming Britain’s biggest rubbish dump.” (Source Independent 26.1.2007).

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Black Patch Park

Black Patch Park is another example of green space up for grabs for development. It is within Sandwell Metropolitan District an the border with Birmingham’s Soho Ward. As this name implies it is an area of historic significance including Matthew Boulton’s foundry.
The name Black Patch has associations with the travelling community. I am a governor at nearby Foundry School where I also taught. Many children who came there were the children of travellers.
Sandwell Council sees the area ripe for development since the Metro between Wolverhampton and Birmingham runs nearby. The tram line runs along the route of the former railway so at present it is away from the main centre, the Soho and Holyhead Roads, since using the existing infrastructure reduced costs considerably.

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Mother-of-five, Caroline Powell, died on 5 January 2007

From Pauline Campbell
Mother-of-five, Caroline Powell, died on 5 January 2007
while on remand at HMP & YOI Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire
Demonstration held on: Wednesday 24 January 2007
Pauline Campbell arrested (14th arrest), and charged (for the fourth time)
20th demonstration to be held since 2004

Following the tragic death of Caroline Powell on 5 January 2007, a demonstration was held outside the prison on the afternoon of Wednesday 24 January 2007. Around 10-15 people attended the protest, including reporters and photographers. Protesters had travelled from London, Shropshire, and Cheshire, to protest against the death of this vulnerable young woman, aged 26, who died in the ‘care’ of Her Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park. Caroline leaves behind five motherless children, the youngest aged 18 months. Ms Powell was on remand, and legally innocent, when she died.
Report by Pauline Campbell
At 2.55 pm, Reliance prison van FX04 BUP, was stopped as it attempted to take prisoners into the jail. The driver was informed that (a) protesters regarded the jail as unsafe in view of the recent death; (b) the vehicle would not be allowed into the prison; and (c) he should take the women to a place of safety.
Officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary were called to the prison. Six officers arrived, and one began filming the demonstration. The sergeant read aloud a printed notice, then handed the copy to me. Dated 24.01.07, it reads: “To whom it may concern: I am the senior police officer here. I believe that you are committing, have committed, or intend to commit an offence of trespassing with the common purpose of deterring, obstructing or disrupting lawful activity and I require you to leave immediately. Failure to obey my direction may render you liable to arrest. If you return to the land as a trespasser within 3 months you will also commit an offence for which you may be arrested. Sergeant 1958 Ogborne.”
At 4.20 pm I was arrested for “aggravated trespass and obstruction of the highway”, and taken to Staple Hill Police Station, South Gloucestershire. Handcuffs were not used.
We arrived at the police station at 5 pm; detention was authorised at 5.30 pm.
Photographs, fingerprints, and DNA were taken. I objected (as I have done on a previous occasion) to mouth swabs being taken by a police officer, and expressed the view that taking body samples from any orifice should be done by a nurse or doctor, not a police officer.
I refused to sign the form which acknowledged that my prints had been taken and that the officer had informed me the prints would be kept on file for I.D. and crime investigation purposes. It was explained to me that it was within my rights not to sign.
I was locked in a cell; allowed to contact the duty solicitor while detained; then subsequently charged (“aggravated trespass – fail to leave land”).
My reply to the charge, logged in police records, was: “Caroline Powell died on 5 January 2007 at Eastwood Park Prison; she has left behind five motherless children, and that explains the demonstration and my arrest today.”
Reporters and photographers from local newspapers attended the protest, which was also covered by local radio. BBC Points West attended the demonstration, and a news report was included on regional television at 6.30 pm. The news item, broadcast into about five counties, included footage showing the arrest.
I have been granted unconditional bail to appear in North Avon Magistrates’ Court, Kennedy Way, Yate, Bristol, BS27 4PY, on Thursday 1 February 2007 at 9.45 a.m.
At 7.45 pm, I was released from custody. A police car returned me to Falfield, to enable me to collect my car.
Additional information
(1) Caroline Powell’s grieving family are receiving support and advice from INQUEST, London: Caroline’s father asked to be put in touch with me, and we spoke on the telephone on 23 January 2007, the day before the demonstration. He expressed wholehearted support for the protest, and said he was “100% behind the demonstration”. Family members are grieving deeply, and preparing for the funeral, and therefore were unable to join us outside the prison.
(2) An invitation was sent to Steve Webb, MP for Northavon (Lib Dem), inviting him to attend the demonstration. In his e-mail reply to me, dated 22.01.07, he said: “Thank you for letting me know of your forthcoming demonstration. I will be at Westminster on Wednesday and will be unable to attend, but I am grateful to you for letting me know of the demonstration and certainly agree that the issue which you are highlighting is an important one.”
(3) On the afternoon of the demonstration, a letter was sent into the prison (via a visitor), addressed to Governor Tim Beeston, asking if he would meet protesters at the prison gates. The letter was returned to me, unopened, at the end of visiting. The prison had apparently refused to accept the letter as it did not quote the prison’s full postal address.

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Victoria Jubilee Allotments, Handsworth: Update

Simon Baddeley sent me a report of his recent visit to this site for which he and others campaigned to save the allotments. It has links to some excellent photographs, an important addition to local archives.
Dear John
The Evening Mail decided there was a story here and sent a photographer
called Fin round to go with me on to the VJA site. With permission from the
site manager we got access beyond the houses to the green space reserved as
a result of the Section 106A with the developer. See the plan.
I was agreeably surprised to see that the playing field area has already been
levelled off and grassed and looks like a good big area in the heart of
Handsworth well able to support two soccer pitches and a cricket pitch and
the planned sports pavilion. The grass looks green and healthy. The
allotment site is lying fallow all ready to be laid out according to the
detailed plan and slopes gently down towards the park with the houses not
too obtrusive to the east behind a retained hedgerow and built on lowered
ground so that from the allotments you see top windows and roofs. This will
provide security without having houses overhanging the plots or playing
fields. It seems clear to me that a lot of thought has gone into the lay
out of the site and I find the new houses attractive of not adventurous.
They don’t look like ticky tack for a start and they vary in size and style
though in a Victorian and Edwardian vernacular.
The reason I say I was agreeably surprised was that I didn’t expect the
land, currently surrounded by a high steel fence (but accessed with
permission from the site manager), to have been graded out to this extent
already. The playing fields look as if all they need are goal posts, or a
wicket, and the markings on the ground. I realise it’s more complex than
that and there will be issues of access. There must be paths and the
changing facility and no doubt other things like lighting and so on. The
same goes for the allotments. You could actually start a plot there now if
you were allowed, but also there need to be paths, access from park or road
and the promised gardeners store room and some parking spaces. This takes
time but at least the ground is prepared and reserved.
So when does it begin. The area badly needs playing fields and there is
enthusiasm for allotments – in this case – in a really wonderful site. OK
it’s gradually north sloping but I know from past experience how much sun
gets to this area and it’s secured to the west by the railway, to the east
by the new houses and its overlooked from the playing fields and the park
which gives the allotment site itself lovely prospects. There’s loads of
hedgerow and shrubbery on the west and south edges. Please let’s get digging
ASAP – on the largest new allotment site to be made available since WW2 and
its so close to the centre of Birmingham.
Simon Baddeley
Handsworth Allotments Information Group

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Israeli Wall is cutting Palestinians off – it’s official

The Independent has a story about a British Government funded report (23/1/2007) saying that Palestinian communities are being cut off by the Israeli Wall. The Wall is to protect Israeli settlers who are living illegally on occupied land. It takes no account of the lives of Palestinians who are cut off from their livelihoods and each other.
Why this is news is not clear when organisations like the Palestinian News Network publish daily news of acts which flagrantly violate international agreements, not to mention Israeli law itself. The PNN reports on East Jerusalem in today’s edition

Blood Diamond

My question “what is happening to Africa’s wealth?” is addressed in a newly released film “Blood Diamond”. Blood also known as war or conflict diamonds are part of an illicit trade which pays for arming an insurgency creating appalling conditions for those innocent people caught up in conflict. Where do they go? Well here’s one suggestion.
Never mind all that though, what of the “legitimate” traders. They bring morality into the trade don’t they? De Beers has been in the trade for years and is a highly respected company, that is in some quarters. They are very much aware of the illicit trade.

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Those who preach Armageddon are having their day, never mind the Islamists

As a further 3,200 U.S. troops arrive the Americans face the third largest casualty figure they have suffered in Iraq. (I haven’t even mentioned the Iraqi figure).When will this madness stop? What does it take to stop? The story comes from today’s Washington Post which publishes photographs of the most recent casualties.
It is now clear that justification for the war was made up. When the first story didn’t stand up then another replaced it. One of the far right’s arguments is that we are in a battle between civilisation and barbarism. Quite which side is supposed to be civilised and which barbaric? As someone at the London Conference suggested may be we are debating the wrong question. Which side conducts the more acts of terror, against which the U.S. and its allies are supposed to be conducting the war, is also left open.
While it was thought that the Democratic Party had won a victory on Capitol Hill, it appears their will does not count for much against those conservatives wielding the power. Rumsfeld came and went but his destructive ideological presence remains. The right wing Christian lobby can compete with the Islamists any time. They justify Armageddon as fervently as any jihadist supports suicide attacks. Some hypocricy! Of course those like Daniel Pipes say nothing of this, neither does he recognise what happens to ordinary Palestinians daily at the hands of the Israeli state, something that many Jewish people worldwide abhor.
As for the Democrats, the field is emerging for 2008 with Clinton declaring following Obama, both regarded as front runners. We could see either the first woman or the first black president of the United States. That’s if it can happen. One black neighbour of mine stated gloomily “look what happened to JFK and MLK”. Clinton is already getting flack for her original support for war, back peddle as she might.

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