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Archive for May, 2012

With the Olympic and summer takeover of Victoria Park already underway (the hoardings, stage and tents for next weekend’s Field Day are up; see the list of events June, July and August here), it’s worth asking the question of whether the council can cope.

I went for a run in the park at about 11am on Sunday. Many families were also there, looking for a space among the litter and debris for somewhere to sit. Plastic cups, crisp packets, empty bottles of spirits and cider and cans of lager simply left where Saturday’s visitors/vandals had left them.

A bit further along on my run, I spotted two park rangers with a mini-garbage collection van. I think it was too hot for them. One was leaning against the van, playing on his mobile while the other chatted to a mate on his phone.

To be fair to them, they didn’t leave the mess (and it really is the visitors who are at fault) but I couldn’t understand why at 11am the litter was still there. As soon as Whitechapel and Bethnal Green markets finish for the day, a whole fleet of bin workers move in: the operation is genuinely impressive and effective. Why can’t that happen in Victoria Park?

And when there is hot weather, why can’t Tower Hamlets Council place large temporary bins in the park? The smaller bins simply can’t cope with the entirely predictable increase in visitors during warmer weekends. The extra picnic tables they’ve installed are great, but picnics leave litter–and there’s nowhere to put it.

If we’re not careful, our fabulous East End park will begin to resemble north London’s loathsome Finsbury Park. If Tower Hamlets can’t cope, maybe they should hand back control to Hackney council and its Mayor Jules Pipe.

I’ll leave this thread open for your suggestions for Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

In the meantime, here’s some photos I took this morning at 10am (the rangers seemed to have started work much earlier today; maybe they’re under pressure to save overtime at weekends).

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On June 21, 2007, I wrote the following piece for the East London Advertiser:

THE Town Hall has cut links with organisers of the East End’s biggest  culture festival after allegations connected to work permits.

Tower Hamlets council chief executive Martin Smith has decided to suspend its “service level agreement” with the Baishakhi Mela Trust following a number of concerns with last May’s event.

He has also announced an investigation into what happened, including an examination of the trust’s accounts.

As the Advertiser reported last month, UK immigration chiefs were forced to reject dozens of work permit and visa applications for artists wanting to perform at the event.

The Mela, which attracts 500,000 people and celebrates the Bangladeshi New Year, is the East End’s most prestigious festival.

But many community leaders are worried its world famous reputation is being sullied.

Bethnal Green MP George Galloway, who flagged up his concerns to the council more than a year ago, has demanded an inquiry to determine whether the Mela has been abused to smuggle illegal immigrants into Britain.

In a letter to the MP, council boss Martin Smith said: “We are aware that there have been allegations from sections of the community of both financial and immigration irregularities on the part of the Trust.

“The council has repeatedly made it clear both in general terms and specifically to the individuals concerned, that any evidence substantiating these allegations would either be dealt with by the council, or in the case of immigration issues, be passed to the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police.”

However, he added:“Up until now, no such evidence has been forthcoming. I am advised that some issues which cause us concern, have been identified and the council has therefore taken prompt action to suspend the service level agreement at this point.

“The relevant evidence will be explored as part of a thorough review of the SLA.”

Mr Galloway has asked for assurances that the council’s findings will be made public.

The Baishakhi Mela Trust could not be contacted for comment.

Five years later (five years in which George Galloway and his comrades in Respect somehow found it within their high political and moral principles to jump into bed with Mr Haque), the following is being reported on bd24.com:

Sun, May 27th, 2012 6:37 pm BdST

Dhaka, May 27 (bdnews24.com) –Police have arrested 19 Bangladeshi applicants for UK visa at the British High Commission in Dhaka on charges of fraud. 

The applicants were arrested on May 24 as they had provided forged documentation and false statements with their business visitor visa applications to attend the London Boisakhi Mela, as stall holders, the High Commission said in a media statement. 

The Bangladeshi law-enforcers worked in close cooperation with the UK Border Agency and discovered that the applicants had misrepresented their employment status and produced forged bank statements. 

The group admitted that they had paid agents up to Tk 1 million (approximately £10,000) each to facilitate their visa applications and provide forged documents. 

Nick Low, British Deputy High Commissioner, said: “We do not tolerate abuse of our immigration system and have a zero tolerance to fraud.” 

Terming the agents criminals, he strongly advised visa applicants not to listen to agents who offer to sell forged documents and say they can guarantee a visa.

Following Lutfur Rahman’s election to Tower Hamlets Mayor, it was widely predicted here and elsewhere that his self-styled main financial backer, millionaire housing association tenant Mr Haque, would soon be given back control of the annual Mela. And last July, as I reported here, it came to pass.

Now, there is no suggestion that he has any links to these arrests in Dhaka, but I would imagine that investigations are underway to find out just who was demanding the £10,000 fees for “visa facilitation”.

So I wonder whether whoever is the chief executive of rudderless Tower Hamlets Council at the moment will take the same strong decision as Martin Smith five years ago and suspend relations with the Boishakhi Mela Community Trust pending these investigations? I doubt it. We remember what happened to Martin a year later, don’t we… .

Incidentally, here’s what Shiraj has to say about last week’s Mela in today’s East End Life:

“We delivered a Boishakhi Mela the entire community were able to enjoy, a mela that brought people of all generations and cultures to Tower Hamlets, to celebrate Bangladeshi heritage.”

So much of what that man touches becomes sullied. Why does he seem to have so much influence?

UPDATE – 6.45pm, Sunday, May 27.

The British High Commission in Dhaka has a statement on its website here.

As I say in a comment below, it’s my understanding that anyone applying for a business visa to the UK needs a British based business sponsor. These come in the form of a letter from the UK business which would attest to the true nature of teh work to be done.

I’d imagine that the Boishakhi Community Mela Trust probably provided such letters to artistes from Bangladesh. I’ve no idea whether it did so in the case of the arrested 19 wannabe “skilled worker” stall-holders.

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Well, there’s more to this crane and banner than meets the eye, it seems. Much more. I haven’t witnessed it myself yet but I’m told Tower Hamlets council has now done a U-turn and removed the banner from the crane because the owner popped up and threatened legal action. There is also a second banner on the gates of the Bangla City cash and carry that I understand will also be removed fairly sharpish.

On that second banner, I’ve been sent a fascinating email exchange between a Helal Rahman and a certain Chris Payne. I’ll reproduce it here in chronological order.

May 17, 6.58pm

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your email. The banner has already been installed and it is quite nice except the picture of the Mayor which resembles likes a piece of propaganda manifesto from a third world country. If we were aware that this picture was going to play such a prominent feature in the banner, we would have never agreed for this to be hung on our gate. This does not give a good image of the council’s cultural activities, as this is not the norm of an average council in the UK.

I hope that you understand our disappointment.

With regards,
Helal

May 18, 11.40am

Dear Helal,


Thank you for your email below and I am pleased that you like the banner, though I do note your reservation regarding the image of the Mayor.

I have copied this reply to Takki Sulaiman, Head of Communications for London Borough of Tower Hamlets so he can register your disappointment.

Kind regards,

Chris

Chris Payne
Fortuna Associates

May 22, 4.38pm

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your response. My partners have expressed their strong feelings against the current banner and would like to request you to either replace it with the copy that you initially sent to us or for you to take it away completely. We have no problems with the previous image which was proposed to us and feel disappointed that we were deceived such manner.

If you decide to change the banner to the original image please do it as soon as possible otherwise we would like you to remove it within three working days.

Regards,

Helal

May 22, 5.08pm

Dear Helal,

Thank you for your email below, and I am pleased to be able to tell you that we will arrange for the removal of the Curry Capital banners with the Mayor’s image and replace them with banners without his image. We will do this as soon as possible, I am issuing instructions immediately after this email.

We will do our utmost to have this done as quickly as possible though please do bear with me on this.

Kind regards,

Chris

Chris Payne
Fortuna Associates

What do we learn from this? Helal Rahman is, I’m told, the former Labour councillor who owns the Bangla City cash and carry. He had been approached by Chris Payne about installing a banner advertising the area as the Carry Capital 2012. Chris showed him a design that had no photo of the mayor and he agreed to it.

However, some time later, the Lutfur logo banner was installed, and to say it caused a degree of outrage is an understatement.

So who is Chris Payne? Well, longstanding readers of this blog and my former column in the East London Advertiser will know him as the advertising manager for the council’s East End Life newspaper. At one point he actually headed up the council’s communications department.

The last time I saw him was last October at the Curry Life Chef of the Year Awards where the likes of Eric Pickles and other MPs were guests. It was a Sunday evening and at the time I did think it odd he was there. Having spoken to him this morning, I now know why. He left the council last September and a month later established his new company, Fortuna Associates.

What does Fortuna do, I asked him. “It’s a consultancy specialising in income generation with public and private sector clients.” Advertising, then? “Yes. Raising money from advertising, marketing, sales and sponsorship opportunities.”

Was he commissioned by the council to work on the banner? “Yes, and for anything else on that, you need to speak to Takki Sulaiman. I’ve been working on this project since March.”

So he leaves the council, sets up his own consultancy and then starts touting for business from his former East End Life advertising clients in Brick Lane, and then five months later secures a deal to publicise the mayor from his former boss, Takki Sulaiman.

Chris told me no rules have been broken. I’ve asked the Department for Communities and Local Government for those rules. I’ve also asked the council how Chris’s contract was advertised and whether it was a tender.

It would also be interesting to know the value of that contract, why the photo of Lutfur was added to the banner, and how much it has cost the council to install and then take down,

Why is our council so consistently incompetent?

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Time and again I’ve referred to Lutfur as Our Dear Leader as his is plastered over dustbin lorries and lampposts, but now he seems to have excelled in his totalitarian desires.

For we are now in the Olympic golden age of Lutfur the Barbarian.

Until a few days ago, the side of 49 Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane, looked like this:

You can read about Roa’s crane here on Tower Hamlets’ best blog, Spitalfields Life.

Here’s an extract from a post there in August 2010:

It was last Autumn that Roa’s squirrel and rat first caught my eye, and then earlier this year I discovered a whole host of vermin that the prolific Belgian street artist had painted in Spitalfields. Now, as you can see from this tall bird that appeared at the junction of Hanbury St and Brick lane last week, Roa is back again, and he has taken the opportunity to further populate our neighbourhood with his distinctive, finely drawn creatures.

I was walking down Hanbury St when I looked up, unexpectedly, to see Roa hard at work painting on the top of a motorised cherry picker, high above my head. He was adding the black hatching onto the white base coat and I craned my neck, watching as he used strokes of the spray can to make each of the individual marks that characterise his highly recognisable style. From the cradle of the cherry picker, at arm’s reach from the wall, Roa could only see directly in front of him, so in his left hand he clutched a sketch that allowed him to see the entire figure, while he wielded the spray can in his right.

Charlie Uzzell Edwards, curator of the Pure Evil Gallery, said that Roa’s intention had been to paint a heron but, after being asked if it was a crane by Bengali people – for whom the crane is a sacred bird – Roa morphed his bird into a crane to best complement its location on the wall of an Indian restaurant. Charlie also told me that Roa always asks before painting his creatures onto walls and has discovered that many owners are receptive to having large paintings enhancing their buildings, which can become landmarks as a result. The truth is that since these paintings take four to eight hours to complete, it is not an option to create them as a hit and run operation, especially if you want them to last.

Roa’s fine draftsmanship sets him above other street artists and I particularly admire the vivid sense of life that he imparts to his creatures, which transfix you with their wide eyes.

Since it appeared the crane has become a tourist attraction (surely Lutfur must know this because he says he lives in that area), but take a walk down Brick Lane today and instead of the crane, you will see this:

Yes, that almost imperial banner contains a photo of the Great Man. It is a picture of him advertising that simply stunning deal he negotiated with Seb Coe last year when he agreed to give up the Olympic marathon route going through our dirty little borough in return for…..Brick Lane being named Curry Capital 2012!

Surely this kind of vandalism needs planning permission? Yes! It’s here. And look whose name it is under: see the application here. Yes, my mate Takki Sulaiman (to be fair, he is only following orders you know), the council’s head of communications. Take an even closer look at that application form at Question 5: “Have you consulted your neighbours or the local community about the proposal?” His answer: No.

Then take a look at Question 10: Does the applicant own the building/has the applicant sought permission from the owner?….Er, “No”. This is what Takki says instead: “Initial contact was with Jeet Balti House (closed) and estate agents (their board is up but no instruction), failed to identify the owner. A Land Registry search will now be done to identify and contact the owner to obtain. If no permission granted, display will not be installed.”

The date of the application was May 16. There was a question posed by a Tory councillor on the papers for Wednesday’s infamous council meeting asking why land searches were taking so long in the borough. So unless the council has promoted its land search to the top of the pile, we can safely assume permission has not been granted.

Yet it is up there. Over the sacred Bengali bird, the crane.

I suspect the gods of culture will be willing someone to tear it down.

There’s a petition here. It already has more than 300 signatures.

(Hat tip to Shafiur Rahman via Twitter and a reader of this blog.)

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Someone tweeted me once to say he loved reading about Tower Hamlets because it was like the “Sopranos but with curry”. Well, with the toxic mix of Canary Wharf bankers, a £1billion budget, lucrative regeneration money, the Olympics and former gang members as elected politicians, why expect anything else.

And last night, it came to pass. Labour’s Mile End East councillor Kosru Uddin is currently in custody after allegedly making threats to kill after last night’s full council meeting.

The police were called just after 11.30pm amid screams from the council chamber which had been cleared of the press and public to debate the appointment of a permanent new chief executive. Uddin was allegedly restrained during a row in Bengali with Rania Khan, an independent councillor who supports Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Police have confirmed the arrest of a 45-year-old man for making “threats to kill”. I understand that both Rania Khan and Mayor Lutfur gave statements to the police.

Kosru was elected in 2010.

By the way, Labour and the Tories voted not to appoint interim chief executive Aman Dalvi to the permanent position because they said the recruitment process had been “flawed”. (Labour’s Abdal Ullah, Ahmed Omer and Marc Francis voted against their party’s motion on this.) Aman returns to his job as regeneration director and the interim CEO position has been offered to environment director Steve Halsey, who, I’m told, is likely to refuse the job in solidarity with Aman.

So if there is no head of paid service, who will pay the salaries?

Tower Hamlets is once again not only in disarray, but also in total chaos.

What a joke.

UPDATE

Kosru was later cleared of all allegations.

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AND there was I thinking that Labour was trying to clean up its act in Tower Hamlets. Silly me.

Two articles have appeared on the East London Advertiser’s website on consecutive days this week that should really be in the “you couldn’t make it up” section.

On Monday we learnt this:

A Tower Hamlets councillor has apologised to residents after blocking them into their car park in Poplar for three hours on Saturday evening.

Residents at Birchfeld estate say about 20 people gathered in the car park on Pinefield Close after they were unable to get their cars out after Labour councillor Rajib Ahmed parked a mini cab in front of the gates to the parking enclosure.

They say the East India and Lansbury councillor, who is also a self employed cab driver, blocked their entrance from around 7pm to 22pm when the police attended.

It is understood a resident who needed to get to the hospital to see her sick mother ended up phoning the police.

Another resident, Maria Wall, said: “My sister was visiting from Essex and could not get home with her son who needed his medication for severe allergies.

“He (Ahmed) should know better as a driver and as a councillor who we have voted in.”

Councillor Ahmed this morning told the Advertiser: “I apologised to residents. It was a great mistake and I’m really ashamed. I was parked on a continuous yellow line and the gates were closed, and I didn’t realise it was the car park entrance.”

So, laziness and a couldn’t-care-less attitude to voters: the perfect CV for Labour. A day after his minicab arrogance, we learn this:

Labour has voted its candidate to take over as chairman and Speaker of Tower Hamlets council in London’s East End.

The majority Opposition Labour Group’s annual meeting last night (Mon) agreed to put up Cllr Rajib Ahmed.

Retired nurse Lesley Pavitt, a newcomer who was only elected a councillor in 2010, has been named candidate for Deputy Speaker who would, by tradition, be in line to take over the role of chair this time next year.

Cab driver Rajib held a celebration party at Brick Lane’s Preem restaurant, owned by former Respect chair Asmal Hussain, immediately after the Labour Group meeting at the Town Hall.

His selection and Cllr Pavitt’s selection as his deputy goes before tomorrow night’s full council meeting to be ratified—but with Labour holding a large majority on the authority, run by the independent administration of Mayor Lutfur Rahman, both are certain to be elected.

Cllr Ahmed takes over from Labour’s Mizanur Choudhury as council chairman and Tower Hamlets’ controversial First Citizen who clashed with Executive Mayor Rahman over his civic role and loss of his Town Hall office and official car during his term.

But Cllr Ahmed is not without his own controversy, having had to apologise for parking his minicab at the entrance to a car park on Poplar’s Birchfeld housing estate on Saturday evening—blocking 20 motorists for three hours who were unable to get out. The minicab had to be moved by police.

He really must be a magician, our Rajib, because this is the second time his laziness and arrogance have been rewarded by Labour.

In 2007, the then Lib Dem councillor (he had defected from Labour after being de-selected in 2002) was ticked off by the council’s toothless Standards Committee for failing to complete any timesheets for a year.

Here’s what I wrote in the Advertiser on May 22, 2008:

ONE of the East End’s most poorly performing councillors has been forced out of the Liberal Democrat party after “showing no interest in the people of Tower Hamlets”.

Rajib Ahmed, a councillor in the East India and Lansbury ward, left the Lib Dems at the weekend, just days before the party’s headquarters was due to expel him.

He has rejoined the Labour party, but senior figures within the ruling group on Tower Hamlets council are strongly opposed to the move.

Cllr Ahmed is a minicab company director and part-time magician who rarely attends Town Hall meetings, has not spoken at full council for more than two years and has not filed a timesheet for six months.

In a press release on Tuesday, the London regional Labour party said the “high profile” and “leading Lib Dem councillor” was “coming home” to Labour.

He was de-selected as Labour council- lor six years ago when he then defected to the Lib Dems. Since then, he has stood in council elections twice and defeated Labour both times.

Cllr Ahmed’s defection leaves the Lib Dem group, once the dominant force in Tower Hamlets politics, with just three councillors.

But party bosses were this week stating “good riddance” to Cllr Ahmed.

Apparently, he’s popular and good company in private but what sort of message does it send to voters when they consider his record adequate for such a prestigious position? I thought the grubby little deals of the Labour group were a thing of the past. Clearly not.

His new job will almost certainly be confirmed at full council tonight. It will be interesting to see what minicab company the then chooses to use…

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This is off-topic from Tower Hamlets but I’d like to publicise this article I’ve written for today’s Sunday Express where I’ve been leading a campaign on mental health issues since February. The following is an interview with Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, on the incredibly worrying levels of mental health in prisons. Keep reading to the end if you can – look out for his words on self harm in women’s prisons.

(By the way, do please leave any comments, or email me, about services in east London. The Sunday Express campaign articles are all here.)

MINISTERS need to be “bolder” and more honest about describing the shocking mental health crisis in Britain’s jails, the Chief Inspector of Prisons urged last night.

Nick Hardwick said the public was largely unaware just how badly mentally ill prisoners are being treated and what he had witnessed had horrified him. 

He said Britain had moved backwards in this area, that there had been little advance since the days of the lunatic asylum and that politicians underestimated the public’s appetite for tackling a hugely expensive problem. 

In some prisons, women were not just self-harming but “self-mutilating, tearing great chunks out of themselves”, he said.

He warned that mentally ill prisoners were “not safe” in jail, but in desperate need of treatment, a policy that could help reduce re-offending rates.

Ministers have previously shied away for fear of being labelled soft on criminals but Mr Hardwick said: “Politicians underestimate the British public if they think they don’t care. 

“They need to be bolder about describing what happens.

“Of course, the public wants criminals punished but they also want them to be treated decently.”

Highly regarded by campaigners, Mr Hardwick, who was chair of the of Independent Police Complaints Commission until 2010, also called for all prison officers to be given mental health awareness training and for Britain to learn from Scandinavian countries where they examine the person and not the crime.

He is due to give a speech on the subject to the Prison Officers’ Association on Tuesday.

It is estimated 90 per cent of all inmates in jails and young offender institutions have at least one mental health condition.

The Government wants to shift vulnerable people arriving at police stations and courts towards securer hospitals and it announced an extension of this “early diversion” scheme on Friday. 

However, a post-code lottery often dictates whether beds are available in acute units.

Mr Hardwick, 54, applauded the initiative but warned actions would count.

He said mental health had been for far too long the backwater of criminal justice policy. 

The lack of progress struck him when he visited High Down Prison in Banstead, Surrey, last year.

It was built on the site of the former Banstead Lunatic Asylum, close to where he grew up and he was moved by how little had changed. 

He said: “Many of the people there were the same as those held in Banstead all those years ago because we can’t seem to think of something better to do with them. 

“We’ve gone backwards.

“I’d understood there are people with mental health problems in prisons and I’d understood that intellectually, but what I hadn’t been prepared for was the scale, the proportion and how visible and obvious it is.

“If you said to me, ‘Are the sorts of people we’ve talked about safe in prison?’ they definitely are not if you are mentally ill.”

He said one of the saddest aspects of his job was dealing with letters from the mothers of mentally ill prisoners.

He said: “If you were a mum, it would be your worst nightmare if your son or daughter has developed a schizophrenic illness and they’re struggling to look after themselves and where they end up is not the hospital they need but Wormwood Scrubs or Wandsworth Prison where they’re getting into more trouble, then segregated and getting bullied. 

“You’d be at your wit’s end. 

“The fundamental problem is not medical care, the fundamental problem is the environment they’re in. 

“Prison couldn’t be a worse environment for people with mental health problems.

“It’s frightening, it’s stressful, a lot of time is being isolated, you have little stimulation. 

“You couldn’t think of a less therapeutic environment than a prison if you designed it. 

“The mums are right to be worried.”

Mr Hardwick said all prison officers should be trained in mental health issues so they could spot telltale signs of depression and other illnesses before they develop into serious harm or suicide.

Currently, training programmes are left to individual prison governors, but Mr Hardwick wants a national policy.

He had been impressed by a recent inspection of New Hall women’s prison in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where 90 per cent of officers had undergone mental health training.

He said: “I think all prison officers need to be trained to at least a basic level in identifying and dealing with people with mental health problems.

“Where there’s a lower level of training, people don’t understand the behaviour that’s being demonstrated, so they just write off prisoners’ behaviour as being troublesome and bang them up in a cell.

“Training would be better for the prisoner, better for the officers and if that means you can do something more productive with the prisoner when they’re there, it’d better for the public as well because we all want them to be less likely to commit offences when they leave prison.”

He was most concerned about “poor copers”, those prisoners who are quieter and more isolated.

He said: “The noisy ones who are safest because they get the attention; it’s the quite ones who are more at risk because they get neglected.

“They’ll be kept in some small place, often a little workshop, and they’re tucked away. 

“They’re the ones who get bullied and are suicide risks.

Mental illness in women’s prisons was also particularly worrying and “shameful”, he said. 

An inspection report at Styal Prison in Cheshire last year deeply disturbed him.

He said: “The right word for what was going on at Styal is ‘self-mutilation’. “They were tearing great chunks out of themselves. 

“If you had a very a disturbed man and they were tearing great chunks out of other people, there would be huge attention. 

“But because they were doing it to themselves, they were simply not getting the level of support required.

“The staff often were simply heroic, but it was just ordinary prison officers dealing with these completely horrendous levels of self-harm.

“It was shameful. These were terribly ill women. 

“No one dealing with them thought they were anything other than terribly ill. 

“And they were stuck in this unit where ordinary prison officers were just busting a gut to try and stop them. 

“When we looked at the use of force incidents, they were predominantly about prison officers cutting them down when they were trying to hang themselves. 

“I had no idea it was like that, no idea.”

He added: “I don’t think the public, as a whole, understand just how big a problem this is.

“Yes, treating costs money but it costs a lot of money to keep someone in prison.

“On the whole, the Scandanavian countries are better at dealing with this. They start with the person, not the crimes, so they would look at what interventions does this person need rather than what we do about this crime

The Ministry of Justice said it would assess the results of the training programme at New Hall before deciding “whether there is potential for this to be rolled out further”.

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I filed this for the Sunday Express at the weekend:

SECURITY chiefs have asked a London council for permission to place snipers on the roof of a school during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Isobel Cattermole, the director of schools at Tower Hamlets Council in east London, was approached amid concerns about the security of the star-studded US Athletics team which will have its training base the inner-city borough.

The Sunday Express understands that although the Army and Scotland Yard will mount a huge security operation to guard “Fortress Olympic Park” in Stratford, including deploying surface-to-air missiles, the bigger headache is what might happen less than two miles away.

Tower Hamlets has agreed to let the Olympics’ largest team, the Americans, use Mile End Leisure Centre as a training base from 11 days before the Games start on July 27 to August 15.

Although the centre will remain open to the public during that time, security will be handed over to the Americans who are thought to be bringing 500 FBI officers with them, many armed.

The centre, which has a small stadium and a 400-metre running track, stands next to the gang-ridden Ocean estate in Stepney.

It is surrounded by high-rise tower blocks that will have perfect views of athletes such as star sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner, and by several schools which will be closed for holidays.

It is also a mile from the headquarters of Anjem Choudary’s banned Islamic extremist groups, and close to the scenes of several counter-terrorism raids.

High profile dignitaries are likely to visit the training base.

The park near stadium was also the scene of a mass fight between members of the English Defence League and local Muslim youths last summer.

Noisy protests about US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected around the stadium’s fences.

US intelligence officials are understood to have made several visits to the area, while council officers will share images from its main CCTV control room.

In documents seen by the Sunday Express, Tower Hamlets council states: “Hosting the American team at Mile End Stadium presents a number of security related challenges, for which the US Olympic Committee has assumed responsibility.

“Initial assessments have highlighted security improvements which could be made to the site.”

It is not known which of the security services—the police, the Ministry of Defence, or even the FBI—approached Tower Hamlets Council, but Ms Cattermole declined the request.

However, one security source said: “What the Americans want, the Americans will get. Everyone is concentrating on the Olympic Park but the real problem is Mile End.

“The Americans are the obvious targets and they’re going to be training in what is a relatively exposed place.”

The MoD is currently staging a large security rehearsal, including the deployment of missiles above a residential block in Bow, east London.

It declined to comment on any US plans but it has ruled out placing British Army snipers on top of schools.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points, just as we do not discuss the detail of protective security measures.

“The planning assumption is that the only police officers carrying or deployed with firearms will be members of the British Police Service.”

A council spokeswoman said: “”The USA track and field team have funded extensive improvements to the stadium, and will be providing a variety of community benefits including free coaching sessions and opportunities to watch the team training.

“We are working with the United States Olympic Committee on security issues.

“Understandably these issues are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate that these will impact on the local community.”

After the subs cut 200 words to squeeze the article into a smaller-than-expected space, it ran as this in print:

SECURITY chiefs worried about the safety of US athletes during the Olympics have asked for permission to place snipers on the roof of a school.

Isobel Cattermole, the director of schools at Tower Hamlets Council in east London, says she was approached but refused to say whether it was by British or US intelligence services, or even the FBI.

The Sunday Express understands that although a huge security operation is being mounted to guard Fortress Olympic Park in Stratford, the real headache could be how to prevent an attack on US team members who will be training two miles away in Mile End.

Tower Hamlets has agreed to let them use Mile End Leisure Centre as a training base from July 27 to August 15.

In documents seen by the Sunday Express, the council says: “Hosting the American team at Mile End Stadium presents a number of security challenges, for which the US Olympic Committee has assumed responsibility.”

American security teams are thought to be bringing 500 FBI officers to cover the Games, many of them armed.

The centre, which will remain open to the public, has a small stadium and a 400-metre running track where star sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner will train, right next to the gang-blighted Ocean Estate in Stepney.

It is also a mile from the headquarters of hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s banned Islamic group and close to the scenes of several counter-terrorism raids. The US stay coincides with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

American athletes and citizens are obvious targets because of predominantly Muslim local anger over US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One security source said: “What the Americans want, the Americans will get. Everyone is concentrating on the Olympic Park but the real problem is Mile End.”

The Ministry of Defence is staging a security rehearsal, including deploying missiles above a block of flats in Bow, east London. It has ruled out placing British Army snipers on top of schools.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points. The planning assumption is that the only police officers deployed with firearms will be members of the British police service.”

And the East London Advertiser has just run the following (clearly unsubbed) report under the headline, “Tower Hamlets Council denies reports snippers (sic) could be put on school roofs during Olympic Games” (I think they meant snipers, not hairdressers):

Reports that snippers could be placed on school roofs in Tower Hamlets to protect the US team during the Olympic Games have been denied by the council.

It comes after the Sunday Express quoted head of schools at Tower Hamlets council, Isobel Cattemole, as saying she had been approached but that she refused to say whether it was by British or US intelligence services.

Team US’s track and field athletes training at Mile End stadium, during this summer’s Games, has lead to speculation that there presence is more of a headache than the Olympic Park for security chief trying to prevent a terrorist attack.

A council spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Defence has confirmed there are no plans to use schools in Tower Hamlets for any purpose during Games time.

“We are working with the United States Olympic Committee on security issues relating to Mile End Stadium, understandably they are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate these will impact on the local community.

“Where possible we will ensure that external agencies engage with residents, and we will represent any concerns of our communities where we can.”

It has not been possible to get a comment from Ms Cattemole.

A MoD spokesman said they had already announced plans for using helicopters to carry snippers during the Games. “Any decision to use snippers on land, if it is happening, would be coordinated by police and American security services,” he said.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points.

“The planning assumption is that the only police officers carrying or deployed with firearms will be members of the British Police Service.”

Director of strategic of communication for the US team, Mark Jones, insisted: “We’re relying on local law enforcement agencies and the Olympic Committee for security.”

The US Embassy is London refused to comment.

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The following is cross-post from Harry’s Place, written by Dickie Perrett (I have verified who it is).

I’m sure, like myself, many HP readers will be celebrating both Ken’s defeat and Labour’s gains, but amongst the euphoria of the last couple of days you may have missed the fact that Labour won a by-election in Tower Hamlets against the former leader of the Respect group on the council – and Galloway’s annointed succesor as Parliamentary candidate in 2010 – Abjol Miah

The results were as follows

John Paul PIERCELabour Party1544

Abjol MIAH, Respect, 1260

Caroline June KERSWELL, Conservative Party, 415

Alan DUFFELL, Green Party, 373

Azizur RAHMAN, Liberal Democrat, 208

Oli ROTHSCHILD, Independent, 36

You may recall after Labour narrowly lost the Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election a fortnight ago I offered some advice; fortunately they seem to have largely heeded this advice and won!

Weavers ward is distinctive but pretty reflective of Tower Hamlets as a whole. It’s classic inner city stuff. It contains about 50% social houing, including the Boundary Estate (the first municpal social housing in Europe) and contains an example of social housing from every decade from the 1890s to the 2010s. It has a significant Bangladeshi and Somali population, but is not dominated by Bengali polictics like some wards. It includes Columbia Road flower market, and the surrounding Jesus Green estate (where small 2 bedroom cottages fetch £750k), but is also one the most deprived wards in England. There are four gay or gay friendly pubs, a Conran restaurant and hotel, and numerous coffee bars. It’s part of Bethnal Green, but estate agents now call it Shoreditch! It also contains Bethnal Green Academy (Formerly Bethnal Green Technology Colege)– one of the fastest improving schools in England, and second most improved in London – which became an academy in Janauary against the opposition of the Labour Group and Lutfur Rahman (in a rare show of unity). Only problem was, the chair of Governors was also Chair of Tower Hamlets Labour party, but chose to stand down from the latter role amongst much public criticism.

Throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s, Weavers ward had been a Liberal/Lib Dem stronghold albeit with a weird interlude where the Liberals stood candidates against each other – Tower Hamlets politics has always been a bit odd. In 2002 and 2006 the Lib Dems got their act together and won all three seats, but are now relegated to fifth place behind the Greens. The Tories didn’t even bother running a full slate until 2006. But there was a certain element of deja-vu to having a by-election on GLA election day, as this happened four years agao when one of the Lib Dems stood down. Labour ran and won with Fazlul Haque, unfortunately they never asked Fazlul to prove where he lived and it turned out not to be in Tower Hamlets. Fazlul was subsequently deselected and stood for Respect in the 2010 all-out election and lost.

In 2010 not only did Labour regain Bethnal Green and Bow from Respect (with Abjol Miah replacing George Galloway) and retaining Poplar and Limehouse – with an increased majority (against George Galloway), but, with a superb machine campaign operation, had its best result on the council for a generation increasing from a majority of one in 2006, to a majority of 31. Following the election of Lutfur Rahman as the independent Mayor (having been expelled from Labour) later that year, a number of councillors defected to form an independent group. All of these candidates were imposed by the London Regional office of the Labour Party, the same clowns that were responsible for the rushed selection of Ken Livingstone (not to be confused with the clowns that ran his campaign). But this included taking all seats in the Weavers ward for Labour for the first time in twelve years.

The three candidates, Anna – a nurse at the local hospital, Abdul – a veteran local community worker and Kabir – who worked in the local police station supporting drug users worked hard as a team to build up the Labour vote. Last year, Kabir took the decision to work in an unpaid role supporting Mayor Rahman and was suspended from the Labour group (as he was openly campaigning for the opposition in this campaign, his formal expulsion will be imminent.) There’s also a lot of doubt about how much time Kabir spends at his flat in Bethnal Green! Due to the cuts in the health service, Anna had to take a job outside of London and resigned her seat causing this by-election. No doubt the level of abuse she faced for raising the fact that people in the public gallery at council meetings were making homophobic remarks towards Tory leader Peter Golds will haved weighed on her mind as well.

John has never stood before, but does live locally and he’d recently led a local campaign to save a local one-stop shop / housing office from closure, and got Mayor Rahman to turn around his decision. Abjol doesn’t really have a local connection.

John was an excellent candidate and had an excellent campign team around him. He campaigned on local issues and spoke to hundreds of residents from al backgrounds. His campaign team came from every sector of the community. He didn’t waste time talking to village elders. It was basically a Labour machine campaign. And this is how all significant wins in Tower Hamlets have been achieved. As I’ve said before, leave the communalism to Respect.

But there were two weird aspects from this campaign:

The white left:

Spent there time whining about Tower Hamlets Labour Party doing nothing for Ken and focusing all of there effort on Weavers. Well, after the way Ken treated Tower Hamlets Labour Party, who could blame them?  Except it was nonsense, whatever officers of the party felt, they held their noses and campaigned for Ken. There had been regular campaigning for the last few months and there was door-knocking in every ward in Tower Hamlets on Thursday.

Lack of Respect

Although Abjol stood as the Respect candidate, none of his campaign literature mentioned this. I understand he asked the Returning Officer to change his nomination papers after they had been submitted. I spotted one very confused looking Trot on Thursday wearing a Respect rosette, looking fruitlessly for some comrades.

They also tried to ape Labour’s campaign techniques. Issuing dirtect mail on very local issues, but in one case, covered here by Ted Jeory’s excellent blog they seem to be breaking all manner of rules. Also the direct mail came from Mayor Rahman, not from the candidate – without giving away too many campiagn secrets – you’ve rather missed the point.

Here’s a picture of the rat run that is the Jesus Green estate. 20 mph zone and road humps in space. And not a single moving car.

They – and by they I mean the IFE backed supporters of Respect and Lutfur Rahman – simply have no idea how to campaign outside of the most deprived densely Bangladeshi parts of the borough like Spitalfields and Whitechapel. They tried to copy Labour, but simply don’t have a clue. Like the far left, it suits them to keep people in the ghetto. Labour politics from left to right share one thing – a belief in social justice and social mobility, that’s why we’ll always win. Eventually!

Labour will learn from this victory

  • Leadership – just run one campiagn
  • Opposition – expose them for what they are
  • Tories – keep an eye on them.
  • Message – keep it local
  • Camapign – knock one every door and knock on it again, and again
  • Communalism – leave it to the Lutfurites
  • Candidate – select a good ‘un

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My views on East End Life are well known to regular readers of this blog, although they’ve softened recently since sometimes it seems to be the only paper covering Tower Hamlets.

However, the splash in the latest edition, which has just dropped through my letter box, sums up everything that’s wrong with it.

It says:

THE London mayoral elections went right down to the wire on Friday with second preference results still being counted as East End Life went to press. 

The two front-runners–Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone–were neck and neck in a count beset by delays. [etc etc].

ie pointless bordering on the absurd. We all know the result (it came through on Friday night) and for those readers who were waiting on tenterhooks for the council paper to arrive today, they’re still none the wiser. I wonder if they’ll splash on Boris’s victory in next week’s edition.

The paper’s editor is Laraine Clay, an experienced journalist who surely would have known how ridiculous it was to have devoted page 1 to a non-story would have been out of date by today. In any case, the council paper is meant to be there to inform residents about events in our borough.

A look at the inside pages reveals plenty of contenders for the front: personally, I’d have gone for Lutfur Rahman’s excellent page 5 pledge to help fight the stigma of mental health in the borough (it’s a particular problem among many Bengali women). However, they could also have gone for residents’ objections to the MoD’s plan for missiles in Bow (p3), or if they were intent on a political story, why not Labour’s victory over Lutfur/Respect in Weavers?(!)

And therein lies the problem, I suspect. I’d be amazed if the hands of Lutfur, and/or Takki Sulaiman, and/or Murziline Parchment were not involved in the City Hall Goes To The Wire splash. Methinks they got just a little bit too over-excited as Ken’s team did better than expected on Friday.

The strap-line under the paper’s masthead says, “News from tower Hamlets Council and your community.” I think Ken’s groupies forgot to read it.

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