Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Court excludes six from Stepney mosque

The trustees of a ‘portakabin’ mosque in Stepney have succeeded in excluding six worshippers from their premises but have racked-up a £100,000 legal bill in doing so.

The bill is being paid using £600,000 of funds raised to build a new mosque.
Despite ordering the exclusions, High Court Judge Elizabeth Slade accepted that the mosque’s trustees could have initiated the legal action to silence legitimate complaints about how the mosque has been run.

But she said that the allegations made by the mosque’s trustees – that they were afraid of the defendants – should be treated as legitimate at least until they went to trial.

She said: “The claimants have established a serious issue to be tried in respect of the allegation of trespass against each of the respondents to these allegations. “

But she said: “In my judgement there is likely to be considerable factual dispute as to whether the trustees had cause (to exclude the defendants) or whether they did so for proper purposes. These factual issues will have to be resolved at a later hearing. At this stage I can’t resolve such factual disputes.”

She said: “The history of litigation between parties shows that there is considerable animosity between some directors and defendants.”

Her judgement included the witness statement of three mosque trustees who did not believe that their colleagues’ decision to take legal action was a legitimate or responsible use of mosque funds.

The ‘rebel’ trustees said: “We understand that the reason some trustees are seeking these exclusions is because they feel intimidated by their (the defendants) presence. It is our opinion that any intimidation does not result from the (defendants)

“The trustees are facing allegations of serious wrong doing… it’s our opinion that the matter has been referred to the Charity Commission it therefore seems to us that this (legal action) has more to do with the feelings of (the trustees)… to prevent freedom of expression.”

Judge Slade referred to the view of the ‘rebel’ trustees that the decision to take legal action: “shows how far they (the trustees) are prepared to go in the suppression of criticism of their allegations of wrong doing.“

In her judgement she said that she had weighed up a number of issues including a recent peaceful period at the mosque: “It may be that peace has been preserved because the trustees have stayed away.”

But decided that excluding the defendants was the fairest course until trial, saying that not to exclude them would be consenting to “continuing interference” in the activities of the trustees.
A trial is likely at the beginning of November.

The judge said: “It’s a serious matter to deprive the trespass defendants of access to their chosen place of worship. However, if relief were granted until trial, that would not deprive the trespass defendants of the ability to worship. There are other mosques in the area. It has not been suggested that they would be barred from attending these.

“Taking all these matters into account I grant interlocutory relief restraining defendants 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 from entering or remaining on the specified premises until trial or further order.”

One of the key areas of concern raised by the judge during the hearing was the legitimacy of the trustees decision in revoking the licenses of the defendants to attend the mosque. It became clear during the hearing that the licences were revoked by the mosque’s solicitor, Peter Miller of Bowling & Co.

Also that Mr Miller had drawn up a resolution that was passed in an emergency board meeting at the mosque at 12.30am on August the 25th, designed to ratify his action to withdraw these licences.

Judge Slade said: “In my judgement, in the material before me, there are serious issues to be tried:

a) Whether the licences of the trespass defendants to be on the claimants land was revoked.
b) If so, when and by whom?
c) If by trustees whether they had good cause to do so and did so for proper purposes
d) If by an individual whether he had authority to do so.”

Another area of concern to the judge was what she had previously described as the “appalling” state of Bowling and Co’s provision of paperwork to the defendants’ legal team and to the court.

After Judge Slade’s judgement was read out in court there was a heated discussion about costs.

Previous reports:

Mosque dispute: legal paperwork is "disgrace" and "appalling"

A Stepney mosque faces massive legal costs as its management committee attempts to exclude opponents from the premises.

The management of the Shah Jalal Mosque on Duckett Street in Stepney intends to sue the same worshippers for libel and has initiated further legal proceedings in order to take full control of the mosque's bank accounts. The potential costs could be enormous and put an end to the new mosque plans.

As the number of hearings and bundles of paperwork mount the defendants claim that the mosque has spent £90,000 of charity's £600,000 on its solicitors.

At the hearing on Tuesday a number of technical details were discussed.

The presiding Judge, Justice Elizabeth Slade heard the claimants’ case for excluding 11 worshippers. But the hearing was held up several times by inconsistent paperwork provided by the claimants’ Stratford-based solicitors Bowling and Co.

At one point in the hearing Judge Slade said: “This is a disgrace, that the documents haven’t been properly serviced and that counsel (for the defendants) is meant to be dealing with this case without the same documents that others are dealing with in court.”

The judge later described the situation as “an appalling state of affairs” and demanded that the claimants representatives get their paperwork in order. One of the claimants’ junior solicitors was asked to help the defendants’ barrister identify the documents the court was considering.

Both parties claimed to be trying to minimise costs.

A number of allegations have been made by both sides in the dispute. The claimants say that the 11 defendants have used violence, intimidation and defamation to take control of the mosque.

The allegations against the claimants include theft, fraud and having abused their positions of responsibility within the mosque.

One of the key issues concerning Judge Slade was that the claimants' case was not specific to each defendant: “I’m concerned about the lack of specificity even if the 25 July meeting is taken as authorised, the word ‘associates’ is an extremely broad term."

She asked the prosecution to provide individually identifiable evidence at the Wednesday hearing.

Both sides have consulted Muslim clerics to substantiate their claims about the use of the mosque.

At one point the Judge said: “Are you saying that members of the congregation who express a view that they have lost faith in those who are running the organisation warrants the banning of these individuals from the premises?"

Mr Cakebread, barrister for the claimants said: "No. If I’m inclined to take the view that my priest is not a good priest or the arch bishop of Canterbury (is not a good bishop), then I’m entitled to express that view.

"But am I entitled to go into that church and explain this view from the pulpit? My submission is that no, you are not and not entitled to put up notices that are highly defamatory of my priest or the ArchBishop of Canterbury.

“Members of the congregation are entitled to express their view but what we say is that they are not entitled to express their views inside the mosque."

Counsel for the defence, Mr Al Mustakim, pointed out that the mosque's imam, not its trustees was the equivalent to a priest.

He also said: “What in effect these trustees are trying to do is bypass the other 15 trustees on a point which is so fundamental it goes to the very heart of the purpose and function of the mosque. It goes against the teaching of the Koran which forbids people from excluding fellow worshippers in undertaking their prayer and flies in the face of what a mosque is all about."

A crowd of about forty people filled court five apparently in support of the defendants.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Smoking crack and cutting throats in Hackney

Well there's not much going on in Hackney. But in San Diego they're looking at a photo called: "Chris helps his girlfriend Mona smoke crack in their apartment in Hackney London":

It is one of several taken in 2009 by New York photographer Seb Meyer. His blog explains how he took the pictures and includes a bizarre run-in with Hackney Police officers.

A quote from Seb Meyer's blog: "When they (the police) couldn’t find anything, they started accusing me of paying for prostitution.

“You were seen going into a toilet with a known prostitute.”

“Who are you calling a prostitute?” shouted Sam.

“Samantha Johnson?”


“You’re known to the police as a prostitute.”

“Ok. That’s true.”

They turned back to me. “I think you went into the toilet, smoked drugs, and got a hand job from this woman.”

For something a bit lighter, there used to be road in Hackney called Cut throat lane. Photographer Michal Jaworski points this out in his blog as well as this: I'd heard of trees called black poplars because they are very rare British trees. He says there are a few of them in Hackney.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Did senior Hackney lawyer have two jobs?

Did Michael Sobell, Hackney's principal lawyer for property and regeneration from 2006-2009 have two jobs? And did his role at the borough include the olympics legacy?

These were questions that Blood and Property put to the council earlier this week.

No answer was supplied as to whether Sobell had responsibilities for the borough's Olympics work load.

Whether or not he dealt with the Olympics, Sobell was in his post during a difficult time when the borough's legal team was massively under-staffed.

During this period he appears to have been responsible for a parking debt recovery business - a suggestion that has been partially confirmed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Blood and Property left messages with two call centre staff at Sobell's law firm Graham White but has not yet received a reply.

On August 17 Blood and Property asked the council:

1 What was his (Sobell's) role at the council was it full time or part time?
2 Was it acceptable for him to run a separate legal business while working for the council?
3 When was the council first made aware of his non-council work?
4 Do any other council solicitors run legal businesses that are not related to the council?
5 Did the council ever investigate Mr Sobell's activities beyond his role in the council?
6 Did his work outside the council breach any of the terms of his contract with the council?

In its first response Hackney Council said:

“Michael Sobell worked as an interim agency employee for Hackney Council on a full-time basis between November 2006 and June 2009. He was an Interim Principal Lawyer for Property and Regeneration. As this individual no longer works for Hackney Council, it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.”

This week Blood and Property asked:

1. Did his role cover the olympics? This council document suggests that Mr Sobell might have had something to do with this.
2. Was Hackney council aware of his extra curricular activities?
3. Also, does Hackney Council check on the non-council commitments of its employees?

Hackney Council said:

“Michael Sobell performed his duties adequately. There is no evidence to suggest that he breached the terms of his engagement through the agency, while working for Hackney Council.”

“Permanent employees of Hackney Council must seek permission to conduct any secondary employment. This does not apply to agency staff. Michael Sobell was agency staff.”

These links suggest that Sobell had work commitments beyond his role at the council.

According to this message board, (http://forums.pepipoo.com/index.php?showtopic=52854&hl=hackney) a letter was sent to the mayor last month to complain about him.

This early mention of Sobell (Oct 2007) notes that he works for Hackney Council:http://ukrights.wetpaint.com/page/MattW+v+MacDonalds+(1)

More links to discussions : http://forums.pepipoo.com/lofiversion/index.php/t36102.html

Discussion about Graham White coincidence: http://forums.pepipoo.com/index.php?showtopic=52778 and here - http://forums.pepipoo.com/index.php?showtopic=25016&st=0&p=230019&#entry230019

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Charity slams Hackney council staff: rude, lazy, unhelpful

I haven't checked out any of this but it looks pretty damning: http://piliontrust.blogspot.com/2010/08/borough-of-hackney.html

Pilion is a charity that works with Islington Council and seems to have recently won more funding from it.

The author of the Pilion charity's blog clearly hasn't had a happy time dealing with Hackney. He or she says: "Over the past two months my teams have been trying to support and advocate for a number of vulnerable people. I mean a young man with mental health and learning difficulties who is fleeing two youth gangs that want to kill him; A young 20 year old woman, fleeing domestic violence and pregnant; An old age pensioner who is illiterate and is being evicted by the Council for rent arrears, when her pension and benefits pay directly to the Council's Housing benefit department."

The author says Pilion staff had dealt with the Housing Department, Mental Health Team, East London NHS, The Homerton and Learning Disabilities saying: "All staff in all departments have similarities in so much as they are rude, abrupt, refuse to give information and are lazy unthinking, uncaring brainless fodder."

The blog posting also complains that managers were not interested in dealing with the complaints and politicians were no better: "All turn a blind eye and don't want to look at the problems being caused by the Public Servants they employ."

Hopefully this was just a bad day. If not then all Hackney residents should beware of lingering in the borough too long: "as all you will find are brain dead "Job Lotters" sucking the life blood out of those who cannot get out."

Other news - The Daily Mail reports that Hackney Council is on the verge of signing a deal with the US for use of London Fields Lido for the Olympics. The Mail said: "A source said: ‘The US team toured London and were surprised by the lack of quality pools. ‘Right away they recognised London Fields as best for training and were very keen. The British tried to get involved but it looks like they’re too late."

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Is a mosque a corporation? £90k legal battle to find out

A High Court hearing on Tuesday will decide whether the management committee of an East London mosque can exclude worshippers they don't like. This appears to be uncharted legal territory.

If the Shah Jalal mosque's management committee are allowed to exclude worshippers, the power will be based on UK corporate law rather than Sharia law.

This is the latest escalation in a bitter dispute over a cluster of prefabricated cabins on the Ocean Estate in Stepney, one of the UK's most impoverished communities. These cabins serve as the Shah Jalal Mosque.

Despite the poverty, worshippers managed to raise £900k in order to build a new mosque. But concern over the management of these funds flared into allegations of corruption and confrontation (East London Advertiser story from 2008).

In response the mosque management committee has hired lawyers to exclude its opponents. These lawyers have been paid with money that was collected to build the mosque - with £90,000 already spent on legal fees in less than a month.

The mosque's management committee claims that the Charity Commission is aware of its action. The Charity Commission would not comment on the case until it received a letter from a defendant yesterday. A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told Blood and Property: "The Charity Commission is aware of concerns about Stepney ShahJalal Mosque (charity number 1079423). We will now assess the concerns to establish what, if any, regulatory role there may be for the Commission."

In the most recent High Court hearing - Friday 6 August - Mrs Justice Nicola Davies refused to grant an order to exclude worshippers. She said she found a number of issues "unsatisfactory". These included the lack of legal representation for 8 of the 11 defendants and a lack of primary documentation. She was also not convinced that the split between the mosque's trustees over the expulsions was irrelevant, as had been claimed by the mosque's barrister, Mr Cakebread.

Judge Davies also expressed concern at charity money being spent and acknowledged the level of support for the defendants (the 11 who face expulsion from the mosque) - the court heard that the 20 to 30 mosque users present were there to support the defendants.

She was not swayed by the claimants argument that their decision to exclude worshippers was backed by law:

Cakebread: If argument has been put to court that there is a legal entitlement for people to (attend) then I’m not aware of it. It’s like barring someone from my house. It is the same, there’s nothing different about it.

The Judge pointed out that some of the mosques trustees supported the defendants.

Cakebread: It is irrelevant because it is a majority in company law, the majority of the company can make the decision.

Later in the hearing the Judge said: "A history where you clearly have dissenting trustees, I don’t just dismiss, as you have, as irrelevant…I can tell you I am not making the order you seek this afernoon."

A date of August 24 was set for the next hearing.

Here's a report of a court hearing on July 29th which covers some of the other issues being discussed: Mosque worshippers face £45,000 legal fee over management dispute.

A court has been told that £300,000 of the Shah Jalal Mosque’s cash had inexplicably disappeared, that official documents had been falsified, and that the Mosque’s treasurer was illegally removed from his post.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice Griffith Williams, commented on the seriousness of the allegations but said that he was not in a position to say whether or not they were true. However the allegations allowed him to revisit an earlier court order in which he had ordered the treasurer to unfreeze the Mosque’s bank accounts.

The judge said: “I can understand your claim. These are serious allegations and it seems to me that there are matters that should be litigated at the earliest possible opportunity. I’m not in any position to direct whether there’s any truth or otherwise in any of the allegations but if there is then clearly the defendant’s decision is understandable vis-à-vis the bank.”

After hearing the allegations he issued a new order giving instructions on how the mosque’s accounts should be handled during the management dispute. But this still included payment of a £35,000 legal bill of one side in the dispute.

Whether or not these legal fees should be paid by the mosque dominated the end of the hearing. Stratford-based Bowlings solicitors faced the prospect of not being paid after taking instructions from the allegedly corrupt Mosque management.

During the hearing Justice Griffiths Williams said that the £45,000 bill “does seem rather a lot of money” and pointed out that the claimant’s barrister had, at one stage in the hearing, said the bill was between £40-£45,000 and that Bowlings had then fixed it at £45,000.

The judge said: “It’s unseemly for lawyers to be arguing about fees and it is certainly not something with which a judge should be involved.”

At first the Judge was minded to unfreeze the mosque’s bank accounts and to exclude legal expenses from any future payments. Then, after arguments were made, a compromise was reached which saw £35,000 of the bill being paid from the mosque’s funds,

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Held hostage for 6 months?

A charity shop on Kingsland Road reported a burglary. The items stolen were spotted for sale at that peculiar 'market' on Kingsland road on Saturdays. The police were called. The police arrested the alleged burglars and visited the address they claimed to be their home. Here they found a 67-year-old man who, I've been told, claimed to have been held hostage by the alleged burglars for as long as six months.

Well something odd was going on but may be not a six month hostage situation.

A statement from Hackney Police said: "On June 17, 2010 police were called by a support worker to the home of the victim, a 67 year old man, to do a welfare check. The victim made an allegation of common assault against a 46 year old man who was living with him. Police have fully investigated this allegation and have also spoken to the victim's care worker. As a result of this incident, the locks of the victim's home have been changed and nobody other than him is now living at the address. The victim has been spoken to and does not wish the suspect to be arrested. A first instance harrassment warning has been issued and if the suspect re-attends the address, then he may be arrested for harrassment."

The 46-year-old man in question was also charged with burglary.

Blood and Property has heard that the 'hostage' victim may have had a habit of inviting random folk into his home and then being unable to get rid of them. There's no real moral to the story except that the life of Hackney police officer can get pretty complex even when nothing much has happened. Which reminds me I've yet to write up a court hearing featuring Dr Seray Wurie which should win a prize for surreal pointlessness.

Burrowing birds of Hackney

Nestless birds are now using Hackney's concrete clad waterways - joining all those other odd things living on or hunting on the banks of the Lea (or is it Lee). Even Hackney's still waters have a reputation there was this piece in Stoke Newington People about fishing lessons on Victoria Park pond where, I was once told, Kray twin victim Jack the Hat McVitie may have been buried although Wikipedia says his body was chucked off a boat near Newhaven. (The Victoria Park fishing co-ordinator has an interesting name... Grant Fear.)
This nature stuff reminds me that my garden will soon be filling up with fat spiders. May be there'll be few more yellow ones this year too.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Irrational numbers: Hackney unemployment

The combined number of people on the dole in Hackney North and Hackney South has not equalled the total number of people on the dole in Hackney the local authority - that's been the case for the last four months(Hackney's 1600 'ghost' workers and 28 'ghost' claimants)

The discrepancy between the combined parliamentary constituencies and the borough - or local authority - appeared after changes were made to boundaries of Hackney North and Hackney South.

The difference between the two was never large and was decreasing from the original 28 in April ( 20 in May and 17 in June). But in July the discrepancy widened again to 23.

This month also sees another odd feature in the official statistics. The number of Job Seekers Allowance claimants in Hackney North and Hackney South rose in both constituencies - consequently it also rose in the borough as a whole.

But in all these cases, the official figures show that the proportion of the working population claiming JSA has fallen. So while the actual number of dole claimants has risen, their proportion in relation to the working population of Hackney has fallen.

The explanation is simply that the working population of Hackney has grown by between 3,000-5,000 in July alone. The whys and wherefores for these odd figures might be buried somewhere in here: Hackney statistics - don't try this at home.

As an aside there was an article in the News of the World today which had Hackney as one of the UK's worst 'jobless ghettos' but it must be hidden somewhere behind the News International pay wall. I didn't look closely enough to see what it was talking about.

Latest Hackney JSA claimant counts:

Hackney borough total (Local Authority)
2010: working population extrapolated from figures in red.
July: 9,466 (6.3%) - (9466/0.063= 150,253)
June : 9,406 (6.5%) (9,406/ 0.065 = 144,707)
May: 9,616 (6.7%) (9,616/.067=143,522)
April: 9,663 (6.7%) (9,663/.067=144,223)
March: 9,846 (6.8%) (9,846/0.68=144,794)
February: 10,044 (7%)
January: 9,905 (6.9%)
December: 9743 (6.7%)
November: 9,795 (6.8%)
October: 9,827 (6.8%)
September: 9,884 (7%)
August 9,826 (6.9%)
July: 9550 (6.7%)

Hackney North

July - 4,572 (5.9%) - (4,572/0.059= 77,491)
June - 4,538 (6.0%) - (4,538/0.06= 75,633)
May - 4,637 (6.2%) - (4,637/0.062=74,790)
April - 4,727 (6.3%) - (4,727/0.063=75,031)
March - 4,336 (6.2%) - (4,336/0.062=69,935)
February - 4,450 (6.4%) - (4,450/0.064=69,531)
January - 4,402 (6.3%) - (4,402/0.063=69,873)

December - 4331 (6.2%)
November - 4386 (6.3%)
October - 4365
September - 4,338
August - 4,331
July - 4206
June - 4,118
May - 4,081

Hackney South
July - 4,871 (6.9%) - (4,871/0.069= 70,549)
June - 4,851 (7.0%) - (4,851/0.07= 69,300)
May - 4,959 (7.2%) - (4,959/0.072=68,875)
April - 4,908 (7.1%) - (4908/0.071=69,126)
March - 5,510 (7.6%) - (5,510/0.076=72,500)
February - 5,594 (7.7%) - (5,594/0.077=72,649)
January - 5503 (7.6%) - (5503/0.076)=72,407)

December - 5,412 (7.5%)
November - 5,409 (7.5%)
October - 5,462
September - 5,546 (7.8%)
August - 5,495
July - 5,344
June - 5,190
May - 5,296

Friday, 13 August 2010

999 call re weapon wielding kids on Middleton Road

I cycled through a gang of black kids/youths on the junction of Malvern Road and Middleton Road at 7.20pm this evening (Friday 13 August). One was carrying what looked like a sharp wooden stake several feet long, another had a piece of timber that he was carrying like a club. A couple of them were jogging up Middleton road towards London Fields as if looking for someone.

I think there were about 10 of them - it looked like more were arriving. When I cycled through them they were totally oblivious to me. Whatever it was that had their attention, it was so consuming that there was no need to conceal weapons, there was no need to be aware of periphery human beings like me.

Nothing else happened but when I was safely out of the way I called 999. The person I spoke to said the call wasn't a waste of time. Five minutes later I was cycling back to Clapton via London Fields and I saw a police car driving through the park, then I noticed several police vans parked along the side of the park.

As I turned towards them to see what was going on I passed a group of three girls, I heard one of them mutter "nosey". I turned to look at her and she repeated it directly at me. I asked her if she knew what had happened. I don't think she answered.

I asked the police why they were there and they said nothing had happened... but that they'd got some call. I told them I'd called 999 earlier and asked if they thought it had been a waste of their time. They said that that was probably why they were there, but no, it hadn't been a waste of time.

Hopefully the police got more than one call - I can't believe I would have been the only person to have noticed something like this. Or may be it happens all the time. I saw something similar about a week earlier on Hackney Road, Asian kids on bikes (one with a baseball bat) obviously chasing a couple of black kids up towards the farm. I didn't call 999 then but felt as if I should have done.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hackney 'Dognap': £500 or I slice his head off

A plumber’s attempt to track down his dog after it went missing from a Hackney building site led to a dramatic police operation at an East London shopping centre.

The story also suggests that people in Hackney are more likely to perform random acts of unprovoked malice than kindness.

Wanstead-based plumber Chris (name changed) lost his 9-month-old terrier Herbert while working on a building site on Kenmure Road.

Chris said: “He comes everywhere I go, he’s just perfect, what I want a dog to be, he usually never leaves my side. But someone opened the door on the building site and after 3-4 minutes I called him and there was no sign. We all stopped work for the rest of the day to look for him."

The dog had disappeared and later Chris came back with 400 posters which he distributed around Hackney Central. It wasn’t long before his phone started ringing: “I was getting these horrible phone calls from people saying they were going to chop his head off. There were a couple of people who rang to ask if we’d found him but there were at least 10 nasty calls. “

When he received a malicious text message from an identifiable number he called it back: “I spoke to this girl who said she’d had an argument with her boyfriend and that he’d sent the text, she said it was the sort of thing he’d do. It seemed like I’d really scraped the bottom of the barrel of Hackney’s social underworld.”

On July 3, three days after Herbert went missing, Chris said: “I got this call from a youth saying “I got your dog, I want £500 or I slice his head off.” Chris asked the man what colour his dog was and when the question was ignored Chris assumed that the caller didn't have his dog.
The caller changed the price to £1000, then £1500, and then £2000 before setting a rendezvous in Asda car park in Leyton Mills.

Chris said: “He sounded like a really nasty piece of work. I very much doubted he had the dog but I just didn’t think that people should get away with behaving like that.”

So he called the police and was surprised by how seriously they took the situation. Minutes later he was met by a plain-clothes policeman in an unmarked car. The officer said he was worried about Chris’s safety – that the people involved may be carrying knives – but reassured him that if he was prepared to play along with the suspected dognappers the police would never be far away from him. The policeman said that there were already 25 officers in seven vans on stand by.

When Chris told the police that he didn’t believe that the callers had his dog, he was told that it didn’t matter and that the minimum sentence for this kind of offence was 5 years.

At 2.08pm he got the call and the first thing he was told was that the ransom had gone up again to £2500. Chris said: “I told him that I thought that he’d want more cash and that I’d brought along some extra to cover it.”

“And then he said “I’m parked in front of KFC in a red Passat, wearing a yellow shirt.”" Chris could see the car and the yellow-shirted passenger from where he stood. As he made his way toward it he passed the police car and said “red passat, yellow shirt” and heard orders being issued to the waiting units.

He said: “My heart was racing, it was pretty overwhelming.”

As he approached the car a large man got out and Chris asked him if he had the dog and the reply came back in a thick Irish accent: “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. The man started to walk away but before he'd got far the police vans pulled up and surrounded him.

Chris told the police that he didn’t think they’d got the culprit. He said that he thought the people who had called him were much younger and were probably in KFC or Burger King watching.

It soon became clear that the man with the Irish accent was picking up some kids and didn’t have anything to do with the phone calls.

He said: “The guy I was talking to sounded really young… but evil, one of those kids who don’t respect themselves or anyone else. The police took it very very seriously.

Chris said he was worried about possible repercussions because the people involved had his name and telephone number.

So what happened to Herbert?

It was only later that Chris’s girlfriend was called by a man named Kenny who said: “I got your dog, I took him to the vet in Holloway.” Chris asked him what colour the dog was and got the reply: “Him grey.” I said my dog wasn’t grey, but Kenny said: “Definitely your dog.”

It was the weekend an no vets were open but a couple of days later Chris got a call from the RSPCA asking if they were missing a dog called Herbert: “straight away I knew it was him because no-one else would have known his name – it was on his chip.”

A final call came from a woman who said she and her boyfriend (Kenny) had found Herbert in a fried chicken shop in Hackney Wick. The woman said that the manager of the shop was complaining that Herbert “was really annoying people” and they’d agreed to take him away. But she said that he’d been so hyperactive that they’d taken him to the RSPCA as soon as they could.

At least Waltham Forest police took the issue seriously - which is a lot more than can be said for this family in Willesden Father's fury at dognap scam (August 7 2010). Blood and Property has yet to receive a comment from Waltham Forest police but an officer believed to be in charge of the operation was contacted by the police press office.

Could this explain why they were taking it seriously: No lead in dognappings(April 2010)

Friday, 6 August 2010

Fake fox hunt - does it add to fox hunting debate?

I was saved by my own laziness from posting the story about fox vigilantes in Victoria Park. This story in the Guardian contains a film explaining how it was all a hoax. The expose film is funny - including a dog disguised as a fox - but did the lesson learned have much to do with fox hunting?

Those behind the hoax said that that was their intention - to raise awareness of the possible unbanning of fox hunting.

It is pretty straight forward stuff, but there is a glitch of sorts. East London Labour MPs were big fans of banning fox hunting on the grounds of its cruelty. But if you asked them about this 2003 Government sponsored report: "Welfare of Farmed Animals at Slaughter or Killing - Part 1: Red Meat Animals" - taking a look at the halal (Muslim) and shechita (Jewish) slaughter methods (beyond paragraph 194) - they suddenly changed their tune. Cruelty to animals was not such a big deal after all. Except for Tony Banks who said halal slaughter should be banned and - as the 2005 election approached - announced that he wouldn't be standing in West Ham again.

Could his decision have had anything to do with Tony Blair's response to Oona King on the issue of banning halal slaughter?

It's pretty obvious why MPs in East London are not going to call for a ban on halal or shechita slaughter. But people who are passionate about the problem of cruelty to animals seem to be as silent as their MPs when the communities affected have religious grounds for their actions - despite the numbers of animals suffering being much greater.

The report said that it could take up to two minutes for cattle to die when their their throats are cut.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the report:

195. When a very large transverse incision is made across the neck a number of vital tissues are transected including: skin, muscle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins, major nerve trunks (e.g. vagus and phrenic nerves) plus numerous minor nerves. Such a drastic cut will inevitably trigger a barrage of sensory information to the brain in a sensible (conscious) animal. We are persuaded that such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes.

196. Additionally, on one visit, we observed the slaughterman place his hand into the neck wound of cattle immediately after the cut had been made, presumably to try to ensure the free flow of blood from the severed carotid arteries (see ‘occlusion’ below). This procedure in itself is, in our view, likely to cause further unnecessary pain and distress and is also unlikely to achieve its objective.

May be the bigger issue is how often hoaxes like the fake fox hunt are played on the media and are not exposed because they suit the purposes of the hoaxer. Also, it'll be interesting to see how many other newspapers bother pointing out that the story was a hoax.

Does this compete with the 1980s Bear of Hackney Hoax?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Diane Abbott: homophobic cultures have "very fragile grasp of masculinity"

Why can't gay men hold hands in Hackney? In an interview with Pink News Diane Abbott blames rampant homophobic bullying in schools - fostered by a homophobic Jamaican reggae culture and some fundamentalist churches.

Pink News writes: Ms Abbott has been the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, when she became the first black MP to be elected.

I tell her that I know gay men who live in Hackney – her constituency – who are too scared to hold hands with their boyfriends in public for fear of being attacked.

She's thoughtful and eloquent on this issue, seeing it as a problem perpetuated by men who have a "frail grasp of their own masculinity".

She says: "I think it's related to the issue of homophobic bullying [in schools]. In some ways, I think, homophobic bullying is more of an issue now than it was when I was at school. I can't recall people being bullied for their sexual preferences. Now it's a very common thing, to be honest, in city areas like this.

"And it's very oppressive for young men growing up and the way that they use the word gay as a term of abuse. It's all part and parcel of the same phenomenon. And I think we need to work more in schools, actually, to counter this type of thinking. I think kids, it's men, who have a very frail grasp of their own masculinity. They feel so threatened and challenged by sexual difference. but we need to challenge it."

She isn't afraid to link the issue with certain cultures, citing reggae artists from her parents' homeland in Jamaica who have "horrible homophobic lyrics".

She said: "You challenge them and they say, oh no, we don't have homosexuality here. But I go to Jamaica all the time, and there are gay people like everywhere else. I think it's interesting why people of certain cultures feel the need to be so radically homophobic and as I say, i think it's a matter of a very fragile grasp of masculinity.

"We need to challenge it in schools, primary and secondary schools, I think there's been a tendency in the past of teachers to shrug it off as teasing or bullying, but we need to take a much firmer line. We wouldn't allow people to be racially abused in schools. If you can deal with it in schools, you've got some chance of avoiding the sort of bullying and harassment that goes on in the street now."

On the issue of religious rights and gay equality, she contends that religious objections to issues such as civil partnerships and gay marriage are generally a "cover for homophobia".

Maureen Middleton: true blue in red sea

Conservative councillor Maureen Middleton died of a heart attack last week aged 68. She was, I've been told, born and bred in Hackney and one of the borough's longest serving councillors having been elected in 1998.

Apparently her interests included health, social care and housing - particularly Woodberry Down which was mostly in her ward - and leaseholders' issues.

I never got to speak to her but I've been told she was a right-to-buy leaseholder herself and fought against leaseholders having to pay too much for repairs. As a leaseholder who has been overcharged by Hackney Homes for major works - the bill had to be corrected to the tune of thousands - I know where she was coming from.

With her seat in the New River ward Cllr Middleton represented a large ultra orthodox Jewish population - there was a brief tribute to her today in the Jewish Chronicle with a quote from former Hackney Mayor Joe Lobenstein who said she understood the Stamford Hill Jewish community.

Not surprisingly she was not a great fan of Jules Pipe, Hackney's Labour administration or the Blair/Brown government.

Here's a taste of the old days from N16 magazine circa 2002: When the council proposed taking rubbish collection back in house: "This enraged Tory Councillor Maureen Middleton and she threatened that 2,500 tenants from Woodberry Down estate would chain themselves to the railings of the Town Hall if their Sunday bin collection was stopped. She was denounced by Jules Pipe, the Council Leader, who is seeking voluntary redundancy from that job to run for the post of Mayor with its much better pay and prospects...."

Her belief in right-to-buy, people having to stand on their own feet, and in the ownership of property was classic Conservative territory. Apparently she was also a supporter of motorists' rights and there was standing joke that she didn't like cyclists.

Cllr Middleton's debating methods were seen by some as aggressive - she did not pull any punches - despite this there is a consensus that she was honest to her own beliefs and fought hard for the people she represented.

Labour Councillor Luke Akehurst said: "Despite some sometimes heated exchanges in the chamber I always found Maureen very easy to get on with when we met socially, and I know that she was always motivated as a councillor by wanting to fight for the best outcomes for the residents of her ward. Like all the members of the Tory group she treated me with great kindness during my recent illness. I had only just started to work more closely with her on the Health in Hackney Scrutiny Commission and had been looking forward to working with her. She will be greatly missed, particularly by residents of New River Ward."

Hackney Gazette reports 2 minute silence for Maureen
Council statement
Hackney Citizen reports Lib Dems joining the Maureen Middleton fan club
I asked for comments from here Conservative colleagues but have not yet received replies.

BY ELECTION: This is likely to be held at the beginning of October. Some believe that the most likely Conservative candidate will be Harvey Odze. Any ultra orthodox Jewish candidate is likely to do well - (the high voter turnout for the combined General, Mayoral and Council elections have been blamed for the Conservative failure in New River in the last election) - but there could be a back lash from the ultra orthodox Jewish community which will be hit hard by the coalition government's housing benefit caps.

New River is the worst affected ward with 239 housing benefit claimants currently paying rent that will be above the new caps (It used to be completely Conservative but Maureen Middleton just was the only Conservative councillor left after the last election)

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 have imposed the cuts.

The Labour party will have to choose a candidate but the front runner is Yusuf Kilinc who fought in the May election and only narrowly lost, winning more votes than Harvey Odze.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Hackney shooting photographer threatened by police

According to this report on the National Union of Journalist's website a photographer for the Hackney Gazette was manhandled by a police sergeant and had photographs forcefully deleted from her camera.

I'm assuming that this happened soon after the shooting on Saturday (Hackney Hive version).

The NUJ reported: "A police Sergeant approached Valino telling her that she was disrupting a police investigation and to hand over her camera. After protesting to the Sergeant that she was in a public place, outside the cordon he had no right to take her camera, he grabbed her wrist and pulled out his handcuffs. Before he could put the cuffs on she handed him her camera. He then left for five minutes before coming back, bringing Valino inside the cordon and asking her to show him the images and deleting them. Valino was told that she could come back in a few hours to photograph the scene."

Hackney bin men exploited - 5.30am start but no job guarantee

The quotes below come from a story in a pamphlet called "No Cuts" - news from the Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services. It sounded like something out of the Grapes of Wrath.

"Agency and council managers organise the 'morning day labour market' at the depot. This means that temp workers are supposed to turn up at 5:30am and wait 'til about 7:30am. If all regular workers turn up or too many temps arrived, people are sent back home without a job and unpaid - after having been employed at the depot for more than a year."

The author, "a refuse worker", warns that this exploited labour force is too disorganised to defend itself: "At Hackney waste depot around 30-40% of us (bin men, sweepers, drivers) are temps, most of them on the minimum wage, most of them on day-jobs. In addition to this division there are all the "private companies" and "self employed" engaged in rubbish collection - no strike could be successful without including them."

The author warns against this trend toward the casualisation of the labour force: "Demands to force back the cut must include the struggle against this enforced casualisation."

The leaflet looks like it might have something to do with Hackney TUC - it says that there is a meeting on 11 August at 7.30pm at Trinity Centre, Beechwood Road, Dalston.