Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Safety Last - but police spied on union members

DAWLISH, a resort on the South Devon coast, looks like a nice place to retire, and I expect Juliette Austin had looked forward to enjoying her retirement. But Ms. Austin, who as a former PE teacher had probably looked after her health, did not have long to do so. 

AN INQUEST has been opened into the death of a 67-year-old retired PE teacher  who had been suffering from an asbestos-related disease. Juliette Mary Austin, of Elmwood Crescent, Dawlish, had been exposed to asbestos during her working life, most likely in various gymnasiums. Ms Austin, originally from Holbeach, Lincoln, had been diagnosed with mesothelioma before she died at Rowcroft Hospice on February 15., Cause of death was epithelioid mesothelioma.” http://www.torquayheraldexpress.co.uk/PE-teacher-exposed-asbestos-gymnasiums-coroner/story-26070124-detail/story.html

Asbestos campaigner Michael Lees, who as it happens lives in Devon, says 86% of schools surveyed in UK local authorities contain asbestos.

He disputes a statement by the Department of Education in their draft report on their asbestos policy review that “We estimate that up to 75% of schools in England contain some asbestos...”

"They are wrong, and the reason is that the Government has never carried out an audit of asbestos in schools. Instead their estimate is based on the age of the buildings and their floor areas. This study confirms the need to carry out an audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools". 

There have been questions in parliament about the schools asbestos issue.

Annette Brooke MP:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, how many schools were rated as being (a) good, (b) satisfactory, (c) poor and (d) bad condition. (225260)

Mr David Laws: 
The Property Data Survey does not provide an overall assessment of schools in the manner requested. The surveyors who visited schools made an assessment of the condition of individual construction types within each block, such as different types of roofs or walls for which we hold individual records, but did not attempt to rate an entire school on a ‘good’ to ‘bad’ scale.

The answer was submitted on February 27, 2015 at 11:42

Annette Brooke MP:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, what estimate she has made of the total cost of repairs necessary to bring the school estate in England up to good condition. (225207)

Mr David Laws:  The Property Data Survey was designed to give a relative view of condition need. As stated in the report, the Property Data Survey condition need we have calculated is not the cost of addressing the need in the estate but a relative weighting of the complexity of addressing different types of condition need. Calculating the total cost of addressing the need in the estate would involve taking into account other factors, such as asbestos and structural need, which are excluded from the survey. As such we do not hold an estimate of the total cost of repairs necessary to bring the school estate in England up to good condition.

The answer was submitted on 02 Mar 2015 at 14:23.

Annette Brooke MP
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, whether the cost of maintaining, repairing or replacing a school building referred to in that report includes extra costs incurred because of the presence of asbestos. (225171)

Mr David Laws:

The information collected by the Property Data Survey Programme focused on the condition of the buildings. The surveyors who visited schools as part of the programme did not record any information on the presence of asbestos. The condition need identified through the surveys does not reflect any asbestos that may be present.

The answer was submitted on 02 Mar 2015 at 14:21.

Michael Lees comments:

"The PDSP was an audit of the condition of the school estate in England and was published on 6th February. Asbestos was specifically, and irrationally excluded.

It is extraordinary that at the end of the two year audit DfE cannot say either how many schools or buildings are in a good, satisfactory, poor or bad condition or how much it will cost to bring the whole estate up to a good condition.

See: Property Data Survey Programme Summary report


A Derbyshire group which works to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos,  DAST say that despite Asbestos being banned since 2000 it may still be found in any property built before that date. It is estimated that it is present in 90% of all public sector housing and schools as well as people's homes. Last year the group supported 294 people in the East Midlands who had been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, 65 of those people were from Derbyshire.

Another inquest opened last week, into the death of building worker Rene Tkacik, 44, killed on the Crossrail site at Fisher Street, London, on March 7 last year, when a section of freshly sprayed on concrete, or shotcrete, came down on him. Outside the St.Pancras Coroners court I joined supporters of the London Hazards Centre and the Construction Safety Campaign, who held a vigil as Mr.Tkacic's family members arrived with their lawyers.

Safety campaigners say workers on the Crossrail project have more than once been dismissed by contractors after raising concerns about safety.  While welcoming the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into Rene Tkacic's death they would like to see a wider investigation into health and safety on Crossrail. 

At the same time the campaigners note that the government has cut the HSE's budget by 38 per cent.
In a leaflet preparing for International Workers Memorial Day on April 28, they also mention that over 2,000 people in this country die each year due to exposure to asbestos, "mostly building workers", but also "teachers and pupils are dying from exposure to asbestos in poorly maintained schools."

Lest it be thought that the powers-that-be are not paying attention to those raising these issues,  a story in the Daily Mirror yesterday reveals another angle:

Undercover cop joined construction union UCATT to spy on workers

    21:00, 2 March 2015
    By Nick Sommerlad

An undercover policeman infiltrated a union to monitor protests against deaths on building sites, the Mirror can reveal.

Mark Jenner posed as a joiner and joined construction union UCATT.

Activists believe personal information collected by the officer was used by industry bosses to blacklist workers who raised concerns about health and safety.

Major industry chiefs benefited from the notorious blacklist that has been linked to Tory-donating construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine.

Steve Murphy, UCATT’s general secretary, said tonight: “Public money was spent on police covertly joining trade unions, infiltrating groups associated with trade unions and colluding with construction employers to blacklist workers.

"This is a scandal that must be exposed.”

Mr Murphy, who has demanded an inquiry, said the Met police “operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives”.

A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “We neither confirm nor deny the identity of any individual alleged to have been in a covert role. We are not prepared to confirm or deny the deployment of individuals on specific operations.”

While undercover in the 1990s, Mr Jenner – part of the Met’s now-disbanded Special Demonstration Squad – had a five-year relationship with an unsuspecting activist, Alison – not her real name.

She told the Mirror: “It is appalling they spied on people who were arguing for better health and safety at work.”

Mr Jenner also formed friendships with at least two building workers who ended up blacklisted. Labour MP Steve Rotheram said: “It’s very sinister. We were using an officer to infiltrate legitimate trade unions.”

Mr Jenner, 51, posed as Mark Cassidy, from Merseyside, and was a member of UCATT for three years starting in 1996.

He paid by direct debit and remained a UCATT member until 1998, during a period when the union was negotiating over a series of high profile construction projects including the Jubilee Line extension and the Millennium Dome.

Jenner’s diary, left when he fled the home he shared with “Alison”, show that he monitored meetings of UCATT and other unions. Alison says that union activity formed a “large part” of his day to day work.

He also penetrated the Colin Roach Centre in Hackney, East London, which campaigned on behalf of victims of police ill-treatment.

Three months ago UCATT used Freedom of Information laws to ask the Met: “Was there a policy of infiltration of trades unions conducted by the Special Demonstration Squad?”

Scotland Yard said it was not required to confirm or deny whether it held the details requested. The force give six reasons why they could not reveal the information including national security.

Blacklisting firm the Consulting Association was paid to supply information to construction companies. Sir Robert McAlpine stumped up £10,000 that was used to help launch the organisation in the early-90s. The association was closed down in 2009.

A probe by Derbyshire police found “no conclusive evidence” that Scotland Yard shared information with blacklisters.

But David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, has said the blacklisting files contained specific operational details “that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services”.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said in 2013 that it was “likely that all special branches were involved in providing information”.

A second former SDS officer Peter Francis, who went undercover as activist Pete Black before turning whistleblower, has seen blacklisting files of two trade unionists he monitored and said they included details he had provided to his handlers.

The Mirror has spoken to two further active trade unionists who befriended Jenner and believe their files contain information he obtained undercover.

Jenner joined them at meetings of a small group called the Building Workers Group which was linked to UCATT and arranged pickets a construction sites where there had been deaths or serious injuries.

Steve Murphy added: “UCATT was infiltrated by the police and members have a right to know why. This sort of operation could only have been sanctioned at the highest level.

"I believe the truth rests with the Home Office. Who gave authority for the police to do this and how high did it go?”

Mr Murphy added: “The Metropolitan Police must not be allowed to hide the truth; they operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives. They must be held to account.

“It is increasingly clear that the only way we are going to get the full truth on the blacklisting scandal is by holding a full public inquiry which is open and transparent.”

Blacklisting firm the Consulting Association was paid to supply information to more than 40 construction companies, including Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Carillion, before it was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009. Sir Robert McAlpine paid £10,000 to help set up the Consulting Association in the early 1990s.

Another covert police unit the National Extremism Tactical Co-Ordination Unit is known to have met with the Consulting Association in 2008, shortly before the blacklisting firm was closed down.

Handwritten notes of the meeting by Consulting Association boss Ian Kerr seen by the Mirror indicate that NECTU was set up to monitor animal rights activists but was “now expanding”.

The notes refer to the construction industry specifically and that NECTU wants to “liaise with industry”.

UCATT made a second FOI request to the Metropolitan Police about NECTU, asking for details of meetings with the Consulting Association.

Scotland Yard replied: “Searches failed to locate any information relevant to your request, therefore the information you have requested is not held by the MPs.”


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