Friday, 18 December 2009

Hackney legal dept recruiting crisis confirmed

Hackney Council has confirmed that its legal department has faced a recruitment crisis for the last three years. At least 25% of positions remained unfilled while the department had to deal with the extra work related to the Olympics in addition to its usual tasks.

In November Blood and Property asked if Hackney's legal team was 25% under-staffed and 50% outsourced?

The questions related to figures mentioned by Hackney's new legal chief in an interview with The Lawyer (links in the older story). This week Hackney Council confirmed these figures.

Questions for the council:

Blood and Property: Was the legal department about 25% under staffed and if so, why?

Hackney Council: Yes, partly due to recruitment difficulties; work previously externalised being brought back in-house, engaging agency staff to cover it pending a restructure

Blood and Property: How long has it been understaffed?

Hackney Council: has been the situation for three years.

Blood and Property: What percentage of the legal department's work has been taken up with contracts for the olympics - would it be possible to get a breakdown of what topics/issues take up most of the legal department's time?

Hackney Council: just under half the time of the five lawyers currently working on 2012-related matters (from staff of 50 including paralegal advisers). Top topics/issues taking up most of legal department’s time: host borough and ODA agreements; governance; planning; procurement.

Blood and Property: Is there a reason why 50% of the borough's work was out sourced before Edila started working at Hackney?

Hackney Council: HR matters, cannot go into further detail, plus recruitment difficulties.

Blood and Property: How much has the department's budget altered over the last few years or has it remained at around £6m? Also, does the department usually over or underspend?

Hackney Council: Budget has not altered, other than 2008/9 when small underspend, service has always been on budget.

Hopefully the council will provide a break down of other departments which are understaffed.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ominous? Hackney singled-out by Local gov minister

Does it matter that Hackney has been singled-out in an article by John Denham local government minister? The thrust of the piece was that, after more than a decade of massive generosity to urban authorities, now it is payback time.

In the piece John Denham wrote: "The Pre Budget Report also made clear that local government will have to share in the tough choices ahead which will help reduce the deficit while increasing jobs, promote economic growth and protect frontline services.

"Councils have already risen to this challenge and are on course to raise £5.5bn of efficiency savings by March 2011. The chancellor announced he expected them to go further and find an extra £2.6bn by the end of 2012/13.

"Councils are able to meet these challenges because of the extra investment made by this Labour Government. We’ve already raised central government funding by more than inflation every year we have been in government. In the first 10 years, that amounted to a 39% real terms increase. Next year’s 4% increase should also come in above inflation...

Labour’s 13 years of investment means that councils should already be able to deliver the lowest council tax rises on record. The flag-bearers for low rises are London’s eight Labour run councils, which have already pledged to freeze council tax next year. Labour-led Hackney has not raised council tax since 2005."

Hackney is the only authority named in the piece. Does this mean that it has been one of the most heavily invested-in and therefore likely to feel the pinch more painfully than other authorities? What difference would a change in government make? And will the Olympics prevent whoever wins the next election from abandoning Hackney if it doesn't quite manage to find its own feet?

Meg's mild Identity crisis

Identity minister Meg Hillier arrived at a photocall to promote identity cards, but then realised she left her own at home - BBC report

Monday, 14 December 2009

City Academies - your secret is safe

A recent report by think-tank Civitas - The secrets of Academies' success - (spotted in a Times story) has criticised City Academies for being secretive and for forcing students to take vocational rather than academic qualifications.

Unfortunately there isn't much in it about individual academies because, as the report makes clear, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information act and protect their privacy.

In its conclusion the report says: "Whilst the government has expressly asked us to judge Academies on their results, we are being expressly prevented from doing so."

Civitas asked 118 academies, 40 responded, only 16 gave a breakdown of their results.

The report said:
88 per cent of Academy principals surveyed think that their Academy is progressing either very well or well
55 per cent of principals think that Academies' results, broken down by subject, should be made publicly available
43 per cent of Academy principals agreed to release their results

One of the key findings was that Academies are chasing results and forcing students into taking vocational courses because it's easier to get better grades in them.

While most people won't know that this is even going on, some might find consolation in the fact that Oftsted has been critical of this practice and might keep it in check.

But Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, won her post thanks to her record at Tower Hamlets - where this practice appeared to be rife.

In 2003, while she was chief executive, Tower Hamlets was singled out as the most improved local authority in the country for its GCSE results. The spear-head of this improvement was Sir John Cass School in Stepney which was the most improved school in the country. In 2002 just 36% of its pupils achieved five A*-C GCSEs. But in 2003 this leapt up to 69%.

So how was this incredible turnaround achieved? All pupils at GCSE level had to take GNVQ science which counted as four A*-C GCSEs. As the headteacher of another Tower Hamlets school pointed out at the time, many of the students achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE had only taken one GCSE.

With all the hype aimed at Academies, parents might be getting a straighter story from run-of-the-mill secondary schools (it singles out Stoke Newington school as a positive example).

The most worrying claim is that academies are not acting in the interest of their students but to bolster their overall grades.

The Civitas report says: "To target Academies for potentially using weak vocational qualifications to bolster their results may seem unfair when this is also happening in other maintained – as well as private – schools. This is indeed a legitimate point, however: firstly, in the case of mainstream maintained schools there is no accompanying 'hype' about their rate of improvement. Academies by contrast are extolled as the 'vanguard' of school improvement and educational excellence. Furthermore, the aim, in theory at least, is for Academies to improve rather than diminish the life chances of their deprived targeted cohort."

The report: The secrets of Academies' success

The report says: "Whilst Ofsted has frequently praised the 'breadth' of Academies' curricula in its reporting, alluding to the offer of a mixture of vocational and academic options, the inspectorate has been unusually critical of vocational ICT qualifications, in particular Edexcel's ICT qualification DIDA (Diploma in Digital Applications) and OCR's Nationals ICT qualifications. These qualifications, worth up to four A*-C passes, have been identified by Ofsted as being less demanding‟ than ICT GCSE courses and "of doubtful value".

Friday, 11 December 2009

London kidnappings: 5 per week for the last three years

Below are the borough by borough figures for 2009 (1st Jan to 10th Dec):

Newham 34

Lambeth 22
Greenwich 19
Southwark 18
Redbridge 16
Tower Hamlets 16
Lewisham 15
Waltham Forest 15
Barking & Dagenham 14
Haringey 13
Croydon 12
Enfield 12
Hillingdon 11
Harrow 10
Bexley 9
Hammersmith & Fulham 8
Bromley 8
Hackney 8
Havering 8
Brent 7
W'minster 7
Camden 6
Islington 5
Wandsworth 5
Sutton 4
Kingston 3
Barnet 3
Hounslow 2
Merton 2
Richmond 1
Heathrow 1
Ealing 1
Kensington & Chelsea 0
Total 315

The reason for this freedom of information request:

Kidnapping in London is not new: The Independent in 2005: London has a kidnap everyday and more detail in the Guardian, also 2005: A Kidnap a day by foreign gangs in London.

According to the Guardian in 2005: "In as many as 80% of cases, armed officers storm the kidnappers' stronghold and rescue the victim. But bringing the kidnappers to justice is difficult, often because victims are too frightened to testify. The prosecution rate for kidnap is just 20%, although many perpetrators are jailed for related offences."

The piece said: "Kidnapping is particularly prevalent in the Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, south Asian and eastern European communities, where extreme violence and torture is common, often over relatively small amounts of money."

But you don't hear about it very often. This story from 2006 is the only one I could find in which the police had been able to prosecute despite hostages refusing to cooperate - there may well be more. Back then Detective Superintendent Alan Pughsley, from the Met's Kidnap Unit, said: "This is a prime example of a difficult prosecution where the hostages did not support the police. These kidnappers are dangerous individuals from criminal networks who are highly likely to commit these offences again. It is therefore vital that all is done to prosecute and convict these individuals."

The average annual figure of 240 kidnaps per year (both in 2007 and 2008 - with 2009 likely to be similar) means that there have been about 20 kidnaps a month in London - nearly five a week - for the last three years. In the light of Pughsley's 2006 comment that these kidnappers are "highly likely to commit these offences again" and the figures from 2005, the problem is not getting any better.

Recent concerns about a likely surge in organised crime around the sex industry in Olympic boroughs could see current levels increase. Is prostitution soaring in Hackney, who are the customers?

So how many of these kidnappings are carried out by 'professional' kidnappers? Is that what is going on in Newham?

If hostages don't cooperate is it because they are also involved in organised crime? Or is it, as the Guardian piece suggests, that the hostages do not cooperate because they fear reprisals from the kidnappers.

Another question is how much police time is spent dealing with kidnappings and is the problem starting to become more mainstream?

Offences like this recent high profile kidnapping look like the work of people who had done something similar before.

Does this sound like something a random set of inexperienced people would decide to do? "On the day of the rescue the victims' clothes were removed, they were showered, dressed in bin bags and walked to a waiting vehicle which was also cleaned."

DI Steve Wagstaff of the Met's kidnap unit said: "That is not an act of people who plan to release victims back to their lives, but only the people involved know what was going to happen."

The hostages in the example above did cooperate but how had their kidnappers developed their technique? Has the failure to prosecute led to the evolution of experienced kidnappers? How many of these 240 kidnaps per year are carried out by the same people? Many of these crimes may be completely unrelated to this issue but it would be interesting to know what proportion of them are the work of organised kidnappers. That question has not been answered here.

(Newham and other kidnap stories: 23 hour kidnap ordeal, kidnap gran jailed, kidnap and cannabis factory, Vietnamese drug/gang/kidnap story from 2005, Dec 2009 surge in 'Honour' crimes including kidnap)

Police response:

The police said: "These figures represent alleged kidnappings reported to the borough from 1/1/2009 - 10/12/2009. Following investigation these allegations may be re-classified. The borough where a report of kidnap is made does not necessarily indicate that it is the borough where the person was kidnapped. Equally, the location of the kidnap does not indicate that this is the same area where people are being held. These may involve different boroughs or even different police force areas."

The above figures were supplied on Friday 11 December. On November 11 2009 the police replied to these questions:

1. The number of kidnaps that occur annually in London.

The MPS response is: In 2007 there were 390 incidents which were initially reported as a kidnap prior to any investigation taking place to ascertain the fuller details. Of these 240 remained as a kidnap or attempted kidnap.
In 2008, 377 were reported and 240 remained as kidnaps.
In 2009, to date (03/11/2009) 325 have been reported and 213 have remained as kidnaps.

2. The number of these kidnaps that involve armed police.

The MPS response is: It is not practicable to answer this question, in order to retrieve this information it would require a detailed review of each report (of the 693 reports) in an attempt to establish if there was any participation by a firearms unit. For example the involvement, if any, of a firearms unit may take many forms from the provision of advice to being deployed to an area to an armed entry into a premises.

3. And the number of kidnaps that occur annually in which the hostages do not cooperate with the police.

There is no information held on this category. I question whether it is in the best interests of justice and future investigations to address this issue. There can be many reasons for not wishing to take an investigation further. These may include family pressure, personal reasons, not wishing to attract publicity or trauma linked to the event.

4. Which boroughs have the highest incidence of this kind of crime?

The borough where a report of kidnap is made does not necessarily indicate that it is the borough where the person was kidnapped. Equally, the location of the kidnap does not indicate that this is the same area where people are being held. These may involve different boroughs or even different police force areas.

With a modern transient population people move for work and domestic reasons and great caution must be exercised when attaching such data to an offence type.

With the above caveat regarding its relevance and accuracy, on a purely statistical basis, the most initial reports of a kidnap in 2009 have originated in Newham Borough.

We are unable to supply the information for 2007 or 2008, as the way information was recorded prior to 2009 it did not include borough codes and therefore we would need to perform a review of each report (of the 480 reports) to be able to ascertain this information. This would be an extremely time consuming and not a cost efficient use of resources.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Cabinet member steps aside after unpopular victory

Labour councillor Nargis Khan, cabinet member for community services, will not be standing in next year's local elections despite successfully recovering her political career earlier in the year.

Khan was deselected as a Labour representative for Dalston but then managed to get reselected as a candidate for Haggerston.

The casualty of Khan's move to Haggerston was Cllr Barry Buitekant who is more left leaning than many of his Labour party colleagues ( His profile on Labour's website reads: "Barry Buitekant has lived in Hackney for most of his life and went to school locally. He has been a lifelong active trade unionist in the Post Office and BT unions serving as an official locally and nationally."

During the summer Buitekant wasn't keen to answer any questions on the situation.

The story is that the original Haggerston selection meeting was poorly attended and that Kahn's win would not have happened if Haggerston's Labour party members had thought there was a threat to Buitekant.

Now Khan has decided to take time out from politics all together.

News of these goings on originally came from a Conservative who speculated that Hackney's New Labour establishment had conspired to save one of their own at the expense of an old-school socialist.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hackney youth custody doubles

A report by Children and Young People Now says: "Four of the five YOTs (youth offending teams) showing the largest increase over the seven-year period were in London with rates in Ealing, Hackney, Lewisham and Southwark all more than doubling. Overall, Wessex reported the highest increase in actual numbers."

I couldn't find the statistics this report was based on.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

"What a fabulous hypocrite this ludicrous woman is"

Rod Liddle returns fire on Diane Abbott after she accused him of racism: "What a fabulous hypocrite this ludicrous woman is. In other words she is allowed to make these points, with a sprinkling of shibboleths and platitudes, but not a white person."

In her criticism of Liddle, Abbott said: "It is obviously statistically false to say that the 'overwhelming majority' of the crimes listed by Rod are committed by young black men..."

Liddle points to comments on Abbott's website: “Sadly 80 per cent of gun crime in London is "black on black", often involving boys in their teens. As a black woman and the mother of a teenage son this is frightening and wholly unacceptable."

How to interpret over representation of young black people in the criminal justice system:

Believe this conspiracy or be a racist...

Monday, 7 December 2009

From one racist row to the next

Diane Abbott has commented on an allegedly racist blog on the Spectator website by commentator Rod Liddle. Here's a link to his post and here's a link to Diane's response in an interview with the Telegraph. She said: "It is obviously statistically false to say that the 'overwhelming majority' of the crimes listed by Rod are committed by young black men" adding that if he had said Jew rather than Afro-Caribbean the sentiment would not have been "out of place in a speech by Oswald Mosley."

Last month Diane was at the centre of another racism row after Andrew Neil described her as a Chocolate HobNob on "This Week": Telegraph story and a Guardian comment piece

Believe this conspiracy or be a racist...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Is prostitution soaring in Hackney? Who are the customers?

The Sun published photos of Albanian gangsters selling women on Oxford Street today and said: "Worryingly, senior officers fear the numbers of East Europeans being trafficked is growing steeply as London prepares to host the Olympic Games in 2012."

But has the problem got worse since a Guardian report back in July? Then the police had noticed a "small increase in women being trafficked into the areas to work in brothels" although officers said they expected a "huge surge" into Olympic boroughs to cater for the 25,000-strong construction workforce and to prepare for millions of visitors in 2012.

Lets hope London is not like Chicago were research estimates that 3 percent of the sex acts performed by prostitutes were "freebies" given to Chicago police officers to avoid arrest.

A more indepth explanation of this claim on the Superfreakonomics website: "Of all the tricks turned by the prostitutes he tracked, roughly 3 percent were freebies given to police officers. The data don’t lie: a Chicago street prostitute is more likely to have sex with a cop than to be arrested by one."

And is prostitution the past-time of construction workers only? This report from the Independent in 1992 shows it probably isn't: "On the same day it re-emerged that at least two IOC members accepted offers of prostitutes from a bid committee trying to land the 1992 Olympic Games for Amsterdam. Prince Frederic von Saxe-Lauenberg said: "I was there [in 1986] and saw it, IOC members being offered women and two accepting."

The Guardian said that research carried out at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 showed that about 10,000 sex workers were operating in the area while in Athens, in 2004, the Greek government reported a 95% increase in the number of human trafficking victims. A story from 2003 said that the Greek authorities were even considering legalising brothels ahead of the games.
In August Boris Johnson said he would target this illegal sex industry by tackling their advertising - often with cards in phone boxes, by asking mobile phone companies to cut off the numbers.

The Sun said that the new unit had rescued 25 sex "slaves", 21 of these were related to the incident on Oxford Street.

APPARENTLY the cops now say that there isn't really that much of a problem (and this might answer the point below about some phone booths being free from sex ads) - this is from EastLondonLines - Olympic prostitution, an expensive non-event

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Pay £1000 for right not to vote?

In the latest issue of Hackney Today Jules Pipe says: "A wide-ranging campaign this year to increase the number of people on the electoral role, has resulted in 10,000 more residents being able to vote in Hackney."

I'll be one of those new ones on the electoral role. Nothing like the threat of a £1000 fine! I don't know if that threat was about voting or if it had more to do with the 2011 census. Either way it worked.

The turnout for the 2005 General Election in Hackney South and Shoreditch was 49.7% and in Hackney North and Stoke Newington it was 49.6%. I assume that the 50% who didn't vote were on the electoral role. An increase in 10,000 disinterested voters on the electoral role could make the turnout even worse.

But nothing much seems to work. In 2005, in neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow, the massively hyped contest between George Galloway and Oona King - which saw Galloway win by 823 votes - pulled a 52% turnout. That was up 4 percentage points on the 48% in 2001. So even a dramatic battle doesn't make much difference to inner city voters with an average turnout at 10% below the national average.

The figures come from the Guardian and can be found most easily on

For something vaguely related: Navel-gazing intro, Candi-dating in Hackney

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Meg Hillier on botox animal experiments

As a junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier has a broad portfolio and earlier this week she was asked questions about testing botulinum toxin, believed to be "the most toxic substance known to mankind" but otherwise known as botox. Her answers might not have been much help.

In July a report on animal experimentation was published which said there had been "an overall increase over the previous year of 14% in the number of procedures undertaken. The total number of procedures was just under 3.7 million, an increase of 454,000 over the previous year."

On December 1 2009 , Norman Baker, Lib Dem, asked: how many animals were used in regulated procedures at Wickham Laboratories in 2008; and how many such procedures were re-uses. [302772]

Meg Hillier: I am unable to disclose the number of animals used in regulated procedures at Wickham Laboratories in 2008.

Information on number of animals used in regulated procedures relating to individual establishments cannot be disclosed in order to protect statistical confidentiality, in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics (implementing the Statistics and Registration Act 2007) and the national statistician's guidance "Confidentiality of Official Statistics".

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many regulated procedures were carried out on animals at Wickham Laboratories in 2008; and how many of these involved potency testing of botulinum toxin. [302811]

Meg Hillier: I am unable to disclose how many regulated procedures were carried out on animals at Wickham Laboratories in 2008 and how many of those involved potency testing of botulinum toxin.

Information on number of regulated procedures relating to individual establishments cannot be disclosed in order to protect statistical confidentiality, in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics (implementing the Statistics and Registration Act 2007) and the national statistician's guidance "Confidentiality of Official Statistics".

Meg on DNA database: "It is worth stressing that a person's DNA being on the database does not suggest guilt; it is simply a registration of their DNA and basic biographical information. It is also worth asking which of the crimes solved thanks to the DNA database—the 452 homicides, the 644 rapes and the more than 8,000 domestic burglaries—the hon. Gentleman wishes had not been resolved as a result."

This view is not shared by Diane Abbott. It also seems unlikely that the neighbouring Labour MPs share the same views on the causes of and cures for unemployment in their constituencies. I don't know what Diane Abbott's views are on animal experimentation are.

(Meg Hillier started her job at Home Office in June 2007 and again on November 12 when she returned from maternity leave).

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hackney primary schools worst for 7 years

"The worst performing authority is Hackney, east London, followed by Nottingham, Sandwell in West Bromwich, Medway in Kent and Derby." From the Guardian More primaries failing to teach pupils the basics, league tables reveal.

The BBC says: "At local authority level, the best area this year was Richmond upon Thames where the average Level 4 aggregate was 273 and the worst was Hackney in London with an average of 226. The national average was 247. These two areas have been in these positions for seven years running.

Figures for Hackney South and Shoreditch
Figures for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Figures for Hackney as a whole.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Headless bear corpses discovered in Hackney

This comment stream on the Fortean Times message board mentioned the Hackney bear story as if it was common knowledge. All I could find were these 1981 reports from US-based newspapers - none from UK papers which may not have uploaded their archives from that far back. But reports - like this one - describe a hoax that went worldwide.

According to these old cuttings, the bodies of two headless bears were found in a Hackney canal and then a real live bear scared kids playing on Hackney Marshes.

The cuttings say that the search for the bear was called off after a guy called Ron told the The Sun that he was the bear. He said that the discovery of bears' bodies (it was later suggested that these may have been dumped in the canal by a travelling circus) inspired him to dress up as bear and roam about on Hackney Marshes. The result was an invasion of police and army marksmen and a helicopter. No bear was found although tracks were allegedly discovered. Ron, it seems, was never caught. Is any of this true?
The myth lives on: The Bear of Hackney

Friday, 27 November 2009

Abbott keeps show...

Not exactly surprising, but it looks like the story below was not exactly accurate...

"This Week, hosted by Andrew Neil, will be produced by Juniper TV from September 2010.

The contract will run for three years and Andrew Neil will continue to present the show with Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo on BBC One on Thursdays. For Juniper, the executive editor will be Samir Shah, the editor will be Vicky Flind."

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Abbott to lose seat and TV show say producers

The Mirror reports that documents "left in a London restaurant" show that TV producers hoping to run politics show "This Week" think Diane Abbott should be axed because she might lose her seat.

Has this got more to do with the fact that she's a regular thorn in the side of Blairites? She's enjoying the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War (The Guardian: It was all about Blair) and she recently clashed with Alastair Campbell on "This Week" (footage still there!) So who would benefit most by shutting her up?

The Mirror story says the documents came from Flame TV: (which, according to its website has "produced hundreds of hours of original programming for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, FIVE, UKTV, Living and Discovery.")

The Mirror said Flame "want sofa pundits Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott axed and suggest Lord Mandelson, Ken Livingstone or Alastair Campbell for the Labour side. From the Tories could come Edwina Currie, Boris Johnson or Sir Nicholas Soames. The papers say new blood is needed as ex-Tory cabinet minister Portillo could return to politics while Labour MP Abbott could lose her seat."

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Meg Hillier Vs Diane Abbott on unemployment

Earlier this month Diane Abbott wrote a comment piece for the Hackney Gazette, (Page 16, November 5)

She said: "We are going through tough economic times and unemployment rates have been rising all over the UK but this year Hackney North and Stoke Newington has seen one of the lowest rises in unemployment in the country."

I'm not sure where that figure comes from. As far as I can tell the Hackney North and Stoke Newington's JSA count has been at, or above, the London average. This month Hackney North and Stoke Newington was showing a 1.7% increase between October 2008 and October 2009. This was just above the London Average of 1.6%.

If Diane was looking at the previous month's figures she wouldn't have done much better. The increase was 1.7% (September 2008-September 2009) last month too, equal to the London average and in August it was 1.9% (August 2008-August 2009), well above the 1.7% London average.

However it is certainly lower than Hackney South and Shoreditch where the annual rates have been 2.3% (October 2008-October 2009), 2.4% (September 2008-September 2009) and 2.5% (August 2008-August 2009).

According to Diane, the low levels of unemployment in Hackney North are: "Thanks to a number of projects targeted at getting people back into work, including job fairs, pre-employment training and recruitment drives for big companies like Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury's.

"Employment is a key issue for me and a great deal more needs to be done, but when the Labour Party came into power in 1997 my constituency had the fourth highest level of unemployment in the country.

"Now we have the 66th highest level of unemployment. So nobody can say that we have not made progress."

These policies don't seem to have been so effective for her fellow Hackney MP Meg Hillier. Hillier's constituency, Hackney South and Shoreditch, presumably with access to the same initiatives as Diane's, has seen a large increase in unemployment. This month the borough has the highest proportion of JSA claimants of all London boroughs.

Diane's claims could relate to the borough's worklessness problem which has improved but these figures are only available up to March 2009 and are still above the London average.
Or they could be in the same category as the unexplained drop in the borough's level of worklessness - unknown.

Links to Blood and Property stories on unemployment:
Hackney has joint highest job seeker count
42% of Hackney households on benefits
Job Centre reorganised: can it cope?
Hackney crime figures - the only way is up
Hackney women losing jobs faster than men
Hackney: a worklessness miracle
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
Unemployed in Hackney: The lull before the storm
Will Hackney return to 17% on the dole?

Hackney has equal highest job seeker count

The number of people claiming Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) in Hackney has fallen slightly to 9,827 according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics: Regional Monthly Data - November 2009.

However, as a proportion of its working population (6.8%), Hackney now has the equal highest rate of JSA claimants of inner London boroughs - sharing the title with Tower Hamlets.

This 6.8% figure relates to a working population of about 140,000. It is down from 7% in September figures and 6.9% in August. It was 6.7% in July. While this shows unemployment down slightly, it is falling more slowly than in other boroughs.

The figures describe the employment situation in October.

October: 9,827 (6.8% of working population claiming JSA)
September: 9,884 (7%)
August 9,826 (6.9%)
July: 9550 (6.7%)

Divided into constituencies:

Hackney North and Stoke Newington's JSA claimant count for October 2009 was 4,365 up from 4,338 in September and up slightly from 4,331 in August (all around 6.3% of the working population).

Hackney South and Shoreditch's JSA claimant count for October was 5462 (7.6%) of the working population, down on the 5,546 figure in September (7.8% of working population) and also below the 5,495 (7.7%) figures for August.

Hackney North
May - 4,081
June - 4,118
July - 4206
August - 4,331
September - 4,338
October - 4365

Hackney South
May - 5,296
June - 5,190
July - 5,344
August - 5,495
September - 5,546
October - 5,462

Links to Blood and Property stories on unemployment:
Meg Hillier vs Diane Abbott on employment
42% of Hackney households on benefits
Job Centre reorganised: can it cope?
Hackney crime figures - the only way is up
Hackney women losing jobs faster than men
Hackney: a worklessness miracle
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
Unemployed in Hackney: The lull before the storm
Will Hackney return to 17% on the dole?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Did Hackney Council throw in the towel for £50m?

A couple of industry magazines report that Hackney Council could be investigated for pushing through Hammerson's updated plans for Bishopsgate Goods Yard - Bishops Place - too quickly.

Local architect Will Willingdale is quoted in Building Design and Construction News: “It was pushed through. Hammerson pretty much dictated how this planning application was going to be dealt with. I’ve never seen anything like it.I have spent 20 years submitting applications to Hackney Council and I have never been in a position to tell them when to deal with an application.”

The stories also said: "On behalf of several other architects — who don’t want to be named for fear of prejudicing future bids for work — Willingdale instructed solicitor Bill Parry-Davies to write to the mayor’s Greater London Authority."

According to the news stories Open Shoreditch claims that Hackney Council stands to make £50 million from the site, but only on condition of Hammerson securing planning permission, and that this constitutes a conflict of interests.

I might have got the wrong end of the stick but as far as I can tell Hackney's legal department is 25-30% understaffed and was, at one stage, farming out 50% of its work to private firms. This was while the council was dealing with Olympics related contracts. Also, for the last two years, the council's legal department has been looking for a new boss, only finding a new one in February 2009. (April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.)

So it doesn't sound too unrealistic that some things may have got less attention than they deserved.

Also I've been told by a former employee of a large architectural practice that these firms have a policy of challenging every single objection and to appeal every decision against them - however unrealistic their chances of success. This is done by better paid and more specialised lawyers and it is done in the knowledge that local authorities have limited legal budgets and are usually over-worked/understaffed.

This policy keeps local authorities on a permanent back foot and if any mistakes are made they will be in favour of the big companies.

A Google search for Will Willingden produced a less than rave review from Utility Week whose journalists were concerned when he proved difficult to contact. But Willingdale's claims sound believable.

(Gifty Edila, the new head of Hackney's legal department gets a mention in Andrew Boff's EastEight magazine over the council's long-running battle with Broadway Market shopkeeper Spirit.)

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sinclair scorns councillor ghost stories

Hackney-based author Iain Sinclair made this comment about the views of Hackney councillors on the supernatural: "I was struck by the strangeness of this notion, of tapping Hackney Councillors for their views on the supernatural (given that, from the outside, their activities seem to be entirely guided by primitive belief systems, private rites and rituals, and a determination to occult any version of the real they stumble across). The answers of course are as dim as you'd expect from any set of bureaucrats: they can't decide whether to play safe and dodge the issue or to attempt charm by recounting some feeble anecdote. And always to signal their religious affiliations."
(Iain is not a big fan of Hackney Council after it banned the launch of his book from Stoke Newington Library - some details of the dispute on Tom Roper's blog).

Was it all a waste of everyone's time?

Psychology professor interprets Hackney politicians

Do Hackney politicians believe in ghosts?

Is the supernatural significant?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Blood and property: Gangs, Hong Kong and Hackney house prices

Property: Evening Standard story claiming Hackney leading the comeback in house prices: "the firm's £160 million Dalston Square scheme in Hackney “is selling extremely well” with 232 homes sold since the launch in May last year. Only 12 are left."

But the reasons for the sales may not be related to anything going on in Hackney but sales pitches in Hong Kong. Investors Chronicle: "London properties are also proving popular with foreign purchasers. "We are doing a lot of off-plan sales to overseas purchasers," confirms Patrick Law, director of corporate affairs. Following presentations to investors in Hong Kong, sales of apartments in Hackney and Bow have picked up.

Blood: Also in the Evening Standard, Tottenham MP David Lammy says beware self appointed community leaders when trying to tackle Turkish and Kurdish gang problems:

Let us also be clear about the dangers of falling back on "community politics". Too many times in the past, we have worked with self-appointed community leaders because it was convenient to do so. Not only did many of these leaders lack legitimacy, they have sometimes been protagonists of the criminals. Today, "community engagement" must mean just that, reaching out to the community and understanding the concerns people face in their everyday lives.

November 18 - Evening Standard feature on Turkish gang problem.

Enfield is shooting hotspot - Enfield Independent

Paternity test keeps Hackney in DNA debate

Is there a storm brewing over Paternity test kits in Hackney?

BBC Story: Users of the £149 kits need to swab the cheek of both child and father. The swabs are then sent to a laboratory to determine fatherhood. Kits are on sale at a chain pharmacy in Hackney, having been introduced across the rest of the UK earlier this year. But public interest group Ethics of Reproduction said: "The result of a test is likely to be harmful."

And so Hackney remains at the cutting edge of DNA ethics debates.

Diane Abbott was the figurehead of a recent and successful campaign to prevent the DNA of innocent people being stored on a government database:

Stories below are from the Guardian.

July 2009: Where's the debate on the DNA database?
August 2009: Get the Innocent off the DNA database.
September 2009: Helping Children off the DNA database.

The September story showed how this issue affected people in Hackney:

On the same day Liberty held our
first DNA clinic with Diane Abbott MP. From the moment the clinic was advertised we were overwhelmed by inquiries from people seeking help with destruction of their DNA. In 2007, Lady Scotland confirmed that three-quarters of the young black male population would soon be on the DNA database, so it was no surprise that we had a clinic full of young black men and boys, smart in their school blazers and flanked by worried parents.

Their accounts were depressingly similar. They had generally been arrested because they fit the physical description of a suspect – the suspect being described as a young black man. After interview they were released without charge, but their DNA and other records are held, currently until they die or reach 100. Despite their youth most had already been stopped and searched by police at least 10 times. The fact that the police searches found nothing means little. Each time they are subsequently stopped and searched they come under additional suspicion because they have been arrested in the past. It is a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle of suspicion, and it amazes me that despite the damning figures – published year after year under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 – these practices continue.

Then the government U-turned.
But according to a Guardian commentator:
This is no innocent U-turn on DNA database

A twist in the tale being that residents of Hackney South and Shoreditch have an MP who is actually in charge of the DNA database. Here are some of Meg Hillier's views on the database:

It is worth stressing that a person's DNA being on the database does not suggest guilt; it is simply a registration of their DNA and basic biographical information. It is also worth asking which of the crimes solved thanks to the DNA database—the 452 homicides, the 644 rapes and the more than 8,000 domestic burglaries—the hon. Gentleman wishes had not been resolved as a result.

Now Hackney residents should be wondering if, as parents - or non parents - they have a right to inspect a child's DNA. Should a child in Hackney have the same rights to keep its DNA to itself as Hackney adults?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Diane Abbott vs Alastair Campbell

Diane Abbott Vs Alastair Campbell on the BBC's This Week.

I didn't see this myself but saw it highlighted on Andrew Gilligan's blog. I suspect the tension between them isn't just ideological (Diane probably gets on well with lots of people who supported the Iraq war) - it's just that Diane and Alastair don't like each other as people.

Although Abbott and Portillo challenge Campbell about him bullying journalists, judging by Oona King's autobiography (House Music) - and no doubt lots of other evidence - it was Labour MPs who were most at Campbell's mercy. I don't know if the press manager in the movie In the Loop is based on Campbell. If it is, he must have been impressively horrible!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Hackney's legal team - 25% under-staffed 50% outsourced?

It's great that Hackney's new (Feb 2009) head of legal services Gifty Edila has gone public with the changes she's making to the department. But the numbers thrown around in a recent article published in the The Lawyer suggest that the borough's legal services might have been in an odd state before she arrived.

But anything that draws attention to Hackney's legal services could be a good thing. In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

In a recent article about Edila The Lawyer said her department was "60-strong" but also said that it had "20 vacancies looking to be filled". I don't know if this means that Hackney's legal department is supposed to be 60-strong or 80-strong but, in either case, the department is 25-33% under-staffed.

The same article in the Lawyer said: "With a legal budget of £6m there is plenty of work to be done, although Edila is keen to farm a slightly higher level of work out to external law firms and chambers.

“We’re now about 90 per cent internal,” she says. “We were out with quite a significant volume previously – about 50 per cent. That started coming in-house before I joined. Big projects do demand support from outside and I’m reviewing our external panel of barristers and the solicitors we use. The balance should be about 80:20.”

So it is possible that the legal department was 25% under-staffed and farming out 50% of its work to an expensive panel of private firms?

Hopefully all this was part of clever plan to hire the best/most expensive lawyers so that Hackney didn't lose out in any of its Olympic related contracts. Or was the department suffering during this important time?

This is not a criticism of Edila who does seem to be aiming to cut costs (from The Lawyer: "Edila is looking to get better value for money from the barristers she uses and is looking to revamp a panel that was put in place at the authority in 2006). Edila has a history of aiming for an 80:20% split in work (or is that the budget?) - as per this 2005 article in The Lawyer: "Traditionally, the borough (Kensington and Chelsea, where she was head of legal services) would have simply recruited more staff to manage the project, but, says Edila, this would be squeezing the seams. So she persuaded the council that it was more efficient in the long run to turn to external advisers. Berwin Leighton Paisner picked up the mandate for Exhibition Road. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and Herbert Smith are also currently engaged on K&C projects: the former has picked up the mandate for the redevelopment of Holland Park School, while the latter is advising on the development of Ellesmere, a new residential home.

"Going to external solicitors for those three projects is a new thing here," says Edila, "but I'd say that about 80 per cent of work remains in-house."

Hackney legal teams merged into two sections:

In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Seray-Wurie document reveals council incompetence

The story of Dr Seray-Wurie and £600k of missing charity cash generated a lot of interest. In an editorial on 3 September 2009 the Hackney Gazette said there was "an overpowering whiff of scandal" (page 16) about the £600k of tax-payer's cash paid into Seray-Wurie's personal bank account.

It published two letters under the banner: "What happened to missing charity money?" The letters can be seen here. Seray-Wurie replied in a letter claiming that he was the victim (page 18) of a witch-hunt. A further letter called "Teamwork is far from very good" said: "Dr Seray-Wurie's account of what happened to the money in question is variously unconvincing or demonstrably wrong."

The Mirror also took a look at the story: So Dr Seray-Wurie of African Development Agencies: Where's the money?

The fuss followed a report by the Charity Commission earlier this year which investigated what Seray-Wurie had done with the money.


One document that looked like it might help explain why Seray-Wurie and his charities were ever entitled to the cash was the 2000 judgement which ordered Hackney Council to pay him the money.

Hackney Council was not helpful in providing this document - in fact it didn't provide this document. At first the press office said that the relevant person who would know where the document might be found was in court. Then I was told that this person was on holiday, then that the document in question was probably at the bottom of a pile of paperwork in some distant storage facility.

Luckily the Charity Commission provided a copy.

Hackney Council has said that the money was not its responsibility once it had been ordered to pay it by the court. It said that the 600k then became the responsibility of the court. It also suggested that it might not be fair to hold the current administration responsible for anything that took place during this dark period in the council's history.

According to the documents, it seems to be a matter of luck that the 600k claim (which was for grants which Hackney Council had promised to pay but then didn't) wasn't a lot higher. The extraordinary thing about it is that most of this claim was based on Dr Seray-Wurie's memory - not paperwork.

As Judge Thornton said in his judgement most of the documentation was missing: "This was because both parties had lost, mislaid, destroyed, or parted with possession of, all these documents. Indeed, apart from some incomplete correspondence and minutes of meetings of some of the relevant subcommittees of the LBH, the evidence of these matters came almost entirely from Dr Seray-Wurie, based on his memory, which was refreshed by his earlier formulation of the claims in 1992."

Judge Thornton said: "Dr Seray-Wurie gave three reasons for this remarkable absence of documentation. These were, firstly, that all relevant documents in the HAO's possession that were then in existence were stolen from Africa House, the principal offices of the HAO, in two burglaries that occurred in 1988. Those documents that were not stolen were lost or damaged irretrievably by builders and the movement of documents during the refurbishment work - 6 Dalston Lane that was carried out in between 1985 and 1987. The second reason was that, subsequently, in 1989, the HAO was put under review followed by a financial review by the LBH and the LBH took possession of all its relevant documents still in its possession, including its accounts, and never returned them. The third reason was that such documents as could have been obtained from third parties, particularly the HAO's bank, such as bank statements and other bank records, were no longer available, even on microfiche. These had not been obtained before they were disposed of by the bank since the HAO had changed its bank in 1992 on account of the declining turnover passing through its bank account and the consequent high overdraft interest charges being incurred. There were never, evidently, any documents that were retained by the HAO's accountants once they had prepared its annual accounts.

Even if there had been something wrong with the claims made by Seray-Wurie, we'll never know now: "Since the LBH made no attempt to sub poena third parties, including the HAO's then bank, had not sought verifying affidavits from Dr Seray-Wurie during the discovery process which might have elaborated on these reasons and did not seriously seek to challenge this explanation for the absence of documents, the trial proceeded on the basis that there was no suspicious reason why these HAO documents were not available.

The reason for the laxity is partially explained by this: "It is clear that, at that stage, the LBH regarded the HAO's claims as spurious and incapable of proof and that it would be an unnecessary waste of resources to undertake internal searches to obtain its computerised records and the potentially relevant documents which it felt were scattered through many files and buildings. Thus, no further searches for documents were carried out."

But this defence can only be taken so far because when Hackney Council did manage to find the required documents, it then lost them again: "Ms Cox instructed an Accountancy Assistant member of her team, Ms Julia Udennis, to undertake the task of searching through the microfiches stored in the payment section of the Finance Directorate. Ms Udennis found a large number of relevant microfiches which appeared to show payments by the LBH to the HAO and she printed out the relevant pages. She handed these copies to Ms Cox who put them into an envelope and sent them through the LBH's internal mail system to Mr Evans. The envelope containing these copies of the microfiches also contained a compliments slip dated 14 November 1997.

"What happened to this envelope from 14 November 1997 until 17 March 2000 is a mystery but, on that later date, Mr Lomas, the lawyer in the LBH's Legal Services Unit currently in charge of the case, came across the envelope by chance whilst clearing out dead files in his department for transfer to some newly acquired storage space. I am satisfied that this discovery was genuine and occurred by coincidence, being unrelated to the fact that the hearings in this case had been concluded and judgment was awaited. However, it is this discovery, and the documents it threw up, that has led to the application with which I am now concerned."

This is just a tiny part of an enormous document. If anyone wants to see a copy of this document please email bloodandproperty at live dot com.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

42% of Hackney households on Housing Benefit - and rising

Hackney has the highest rate of households claiming Housing Benefit in the UK - 41.9%. This is nearly four percentage points higher than the next highest London Borough - Tower Hamlets 38.1%.

In 2007 DWP figures for Hackney showed 38.9% of households claiming, in Tower Hamlets the figure was the same as now, 38.1% (The previous DWP figures for Housing Benefit were for 2007 and All tables in Microsoft Excel format)

The Department for Work and Pensions said that the recent nationwide increase in working age claimants was "consistent with the increase in the number of working-age people claiming key out-of-work benefits."

Could this be bad news for the miraculous "worklessness" figures in the Hackney? (Don't look a gift horse in the mouth and Hackney: A worklessness miracle).

In August the Office of National Statistics figures for Hackney showed that the population of economically inactive residents shrank. It fell by about 2,900 people (from 28.7% of the working population to 26.6%). The figures are more dramatic over a longer period. The level of long-term unemployment in Hackney fell from 47,100 in 2005 to 26,900 in 2007 - a fall of 43%. A much faster rate than neighbouring boroughs.

The Housing Benefit figures come from the Department for Work and Pensions - Click here to access the complete set of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Tables or for the general release click here.

Hackney is the worst in the UK - well above the UK average, 17% and the London average, 23%.

It also appears to be getting worse:

Housing Benefit claimants in Hackney: (Nov,08) 35,540 (Dec,08) 35,600 (Jan09) 35,830 (Feb,09) 36,050 (March,09) 36,320 (April,09) 36,620 (May,09) 36,860 -

From November 2008 to May 2009 the number of claimants has risen by 3.7% in Hackney.

Housing Benefit claimants in Tower Hamlets: (Nov,08) 32,210 (Dec,08)32,500 (Jan09)32,940 (Feb,09)32,760 (March,09) 33,010 (April,09) 33,480 (May,09) 33,490.

From November 2008 to May 2009 the number of claimants has risen by 3.97% in Tower Hamlets.

In a statement the DWP said: "There is wide Local Authority variation in both Housing Benefit recipients and Council Tax Benefit recipients as a proportion of Households, ranging from 5.9 per cent to 41.9 per cent for Housing Benefit, and 7.8 per cent to 39.9 per cent for Council Tax Benefit."

Both of the extreme limits are in Hackney.

The proportion of the population claiming Housing Benefit in Hackney:

LONDON 23.2%

Inner London
Camden 26.1%
City of London 22.6%
Hackney 41.9%
Hammersmith and Fulham 26.9%
Haringey 33.9%
Islington 33.5%
Kensington and Chelsea 19.0%
Lambeth 30.4%
Lewisham 27.7%
Newham 36.9%
Southwark 30.1%
Tower Hamlets 38.1%
Wandsworth 19.6%
Westminster 22.1%

In terms of Council Tax benefit claimants the percentage falls - down to 39.9% and the gap with the next highest claiming borough, Tower Hamlets (37.1) is narrower, but Hackney still has the highest proportion of its population making claims.

LONDON 23.6%

Inner London
Camden 24.1%
City of London 8.0%
Hackney 39.9%
Hammersmith and Fulham 24.7%
Haringey 32.6%
Islington 32.3%
Kensington and Chelsea 16.9%
Lambeth 27.2%
Lewisham 26.8%
Newham 35.8%
Southwark 28.3%
Tower Hamlets 37.1%
Wandsworth 17.1%
Westminster 18.5%

The previous DWP figures for Housing Benefit were for 2007 (All tables in Microsoft Excel format )

Inner London - East
Hackney 38.9
Haringey 32.3
Islington 35.2
Lambeth 27.4
Lewisham 26.0
Newham 35.7
Southwark 30.3
Tower Hamlets 38.1

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Did Diane read the Lisbon treaty before voting?

Comments on the Spectator website suggest that Diane Abbott's failure to say whether or not she read the Lisbon Treaty before voting on it means that she didn't.

Rhoda Klapp said: "If your MP is no more than lobby fodder and an untrained social worker, and furthermore there are plenty of volunteers to be candidates, then why do they deserve more than somebody who does a proper job? When I last posted here a similar rant, I was answered by no less a person than Diane Abbott. I asked whether she had read the Lisbon treaty before voting for it. No reply."

In the original comment stream Diane Abbott replied to a couple of Rhoda Klapp's questions.

In one reply she said that she defended her constituents from the "overwheening" state: "I do not see any dichotomy between very close to what is happening here on the ground in Hackney and holding my government to account. It is precisely because I know my constituents reality and how vulnerable they are to the overwheening state, that I have argued and voted against ID cards and ninety days detention without my trial." (Meanwhile Meg Hillier the other Labour MP in Hackney is/was in charge of implementing ID cards.)

Rhoda Klapp's point seems to be that MPs can't defend their constituents from an overwheening state if they don't understand what the state is doing. And in an attempt to make this point clear she said: "So I've decided on one question to highlight a democratic problem. It may be answered yes or no. Did you read the EU constitution and its successor Lisbon treaty, yourself, before you voted on the treaty?"

There has been no reply.

In the more recent exchange on the Spectator website one commentator defended Diane Abbott saying: "The idea that legislators actually read the text of bills is utterly ludicrous. Bills are drafted with a specific intent and that is to provide clarity to lawyers and those who must implement them."

But Rhoda Klapp said: "If Ms. Abbot saw my question, and did not answer because the answer may have been embarrassing, that's one thing. At least she was embarrassed. Not to read bills as a matter of course, when it is your job to vote on them, makes your MP even less than the lobby fodder I thought they were."

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Psychology professor interprets Hackney politicians

Professor Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College in London has commented on the supernatural beliefs of Hackney's politicians.

The supernatural views of 21 Hackney politicians were published on Blood and Property earlier this week: Do Hackney Politicians believe in ghosts?

Question 1: The introduction to your work on the Goldsmith's website says paranormal experience is mainly due to "imperfections in human information-processing". But does culture play a role in this too? Are some cultures are more superstitious than others?

Chris French: Culture is extremely important in terms of providing a belief system within which unusual experiences can be interpreted. A prime example of this is cross-cultural differences in the interpretation of sleep paralysis experiences: The Waking Nightmare of Sleep Paralysis (Guardian October 5 2009)

Although all cultures, both historically and geographically, show quite high levels of paranormal belief and reports of paranormal experiences, the detailed content of those beliefs vary from culture to culture.

Question 2: How easy is it to get people to talk about this stuff and how honest do you think they are when they do?

Chris French: As indicated by the responses you received from Hackney politicians, some people are very willing to talk about their experiences, others very reluctant. Typically, that will depend upon such factors as whether the respondent feels they are likely to be believed or ridiculed. Because of my research interest, I am very much aware of the fact that unusual experiences are much more common amongst the "normal" population than most people realise. I am also keen to reassure people that such experiences can be explained in non-paranormal terms - our minds are capable of playing all sorts of tricks on us!

Question 3 To what extent is a belief in the supernatural significant in a political way?

Chris French: Supernatural beliefs do have significance for a number of issues that politicians may be asked to act upon. Probably top of the list would be belief in life-after-death. If you believe that we all have an immortal soul, this is bound to affect your views upon such issues as abortion, euthanasia, etc. Another important area is healthcare generally, with many politicians actively supporting the use of unproven alternative therapies based upon supernatural ideas.

Question 4: Do you think politicians should understand the supernatural views of their constituents - particularly if there are a lot of them who believe in supernatural phenomena?

Chris French: I think that it is essential that politicians have a good understanding of all aspects of the cultural background of their constituents. It is in their own interests to do so in order to avoid inadvertently offending someone's beliefs but also to be aware of dangerous belief systems that should be actively opposed (e.g., in the Victoria Climbié case).

Monday, 26 October 2009

Kidnap freedom of information request

Is it true that London's armed police spend a lot of time rescuing gangsters who have been kidnapped by rivals? Does this happen more than once a week? And when it happens do the hostages refuse to testify against the hostage takers?

The problem does exist despite this being the only example I could find (a story from 2006 when the police managed a prosecution despite the hostages refusing to testify against their kidnappers.)

Detective Inspector Steve Wagstaff, from the Metropolitan Police Kidnap Unit, said:

"I would commend the work and effort put into this investigation by DC Cath Jenkin who was able to persist with the investigation despite the victims and hostages being uncooperative.

"The benefit to future investigations is that a precedent has now been set where the police will succeed in taking robust action against such offenders even when their victims are unable to offer positive support."

At the time Detective Superintendent Alan Pughsley, from Metropolitan Police Kidnap Unit, said:

"This is a prime example of a difficult prosecution where the hostages did not support the police. These kidnappers are dangerous individuals from criminal networks who are highly likely to commit these offences again. It is therefore vital that all is done to prosecute and convict these individuals."

His words: "These kidnappers are dangerous individuals from criminal networks who are highly likely to commit these offences again," suggest that this was not a one off incident.

So the question is whether the most dangerous and fairly frequent work carried out by armed police is rescuing drug dealers?

Hopefully an answer will be in the post on 2 November but judging by the response to this FOI request, there appear to be lots of reasons why this information will not be provided:

Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 2009090001397

I respond in connection with your request for information dated 06/09/2009, which was received by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on 07/09/2009. I note you seek access to the following information:

1. The number of kidnaps that occur annually in London.
2. The number of these kidnaps that involve armed police.
3. And the number of kidnaps that occur annually in which the hostages do not cooperate with the police.
4. Which boroughs have the highest incidence of this kind of crime?
Could I get the information I asked for on kidnapping in London in relation to the last five years? If there is a problem providing information going back this far, three years would be fine. Any thing that could show whether or not kidnapping offences that I am asking about are increasing or decreasing in number.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act), we have 20 working days to respond to a request for information unless we are considering whether the information requested is covered by one of the 'qualified exemptions' (exemptions which must be tested against the public interest before deciding whether they apply to the information in question).

Where we are considering the public interest test against the application of relevant qualified exemptions, Section 17(2)(b) provides that we can extend the 20 day deadline.

a) in relation to any request for information, a public authority is, as respects any information, relying on a claim that any provision of Part II which relates to the duty to confirm or deny and is not specified in section 2(3) is relevant to the request, or ii) that the information is exempt information only by virtue of a provision not specified in section 2(3), and b) at the time when the notice under subsection (1) is given to the applicant, the public authority (or, in a case falling within section 66(3) or (4), the responsible authority) has not yet reached a decision as to the application of subsection (1)(b) or (2)(b) of section 2, the notice under subsection (1) must indicate that no decision as to the application of that provision has yet been reached and must contain an estimate of the date by which the authority expects that such a decision will have been reached.

I am sorry to inform you that we have not been able to complete our response to your request by the original deadline, as we are currently considering whether 'qualified exemptions' apply to the information you have requested. As a result we will not be able to respond within 20 working days.

For your information we are considering the following exemption(s):
Section 30 - Investigations and proceedings conducted by the public authorities
Section 31 - Law enforcement
Section 38 - Health and Safety
Section 40 - Personal information
Section 41 - Information provided in confidence
Section 44 - Prohibitions on disclosure

I can now advise you that the amended date for a response is 02/11/2009.

It would be nice to know if this is a real issue. At the moment it is even unclear whether armed police are patrolling Hackney or not - a couple of Hackney councillor websites carry a denial from Hackney's police chief.

The claim was made in the wake of feud between Turkish drugs gangs. According to this piece in the Guardian: The gang shootings that put police with machine guns on London streets - a number of non-Turkish Hackney gangs are already involved in the violence.

Is kidnapping becoming more common?

Was this story in the Hackney Gazette nearly one of them? "They were shouting at me to take them inside the flat, but when I just kept screaming they ran off with my keys and my mobile phone."

Recent kidnapping involving armed police and a kidnapper from Hackney: Stoke Newington gang member guilty of kidnapping friend of Lily Allen.

This kidnap story (bbc version) saw a friend of Lily Allen taken hostage. It included a comment from an officer in the Kidnap Unit. One of the suspects in the organised kidnap gang was arrested in Hackney.

Or this Southall story.

Otherwise there doesn't seem to be much about this subject anywhere. All I could find was this brief interview which had a promising start: "I'm a detective sergeant in charge of an Alpha Team, (Armed Kidnap Team) in Surveillance" but provided very little else of interest. It was in a police newsletter back in 2006.

Newham Kidnap stories:

Story 1 Rival kidnapped and stripped
Story 2 Vigilanties kidnap teenager
Story 3 Kidnappers win sentence appeal

Story 4
Story 5
Story 6 Estate agent kidnaps her boss

Story 7