Stop HS2 Rally at Parliament

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Mon 28 Apr 2014

Two people in animal suits pose with a giant 'HS2 Rip Off' rail ticket
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Protesters from protest groups all along the proposed HS2 high speed rail link came to call on MPs to vote against the HS2 Bill being debated in the House of Commons this afternoon, holding a photocall and rally before lobbying MPs.

The plans for the HS2 rail route seem flawed on so many accounts that it is hard to see why our government is wasting time on debating them. Although at the moment Labour are supporting them, this seems to be largely for tactical reasons, and it seems to me unlikely that, whichever party wins the 2015 election that the project will go ahead as currently envisaged.

Meanwhile many people will have their lives blighted by the proposals, their homes becoming impossible to sell until the affair is sorted out. The plans envisage 10 years of living in a building site for many Camden residents, and long term misery for many others along the route.

The result would be a line isolated from the rest of our rail network which would in the first instance only go to Birmingham. Its effect would be to pull more development from there down to London.

We do need greater capacity on our rail system, but this can be better acheived in other ways and at lower cost. And if the scheme is to encourage greater development in the north, it is being started from the wrong end. It would make far more sense to begin by linking northern cities (and perhaps Birmingham) by improved rail links before extending these down to London.

A couple of hundred came for today's protest, with a large contingent from Camden, but others from Marston in Shropshire, Harefield, and elsewhere. They came with banners and placards and a large inflatable white elephant. Later a couple of bears turned up with a very large rail ticket about the £50 billion rip-off of HS2. Several MPs came to speak: Conservatives Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, Bill Cash, MP for Stoke and Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy and Labour's MP for Holborn and St Pancras, Frank Dobson. At one point one of the organisers suggested people might vote for UKIP who are apparently against HS2, but many then shouted out that people should vote for the Green Party instead who also oppose it, and a biker came forward to speak about the Green Party's view. After the politicians we heard from Hilary Wharf, a Director of HS2 Action Alliance and Penny Gaines from Stop HS2.

As I left, one of the team who have spent 7 years developing an alternative to HS2, High Speed UK, was talking about their design, for a future high speed network, which is designed with connectivity in mind. Their web site has some 300 pages describing the scheme which puts a spine up the country essentially on the route of the current East Coast main line to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with branches to Birmingham and another to Manchester and Liverpool. Unlike HS2 it offers advantages for all cities in the UK, essentially improving our whole rail system, while HS2 seems more like a limited service for a small elite of travellers at a high cost premium.

HSUK - which has recently opened a web site with full details - avoids damage to the Chilterns by following the M1 and would be 25% cheaper than HS2, while offering time savins on average of 40% for most intercity services - not just those on the high speed route. It would also give a large carbon reduction - around 6W% of our 2050 target, while at best HS2 hopes to be carbon neutral.
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Workers Memorial Day

Tower Hill, London. Mon 28 Apr 2014

Wrreaths and a cross at the statue of the Building Worker on Tower Hill
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Trade unionists remembered over 50 deaths in construction this year at the statue of the Building Worker. The memorial rally took place around a coffin with boots, work gloves and hard hats; wreaths were laid and black balloons released.

A TUC statement for Workers' Memorial Day warned "that the government’s persistent ideological attacks on key health and safety legislation threaten even more accidents, injuries and deaths at work." They go on to state:

In a new report published today Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s record on health and safety, the TUC reveals that in the last four years the government has drastically cut Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections, cut funding to the HSE by 40 per cent, blocked new regulations and removed vital existing protections, prevented improved European regulation on health and safety, cut support for employers and health and safety reps, seen local authorities reduce their workplace inspections by 93 per cent, and made it much harder for workers to claim compensation if they are injured or made ill at work following employer negligence.

The government is now trying to change the law to exempt large numbers of self-employed workers from health and safety protection. This is a huge concern as self-employed people are more than twice as likely to be killed at work than other workers.

The TUC believes that if this government assault on basic workplace protections continues it will have a significant impact on the health and safety of people at work – and that many more lives will be unnecessarily put at risk.

The international theme for this year's Workers’ Memorial Day announced by announced by ITUC, the global union body coordinating the event worldwide, is 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights' and it encourages unions to use the slogan, 'Unions make work safer'.

After a number of speeches, including those by Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, Tony O'Brien of the Construction Safety Campaign and Jerry Swain Regional Secretary for UCATT's London and South East Region, wreaths and flowers were laid at the base of the statue by UCATT, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Liliana Alexa who founded the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group after her son Michael was killed by a falling crane as he walked past a building site near his Battersea home. The 50 or so black balloons, one for each construction worker killed at work in the past year, were then released and the event then concluded with a period of silence around the coffin with its boots, hard hat and work gloves and a hard hat for each worker killed around it.
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Cat Hill Protest against L&Q

Cat Hill, Cockfosters, London. Sat 26 Apr 2014

Unfortunately the protesters didn't want to be photographed, so my journey was rather a waste of time
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Protesters at the former Cat Hill campus of Middlesex University have exposed various illegal acts by developers L & Q but been unable to get the relevant agencies to take action to stop the demolitions, tree felling and killing of wildlife.

Enfield Council approved revised plans for the site in March last year despite long and determined opposition from local residents and environmental activists. As a development of strategic important it then went to London Mayor Boris Johnson who approved the plans in September 2013.

I've been reading for some months about the 'blockade' of the demolition site at Cat Hill near Cockfosters, and went there today as the protesters had promised that this weekend would be an 'Abundance Festival'. Unfortunately nothing seemed to be happening when I visited, and though I was able to talk with a couple of the local residents who have been the backbone of the protest I learnt little more about the protest than I already knew from Facebook.

Kim Coleman, leader of the Save Cat Hill campaign went to ask if I could take photographs elsewhere on the site and came back shortly with the message that I could not, but that I could photograph as I liked at the main gate protest. But shortly after another of the protesters objected to me taking pictures. It seemed strange behaviour for a protest that a week ago, when there were rather more people at the blockade had tweeted "Need National coverage! #cathill", and from which I've received frequent requests to visit. It perhaps helps to explain why this protest doesn't appear to have got the support it deserves. I'm unlikely to return.

London and Quadrant (L&Q) now appear to have demolished all of the buildings and cut down many trees from the site, and they have also been removing asbestos. Suring the demolition there were severe dust problems in the surrounding area, as the demolition area was only sprayed with water during two days of the work. The protesters have also supplied evidence of the leak of pollution from the site into Pymmes Brook, killing fish and frogs. In March, Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden and the Labour candidates for the East Barnet ward wrote to the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Dr Paul Leinster demanding that they test the Pymmes Brook for contaminants from the Cat Hill construction site.

Andrew Dismore sstated:

"What is going on at Cat Hill is environmental vandalism. It is clear that the ancient Pymmes Brook is being contaminated and that wildlife is being affected. The Environment Agency must act and set a precedent for developers.

The Environment Agency has the powers of enforcement; it just needs to use them"

L & Q appear to have prematurely destroyed buildings containing 3 bat roosts and that many of the newts on the site have been killed as a result of them failing to take the proper precautions. Among other complaints they say a bulldozer ripped out a willow tree by its roots rather than simply trimming it as allowed in the licence, with the result that most of the water drained out of the newt breeding pond. The few newts that managed to make it to the pond are in very shallow water and are easy prey for the heron and moorhens.

Natural England have been very slow to investigate the many breaches by the developers in the various licences related to trees and newts. MEP Syed Kamall (European Conservatives and Reformists) raised the question of their ineptidtude over the destruction of ancient woodland at Cat Hill in a written question in the European Parliament, and was told that "the competent national authorities are already looking into this matter" although this so far seems to have had little effect.

The protesters earlier had a sound legal case for Judicial Review against Enfield Council as the two ponds at Cat Hill are heritage sites (and are mentioned in the Domesday Book), and Enfield Council had failed to consult Engish Heritage and the Woodland Trust, and had not made an Environmental Impact Assessment. They were forced to drop in when the the legal costs became excessive - several times their initial budget they had raised from local residents of £8000, They were also advised that the developers would simply have to resubmit their application and make sure that things were done correctly this time, so it would have no long-term effect.

Currently they are looking into the possibility of a further legal challenge based on the covenant documents for the site, which apparently stipulate that it be used for educational purposes. L & Q are intending to build 163 flats and 69 houses on the 10 acre site.
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IKEA Not Welcome on Greenwich Peninsula

Sainsbury's Eco-Park, Greenwich. Sat 26 Apr 2014
The protesters posed for a picture for the local paper
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Local residents launched the 'No IKEA Greenwich Peninsula' campaign with a picnic today in the eco-garden which will be lost along with the pioneering and award winning Sainsbury's built only 15 years ago if the plans for the superstore go ahead.

The building, opened in 1999 by Jamie Oliver, has been described by Twentieth Century Society Director Catherine Croft as 'the most innovative retail store to have been built in the UK in the last 50 years' with a complete re-thinking of traditional supermarket design to maximise energy efficiency, minimise the impact on the environment and improve the experience for customers, and it acheived the highest ever official environmental rating for a retail building.

Its architect, Paul Hinkin wants it to be grade II * listed, describing it as "a paradigm shift in public building which must be preserved", continuing that "If its wanton destruction is permitted, it will do irreparable harm to the cause of sustainable development in the UK." It is the only supermarket ever to have been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, was selection by the Design Council as a Millennium Product, won the RIBA Journal Sustainability Award, a RIBA Regional Award 2000, the Design Museum’s Design Sense Award, Retail Week Store Design of the Year 2000 and was Channel 4 Building of the Year People’s Choice in 2000.

It is an impressive building inside, with a high roof providing high levels of natural north lighting. Outside from most angles it looks like a huge grass-covered flying saucer, but the entrance front is impressive and very clean and user friendly. It seems to me (and I've photographed many listed buildings professionally) that it makes an exceptional case for listing. It stands out hugely compared to the cinema, other stores and warehouses in the area as a building of class.

Local opposition to the IKEA store centres around the traffic chaos that will result for the extra 2 million visitors who are expected to drive to the store each year. IKEA claims that 35% of customers would travel there by public transport, but few would choose to carry heavy flat pack furniture on a bus or walk the mile to the nearest tube or up over the bridge half a mile to the overground rail station. At their Tottenham store only 22% come by public transport - and trains seldom bother to stop at the nearby station.

They point out that the Greeenwich site only has parking for just over 600 cards, half or one third of other London IKEA stores, and that traffic congestion in the area between the Blackwall Tunnel and the A2 is some of the worst in London. With housing planned for another 15,000 in the area things will get much worse, and there are already large areas of near gridlock with large events at the nearby O2 area and Charlton football stadium. Other IKEA stores in urban areas have a policy of refusing to allow customers to take furniture home themselves to reduce car use, but they have refused to implement this in the planned Greenwich store.

The London area is hardly short of IKEA stores, with large stores on far more suitable sites at Croydon, Tottenham (Edmonton), Wembley and Lakeside. Recently plans for another in a more suiteble site adjoining the A20 in Sidcup were rejected on grounds of the impact it would have on local roads.

Greenwich Council gave the IKEA scheme outline planning permission last month, but have failed to demand a full Environme Impact Assessment and have relied on unlikely IDEA estimates such as that for public transport. Air quality in the area around the site is already poor, with nitrogen dioxide levels roughly twice the legal limit. IKEA claim that the extra traffic their store will attract will somehwoe reduce this.

Todays protest was in a small eco-park adjoining Sainsbury's with a pond, fruit trees, bees and varied habitats which will be bulldozed if the store goes ahead, and was supported by the Greenwich Green Party along with other local residents. Around forty people came to sign up their support against the development and a petition to London Mayor Boris Johnson and to pose for the local press before having a picnic in the quiet and peaceful park they want to keep. A few people were still arriving as I left.
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Rana Plaza Anniversary at GAP

Oxford St, London. Thur 24 Apr 2014

Katherine Hamnett poses in front of the GAP window in her 'No More Fashion Victims' t-shirt

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Katharine Hamnett and Amin Haque from the National Garment Workers Federation in Dhaka protested with others outside GAP's flagship Oxford St store, calling on GAP to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Building & Fire Safety and pay proper compensation.

The protesters formed a human chain stretching along front of GAP and further down busy Oxford St at lunchtime as a part of an international day of action a year after the worst accident in a manufacturing facility in recorded history, when 1,138 workers died at the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Fewer than half the fashion retailers who sold goods made in the factory have so far contributed to the compensation fund backed by the UN's International Labour Organisation, and others have offered only token amounts. Primark has made a donation of $8m, while Walmart, one of the largest retailers (and owners of Asda in the UK) have only given around $1m. Other companies including Benetton, Matalan and Auchan have for various reasons declined to contribute. The total received to date is under 40% of the target of $40m.

Over 150 brands, including Arcadia, Bonmarche, Debenhams, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Matalan, Mothercare, New Look, Next, Primark, River Island, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have signed up to the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety launched by War on Want and their Bangladeshi partners the National Garment Workers Federation, which brings together brands and trade unions in a legally binding agreement to make factories safe. Factory inspections have led to at least eight factories being closed for major structural repair. But some brands - including GAP have refused to sign.

Those backing the memorial action included campaigning groups War on Want, Labour Behind the Label, fashion industry activists and trade unionists. A press release for the anniversary by the US State Department told of "the significant and unnecessary risks that many workers are still forced to take in order to earn a living and support their families" and urged action to ensure that such disasters never happen again.

A group of protesters began to empty out building rubble on the pavement outside gap as a start to the protest, putting up placards and posters, with the messages 'No More Fashion Victims', 'Mind the Safety GAP', 'Warning - Lethal Working Conditions' and 'Pay UP! - Long Overdue - for Rana Plaza Victims'. Others held large colour photographs of the parents of some of those who lost sons and daughters in Rana Plaza. Katherine Hamnett posed in front of the store windows in a t-shirt with the messages 'NO More Fashion Victims' and 'Pay Living Wage NOW' on front and back, a design she has donated to War on Want for the anniversary of the disaster saying "April 24th 2014 will be a huge moment in pushing for a better fashion industry, and I’m backing War on Want’s efforts to make real change happen.”

After a speech by Amin Haque about the disaster and its aftermath, the protesters formed a human chain along Oxford St in front of GAP and stretching some way down the street, before more speeches by Hamnett and others.
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Staines & Wraysbury Walk

Staines, Middlesex. Mon 21 Apr 2014

Walks in this area tend to involve a lot of water
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We decided to take a walk on the Bank Holiday, starting and finishing in Staines. You don't get far from water here, with half a dozen rivers, several large reservoirs and many gravel pits. There is considerably more water than land.

Though much of where we walked was in fields and woods, we were never far from roads, the railway line to Windsor and the M25, the noise from which was ever present.

For me the most interesting part of the walk was a short detour we made in Wraysbury. I'd looked over the bridge at Hythe End and had a sudden memory of many years earlier - perhaps 50 years ago, as in my memory at least my long-dead oldest brother who died when I was around 20 was with me - of having gone over a bridge further downstream. When we had walked a little towards Staines, we came across Colne Way, and went down to see if the bridge was still there. I think it was the same place. I don't think I've been down there since, though I've often walked or ridden along the roads at either side.
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Easter Morning

Staines, Middlesex. Sun 20 Apr 2014

Early morning service in the Memorial Gardens facing the Thames
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Around 7am I tumbled out of bed and made my way to the same riverside gardens that had been crowded the previous day to watch the Staines Passion, taking the Fuji X100 with me. At 7.30am there were rather fewer there for a short Easter Morning Service, which was followed by a good breakfast at the Baptist Church in Hale St.
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Staines Passion

Staines, Middlesex. Sat 19 Apr 2014

Roman soldiers prepare to put Christ on the cross in Staines
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Two open-air performances of The Staines Passion, a re-telling of the gospel story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus produced by local churches enthralled large crowds today in Staines.

The 90 minute drama was staged in the Riverside Gardens next to the Methodist Church. With a cast of 60, it similar to the Wintershall 'Life of Christ' which has been performed to large crowds in Trafalgar Square in recent years, although the smaller Staines venue and the smaller scale perhaps made it a more rewarding experience for those in the crowd.

The story loosely followed that set out in the St Matthew's gospel, begininning with his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, then a miracle in which Jesus cures a crippled child, before going on to the overturning of the tables, and the plotting against him by the religious establishment. Judas was bribed with the 30 pieces of silver and the disciples met with Jesus for the Passover meal - the Last Supper. After which Jesus prayed while the disciples and the women slept, before Judas came to betray Jesus with a kiss and he was arrested, after telling Peter to put away his sword and healing the soldier he had stabbed.

There followed the trial with Pontius Pilate offering the crowd a choice of Jesus washing his hands, offering the crowd a choice of Jesus or Barabbas to be freed, the crown of thorns and the crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea came to claim the body of the dead Jesus and it was put in the tomb, the doorway then blocked by a stone.

Then came the women (two days later being only a minute or two, and they almost arrived before the stone had mysteriously fallen aside, scaring away the soldiers who were guardling the tomb.) While most of the women ran to tell the disciples, Mary Magdalene remained and there followed a scene of joyful (if un-Biblical) reunion between Jesus and her and the other disciples and women before the final ending of the play.
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Good Friday in Staines

Staines, Middlesex. Fri 18 Apr 2014
Singing hymns druing the service in the Two Rivers shopping centre
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The usual procession of witness by the churches in Staines was joined by members of the cast of the Staines Passion, due to be performed the following day, including Jesus, some of the Jewish women and four Roman soldiers. As usual the procession was led by the Salvation Army band and made its way from the Methodist Church and through the market in the High Street to the Two Rivers shopping centre where there was a service with hymns, readings and prayers and performances by the band and by a singing group from one of the local churches.

During the event some people carried baskets of free hot cross buns to give out, along with leaflets inviting people to the free performances the following day and to Easter services in the local churches.
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G4S Occupied on Palestinian Prisoners Day

Victoria St, London. Thu 17 Apr 2014

Protesters with banners and a cage inside the foyer of the building which houses G4S HQ offices.
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A protest outside G4S London HQ against them providing security for prisons where Palestinian men, women and children are held, often without trial or charge and tortured expanded into a peaceful occupation of the office foyer.

British multinational G4S is the worlds largest security contractor and provides security services for many prisons in Israel where Palestinian men, women and children are tortured and caged. Many are held without trial or charge and are often kept under appalling conditions. Children as young as 12 have been held for up to 65 days in solitary confinement in small underground cells, 2m by 1m, with no windows, little ventilation and constant electric light.

In particular the protest drew attention to the urgent cases of Palestinian sick detainees, "whose health is critical due to Israel's systematic policy of medical negligence towards Palestinian political prisoners." Prisoners are not provided with the basic essentials and the food is inadequate, with prisoner's families being forced to pay for things such as clothing, soap, toothbrushes etc.

It costs the famililies of each of the five boys from Hares around 125 Euros a month to provide for their basic needs - and they have been in prison for 13 months waiting for a hearing in a military court over an incident in which an illegal settler crashed into the back of an Israeli truck. The truck driver had stopped to change a flat tire, but later it was claimed that the incident had been caused by boys throwing stones. 50 Israeli soldiers stormed the village in the early hours and violently arrested 19 children who were taken to the Al Jalame prison, run by G4S. They were held in solitary confinement in the windowless cells with not even a mattress for up to two weeks, taken out at times for long sessions of interrogation and violent torture, and say that sexual threats were made against female members of their families to force them to confess to 25 counts of attempted murder (the number of stones alleged to have been thrown in an event that never took place.)

If their cases ever come to court, their future remains bleak. The Israeli NGO 'No Legal Frontiers' found after a twelve month study that the Israeli military courts have a 100% record of conviction of Palestinian children brought before them. As the Islamic Human Rights Commision comment: "If the boys are convicted they will be locked up for over 25 years - five young lives runied with no evidence of a crime let alone their guilt."

There were many more such harrowing stories on the detailed fliers that the protesters were handing out on the streets, all implicating G4S in the detention of the tortured Palestians.
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Bill Gates end support of Israeli child torture

Cardinal Place, Victoria, London. Thu 17 Apr 2014

A protester in a Bill Gates mask - his foundation invest in G4S which runs Israeli torture prisons
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Protesters visited the UK offices of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to hand in a petition against their investment in G4S, which runs prisons in Israel where Palestinian men, women & children are held, often without trial, and tortured.

Campaigners supporting Palestine met in the plaza outside Westminster Cathedral for a 'mystery protest' on International Palestinian Prisoners Day, gathering around a Palestinian flag. After a while a group arrived carrying some black painted wood frames and rods which were slowly assembled to give a three-sided 'prison cell' and a number of photographic masks showing the face of Bill Gates.

A briefing told us that he target for the protest was to be the Europe and Middle East Office of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Portland House, just across the road inside the Cardinal Place shopping centre, and that we were there to deliver a petition from the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association with the following text:

"By holding shares in G4S, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is complicit in Israel’s detention without trial and torture of Palestinians.

As people that share your belief that every life has equal value, we call on you to divest from G4S immediately."

They point out that the purchase by the foundation of shares in G4S worth $172m makes it one of the company's biggest shareholders, and that "through its holdings in G4S, the Gates Foundation is legitimising and profiting from Israel’s use of torture, mass incarceration and arbitrary arrest to discourage Palestinians from opposing Israel’s apartheid policies."

They say the investment in G4S makes a mockery of the stated aims of the Gates Foundation which says that it is "guided by the belief that every life has equal value" and that it uses its investments to fund projects that "help all people lead healthy, productive lives".

Security at Portland House appeared to have had some warning of the protest, and stopped the protesters from entering the building, with a few who attempted to do so being quickly ejected. One protester did manage to stop the door being closed, and others soon joined her to ensure it was kept open and those inside they foyer could hear what was happening outside.

The protest then continued outside the office building, with the protesters speaking about the reasons they were there, along with some chanting and some music. A prisoner posed in the cell and banners, placards and posters told everyone around what the Gates Foundation was supporting. Repeated attempts were made to contact the Foundation Office and persuade someone to come down and accept the petition with several thousand signatures, with the protesters promising to leave when they did so. A couple of police arrived and stood inside the foyer with the security watching the protest.

The protesters had originally intended to move to another protest outside the G4S offices a short distance down Victoria St starting at 4pm, and a few went at that time, but most stayed waiting outside the Gates Foundation. They were still waiting when I left to cover the protest at the G4S offices over twenty minutes later.



End Hunger Fast Vigil against Food Poverty

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Wed 16 Apr 2014

Keeping the flames alight in the stiff breeze was tricky
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On the day that 47 bishops and over 600 leaders from all major Christian denominations called for urgent government action on food poverty, 'End Hunger Fast' campaigners held a vigil outside Parliament, lighting candles and breaking bread together.

Around a hundred campaigners, most of whom were among the thousands who made a stand against hunger in the UK by taking part in the April 4th 24 hour day of fasting, praying and reflecting on the hunger in the one of the world's richest countries came to the vigil.

Figures published today from the Trussell Trust, added to those from several studies of independent food banks, show that one million food parcels were handed out over the last year as the safety net for the poor and vulnerable in Britain crumbles.

Workers in food banks are aware that many of those who need to use them do so because of administrative failures in the benefits system, with many being left without any support while benefits are recalculated or changed. Others are forced to rely on food banks because their benefits are stopped as a punishment, with 'sanctions' often being applied for trivial reasons or through misunderstandings or failures in communication.

Speakers at the event included Trussell Trust Chair Chris Mould, anti-poverty campaigner and blogger behind A Girl Called Jack, Jack Monroe, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner who reminded us that this was also Passover, and of the importance of food in the Jewish tradition and Keith Hebden, the End Hunger Fast media spokesperson who is going without food for 40 days and 40 nights to draw attention to food poverty, and stressed the importance of getting politicians to take action on the issue.

During the event those present shared bread and held it in a minutes silence before eating to reflect on the problem faced by those who cannot afford food. They then lit candles (with some difficulty because a a stiff breeze) with another period of silent contemplation before the final address from Hebden.
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Barts cuts Health Advocacy & Interpreting

Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London. Wed 16 Apr 2014

Mark Cubbon, Executive Director of Delivery with the petition
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People from the many communities of Tower Hamlets and other East London boroughs held a short rally at the Royal London Hospital before delivering a petition calling on Barts Health trust to drop proposed cuts in advocacy and interpreting services.

The group which came together to deliver the petition included a number of GPs and other health professionals as well as members of various parts of the BME community, including Somalis, Bangladeshis and Chinese. The Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman sent his apologies and a representative to express his support, and a Labour councillor gave support from the Labour group.

Those who spoke pointed out the great need for such services in a multiethnic community of great deprivation and need. While the community is desperate for an increase in these services, particularly for an ageing population many of whom speak and understand little English but are now in much greater need of health care, Barts Health propose cutting the salaries of skilled staff through 'down-banding' and cutting face to face medical advocacy and interpreting.

The removeal of the services at GP surgeries and community and hospital services would mean the loss of around 11 full-time Bengali/Sylheti Health Advocates and the languages affected would include Somali, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Tamil and French.

The people who work in the community point out that communication is essential to health care, and that taking away the means for this to occur will lead to inappropriate treatments or a failure to treat serious conditions. Not only will this lead to great suffering by the patients, but it is also likely to result in waste and in expensive complications for the health system.

Barts Health has financial problems because of the huge PFI debt incurred in the building of the sorely needed new hospital in front of which we were meeting. But the debts to private finance and the repayments required are so high that the trust has been unable to make full use of the hospital and has cut other vital services in the attempt to pay them. As with other trusts in similar dire positions, there needs to be some re-negotiation of the debt by government, as these contracts have turned out to be far too favourable to the lenders.

It had been agreed that a small group would take the petition to present to a member of the management outside the main entrance, but those present decided to go with them and see and hear what was said. Hospital security staff made an attempt to stop them but it was unsuccesful, as were their attempts to prevent photography of the event. The petition with 1850 signatures was received by Mark Cubbon, Executive Director of Delivery who talked briefly with the group handing over the petition.
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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Panoramics

Stratford, London. Wed 16 Apr 2014
The footbridge at the junction of the City Mill River and the Old River Lea has lost its message''F**k Seb Coe'
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Much of the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and surrounding areas are now open to the public, and ten days after they opened I went along to have a look. It wasn't perhaps ideal weather, sunny with a clear blue sky, and it was quite crowded in some places as it was in the school holiday coming up to Easter. The pictures are almost all panoramic, made with a horizontal angle of view of around 146 degrees and cropped to an aspect ratio of 2.4:1 to allow some variation in the horizon level.

Arriving at Stratford Station I made the mistake of following the large signs to the park - and got hopelessly lost, finding myself wandering around in a bleak and empty space on the wrong side of Stratford Westfield, walking past Stratford City Bus station north along Mountfichet Rd. Doubtless I'd missed a sign somewhere that had told me to turn and walk through Westfield and past all the shops.

Walking past vast empty sites and fenced off areas I came to Penny Brookes St at the southern edge of the former athletes village and tried to make my way to the new Victory Park, but every route I tried was blocked by fencing. There is still a great deal of building work going on and many of what will be entrances to the park are still closed. I made my way up Celebration Ave and then along the very tedious Honour Lea Ave with fences or walls on either side and no escape until I eventually came to its end and was finally in the QE Park.

Later I tried to retrace my route on Google Streetview, which claims to work on some streets in the area, but actually carries out what seems a fairly random translocation to some varied London locations. All of them seemed more interesting than the actual topography I had found myself facing on the ground.

The park is not really a park as we know it, and it seems unlikely it will ever grow into one. It gives the impression that as little has been spent and done as possible post the Olympics and it largely remains a series of routes to the Olympic stadium, ready for the mass tramping feet of West Ham fans, though some might favour more direct routes. It is a complete contrast to what might be expected of a new park for - and there is a good example of one just a couple of miles away in Thames Barrier Park.

The one area of some interest is at the junction of the Old River Lea and the City Mill River, just to the north of the Olympic stadium; the interest there is concrete and steel with three bridges across the streams. Underneath, the former Carpenters Lock appears to have been lost, with just a few vestiges - though there were promises it would be restored. It was after all an interesting design and quite scenic, as well as potentially useful for navigation.

But in the main the park appears to be a rather bleak area, enlivened occasionally by the odd art work. Quite a contrast to the more exciting and much wilder area before the Olympics - which you can see in my pictures in several places on this site (eg here) and elsewhere. And although they have retained the footbridge across the head of the City Mill River as you can see in the image above (though it is closed off), it appears to have lost its famous graffiti 'F**k Seb Coe', a local verdict it was hard not to share.

It's only possible to walk down the route of the footpaths that used to be on the west bank of the Waterworks River and the east of the City Mill river as far as the Loop Rd, just to the north of the main railway line, possibly because of the continuing Crossrail works. The area around the stadium between the City Mill River, the Old River Lea and the Navigation remains closed off and there appeared to be no access to Old Ford. And the Pudding Mill River has completely disappeared under the stadium.

From the Loop Road a path leads up to the Northern Outfall (Greenway) and the ViewTube, which I think is a fluorescent yellow but is apparently officially green. Pudding Mill Lane Station, where I waited for the DLR to take me towards my next appointment was in its last week or two at the present location, about to be moved to make way for Crossrail The last pictures I took before boading the train were of the new station, the largest on the DLR, from the old (the smallest, a single short platform and passing place on the single track line), though I did take a few snaps out of the window of Crossrail work as we came up to the navigation.
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Somali Refugees mistreated in Kenya

Kenya High Commission, Portland Place, London. Sat 12 Apr 2014

Somalis hold up posters outside the High Commission
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A protest was held at the Kenyan Embassy against the mistreatment of Somali refugees at the Kasarani Concentration Camp in Kenya. The Somali community in the UK call for the ICC to investigate the crimwa being committed there.

The treatment of Somalis in Kenya has shocked many in the the Horn of Africa and in the Somali communities in countries around the world. A report from Amnesty International says that the refugees are actively targeted by the police with indiscriminate arrests. Many of them feel they have no option but to return to Somalia where the ongoing conflict in parts of the country continues to destroy lives.

Protests about the crimes against Somaalis in Kenya, particularly in the Kasarani Concentration Camp have resulted in protests in London, Paris, Ottawa, and Arab League capitals as well as in various citeies in the US. The protesters want an immediate end to the violence and for the charges against Uhura Kenyata for crimes against humanity hsould be invstigated.
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Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria

Algerian Embassy, Riding House St, London. Sat 12 April 2014

Protesters say no to yet another term for President Bouteflika
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A protest at the start of the Algerian Presidential elections condemned them as a mere spectacle meant to maintain and cloak its authoritarian and corrupt rule of Bouteflika, president since 1999, and called for a massive boycott.

The protest was called by the Algeria Solidarity Campaign which is "more convinced than ever that the upcoming elections will be neither free and fair, nor transparent. They will certainly not result in the election of a legitimate President, representative of the wishes of the people."

They "call for a massive boycott and/or abstention from voting and its full rejection of the 'Presidential poll', as it deems it to be a mere spectacle meant to maintain and cloak its authoritarian and corrupt rule in electoral legitimacy."

President Bouteflika has ruled Algeria since 1999 and is attempting to be re-elected for a fourth term. Around 50 people protested at the embassy in London, with a waste bin as a ballot box and a large and very creamy cake with the Algerian flag on it. I ate a slice and it was delicious.
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Don't Buy Sodastream at John Lewis

Oxford St, London. Sat 12 April 2014

Handing out 'Don't Buy Sodastream' postcards outside John Lewis
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Protesters handed out postcards outside John Lewis in Oxford St asking shoppers to support freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians by not buying SodaStream products which are made in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

The picket by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is a regular event, every fortnight across lunchtime on a Saturday, and is a part of world-wide protests calling for a boycott of goods which are made in the illegally occupied settlements. The protest is in support of the BDS campaign for a boycott, divestment and sanctions called for by Palestinian civil society which appears to be having an effect on both Sodastream and on Israel.

As the Financial Times commented recently, the "status of the settlements is clear in international law even if Israel chooses to ignore this and expand its colonisation of Palestinian land, while ostensibly negotiating on the creation of a Palestinian state." Sodastream makes some of its dispencers in Ma'ale Adumim, a large Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Trade with these illegal settlements is illegal under international law. Recently Oxfam parted compiany with its ambassador actress Scarlett Johansson after she became an ambassador for Sodastream. John Lewis and others who continue to trade with companies that are based in the settlements - such as John Lewis are in clear breach of the law.

Sodastream - and Johansson point out that they employ around 500 Palestinians and claim that their enterprise promites peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. But Palestinians only work there because there are no other jobs. A recent survey "found that 82 percent of Palestinians working in Israeli settlements would quit those jobs if viable alternatives were available." They aren't good jobs either, a former worker complained of having to work 12 or 13 hours a day, and most Palestinians are on renewable seasonal contracts that last only three months each.

As the FT pointed out, "The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission." Palestinian human rights legal researcher Elizabeth Koek , quoted by Al Jazeera was quite clear thet "Neither the working conditions, nor the pay of Palestinian workers employed in settlements negates the illegality of the settlement enterprise." According to a former worker there, most Palestinians working for Sodastream support the boycott "because they are against [Israel's] occupation. But they cannot afford to personally boycott work opportunities."

The boycott activities have dented Sodastream's business and the Israeli economy. The Israeli government have responded by increasing its encouragment for industries in the illegally occupied West BanK and trying to negotiate a 'two state' settlement with the Palestinians that would enable Israel to hold on to these areas. Sodastream has perhaps a more pragmatic response and is trying to set up a new factory in Israel proper which would employ mainly the local Arab Bedouin population.

By the time I left the picket outside John Lewis there were around a dozen activists holding flags and handing out leaflets. Usually they have a large banner showing the way that Palestine has dissappeared from a large state in 1946 through various changes to the current small fragmented areas. There is room for some argument about the details of these maps, but the general pattern they show is beyone dispute. Before the establishment of the Israeli state, in 1946, Palestinians (including Druze & Bedouins) owned 92% of the
land, while Jews owned about 8%. The UN awarded Israel 54% of the land, though a fairly large part of this was empty desert. In the 1948 war, Israel took another 24%. In 1967 Israel occupied all of Palestine and with further settlements and the building of the separation wall since then only the Gaza strip and around 40% of the occupied West Bank is now under Palestinian control.



Bring Back Shaker Aamer Before He Dies

Parliament Square & Foreign Office, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014

Briefing for protesters in Parliament Square

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Shaker Aamer, a Londoner still in Guantanamo despite having twice been cleared for release, is close to death after years of continued mistreatment and torture. A protest marched from Parliament to the Foreign office with urgent letters to William Hague.

Shaker Aamer worked in London and has a wife and four children living here, including one boy of twelve born shortly after his capture who he has never seen. Sold by bandits to the US forces in Afghanistan where he was a charity worker, he has been held in Guantanamo for over twelve years without charge or trial. He has suffered harsh treatment and torture both in Afghanistan and this has continued since his illegal rendition to Guantanamo to the present.

He was cleared to leave Guantanamo in 2007 and 2010 and has never been charged with any offence. The UK Government has called for his release and return to the UK as a matter of urgency, President Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo but still there is no news of Shaker Aamer’s return.

News has reached the UK that Aamer is gravely ill due to his long-term treatment by the prison guards at Guantanamo and the failure to provide proper medical treatment. The campaigners took copies of a letter signed by many individuals to Foreign Secretary William Hague. The letter acknowledged that

"requests for his release have been made by the UK Government, by Shaker Aamer’s MP, Jane Ellison, and by thousands of people who have written letters and signed petitions calling for Shaker’s release."

William Hague has previously written to Aamer in prison, and the letter continues:

"Your own letter to Shaker gave him renewed hope. It was a source of comfort to him. You may know that it was later confiscated by the guards. In June last year, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to President Obama to make it clear that 'we want him (Shaker Aamer) released and returned to the UK as a matter of urgency.' "

Yet despite these requests, and the renewed pledge by President Obama in his State of the Union speech on January 28th 2014, "this needs to be the year that Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay." Aamer remains in Guantanamo.

Campaigners have long suspected that UK and US security services have conspired together to ensure that he is either kept in Guantanamo until he dies or transferred to his native Saudi Arabia where he would never see the light of day again. The evidence that he could give about the torture at Bagram Air Base and in Guantanamo would be damning and would certainly implicate British agents as well as the US.

After around three-quarters of an hour protesting in Parliament Square opposite the Houses of Parliament, where they were visited and encouraged by a visit from John McDonnell MP, they marched in single file in their orange suits and black hoods past the front of the Houses of Parliament and up Parliament St to the Foreign Office in King Charles Street, where they formed a line along the pavement edge. After some chanting there were a number of readings from the prison writings of Shaker Aamer. I left before the letters were handed in to an official from the Foreign Office for Mr Hague.

The protesters called for urgent action by the UK because of the acute sate of Shaker Aamer's health. They want:

- a full debate on Shaker Aamer's plight to take place in Parliament (the e-petition with 117,460 signatures should have led to this)
- a UK Government high level delegation to meet with President Obama in Washington
- the UK Government to demand Shaker's immediate release and return to the UK as a matter of urgency
- the UK Foreign Secretary to call in the US Ambassador to London to explain the delay in releasing Shaker back to his family.

Unless William Hague acts quickly and decisively it may be too late.
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'POP UP' Syrian Refugee Camp

Parliament Square, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014

Maria Gallastegui (centre) and another protester with their 'refugee camp' at the start of the protest

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Peace Strike organised a 'pop up' mock Syrian Refugee Camp opposite Parliament in solidarity with the Syrian people with the message 'aid not arms'. UN estimates are of over 6.5 million refugess in Syria and 2.5 million in surrounding couuntries.

Peace Strike, led by Maria Gallastegui had for several years a peace presence in Parliament Square until May 2012 alongside Brian Haw's longer established permanent Parliament Square Peace Protest.

Today's mock camp in the same location was there only for a few hours and was intended to call attention to the suffering of the Syrian people, both internally displaced refugees in Syria and those in camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordon, Iraq, and Egypt. Many are without clean water and sanitation, living in crowded, makeshift shelters. Diseases including cholera can easily spread and medical services are inadequate.

Peace strike say:

They quote the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres: "I hope that those that have the most important responsibility in world affairs will be able to understand that forgetting Syria will be a total disaster"
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Wild Animal in Circuses ban

Downing St, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014

Left to Right: Stanley Johnson, Jim Dowd MP, Caroline Lucas MP, ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer, Peter Tatchell, John McDonnell MP, Adrian Sanders MP with the 'signed' elephant outside Downing St..
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Animal Defenders International took an elephant shaped letter to David Cameron who promised them he would bring in a ban on wild animals in circuses. Only two UK circuses still use wild animals and a ban could be in force by December 2015.

He made the promise to the ADI deputation who had come to present an elephant-shaped letter with signatures by many celebrities. In the delegation which was led by former Conservative MEP and conservationist Stanley Johnson and social justice campaigner Peter Tatchell were MPs Jim Dowd, Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell and Adrian Sanders, and ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer. Unfortunately he left a minute or two before I arrived.
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Vedanta Zambian Copper Scandal

Zambian High Commision, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014
Vendanta, found guilty in Zambia for poisoning water, causing birth deformities - haven't paid the $2m fine
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Foil Vedanta recently published a highly detailed report into copper mining in Zambia under the title 'Copper Colonialism:Vedanta KCM and the copper loot of Zambia' which suggested that the London listed company Vedanta's subisidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) which claimed to be making a loss in 2013, actually made profits of $362 million.

Zambia has the world's richest copper deposits (alongside Congo) and the country is the eighth largest producer of the metal. Copper exports make up 75% of its exports but only contributes 2% to the country's domestic revenue.

Vedanta are a UK registered company, listed on the London Stock Exchange, although they may soon be delisted. FoilVedanta say that Chairman Anil Agarwal, one of Britain's richest people, lives in a $20 million mansion in Mayfair, London, but keeps his enormous profits from his 69% of Vedanta via a holding company, Volcan Investments in the tax haven of the Bahamas, and avoids paying any tax.

Foil Vedanta came to protest at Zambia House, the Zambia High Commision in Kensington this lunchtime, and handed over a copy of their report to the Deputy High Commissioner . They called for Vedanta and the Zambian government to release KCM’s annual reports, containing figures on profits and tax payment, which are currently kept secret.

They suggest that the difference between the actual profits and those declared in Zambia may be accounted for by "tax evasion scams such as transfer mis-pricing (undervaluing exports) and under-declaring production."

They demanded an independent investigation into volumes of copper and cobalt mined, processed and exported from KCM’s plants, and their direction of export.

They also demand that Vedanta be forced to pay the fine of $2 million served by Zambian courts in 2011 as compensation to 2000 claimants poisoned by major pollution of the river Kafue in 2006, and stop ongoing spills affecting Chingola residents. These cases are of particular concern to Foil Vedanta which is "an independent grassroots solidarity organization focused primarily on the FTSE 250 British-Indian mining giant Vedanta Resources PLC" which links with "people’s movements where Vedanta is destroying lives and devastating the land in India, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Zambia, Liberia, South Africa and elsewhere."

Foil Vedanta also demand that KCM employees and former employees get proper redundancy payments and that existing contract labourers are unionised.

Vedanta have claimed that the Foil Vedanta report is misleading and incorrect but have so far failed to present any evidence to dispute the claims. Their share prices dropped by a third during 2013, which Foil Vedanta say was largely due to illegalities and local protests at Vedanta’s operations in India. In Goa, Vedanta’s iron ore mines have been stopped for the past year following revelations that they had exported 150 million tonnes of iron ore in 2010/11 while only declaring their agreed export allowance of 7.6 million. In Odisha, their Niyamgiri mine has been banned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests due to local opposition, costing them $10 billion in lost investments, and in Australia their Mount Lyell copper mine has been suspended following a series of fatal accidents.

I had to leave shortly before the protest had been due to end and was unable to be present for the handing over of the report which was filmed for Zambia TV. A woman from the High Commision was also recording the event on her computer.
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In Deepest Surrey

South Ascot. Mon 7 Apr 2014
South Ascot
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If anyone really believes "We are all in this together" rather than simply using it as a political slogan to cover up their own self-interest, a short walk around South Ascot shoud soon convince them that it is a complete nonsense. We may be in a period of austerity, but they are still building mansions for the super-rich and many are still living in them in places such as these in the 'Home Counties.'

Of course, even in areas such as this, not everyone is a millionaire, and although those large houses set in their grounds occupy much of the space, they will house a minority of the population. But although there are pleasant walks through the woods it isn't an area I would want ot live in. Even if I had the several millions to buy a house.
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Occupy London General Meeting

St Paul's Cathedral, London.Sat 5 Apr 2014

People show their agreement with their hands
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Occupy London returned to the steps of St Paul's Cathedral for another of their periodic general meetings, attended by around a hundred activists.

I was late for the start of the general meeting and missed much of what had been discussed. One of the issues that came up while I was there was whether Occupy London should endorse the 'Tipping Point' statment on Climate Change. It was a good example of how democracy works in Occupy. At first there seemed to be pretty general agreement that the meeting should sign up to the statement, but then a counter-view was raised, with a speaker suggesting that the issue was more complex, and I think saying that a part of the climate change lobby was backed by global capital, and that Occupy should give the matter proper consideration at a later meeting. There was some more discussion, and eventually he agreed that although he wanted to register his dissent, he would not block the support for the statement. Another man then also spoke about his reservations, and again after some discussion also decided he would not block, and a consensus was thus reached that Occupy London would support the statement.

There was a chilly wind blowing around the steps of St Paul's making them feel much like the steppes, and I rushed away as the meeting was finishing for the warmth of a bus.
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World Pillow Fight Day

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 5 Apr 2014

Feathers were soon flying as pillows splirt

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London's Mayor closed Trafalgar Square to avoid it being used for the annual pillow fight on World Pillow Fight Day. The fight took place instead around the edges of the square on on the very crowded North Terrace, while the square remained empty.

I was surprised give the thousands who had turned up for the event that they did not simply push down the barriers and take over the square, but the English are perhaps in general too submissive to authority to take the action into their own hands. The ban seemed a very petty response by the Mayor to an event which gives a great many people an afernoon of relatively harmless fun, and it was one which seemed to me to pose a much greater threat to public safety than simply letting it go ahead.

There did also seem to be a much greater number of people present than in previous years, though whether this was a direct response to the ban is hard to say, though I rather hope so.

When I arrived a quarter of an hour before the fight was due to start, the area was already packed, with some loud music being provided by the samba band, London's famous 'Rhythms of Resistance.' More were arriving and tourists were stopping to watch, and I think some going away to buy pilows to take part. Quite a few people rather jumped the gun and there were already feathers flying by the time the countdown to 3pm arrived, when total pandemonium broke loose.

There are rules to the pillow fight, one of which is not to hit photographers, but if no-one did so deliberately it was impossible to avoid the many being wielded rather indiscriminately - but at least some who hit me did apologise. And although there were a lot of people taking pictures, the area as still full of people swinging pillows, even though much of the time there was hardly room to swing a pillow.

Soon the air was full of feathers and dust, and breathing with your mouth open became a problem, and eyes began to itch. I decided I'd had enough and struggled my way through the press of bodies and out of the square, though the fight was still proceeding pretty furiously.

This is probably the most enjoyable leisure event that takes place in Trafalgar Square, and the feathers can't be that hard to clear up. So why did the authorities try to stop it?
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Axe the Bedroom Tax at One Hyde Park

One Hyde Park, London. Sat 5 Apr 2014

Paula Peters of DPAC was one of the speakers at the protest
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A protest outside London's most expensive flats marked a year of the grossly unfair bedroom tax. One Hyde Park's new luxury flats are owned largely by foreign investors and mostly empty as investments in a city desperately short of social housing.

The Bedroom tax is just one of many other government measure that hit people on low incomes, a majority of them in low paid work as well as those on benefits. The disabled in particular have been singled out for often totally disastrous cuts, with now a long list of those who have been driven to suicide.

Today's protest was called by members of the Unite Community and other groups including Taxpayers Against Poverty, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), Fuel Poverty Action and various local London groups. A group of protesters with banners and placards filled the rather narrow pavement along the edge of Knightsbridge - behind them in the wider open area in front of One Hyde Park still privately owned were a number of men in suits and ties and a few police to protect the property of the rich.

A statement from one of the organisers explained:

On the anniversary of the Bedroom Tax and the other attacks to benefits contained in the Welfare Reform Act, we will gather outside this venue, where the 86 flats sell for up to £68 million pounds, only 8 residents pay council tax, and many are owned by mysterious companies registered in off-shore tax havens. We will register our disgust at the hypocrisy of current welfare policy, and demonstrate that the real scroungers are the super-rich.

Londoners are being evicted because they are unable to pay the extra rent imposed by the bedroom tax and are being offered the option of being re-housed in Wales or Birmingham or Hastings or elsewhere, away from friends, families and jobs. Many cannot be rehoused in London because there are simply no available one-bedroom properties in social housing, and because rents in the private sector are too high. For large families, private sector rents are above those that will now be met by housing benefit.

Housing benefit has in any case proved a disaster, because of the housing shortage in London. It has ended up being a subsidy for landlords, pushing up rents to otherwise unaffordable levels. Even so-called 'affordable' housing, at up to 80% of market rents is unaffordable for most.

Two groups that have been particularly badly hit by the various cuts are the disabled and young people. The government is planning to abolish housing benefit for young people, who are already treated unequally: they don't get in-work tax credits, and get lower rates of unemployment benefit. Many have been forced to work for nothing through workfare schemes and have no chance of finding homes they can afford in London.

Many of the disabled have lost benefits through being found fit for work - even where their disabilities make it exceedingly unlikely that any employer would offer a job they were capable of doing. Many have lost vital support for mobility and other services - and this has often meant they have had to give up useful jobs they were able to do with this support. The closure of the Remploy factories, set up specifically to give useful employment to disabled workers threw them all out of a job, and relatively few have been able to get jobs elsewhere.

A surprising number of the many motorists passing the protest at this busy (and badly organised) junction hooted to show support and bus passengers waved and raised fists.

There were speeches from a number of people, including Paula Peters of DPAC, the Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, Claire from Fuel Poverty Action and a former Remploy worker, as well as several fron Unite Community. We then sang a number of songs with the help of the Strawberry Theives Socialist Choir.
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Muslims & Britain First Clash

Near Lebanese Embassy, Bayswater Road, London. Fri 4 Apr 2014
Muslim protesters speak out against arrests and attacks on Muslim scholars in Lebanon
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A protest near the Lebanese embassy against the arrests of Sunni Islamic activists and scholars including Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad in Tripoli and North Lebanon was opposed by a small group from the far-right and pressure group Britain First.

The Islamist protest was called by Anjem Choudary and took place on Bayswater Road at Notting Hill, on the opposite side of the road close to the junction with Kensington Palace Gardens. The Lebanese Embassy is in a private street off this, in a well-guarded area where protests and photography are not allowed.

Only a handful of Muslim protesters had arrived when the protest was due to start, but shortly afterwards there was a lot of shouting and a group of two women in black niqabs, with a girl and a child in a buggy came down the street, followed a short distance behind by two Muslim men, then a policeman or two and a group of around ten men and a woman, several carrying Union Flags and shouting "Muslim Terrorists, Off our streets!"

Police stopped this group of Britain First supporters, most of them wearing green jackets with a Britain First badge, and pushed them into a protest pen facing the larger pen for the Islamist protest.

There were some speeches from the Islamists about the arrests in Lebanon which they say were carried out by the "Lebanese regime ... in order to please Bashar Al-Asad’s murderous Syrian regime."

They say that the Lebanese security services under Abbas Ibrahim "ensure that anyone who is wanted by the Syrian regime is arrested and sent back to Syria to be tortured and possibly murdered etc… "

While Sunni Muslims who want to go and fight in Syria are arrested, they point out that "the Shia Hizbollah can display thousands of their members publicly and can openly carry their weapons in the streets" even though Hizbollah is "killing Muslims in Syria and mutilating their bodies!"

While the speeches were taking place, Britain First maintained their shouting, but they were heavily outnumbered by the Muslims who were perhaps by now approaching a hundred, and at a great disadvantage with only a small megaphone against the powerful loudspeakers - it was at times uncomfortable to stand near them to take pictures. The Britain First protesters showed no interest in the events in Lebanon the protest was against, but seemed simply to be opposed to the Muslims who were protesting who they called terrorists and extremists.

There were a few minor scuffles between police and Britain First members after they broke out of their pen and tried to run across the road; some at least of these were provoked by Muslim men going across to shout at or argue with them from a closer distance. Police stopped them and pushed them back to the pen.

After an hour, Britain First packed up and walked away and I left too, as the police had been making it impossible to photograph either protest sensibly for the past quarter of an hour. Fortunately I had managed to take some pictures before the police decided to be too obstructive.
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Wave of Action

Trafalgar Square, London. Fri 4 Apr 2014

The Wave begins
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The International 'Wave of Action' celebrating the Occupy movement and continuing its mission had its UK launch today in Trafalgar Square, with plans to continue this initial event at various locations around London until tomorrow afternoon.

After meeting for a short rally in Trafalgar Square the 50 or so people present formed a conga line to dance out of the square and along the Strand on their way to St Paul's Cathedral where they hoped to meet others and hold another rally. They then planned to move back west, going over the Millennium bridge and stopping for a while at Jubilee Gardens and then moving on to Westminster where some hoped to camp for the night.

I left them at Charing Cross to go to photograph in Notting Hill Gate.
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Shut down Yarl's Wood

Home Office, Westminster, London. Thu 3 Apr 2014
Protesters with placards and banners from the Movement for Justice
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Following the death of a heart attack of a woman held there given paracetamol for her persistent chest pains and recent forced deportations, including that of Yashika, a noisy protest at the Home Office called for Yarl's Wood to be shut down.

Christine Case, a 40-year-old Jamaican woman detained in the centre was allegedly refused access to medical care by Serco staff when she complained of serious chest pain over several days and was given paracetamol. She collapsed and died there last Sunday.

Her case was raised in an urgent question in the House of Commons by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and she was told that a full investigation was taking place, though it seems unclear if this will also include evidence of other cases where detainees have apparently been refused medical care.

The protesters were also incensed by deportations, including that of Mauritian A-L evel Student Yashika on Wednesday, despite a petition with over 170,000 signatures calling for her to be allowed to finish her course, and Jackie Nonyonjo who died shortly after being deported to Uganda last year.

The centre is run by contractor Serco, and there are many allegations of abuse, including sexual abuse and the denial of human rights of women held there. The protest was organised by the Movement for Justice who made six demands:

1. We demand that Yarl's Wood detention centre is SHUT DOWN

2. A full Public Inquiry into the sexual and other forms of abuse at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre.

3. Present and former detainees and their supporters must have the choice to give evidence in public.

4. EVERY aspect of the system that makes the sexual abuse possible must be exposed to public scrutiny. Nothing less is acceptable.

5. Present and former Yarl's Wood detainees MUST NOT BE DEPORTED. They are ALL potential witnesses.

6. There must be NO reprisals or discrimination against anyone giving evidence.

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Probation Officers Strike for Justice

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Tue 1 Apr 2014
Tom Robinson unwraps one of the birthday presents for Chris Grayling - 'The Book Thief'
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Probation officers and lawyers protested together at Parliament against plans to privatise probation and cut legal aid by Justice Minister Chris Grayling, an April Fool, before taking a card and cake for his birthday to the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Grayling was born on April 1st 1962 and was 52 today. Protesters at the rally practised singing an alternative version of 'Happy Birthday', which they later performed with gusto outside the Justice Ministry led by singer Tom Robinson. The words to it were:

Happy birthday to you
You want justice for the few
No more justice for the many
Only justice for you

It was a well attended rally, with members of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) joined by lawyers from the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and other supporters of the Justice Alliance.

The wide range of speakers against the moves to privatise probation included two shadow ministers of justice, Andy Slaughter MP and Jenny Chapman MP, as well as two other MPs, Ian Lavery and Jeremy Corbyn. Ill health prevented John McDonnell from attending, but he sent a message of solidarity. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also spoke, and there were trade unionists including Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (and a message of support from the TUC) and solicitors, and of course several probation officers. The two final speeches were by Matt Foot of the Alliance for Justice, followed by Ian Lawrence, General Secretary of NAPO.

After the rally there was a march to the Ministry of Justice, outside which a large cake was produced with a tombstone at one end with the message 'RIP Justice'.

Tom Robinson then led the singing of the alternative 'Happy Birthday' and unwrapped a couple of presents for InJustice Minister Chris Grayling, a packet of Skittles (as bought by Travon Martin) and a copy of 'The Book Thief'. Grayling had just announced that he was to stop books being sent to prisoners in UK jails.

A small group then delivered the birthday cake to the ministry.
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Kurds protest at Rojava attacks

Parliament Square, London. Tue 1 Apr 2014

Activists wave the PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) flag at the protest
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Kurds and Alevi protested in Parliament Square against the attacks on Rojava (Western Kurdistan) by Al Queda and other forces fighting in Syria which are aided by Turkey. The 40 million Kurds want justice and autonomy for northern Syria.

The PJAK is allied to the better known PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and both support the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, still held in a Turkish prison. The PJAK is involved in military action against Iranian government forces in Iran, and the Iranian government supports Al Queda-linked forces in Syria.
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DWP & Atos Work Assessments

Dept of Work & Pensions, Westminster, London. Tue 1 Apr 2014

Several groups including DPAC, Winvisible and the Mental Health Resistance Network took part in the picket
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One of many protests around the country, a picket was held at the Department of Work and Pensions HQ in Westminster for most of the afternoon demanding that work capacity assessments be carried out by local GPs rather than IT companies.

The protesters included Clare Glasman from Winvisible and Andy Greene of DPAC as well as others from the disabled community and their supporters, including from the Mental Health Resistance Network who successfully took the DWP to court over the discrimination against people with mental health conditions built in to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The DWP lost their appeal against the judgment but have so far defied the court in failing to address the issue.

There were a series of speeches, both about the general effects of the government policies against the disabled and the opposition to them by disabled groups and of their own personal experiences.

Many disabled people have died as a result of the tests conducted by Atos, which are inadequate in their design but were also deliberately applied to disadvantage claimants, with trick questions and falsification of responses to meet targets. Atos got paid more for failing people than for conducting the tests honestly.

The view of those who have suffered under these tests - which have driven some to suicide and led to the starvation of others - is well expressed in a spoof newspaper advert which claimed to be from the DWP:

"UK Government seeks heartless company and like minded individuals to blindly follow orders, and carry out unrealistic and pointless tests with a view to lowering disability figures to meet our targets. Perfect job opportunity for unsympathetic bastards.
Conscience not necessary:

Please apply to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions/aka Minister of Death, Mr Iain Duncan Smith..."

This was written shortly after Atos announced it was giving up the WCA contract, citing assaults on its staff by disabled benefit claimants as a reason.

This claim has since been disproved by a DWP response to a freedom of information request that stated of 1,678 security incidents recorded by Atos in 2013, only five could be "easily identified as assaults on staff". An Atos spokesman confirmed he was not aware of a single case in which criminal charges were brought against a WCA claimant in 2013.

Although Atos has withdrawn from the WCA assessments (which are to be given to another equally unreliable IT company) it is still involved in the assessments of disabled people for the new PIP (personal independence payment.)
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2014; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index

April 2014

Stop HS2 Rally at Parliament
Workers Memorial Day
Cat Hill Protest against L&Q
IKEA Not Welcome on Greenwich Peninsula
Rana Plaza Anniversary at GAP
Staines & Wraysbury Walk
Easter Morning
Staines Passion
Good Friday in Staines
G4S Occupied on Palestinian Prisoners Day
Bill Gates end support of Israeli child torture
End Hunger Fast Vigil against Food Poverty
Barts cuts Health Advocacy & Interpreting
QE Olympic Park Panoramics
Somali Refugees mistreated in Kenya
Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria
Don't Buy Sodastream at John Lewis
Bring Back Shaker Aamer Before He Dies
'POP UP' Syrian Refugee Camp
Wild Animal in Circuses ban
Vedanta Zambian Copper Scandal
In Deepest Surrey
Occupy London General Meeting
World Pillow Fight Day
Axe the Bedroom Tax at One Hyde Park
Muslims & Britain First Clash
Wave of Action
Shut down Yarl's Wood
Probation Officers Strike for Justice
Kurds protest at Rojava attacks
DWP & Atos Work Assessments


Stock photography by Peter+Marshall at Alamy

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All pictures Copyright © Peter Marshall 2014, all rights reserved.
High res images available for reproduction - for licences to reproduce images or buy prints or other questions and comments, contact me. Selected images are also available from Alamy and Photofusion

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