Friday, 30 July 2010

Could Columnist face lynch mob over Stamford Hill rant?

This article in the Independent appears to have started a war of words about racism and anti-semitism. This article in the Independent describes who has joined in.

Christina Patterson, who wrote the offending piece, said things like: "When I moved to Stamford Hill, 12 years ago, I didn't realise that goyim were about as welcome in the Hasidic Jewish shops as Martin Luther King at a Klu Klux Klan convention."

The second article said: "Jewish columnists rounded on Patterson in unison with Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, accusing her of "unrelenting unadulterated anti-Jewish bigotry". Miriam Shaviv, one of the paper's most prolific columnists, waded in with her own response to the article which she said was "one of the ugliest, most vile pieces ever published in the British press."

Meanwhile, the Jewish chronicle's own columnists aren't always positive about the ultra-orthodox community: "Must read for Hackney politics" or this debate between Geoffrey Alderman and Abraham Pinter.

No doubt this is a sensationalist point, but should Patterson worry for her own safety? The community's critics haven't always had an easy ride: like this Rabbi who was chased out of Stamford Hill by a 200-strong lynch mob in 2008 (as reported in the Jewish Chronicle)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Council economic on the economics

On 23 July Blood and Property asked the council to reply to this story: Hole in Council's economic analysis. The story reported a Freedom of Information request by a Labour activist for a draft of the council's Local Economic Assessment.

At the time the council's response was: "Due to difficulties in recruiting to the post of Policy Adviser - Social and Economic Affairs and subsequently the timings of data analysis being done at the sub-regional level there has been a delay in delivery. We are now looking at an interim report by the end of August 2010."

So Blood and Property asked:
1 Has the council got a Local Economic Assessment? (Not a great question as it should have been 'draft' or 'interim' assessment.)
2 Has the council found a policy adviser if so when was he/she employed and who is it?
3 Do Hackney politicians and officers have a good economic view of the borough and what documents do they use to understand the borough's economy?
4 Hackney published its own economic newsletter/bulletin for some years - when was the last one published?

On 29th July 2010 the Council sent this reply:

“Central government did not set a completion date of April 2010 for the delivery of Local Economic Assessments. Hackney, like all other councils, has until the end of March 2011 to complete its assessment and is making good progress with its development.

“As a council, we use a wide range of sources to gain an understanding of the borough and its economic landscape. This detailed understanding informs council policy and ways in which we can improve services for people and businesses in Hackney.

“The Council also works closely with partners and experts through the Economic Development Partnership, which is part of Team Hackney, the borough’s Local Strategic Partnership.”

This answer addresses one out of the four questions asked - whether the council should have produced a Local Economic Assessment yet. The answer is still no but the council seems to have avoided mention of the interim report for which it provided its own stated delivery date of August 2010.

In terms of which documents councillors and officers can use to understand the economics of the borough... no details were provided. A year ago, in July 2009, Blood and Property asked for the latest economic reports on Hackney. They were provided but they were all dated 2008.

These documents described the borough but asked questions about the state of its economy, particularly the worklessness issue (discussed here: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth) - it suggested more work needed to be done. I'm not sure if there have been any updates.

Neither is it clear whether the council still publishes its economic bulletin, or when the last one was produced?

The other question that remained unaddressed was: Has the relevant policy officer been employed?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

House prices: Homerton up 69%, Shoreditch up 53%, Clapton and Dalston up 39%

These figures from Lloyds TSB, which owns Halifax, show that since winning the Olympics bid house prices in Homerton are up by 69% and up by 53% in Shoreditch compared to the 36% London average.

While the research says that only four out of 14 "Olympic postal districts" (explained below) have beaten the London average of 36% increase over that period, all of these districts are in Hackney: Homerton 69%, Shoreditch 53%, Clapton and Dalston both 39%.

All the worst performers appear to be further east. The least impressive being Stratford, the one with greatest exposure to the Olympics. Up just 3%.

Comments at the end of this Telegraph piece discuss whether the rises have anything to do with the Olympics.

Last year Jules Pipe told Blood and Property that people moving to Hackney do not primarily see their homes as an investment:

Blood and Property: To what extent do you think that changes in the borough are related to property prices and new people moving here - how easily do you think that this process could be reversed (i.e. do you think that many hackney residents see their homes as investments or just as homes?)

Jules Pipe: "Hackney is a very popular borough for a variety of reasons, including its improving transport links, its vastly improved schools, popular leisure facilities such as London Fields Lido and its many parks, its status as a vibrant arts and cultural hub, amongst many other reasons.

"The Council’s research suggests that many of those moving into the borough since 2003 have been young, childless households on higher incomes than the current borough average, who rent privately. The impact of rising property prices in Hackney - as for London and the whole country - means that while owner-occupiers who bought during the past few decades will have benefited considerably from capital gains or opportunities to rent out their homes, the market has become very expensive for first-time buyers. This would suggest that the driving factor for today’s incomers is the desire to live in the borough, rather than seeking investment opportunities.

"The Council is committed to ensuring high quality, affordable housing for all Hackney residents. Right now across Hackney construction work is taking place to build hundreds of new social-rented and affordable homes, including council housing, after the Council lobbied the Government and received a total of over £43million in Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) funding since last September.

"For almost 30 years, affordable housing across the country often only got built as a spin-off of new private developments, and the downturn in the housing market threatened to bring even that to a halt. The commercial marketplace cannot be left as the only force to drive how housing is delivered. The Council has been working with the Government and its agencies and has successfully strengthened their confidence to give Hackney their social housing investment directly, so that we can deliver homes that are much needed by local residents."

'Postal districts' used to define the following fourteen postal districts that are located close to the site of the 2012 Olympic Park: Bethnal Green, Bow, Clapton, East Ham, Forest Gate, Dalston, Homerton, Leyton, Leytonstone, Manor Park, Plaistow, Shoreditch, Stratford and Walthamstow.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Diane denies intern allegations

On Saturday Blood and Property reported that a new hypocrisy claim had been made about Diane Abbott: that she may have as many as 10 unpaid interns and that this would conflict with her principles on employers paying for work done.

A response was sent by a member of her leadership bid team which denies the claim:

"At the moment, Diane has no unpaid interns. The allegation that she has 'nearly 10' is completely untrue. Her last intern was paid the minimum wage. You will notice that the accusation made of Diane in the blog postings are completely unsubstantiated.

"I would suggest that other people working in Portcullis House, where many MPs have offices, may have tallied the number of different non-pass-holders entering her office and assumed that they were all interns. Diane has a more diverse range of staff and guests than most MPs, so the people at her office are noticeable.

"Diane does have several people volunteering for her leadership campaign (some of whom come to see her at parliamentary office for reasons of convenience). Her leadership campaign must be funded and staffed independently of her parliamentary expenses and volunteers work out of her campaign office in Hampsted on a day-to-day basis.

"I hope this answers your question."

Thanks for the swift reply and yes, that answers the question.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Diane in new hypocrisy claim? Unpaid interns

Interns Anonymous has reported that Labour leadership contenders will sign a petition from InternAware to force employers to pay interns a minimum wage... but they don't except Diane Abbott to be one of them.

According to Interns Anonymous, Diane may have several unpaid interns working for her. The site claimed to have spoken to one who had worked, unpaid, for 18 months before getting a job.

Interns Anonymous said: "Real justice there Diane, you hypocrite."

I'm waiting to see if Diane has a response to these allegations - but I've only just emailed her to find out.

Diane has campaigned on employment issues.

In this statement to the Unions she said:

"Ensuring we have a living wage is extremely important. Working hard should mean being able to provide for your family and lead a decent standard of living – not living on the breadline.

"Implementing a living wage doesn't only benefit the employees. It improves staff loyalty and boosts morale, and therefore productivity. It also reduces training and recruitment costs, which is overall better value for money for employers.

"I would support introducing legislation to ensure that government tenders are not able to be taken up by contractors who are not prepared to pay a living wage to their staff.

"As a party, we must lead by example and those who are not willing to offer a decent wage for a decent day’s work, should not benefit from government contracts.

Here is an old advert for an unpaid internship in Diane's office:

It said: "Some of the work will be interesting, while some of it will be more mundane."
It also asked for: "Excellent IT and communication skills."

Despite being boring and requiring excellent skills, the advert said the internship: "is voluntary and will not be used to cover duties otherwise performed by a paid employee."

Interns Anonymous has a picture of Labour Candidate Andy Burnham holding up a signed pledge. This appears to come from a campaign called Intern Aware that is also endorsed by Labour Students and the media union Bectu.

The picture is on InternAware's blog which lists organisations and individuals who oppose unpaid internships including Barack Obama and the IPPR.

According to the site, the Low Pay Commission reported in March that “growing evidence of abuse” exists with a “growing number of people undertaking ‘work’ but excluded from the minimum wage. It said there are "tens of thousands of people with the talent to become leaders in these fields. However, their chances of success are limited because they can’t afford to work for free."

Last year Interns Anonymous reported on Tory MP Philip Hammond, now Secretary of State for Transport. Hammond replied that it would be a waste of taxpayers money to pay people to do work that could be done for free.

Other news:

The Daily Mail reports on Hackney Council's £400,000 taxi cab bill - I was sure I'd seen a very similar story to this somewhere else in the last couple of weeks, but can't remember where.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Hackney Mayor vs Westfield, worlds largest retail property group

This story from "The Wharf" reported the London Assembly's economic development committee's (July 20 2010) discussion about the Olympics legacy.

It included the negative views from a couple of guest speakers on the media centre. One of these speakers was John Burton, the director of Westfield Stratford, who has worked for Westfield for 14 years. Wikipedia's Westfield page describes the company as: "the largest retail property group in the world by equity market capitalisation".

The Wharf report on this discussion said: "The media centre looks to be the most troublesome to fill after the Games with Anna Harding of Space Studios calling it a "monstrosity that is an insult to the creative community of Hackney". She also believes that the centre will need a great deal of further financial investment to turn it into a viable location to house businesses or creative and media companies.

The Wharf also reports: "John Burton, the director of Westfield Stratford City also expressed his concerns over the future of the media centre as there was no obvious tenant to take on ownership. He said: "The centre doesn't have a logical next step. Whether it should be a media facility or not, it will take time to decide. I wouldn't comment on what it should be used for but the biggest problem for the media centre for a developer is accessibility."

Here is Burton on video describing how helpful it was to sign-up John Lewis for his Olympic Park store... so he may be he knows about filling up spaces.

But apparently he's wrong. The latest edition of the Economist says Jules Pipe is pining his hopes on the media centre: "His main longer-term hope lies with the broadcasting and media centres in the Olympic Park. Hackney is home to lots of small firms in “creative” industries, from post-production work for Hollywood studios to printing and advertising, for which the media centre could become a new base. That in turn would spawn work in nearby coffee shops and so forth."

With notoriously problematic projects like The Ocean and Clissold Leisure Centre on his CV, maybe the people of Hackney should ask if the Mayor's faith in the project is backed by research - and whether the borough has managed to put its Local Economic Assessment together yet: Hole in council's economic analysis. (I should confess that I wrote both of these pieces without asking for a response from Hackney Council. I asked them for one today (friday) hopefully everything I've written so far is rubbish and I owe an apology and correction).

(This Building Design piece suggests Space Studios could be under threat)

Hackney space cat

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Hole in Council's economic analysis - Mayor in the Economist

Local authorities were supposed to have new Local Economic Assessments in place by April 2010. But the last time it was asked, Hackney Council said it hadn't got one, and wouldn't have one until August 2010.

(Meanwhile, Mayor Jules Pipe happily chats to the Economist about the borough's economic situation in the magazine's latest edition. Hackney residents should be getting jobs in coffee shops if they want to benefit from the Olympics. The Economist reports: "His (Jules Pipe's) main longer-term hope lies with the broadcasting and media centres in the Olympic Park. Hackney is home to lots of small firms in “creative” industries, from post-production work for Hollywood studios to printing and advertising, for which the media centre could become a new base. That in turn would spawn work in nearby coffee shops and so forth.")

The council received a Freedom of Information request for its draft Local Economic Assessment in February from Labour activist Jed Keenan.

The council's response was: "The Local Economic Assessment is a statutory duty placed on all local governments arising from the Local Government and Construction Act (2009). This requires each local authority to undertake a detailed study of the dynamics of the local economy and its connections with the sub-region and beyond.

"Due to difficulties in recruiting to the post of Policy Adviser - Social and Economic Affairs and subsequently the timings of data analysis being done at the sub-regional level there has been a delay in delivery. We are now looking at an interim report by the end of August 2010."

Jed Keenan told Blood and Property: "A decent economic idea would be a good idea for a £1,000,000,000/annum organisation but so what, exposure of the absence of a good idea makes no difference if the effectiveness of the governance doesn't make a good idea into a good set of actions." (Jed likes long complicated sentences!)

So what is the Local Economic Assessment? According to the Local Government Improvement and Development website the LEA should: "Provide local authorities and stakeholders with an understanding of how economic conditions and forces shape places. That understanding needs to inform: policy, priorities, resource allocation and actions."

It should: "Reflect the economic character of an area..."

It should: "Describe the economic forces and factors affecting your area to inform policy and action..."

All of which sound like they might be useful as the council faces 25% cuts and the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

Meanwhile Keenan has been one of the few members of Hackney's Labour party to provide any scrutiny of the borough's leadership. This is usually done with a view to encouraging others to take part in the process: a recent exchange in the Hackney Citizen

In the Citizen and more recently in response to Cllr Louisa Thomson's piece in Progress about Community Organisers, Keenan has criticised the council's economic policy, particularly in relation to the borough's actions in relation to street markets.

In Progress he says that the 500 empty pitches in Hackney's street markets are "a black hole on the Council’s accounts but the corporate plan is to increase the charges of the existing traders by 50%."

He points out that: "There’s a proper big budget to spend but you can guess how that is to be spent, yep on municipal furniture, signage, branding, and more studies and consultations."

And he then threatens to take up David Cameron's offer to entrepreneurial locals: "So when the Tory Prime Minister says: ‘I want other forward-thinking, entrepreneurial, community-minded people and neighbourhoods in our country to come forward and ask for the same freedoms, the same support too. If you’ve got an idea to make life better, if you want to improve your local area, don’t just think about it – tell us what you want to do and we will try and give you the tools to make this happen.’ Do you think that he would order the Council to hand over governance of the Street Markets Section, currently insanely within the Parking Department, to me and the Traders Associations and social enterprises training and supporting tenants and residents of social housing to become market traders?"

Also, read Beecholme and Environs to find out how the Clapton Tramshed dispute is progressing. Has it already led to Labour figures such as Guy Nicholson and Ian Rathbone falling out? The piece also provides some interesting FOI material on the number of Hackney pupils forced to go to school in Waltham Forest due to a shortage of places in the borough. Will building even more homes help... may be there's some solid economic plan to underpin this? Something like a Local Economic Assessment....

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Silence of Diane... and Cllr says it's going to hurt

Silence of Diane

The Hackney Gazette's online report of Diane Abbott's failure to answer questions on the Today Programme included links to the Today Programme and This Week - a bit of a revolution at the Gazette? Was this total silence on privately educating her son an attempt to bully editors into cutting her interview? Next time may be she'll try swearing a lot. She's had seven years to work out an answer to this question!

It's going to hurt

Labour Councillor Louisa Thomson, also of We Love Stoke Newington, has written and article for Progress Magazine called: "What are community organisers for"

She asks: "Who are these mysterious groups of community organisers? And as others have pointed out, shouldn't we be training community activists to be Labour party organisers rather than the other way round?"

At the end of the piece she said: "Labour is in control in Hackney, so we're in a position to put down our markers against the ideological small state agenda. But all the angry motions in the world won't help us when it comes to having to make tough choices...

"In Hackney, we are bracing ourselves for the 25 per cent cuts rumoured for the autumn spending review. We have a reputation now for sound financial management and efficiency savings, but overall we're a group of Labour councillors that isn't used to having to have these discussions and it's going to hurt."

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Schools Minister offers apology, tea and academy status to Hackney school

Ed Balls, Hackney resident, former schools minister and current contender for the Labour leadership took a couple of swipes at the schools minister, Michael Gove, during the second reading of the Academies Bill (from

Balls started off badly, laying himself open to attack after saying: "The idea that the right hon. Gentleman (Gove) is the heir to Tony Blair is complete and utter tosh."

To which Gove replied: "I would never claim to be the heir to Blair; I know that the right hon. Gentleman yearns to fill that role. I was one of the many thousands watching the Labour leadership hustings on "Newsnight", when he said that Tony Blair was the finest Prime Minister the Labour party ever had. I dropped my cocoa in excitement at the right hon. Gentleman's conversion to the cause of Blairism. It is somewhat at variance with what is recorded in Alastair Campbell's diaries, Peter Mandelson's memoirs and various other documents that have thudded on to my desk over the past few weeks, but I am very happy to see him join the conventicle."

But Balls got his own back later with the help of Woodberry Down Primary school:

Balls: "When the head teacher of Woodberry Down community primary school in Hackney, an outstanding school in a federation with two other primary schools, approached the Department for Education to ask whether the school might access academy freedoms, the Department said it could do so only if it broke up the federation, because outstanding schools would be able to federate only with other outstanding schools rather than underperforming schools. On what basis will such collaboration help less good schools to become better? Is that not just excellence supporting excellence, or has the right hon. Gentleman had to change that policy?

Gove: "No, it is my belief that all outstanding schools should be there to support other schools. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing that issue to my attention. Actually, we have made it clear that groups of schools in which one school is outstanding and the others are not can apply. Woodberry Down may well be a school that we would like to see enjoy academy status and hope will work with other schools, but it may not be among the very first schools to enjoy academy status. If he would like Woodberry Down's application accelerated so that it can become an academy in September, I hope he will join me in the Lobby this evening."

Balls: "I have found in the past few weeks that the right hon. Gentleman is never, ever able to answer a straight question in the House. I will try again. An outstanding school was told that it could federate only with other outstanding schools if it wanted academy status. Is that his policy, yes or no?"

Gove: "It is certainly not our policy, and I am sorry that the headmaster of Woodberry Down has been told that. I shall write to him later or call him, or perhaps he, I and the right hon. Gentleman can have a cup of tea together, to ensure that that excellent school can become an academy by September if it wishes."

Meg Hillier also spoke during the debate but Diane Abbott didn't - although she was there and did vote. Schools in Diane's constituency were mentioned several times (Mossbourne).

Some explanation of the Academies bill: Tribune, Telegraph

Monday, 19 July 2010

Redundancy mentioned just four times in 80 page Hackney cuts forecast

In its MTPF (MEDIUM TERM PLANNING FORECAST 2011/12 to 2013/14 (FORWARD PLAN NO. FR7 D50) pdf  icon PDF 496 KB) which was due to be discussed at last night's Cabinet meeting, the council said that Hackney was particularly vulnerable to government cuts (quotes below).

Despite this, in its "Workforce Strategy" redundancies are not mentioned once. In the whole 80 page document redundancy is mentioned in two sections, a total of four times. One is a restructuring in Safer neighbourhoods - saying there may be some - the the other is on page 79, saying the council has set aside £0.888m "To cover the potential costs of redundancies arising from reshaping of the Council’s service delivery."

This doesn't seem to match the visions of Hackney as the 21st Century pit village conjured up by Diane Abbott.

It also seems to differ from this article in the Camden New Journal which suggests that other Councils have been a bit more specific about redundancies - Camden has already put a 207 figure on it.

Neither does the redundancy-lite document seem to match up with these depressing quotes from Hackney's MTPF:

The council said: "It is impossible at this stage to predict the impact of future grant settlements on Hackney but we do know a uniform change in Central Government support will not have a uniform impact on all London Boroughs. Hackney’s position at the settlement floor, coupled with its relatively high reliance on Formula Grant and low taxbase means it is disproportionately more vulnerable to reductions in central government support than some other London Boroughs."


"It is also important to note that Hackney is an authority with a relatively low tax base compared to other London Boroughs and is in receipt of more Formula Grant per head of population than any other Borough. The significance of this is that Hackney is more susceptible to adverse changes to the Local Government Grant Distribution system. At this stage it is not yet clear whether there will be a further review of the funding formulae in time for the 2011/12 settlement but it should be noted that during the last two years, representatives of central and local government have been working on proposals to change the formulae that are used to calculate Formula Grant. Many of the proposals which have been formulated have not yet been modelled by CLG and so we don’t know exactly how they will affect the Council. However, some of the proposals which have been formulated could significantly disadvantage the Council"

I wasn't at the cabinet meeting and I haven't had time to make sure I have understood the Medium Term Planning forecast. The main issue is that Hackney seems to acknowledge that it is in for a rough ride, it's estimates for cuts range between 20%-30% scenarios,

On the UK as a whole it says:

"The UK economy emerged from recession in the last quarter of 2009 and grew at a rate of 0.3% in the first quarter of 2010. The general consensus among economists is that the UK economy will continue to grow over the medium term but at a lower rate than that predicted earlier in the year. However, there is a significant body of opinion that agrees there is a risk that the UK economy may suffer a “double-dip” recession i.e. fall back into recession during 2010, primarily as a result of the planned expenditure reductions and tax rises outlined in the June 2010 emergency budget (see paragraph 13).

One of the many issues it asks Cabinet members to note is: "that this report updates Cabinet on the recent announcements contained within the Emergency Budget on 22 June 2010 and sets out a range of scenarios on how this might impact upon the Council and its financial position. Members are asked to note the significant changes to the financial planning horizon arising from the impact of the credit crunch and the announcements in the Governments Emergency Budget. In particular the announcement that Government Departments will be expected to make savings of around an average of 25% over the next four years."

WORKFORCE STRATEGY (as stated in the MTPF):

19.2 In 2007 the Assistant Director (HR and Organisation Development) developed a workforce strategy to ensure that the Council had in place the skills, capacity and HR organisational procedures to enable it to deliver the objectives set out in the Corporate Plan and to ensure that we had in place a workforce that met the Council’s future needs. The strategy was reviewed earlier this year following a refresh of the Community Strategy and retitled the 'People and Organisation and Employee Development Strategy' in recognition of its dual role in supporting both the organisation and its staffin meeting agreed priorities and responsibilities. The strategy is split into 6 key themes:
• Recruitment and Retention • Supporting organisational change • Leadership and management • Developing excellent customer Services • Promoting Equality and celebrating Diversity and • Planning for the future
A range of key areas have been taken forward this year including an end to end review of recruitment which has resulted in the introduction of a centralised recruitment function, to be supported by the implementation of an e-recruitment system, a review of image and reputation and the roll out of the new agency contract; all as part of the ongoing commitment to consolidate the permanent workforce and reduce reliance on temporary staff. The programme of work which is being overseen by the Best Use of Resources Board also saw the introduction of a Council wide Apprenticeship scheme with the planned recruitment of up to 100 apprentices, and the introduction of workforce planning into the revised service planning process. Other people management initiatives included the introduction of a new Management Development programme for 2nd to 4th tier, achievement of level 3 of the Equality Standard and the commissioning of a new cultural change programme to support the extensive OD requirements arising out of Service First.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Believe this conspiracy theory or be a racist

With Mayoral elections due in Tower Hamlets I thought I'd re-post this.

I was a newspaper reporter in Tower Hamlets between August 2001 and August 2005. During those years I was presented with dozens of corruption allegations made by members of the Bangladeshi community about other members of the Bangladeshi community.

The constant stream of claim and counter claim led me to assume that the Bangladeshi community had a problem with fraud. It didn't cross my mind that this view might be racist.

It wasn't until I read a judgement by Richard Mawrey QC on a massive electoral fraud scandal in Birmingham that I found out that, in the eyes of a judge, I was a racist.

Initially I wanted to justify my views but I gave up. I'm not sure if this was because I didn’t want to be a racist or because I was persuaded my views were wrong. My research was not particularly rigorous or conclusive but I suspect it is more than most others have done.

The evidence that electoral fraud is a problem in these communities appears to be real. The picture below is of the Returning Officers report on the Ocean Estate in 2002 where I believe Tower Hamlets council still requires photo ID from voters because electoral fraud is so rampant.

It is hard to tell if the problem is getting worse, but in 2007 Mawrey was presiding over vote rigging claims in Tower Hamlets and in 2008it was slough. In these cases the protagonists were Asian Muslims.

For some people it may be easy not to attempt any interpretation of the high incidence of electoral fraud in Muslim Asian communities. I wasn't one of them. This may have been because I had to write about it - which required some kind of interpretation - or it may be because prejudice is my default setting when faced with a confusing information.

However I think anyone attempting to interpret the existing information on electoral fraud is on dangerous territory even if they don't have racist tendencies.

At the moment the cure - the antidote to believing Muslim Asian communities are solely responsible for the high levels of electoral fraud - is little more than a conspiracy theory.

It revolves around the idea that political parties in the UK offer no-questions-asked public funds for community projects in return for blocks of votes. The Ocean Estate won a £56m regeneration grant in 2000, the elections mentioned in the photo above were to the board which distributed this cash.

I believe this theory - that UK political parties are partially responsible - but I don't know how many other people who read press coverage of election fraud will be are aware of it. This means that all they see is that electoral fraud seems to be committed mainly by Asian Muslims.

Private Eye opens can of worms

The leader of Tower Hamlets Council, Lutfur Rahman, has accused Private Eye of printing "Filth. Racist, Islamophobic, homophobic filth" (According to the latest issue of Private Eye (10-23 July 2009))

For three consecutive issues the magazine's Rotten Boroughs page has told readers about the financial rewards received by Labour councillors, mainly Bangladeshis, in the borough: “25 of Tower Hamlets 33 Labour Councillors now have paid positions in addition to their basic allowances.” These paid positions include two committee chairs whose roles have earned one £88 per minute (yes per minute) and the other a staggering £806 per minute.


The Private Eye pieces hint at an underlying cause: the Labour leadership needs to keep a majority of the fractured Bangladeshi community on side, or its power in the council will disappear. If Private Eye is correct, this is being achieved partly by paying them a wage.

A good place to check out the details of some of these claims is this piece (by former East London Advertiser journalist, Ted Jeory) originally written for the Sunday Express but posted on Harry's Place here where the comments provide some more background.

This comment is of particular interest: "What Lutfor Rahman has been able to do is to bring together a classic south Asian block of votes which are bought and sold by power brokers from the leading villages, Shiramishi, Habigonj, Hashimfatimapur and the others.

"He is now in a position where he doesn’t need the Labour Party to stay in control of the council and could form his own independent block by promising his supporters all sorts of favours in terms of jobs and grants."

Is cash for votes a real problem?

The idea that blocks of Muslim Asian votes are exchanged for public funds is not confined to some off-the-wall fringe. Government sponsored reports by Ted Cantle (Cantle Report) and David Ritchie (The Ritchie Report) on the 2001 race riots, or Richard Mawrey's judgement on the electoral fraud scandal in Birmingham in 2004, provide various incarnations of the claims that political parties are engaged in this activity.

The Ritchie Report said that electoral irregularities in Oldham “were a source of tension and concern” adding: “There appears to be a clan or client based approach to politics and public life within the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities which does not fit easily with traditional British processes and which has been exploited by white party leaders, to get votes, and Asian Community leaders, to secure influence.”

"It has not been helped by the area-based nature of many recent regeneration initiatives, which have encouraged people to think that there is a block of funding which, if they have the right placemen in the right positions, they can ultimately control."

The Cantle Report said something similar: “In some areas, the Asian community has drawn our attention to a situation where some local political activities, including the selection of candidates, owe more to familial and other inappropriate connections, than to the legitimate and pressing concerns of the local electorate.”

“It was suggested to us that some councillors had either solicited votes in return for support for community projects, or succumbed to undue pressure and representations. All institutions must examine their relationships with the different sections of the local community and ensure that there are no further ‘sweetheart deals’ with self-appointed, and often unrepresentative, community custodians.”

On 31 May 2009, former British Ambassador turned human rights campaigner Craig Murraysaid in his blog that Lord Patel got his peerage for "enforcing the New Labour vote among the Muslim community of Blackburn" and Baroness Pola Uddin for doing the same thing in Tower Hamlets.

He said: “The ennoblements in fact only symbolise an entire system whereby Muslim communities in the UK are kept dependent upon great streams of public money... Blackburn is soaked in EU regional funds and urban regeneration grants. It bristles with community centres, cultural organisations and community workers. The council is the biggest employer. I could go on and on.”

Why has no one dug into these issues?

An alarming quote from Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey's judgement following Birmingham's notorious 2004 electoral fraud epidemic might explain why so little is said about this: "This (the failure of the police to investigate electoral fraud) is not helped by the invidious position in which a police force is put when investigating electoral fraud in a local authority context.

"The alleged fraudsters may, after all, be members of the political authority to which the force is answerable. The noble cop who fights corruption at City Hall at risk of his career may well be a staple of Hollywood movies but he is much rarer in real life."

So it seems unlikely there will be any conclusive evidence that political parties are engaged in what Ted Cantle calls “sweetheart deals” that lead to communities relying on a political status quo for their jobs to be safe – which in turn leads to electoral fraud whenever there is a threat to this status quo.

The issue is rarely reported in the press. The story in Tower Hamlets has won more than usual interest because the allegations throw the East London Mosque and Saudi fundamentalism into the mix.

The racism problem

Mawrey asks the obvious question. In a section of his judgement called “The Asian Factor” Mawrey said: “Patently, most of the protagonists in these Petitions are members of the Muslim Asian community. Is this relevant?” His answer was ‘No’.

He said: “To suggest that Muslim Asians are prone to frauds of this kind whereas other communities are not, would be racist and moreover would not be justified by any evidence before this court.”

That was his view in 2005 and it was this view which alerted me to the fact that my own ideas about the Bangladeshi community were racist. In 2007 Mawrey was presiding over similar vote rigging claims in Tower Hamlets and in 2008 an electoral fraud case in Slough outlined in this piece from the BBC which resulted in Six jailed for postal vote fraud in May this year, 2009.

None of this changes the fact that it would be racist to say that Asian Muslim communities are more prone to electoral fraud because they are Asian Muslim communities.

So, unless you think there is an academic justification for racism, there must be another explanation.

The conspiracy theory cure

Ritchie, Cantle, Murray and, to some extent, Mawrey, all point to problems beyond the Muslim Asian communities as the causes of their problems. They all suggest that the communities themselves cannot be blamed. However, none of them can offer anything more than anecdotal evidence.

Because their argument lacks evidence, there is a danger that it could be written-off as a conspiracy theory. This is made worse by politicians and authorities who deny that any such activity goes on.

In April 2005, Sion Simon, Labour MP for Erdington, was offended by Mawrey’s take on Muslim Asian politics in his constituency and defended his councillors in Parliament: “Will the Minister reassure them that their reputations... will not be sullied by this judgement, whose suggestion that the corruption was city wide went beyond its remit and beyond the available evidence?” Ritchie also faced some criticism: Oldham officials attack riot report. And in 2007 the findings of Mawrey's short-lived investigation in Tower Hamlets into similar vote rigging claims were rubbished by the council.

Unfortunately, if these conspiratorial theories are fantasy, then the only culprits left in the dock are the Muslim Asian communities. At the moment this suits the Labour Party and the politicians who benefit from the deal making. But it also suits the BNP and any one else who wants to interpret the evidence in a racist way.

Is it responsible to believe in conspiracy theories?

In his recent book "Voodoo Histories, The Role of The Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History", David Aaronovitch says: “It is important not to overlook the smaller theories, since if believed, it seems to me, they eventually add up to an idea of the world in which the authorities, including those who we elect, are systematically corrupt and untruthful.” (Page 5)

Aaronovitch is not a fan of the conspiracy theory believing that they have huge potential to do damage. His first chapter describes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” a false document that whipped up hatred against Jews.

He cites the principle of Occam's Razor: “This can be restated as “Other things being equal, one hypothesis is more plausible than another if it involves fewer numbers of new assumptions. Or, far more vulgarly, “Keep it Simple”.

The question is, if Aaronovitch, or anyone else applied this to electoral fraud in the UK what would they end up with? If they lived in Tower Hamlets, Oldham, Blackburn, or Slough, how would they explain the frequency of electoral fraud in Muslim Asian communities? And would their views be racist?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Hackney Communists predict disorder on poll tax scale and beyond

A post on The Commune blog called "A Ripple in a Storm" reports from a 50-strong meeting held in Hackney at the end of June.

It said: "In Hackney, the meeting was called by the local trades council, having been asked to do so by the local government Unison branch."

Until recently Hackney Unison was not a happy ship dut to the acrimonious "witchunt" of four London reps - including Brian Debus - trade union activist, Hackney Unison Branch Chair whose plight had even won the support of the Daily Mail. (Blood and Property (Are Hackney unions ready for the last stand?))

And according to this post on Hangbitch (July 11), the answer is that Unison will still not take on Labour. The Hangbitch author was at the above-mentioned meeting: "I wonder if the grassroots is up for a fight for public services, though. I want it to be, but that’ll hardly make it happen. Who would lead such a fight? Public sector trade unions? Hah. The PCS may put up a geniune fight, but Unison won’t.

"I attend a meeting of Hackney locals and trade union members which is led by Brian Debus – a man who is walking testimony to Unison’s hatred of popular pro-public service, leftwing activists. Debus is one of the four Socialist party activists Unison has banned from office for demanding that Unison stop funding the pro-privatising Labour party. There is a great deal of difference between what Unison does and what it says. This meeting of about 50 people knows that. It agrees that unions are too weak and too slow to organise effectively against the coalition juggernaut." (Similar but not the same as a Liberal Conspiracy post mentioned before)

The Commune reports: "One speaker said that in order to resist the cuts, if we are realistic, we need organisation of the level last seen during anti poll tax movement, which organised in committees street by street, and workplace by workplace. In my view, we will need to organise demonstrations – and direct action besides – but the ferocity of the impending attacks does bear comparison with the poll tax: so our response must recognise that."

It also said: "In Hackney, cuts have already begun. Cuts to the local college are covered elsewhere in The Commune. There have also been cuts at the local waste depot, and a number of teaching assistants have been made redundant in primary schools. These are not Tory cuts, not yet. They are Labour’s last sigh in government, the first ripple in the coming storm."

So will Unison see industrial action as taking on a Tory government or a Labour council? Or as defending its members?

Other bits on other blogs:

Little London Fields festival..."In a bid to distance itself from current associations with shootings and stabbings and regain its throne as the place Hackney folk can gather

And a movie about various people in Dalston and other places

Thursday, 15 July 2010

13% of Hackney's benefit cut victims will be ultra orthodox jewish

According to a council document, 213 of Hackney's 1,642 housing benefit claimants - whose rents will no longer be fully covered by benefits if government proposals go through - will be ultra orthodox Jewish (Charedi).

The next largest group to be affected by the cuts is white British with 92 claims affected.

The figures come from this document: (CDM_n2525299_v1_Item_5_-Housing_reform_briefing_paper_for_LiH, item 5. pdf  icon PDF 186 KB taken from the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission)

The extent of the Charedi community's dependence on large family homes is demonstrated by this statistic: in April 2009, when benefits payments were capped at five bedrooms (£550), 32 housing benefit claims were affected in Hackney. In other words 32 households that were claiming housing benefit were paying more than £550 per week in rent.

According to Hackney Council, 30 of those claims, or 94%, were from the Charedi community.

After the changes some of these claims fell short of their weekly rent by as much as £300 per week. Despite this the council reports that no applications were made for the extra help that was available to meet these changes.

The council said: "Analysis of these customers showed that 94% are from the Charedi Jewish community. No claims for a Discretionary Housing Payment were received from these claimants and none presented to the Housing Options and Advice Service."

Each of these claims is likely to involve large homes and large families and so the number of people affected by the changes could be much larger than the number of claims.

The wards worst affected are:

New River: 239 housing benefit claimants who are paying rent above the new caps (formerly a Conservative ward now just one Conservative councillor)

Springfield: 227 affected (Now represented by two Conservative councillors and one Labour)
Cazenove: 210 affected (Now represented by three Lib Dems)
Lordship: 164 affected (Now represented by one Conservative and two Labour)

This means that the majority of the councillors representing these wards come from the parties which imposed the cuts: 3 X Lib Dem and 4 X Conservative. This also happens to be all the Lib Dem and Conservative councillors with seats in Hackney Council.

The other wards are all represented by Labour councillors:
Leabridge has 112 housing benefit claimants who are paying rent above the new caps
Dalston: 84
Wick: 80
Chatham: 77
Hackney Downs: 71
Kings Park: 65
Hackney Central: 39
Stoke Newington Central: 35
Brownswood: 32
Clissold: 29
Hoxton: 29
DeBeauvoir: 28
Haggerston: 27
Queensbridge: 22
Victoria: 20

A link to Blood and Property report on the commons debate - led by Meg Hillier - on this issue which took place in the House of Commons on Monday.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Cuts: "Devastating impact" on Hackney's ultra orthodox Jewish community

On Tuesday (13 July) Meg Hillier initiated a debate on the government's caps and cuts to housing benefits. In it she said that large numbers of Hackney residents might have to move to boroughs like Barking and Dagenham for cheaper housing.

In her opening speech she said:"I need to touch on a problem in the north of Hackney... where orthodox Jewish families will be severely hit. Such families typically have more than four children, and many of them live in the private rented sector, so the limit on benefit will have a devastating impact. The council and social landlords in Hackney will be unable to take the strain, so I need answers from the Minister on how councils will be supported in dealing with that."

Changes in housing benefits could be particularly painful in this community. Firstly, the options to move are limited as their religion says they should live within walking distance of a synagogue.

Secondly, Hackney's ultra orthodox Jewish community has been the life blood of the borough's Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition.

Now the ultra orthodox community's poorest are stuck with being represented by Labour politicians who may feel less obliged to act on their behalf - or by their own leaders who support the parties that are initiating the cuts.

In the debate Meg said: "Perhaps the most vicious measure is the cutting of benefits by 10% after a claimant has been unemployed for 12 months. What possible rationale can there be for punishing the victims of the recession?"

According to a post on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday: "How Hackney Cuts" Hackney folk prefer to stick their heads in the sand rather than face the reality of these cuts. Could more be done by the council to highlight the seriousness of this situation for some residents - may be something more realistic than Hackney Today's most recent "Summer of Fun" front page splash.

In her speech Meg Hillier mentions Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe in a new role as joint spokesman for London with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"The Conservative Mayor of London and the Labour chair of London Councils (Jules Pipe) have joined together - in the spirit of coalition government, I suppose - and have written to the Government to point out the error that they have made... On this occasion, I agree with Boris, which is not something that I expect to say regularly. At least we have some voice for London through him and through Mayor Jules Pipe, who chairs London Councils."

Meg will have her eye on a role in the shadow cabinet and another eye on who will win the leadership battle. Diane is fighting for Labour leadership. Jules is a spokesman for London.

A remark that might haunt Meg: "It is rare to have a Minister who is an expert. Governments often seem to conspire to put people in office who do not know much about their subject, but in this case we have a Minister who knows what he is talking about and can make a difference."

MPs from Labour and other parties were lining up to speak on the issue and praised Meg Hillier's success in securing the debating time. It will have distracted attention from her attempts to defend ID cards (for which she was a minister) two days previously apparently calling for changes that would have only affected one 'transgendered' person in whole of the UK.

Meg Hillier: "Of the nearly 40,000 people in Hackney currently in receipt of housing benefit, just over 9,000 live in the private rented sector. Two thirds are in receipt of benefit, but one third are working tenants, many of whom would like to continue to work but, as a result of the proposals, will find a serious shortfall between their rent and the benefit provided for it, and will have very little income to make up the difference. In the three bands for the broad rental market areas that operate in my constituency-inner east, inner north and London central-all properties with more than two bedrooms are above the Government's proposed cap. That is ludicrous. It means that those in Hackney living in a two, three or four-bedroom property-or a larger property-will have nowhere to go. They could go out of Hackney, but there are not many boroughs they could go to. I am not entirely clear how the Government propose to ensure that people can stay living in London-and, crucially, working in London and supporting its economy-because many people need that benefit to subsidise their rent so that they are able to live locally to their jobs.

Meg Hillier: "1,642 claimants will be affected by the bedroom size proposals in my borough alone, which is devastating. Shelter has kindly done some research that shows that the average three-bedroom household in inner-east London, which is a band in my constituency, will need to find an additional £35 a week to keep a roof over their heads. I do not know how people on the minimum wage or benefits can do that. For example, how will a pensioner surviving on £98 a week find that additional £35? Perhaps they would not be in a three-bedroom property, but they would still have to find some extra money. How will someone on the minimum wage-£218 a week-find that additional money?"

Timing: "The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch asked about timing. It is important that I place it on the record that I need to make some corrections. Nothing happens this autumn; nothing will change until next April. We have to put regulations through the Social Security Advisory Committee, so there will be a process of consultation on the regulations. The regulations will be laid before Parliament in October or November. There will then be a further six months before anything changes. As she rightly said, those are the changes that will go through secondary legislation. Some of the longer-term changes will require primary legislation, so there will be a further process of scrutiny and consultation."

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Hackney Vietnamese drug dealer kidnapped and murdered

Surrey Today reports that another man has been jailed for his involvement in the murder of a Vietnamese drug dealer who lived in South Hackney until his kidnap and murder in 2008.

Four men were sentenced to life for his murder and one for manslaughter in November 2009. Yesterday a sixth man, Hung Mai, 27, was sentenced to nine years, also for manslaughter.

According to court reports, Khach Nguyen, a 36-year-old father of three, was kidnapped from Hackney where he lived. He and his driver were taken to an isolated farm in Surrey where they were beaten and held to ransom before being released back in Hackney.

However Nguyen's injuries were so serious that he died later on the same day.

The alleged reason for his kidnap and murder was over £30,000 worth of cannabis that Nguyen was selling in Sutton but which, a court was told, had been stolen at gunpoint by another gang.

In 2009, Surrey Today reported on the murder trial: "Prosecutor Victor Temple QC said: "These six defendants were members of a well-organised criminal concern that specialised in large sale supply of cannabis."

"Mr Nguyen and his chauffeur Phuc Tran were the go-betweens in a drug deal due to take place near a McDonalds in Sutton. But they were held at gunpoint and robbed of the haul worth £30,000.

"Mr Temple said: "These six defendants, together with three or four others all came to the conclusion that Khach Nguyen and Phuc Tran had stolen or had arranged for others to steal £30,000 of cannabis belonging to their organisation.

"Both men were kidnapped and driven to a remote farmhouse building in Surrey."

Two Surrey Today reports: November 2009, murder trial and July 2010, manslaughter trial

One from the Hackney Gazette: August 2008

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Two stabbings in Hackney on Sunday: London Fields and Stamford Hill

There were two stabbings in Hackney today at about lunch time. One was in London Fields ( near Westgate St) and a 24-year-old man is in hospital. A police spokesman said the victim has "reasonably serious" injuries but there is no murder squad so may not be life threatening. There were no other details about how the incident happened but the park was busy... did anyone see anything?

Hackney Hive provides details of the other Hackney (Stamford Hill) stabbing here.

This afternoon I cycled from my sister's in Haringey to London Fields. She lives near the scene of an attempted murder on Friday (which has been linked to murders in Cricklewood (the victim was Albanian) and East Ham (the victim appears to be from Serbia/Montenegro)).

On the way I stopped in Stamford Hill where a policeman told me a bloody pile of rags cordoned-off outside Barclays Bank in Stamford Hill was the debris from a stabbing (Hackney Hive reports here).

In London Fields, walking towards Broadway Market there was another cordoned-off area (near the concrete table-tennis table) and another pile of rags, the scene of another stabbing.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Credit Union and Citizen vs Council

Hackney Credit Union closure is discussed at length in the comment section of this blog post: Hackney Credit Union suspended on Paul Stott's I intend to escape...and come back.

Including such highlights as: "There are rumours of this being precipitated by £100,000 or some such sum going walkies. If there's any truth in that (not saying there is) it's likely to mean people have to wait even longer to get their money back"... and "Who has taken our money from what was in essence an empty charity-shop incredibly licensed to take people's deposits? Who was running this apparent 'ponzi scheme' openly operating on our high street? And who allowed them to prey on investors?"

On Thursday the Hackney Gazette suggested a less extreme scenario saying HCU "collapsed after its running costs outstripped money coming in with more and more people unable to repay loans."

The paper also reported concerns that the HCU collapse would cause a resurgence in loan sharks.

Commentators on I Intend to Escape didn't hold back on council bashing but the top prize for this goes to a guest spot on Hackney Citizen from Jack of Kent: "The improper and disgraceful conduct of Hackney Council" which exposes the council's daft threats against the Citizen as well as its failure to inform the Citizen that it had no intention of pursuing the issue any further.

Jack of Kent picks the council's legal arguments to pieces but could the catalyst for the council's course of action have come from its communications department? In comparison to its well-oiled and fully staffed comms team, the legal department is a Cinderella. (also see Hackney Legal department's recruiting crisis confirmed) and the council's claim that it was defending a junior member of staff looks more like an excuse to bully a critic (one that the Mayor happened to have publicly attacked)... meanwhile the legal team seems to fire wherever it is pointed.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Hackney's 'groups of friends' problem. Diane on religion

Today's Hackney Gazette has a quote from Detective Chief Inspector John Macdonald who led the Eddie Thompson murder inquiry. In a piece on page three called "Assassination gun hidden in boy's bag" the Gazette refers to the murderers as "reckless gangsters".

Discussing the history of the gun used in the killing, DCI Macdonald opted for less inflamatory language: "I think that firearm was used by a group of friends as and when they needed it and used other people to hold it." Is he purposefully avoiding the word gang?

A couple of days ago Blood and Property asked whether the 15-year-old carrying the gun used to kill Eddie Thompson might have been the same 15-year-old described as a member of a Vietnamese gang by the Mirror's crime correspondent.

Diane Abbott on religion: The Church Times reports: "Diane Abbott, who was the first black woman to be elected to Parlia ment, said that more people in her constituency in Hackney attended a faith meeting on a Sunday than any type of political meeting; “so I take issues of church and faith very seriously.”

“The lesson for the Labour Party from Christian Socialist history is that we are all human beings,” she said. “We have to stay close to people, and listen and respect people. Politics can’t be about just the next opinion poll, but practice based on values.”

On her website Diane provides stats showing 47% of her constituents are Christians.

Back in February
Diane told Blood and Property pretty much the same thing: "A large proportion of my constituents go to church so understanding religion is important to me. Huge amounts of money are being poured into the Christian Party here in Hackney, as your blog has pointed out. This seems to suggest religion may be on the agenda of politicians in the future but it will only really make a difference if candidates can win the support of people outside of their churches as well as within them."

Diane did not give away her personal views on religion and the supernatural when Blood and Property asked - except to say she hasn't had any supernatural experiences (Do Hackney Politicians believe in ghosts?)

But in a 2009 speech in parliament she said: "We have to look at how we work with the Churches. I admit that I am not a regular church-goer myself, but often the only bastion of order, values and boundaries in inner-city areas is the Church."

So she does go to church which is more than we know about Meg Hillier? When Blood and Property interviewed Meg she said: "I don’t really want to talk about my personal situation. It’s not relevant to my job." And on whether or not she believes in ghosts she said: "To be brutally honest I’ve got better things to do with my time than answer questions like that."

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Greens ousted from Hackney by "dog poo"

According to an election report by the man who masterminded Hackney Labour's victory in May, Labour: "Fought and won Clissold Ward from the Greens based more on tackling dog poo on the Milton Gardens Estate than on the national or even borough issues."

The battle with the Green Party for Clissold Ward was just one area where Luke Akehurst's tactics helped Labour to an almost unhealthy victory, taking 50 of the borough's 57 seats (not including the Labour Mayor, Jules Pipe).

It may be common practice in all parties but Akehurst's report reveals a stick-heavy/ carrot-light attitude by the Labour Party leadership toward its councillor candidates. The positives (two annual social events and a no-arguing policy for in-house debates) seem to be outweighed by the negatives (league tables to encourage competitiveness, and threats of deselection and weekly reporting regimes for wards that lag behind on canvassing numbers.)

But are these threats just secondary measures to keep an already compliant selection of candidates in-line? In the piece Luke Akehurst makes it clear that powerful measures were taken to clean up the Hackney Labour Party and whatever techniques he devised to do this in 2000, why wouldn't he deploy them on newer generations of politicians?

Maybe the botched attempt to deselect hard left Labour Councillor Barry Buitekant was a symptom of this Labour group engineering. May be it wasn't. But the question now is whether the Hackney Labour Party is willing to scrutinise its leadership and whether it's members can restrain its leadership if they need to?

Meanwhile, the election result seems to be a mainly white Labour group with most minorities under-represented.

16-year-old Hackney photographer (terrorist?) stopped again

It looks like Jules Mattsson, a 16-year-old photographer and sixth form student at Stoke Newington School, has been detained with the help of a stronger strain of anti-terror legislation... Amateur Photographer: Photographer suspected of being a terrorist outside Buckingham Palace

Apparently, this time, the police used section 43 of the Terrorism Act under which they have to "reasonably suspect" the person of being a terrorist.

Mattsson was nearly arrested under anti-terrorism laws for photographing cadets in Romford (Hackney Hive version here).

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Vietnamese gang link to Eddie Thompson murder?

Are these related? This November 2009 story from the Mirror's crime correspondent sounds similar to a recent police statement about the Eddie Thompson murder.

The Mirror story is called: "15-year-old thug caught with a loaded gun used in murder gets just 12 months"

It says: "The youth, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was caught with a loaded Baikal pistol, which had been used in a murder the day before.

"Detectives found the weapon had been fired on at least four other occasions in the previous month."

Sound familiar? In Eddie Thompson's murder a 15-year-old was caught with the murder weapon a day later, it too had been used in other "non-fatal shootings" and the 15-year-old was also given a 12 month sentence.

There was, however, a piece bit of information that set the Mirror story apart from the recent police statement: "The 15-year-old, a member of a Vietnamese gang, had a previous conviction for street robbery."

At the moment Blood and Property has no evidence that this Mirror story is about the same case (Eddie Thompson was murdered in September 2009 this case appears to have been heard a month later).

If these are the same events, then does it raise questions about gun use in Hackney? Did this weapon change hands swiftly between diverse groups or was something else going on?

How many school-age children in Hackney have these kinds of convictions and how have schools supressed gang violence?

Monday, 5 July 2010

15-year-old caught with murderer's gun in school bag

After three men were convicted of Eddie Thompson's murder, the detective in charge of the investigation, DCI John Macdonald said: "The day after Eddie Thompson was killed, by pure chance a 15-year-old boy was stopped close to the scene and the gun was found in his school bag."

Does this mean that the murder weapon spent the day in a Hackney school?

The story behind the gun is strange. In his statement DCI Macdonald said: "This gun was also used in some non-fatal shootings prior to the murder in and around the Pembury Estate."

At face value, this sounds like the gun was a community resource, accessible to people of all ages and for all purposes. But was it really for the exclusive use of a particular set of people - a gang?

And could the motives for these other "non-fatal shootings" have been as insignificant as those related to the death of Eddie Thompson? Although his death was a case of mistaken identity there was a target for this "hit". He was sitting in the back seat of the car. But the motives for his attempted murder appear obscure and irrelevant.

From the Evening Standard's court report:

"Kallum Morris, now 18, recruited the two gunmen to carry out the hit over a “festering dispute” he had with another person doing community service at the same school... the basis of the argument between Morris and his intended murder target was unknown: “It appears to have been pretty one-sided with Morris confronting and threatening and the other man wanting nothing of it.”

Was a 'gang' of some kind involved? Does DCI Macdonald's statement mean that this murder weapon spent the day in a Hackney school?

Police statement:

Three men have (Friday 2 July) been convicted for the murder of 29-year-old Edward Thompson in Hackney last year.

[C] Kallum MORRIS (9.6.91 - 19yrs) of no fixed abode; [E] Paul STOBY (18.9.91 - 18 yrs) of no fixed abode; and [F] Kieron LAWRENCE (18.3.91 - 19yrs) of 71 Pretoria Avenue E17 were found guilty at the Central Criminal Court.

All are due to be sentenced on 23 July.

Police were called at approximately 16:00hrs on 6 September 2009 to reports of a shooting in Amhurst Road E8.

Edward Thompson was taken to Homerton Hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

A post-mortem examination gave cause of death as a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Mr Thompson was a front seat passenger with three male friends in a blue Volkswagen Polo which was stationary in traffic outside 70 Amhurst Road, at the junction with Marcon Place.

Stoby and Lawrence walked alongside and approached the open passenger window, firing a shot into the car before running off towards Pembury Junction and the Pembury Estate. Mr Thompson, of Kingsland Road, Hackney, was driven by his friends to hospital where he later died.

On 7 September two men [A - 20 ys; B - 20 ys] were arrested, bailed to return and later NFA'd. The following day Morris was arrested in the Ilford area and later charged with murder.

On 9 September a 15-year-old male [D] was also arrested in connection with the incident. He was later accused of possession of a firearm for which he received a 12 month sentence on 3 November 2009.

Stoby (17 years at the time) and Lawrence were arrested in mid-September and later charged.

DCI John Macdonald said: “This is another example of immature young men trying to enhance their local reputation through the use of a firearm. This gun was also used in some non-fatal shootings prior to the murder in and around the Pembury Estate. The day after Eddie Thompson was killed, by pure chance a 15-year-old boy was stopped close to the scene and the gun was found in his school bag.

“We don’t think Eddie was the intended target, so by their actions the two/three have now devastated the lives of Eddie’s partner of 11 years, his 3 young boys (8, 5, and 14 months), his mum, and all his other family and friends. Eddie was full of life, always with a smile on his face, but of course those responsible couldn’t care less about that.

“At least Eddie’s family have had the satisfaction of seeing today's convictions, and knowing that those responsible have no worthwhile future themselves”.


Hackney Citizen appealing for legal funds: still needs £500

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Chatsworth chewing gum icon has disappeared

This nice photo of the Chatsworth chewing gum stack comes from here

But this Chatsworth Road landmark has now gone:

Ten years ago I remember these giant packets of Wrigley's chewing gum looking like they had been in this shop window for a long time. They were getting a bit sun-bleached even then. But sad to see them go... must be the dawn of a new era. Apparently the smashed-in door was the police trying to find out what had happened to the aged owner.

And just for a last taste of properly matured window dressing:

(When I first got here I thought the cobblers further down on Chatsworth toward Millfields was another shop that time forgot - it has a spectularly dusty/faded/cob-webbed window display but he's still in there fixing shoes... or was last time I looked)

I've been told that it's not a straightforward business trying to get hold of one of the many defunct properties on Chatsworth Road at the moment. One would be Hackney entrepreneur told me she'd given up trying after one lengthy attempt.

Another shop-keeper next to the bookies due to open on Lower Clapton road said that shop owners in Hackney hang-on in the hope of getting a higher-rate paying bookies to move in. Whether that's true or not, who knows?

Meanwhile the bullet holes in 'Friends' Chinese restaurant window are still there. Will they become the next icon of a long-lost Hackney past?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Meg Hillier forced to defend her seat as Clegg uses 10-year-old figures

Was Nick Clegg using 10-year-old data from Wikipedia when he stated the size of Hackney South's electorate in Parliament?

A terse comment from Meg Hillier arrived via email alert yesterday. At first glance it looked like the straightforward correction of an error made by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Meg said: "On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are very keen that Members of the House should always be factually accurate. On Tuesday 22 June, in answer to questions, the Deputy Prime Minister cited my constituency and said that it had an electorate of 52,000. In fact, on 6 May the electorate was 72,920. I would hope that you, Mr Speaker, would remind Government members of the importance of being factually accurate, when they have all the resources of Government to enable them to quote accurate figures, not figures plucked from the tops of their heads."

She was responding to what Nick Clegg had said: "Clearly, in line with existing legislation dating back to 1986, it is right for us to continue to provide for more equal constituencies in this country. [Interruption.] Here in London, for instance, Hackney South and Shoreditch has an electorate of just 57,204, while a few miles down the road, on the other side of London, Croydon North has 22,615 more voters. Its electorate is more than a third larger. That cannot be right."

But Clegg wasn't plucking figures from the top of his head. Most likely he was using this Wikipedia page which also uses the 57,204 figure. The only other place where this figure appears dates it back to the year 2000: from Boundary Commission Report: "3.12 The constituency with the lowest 2000 electorate in London will be Hackney South and Shoreditch BC with 57,204 electors: this will be the second lowest electorate in England after that of Wirral West BC....."

May be Nick Clegg has it in for Meg after she told Labour councils to have a zero tolerance policy toward Lib Dem co-operation.

(It's late and I couldn't find where Meg's 72920 figure came from - maybe here somewhere)

Good plant Bad plant

Glamorous Gardener digs up an old tale about the £70m cost of removing Japanese Knot Weed from the Olympics site...

And the Wall Street Journal follows a foraging East End chef around bits of Hackney: "It is really surprising how much you can find to eat in a park in east London, which you can then put on a fine-dining tasting menu," says Mr. Willetts. "Every restaurant uses micro herbs as garnish these days. Why buy them in when you can use local, unusual produce that no one thinks about using?"

And Leabank Square says you might already be too late for the elderflower cordial.