Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't panic, everyone; but is this the pay-off for treatment of pigs?

AS the government and media advise us not to panic over swine 'flu, and the UN warns of a pandemic, some of us are wondering whether we've been told everything. Questions are being asked about things we'd normally feel better if we did not know - like how our food is produced. In connection with this unappetising information we start to hear not about Farmer Giles or his Mexican equivalent, but big corporations with which we are unfamiliar. Just as firms often spend millions on advertising to get their names into the papers, they sometimes employ lawyers to keep their names out of it. But truth will out..

Writing in the Guardian,on Tuesday, British Green Euro-MP Caroline Lucas notes that Dr.Michael Greger, a US authority on public health and humane farming has pointed out, this is not the first time the hybrid virus has been uncovered. "The first was found in a North Carolina industrial pig farm in 1998, and within a year it had spread across the United States".

"Dr Greger has highlighted how some experts blamed the emergence of the original 1998 virus on intensive farming practices in the US, where pigs and poultry are raised in extremely cramped conditions, in adjacent sheds – and tended to by the same staff.

"North Carolina has the densest pig population in North America, with around twice as many swine mega-factories as any other state. In 1998, North Carolina's pig population had hit ten million, up from two million just six years before. Yet the number of hog farms was decreasing, with more and more animals being crammed into fewer and fewer farms. Since the primary route of swine flu transmission is thought to be the same as human flu, the increased potential for the spread of disease in such conditions is clear.

"More research is urgently needed to explore the potential link between industrialised animal farming, and the spread of disease. Some elements of the Mexican media are already pointing to the potential role of intensive pig farming in Mexico, which has grown substantially in recent years, with some giant operations raising tens of thousands of pigs at a time.

"Since news of the epidemic broke, reports in Mexico City daily La Jornada and Vera Cruz-based paper La Marcha have detailed how a number of community residents in the affected areas have expressed concerns over the operations of Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork packer and hog producer. According to these reports, in Veracruz – where the outbreak originated, a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carrol raises 950,000 hogs per year in intensive conditions.

"Smithfield has released a statement denying any link between the outbreak and Granjas Carrol's operations in Mexico. It said the company routinely administers influenza virus vaccinations to its herds and conducts monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza. It said it had found no clinical signs or symptoms of swine influenza on its farms".

Swine flu: is intensive pig farming to blame?, Caroline Lucas, Guardian April 28.

If you'd asked me last week whether I'd heard of Smithfield, I would have said "of course", thinking you meant the meat market by the City of London. I'd never heard of the big US corporation which has taken this reassuringly traditional name. But now I'm learning it operates in more than one country, and supplies much of the pork meat we receive in Britain. Some people have been watching it for some time. A friend passes me an article from The Ecologist, December 1, 2003:

"We ignored the ‘no entry’ sign at a recently opened Smithfield pig factory, clambered over wire barriers and wrenched open the ventilation shaft of one of three vast concrete and corrugated iron sheds. Inside, 5,000 squealing pigs were crammed into strawless compartments. Outside, effluent from cement cesspits, though now frozen, had over-flowed and sent a small stream of brown stinking liquid into the lake below. In a large plastic bin (empty the previous night) we found 20 dead pigs. Astonishingly, it seems that the entire operation is illegal.

Who are Smithfield Foods?

"When Robert Kennedy Jr wrote ‘pig factory farms are more dangerous for our lifestyle and democracy than Osama bin Laden and global terrorism’ he was fined $128,000. Why would he make such an allegation? Because of the growth of factory farming, Iowa has lost 45,000 independent pig farmers in recent years. Joe Luter told The Washington Post that Smithfield will turn ‘Poland into the Iowa of Europe’.

"A spill from one pig lagoon killed a billion fish in North Carolina’s Neuse River in 1995. Bulldozers had to be used to plough the dead fish clear. Today 100 million fish die in the river every year. The Virginia-based firm Smithfield Foods is one of a handful of multinationals that are transforming global meat production from a traditional farm enterprise to a factory-style industrial activity. It is the largest pork producer in the world, controlling almost 30 per cent of the US pork market. The Smithfield style of industrial pork production is a major source of air pollution and probably the largest cause of water pollution in the US.

"Smithfield and its fellow industrial pork producers have driven tens of thousands of family farmers off the land, shattered rural communities, poisoned thousands of miles of US waterways, killed billions of fish, put thousands of fishermen out of work, sickened rural residents and treated hundreds of millions of farm animals with unspeakable and unnecessary cruelty. In 1999 Smithfield began buying slaughterhouses and state farms in Poland. On 22 July this year the firm’s vice president promised Poland’s Senate agricultural committee that Smithfield will ‘modernise’ Polish agriculture and bring prosperity and jobs to rural communities.

"For 20 years Smithfield and its allies have made identical promises to the people of the rural US state of North Carolina. The North Carolinan Senate subsequently passed legislation to make it much easier for Smithfield to do business in the state. With encouragement from these politicians, Smithfield built the largest slaughterhouse in the world in Bladen County. The plant butchers 30,000 pigs each day and has triggered a boom in factory-style production of pig meat in North Carolina.

"Factory farms Smithfield used to be a simple meat packer with no experience of owning a pig farm at all. Its CEO Joe Luter began buying up farms so that the company could control all aspects of pork production – ‘from piglets to pork chops’. Luter describes himself as ‘a tough man in a tough business’, but surprisingly doesn’t live near one of his pig farms. Instead, his home is a $17m Park Avenue mansion in New York. He is known for a ruthless approach to business that maximises profits by industrialising agriculture and eliminating both animal husbandry and the family farm".

Two articles on Smithfield:

It may be argued that these are Green sources, and bound to be biased. Maybe, though if there is another side to the story, or anything they have said is not true, I should think Smithfield and the rest of the pigmeat industry would not be lacking resources to answer it. There have been a stream of comments answering Caroline Lucas, but they seem short on facts or arguments, other than asserting that small-scale farming in poor countries is more likely (contrary to the evidence) to cause new diseases; and sneering that Caroline Lucas is a "Luddite". Since the MEP has only said the links ought to be investigated, I wonder what they are worried about?

I expect that if they had been writing in the 19th century they would have been telling us what a big improvement the new factories and slums were, and how working people were much better off than when they lived in old cottages. Cholera, or tubercolosis - nothing was proven. As though criticising the down side of anything means you want to go backward.

I'm no hand-knitted muesli and home-grown sandals man myself, and nor am I squeamish enough to give up my bacon or become a vegetarian. But nor am I foolish enough to believe that progress moves inevitably in one direction, or that maximising profit is synonymous with progress.

People used to talk naively of the "conquest of nature", but in the long run we can only work with nature, learning how to turn it to advantage. Treating it with contempt in a rush for private profit brings disasters. Soils destroyed by monoculture and reliance on chemicals,forests cleared ruthlessly without regard for the consequences,animals fed indiscriminately with anti-biotics which breed super viruses, grass-eating animals fed animal matter that gave rise to CJD ...we should have learned the lesson. Be wary. Don't trust anyone who tells you to just accept anything as progress.

My limited experience of farm work did not include working with pigs. But from what I've seen and heard, they are sentient animals, who try to keep relatively clean when they can, and whose flesh has something in common with that of human beings. Without even getting into the territory of "animal rights" or farming ethics,I would venture to suggest keeping pigs in concentration camp conditions is likely to cause problems. And the thing about mistreating nature is that the consequences can fall on us all, innocent or guilty.

there is certainly something to investigate.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jacqui thinks again

FROM time to time, I chance my arm in this blog anticipating what might happen. Sometimes it's better to be proved wrong. Before the G20 protests, when someone was quoted as saying that if the police wanted violence, they would get it, I said this would probably be so, not because of the protesters but because police tactics would be designed that way.

With one man dead and many injured, I could not derive any satisfaction from saying "I told you so".

But here's another little thought I recently aired, and since I make enough mistakes reporting things during the year for people to notice and remember, I might as well clock the odd correct prediction, Not that this one was rocket science, if you'll excuse the cliche.

Commenting on the row over MPs expenses and the incidental revelation of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's husband's viewing interests, in "adult movies", I said that sometimes "public interest" turned to prurience, when private matters were published. "But then I remembered that it is Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary who would oversee government plans for a private company to run a "superdatabase" that will track all our emails, wcalls, texts, internet use and so on.

"'No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls", warns Ken McDonald, former head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Besides the infringement of civil liberties, campaigners say this is a major risk to our private data - but won't make us any safer. 'The sheer amount of information that the Government intends to collect will be impossible to analyse properly and will undoubtedly turn up false positives while missing potential security threats amongst the morass of spam emails and private chat'".

I probably wasn't the only person to see the irony and make the connection. But anway, I commented:
"Maybe Jacqui Smith, if she manages to keep her job, will reconsider. Having seen how easily the personal becomes political, the Home Secretary has been, to use a couple of cliches, hoist with her own petard, and given a foretaste of her own medicine".

That was on March 30.

Now here's the news:

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, today ruled out building a single state "super-database" to track everybody's use of email, internet, text messages and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Smith said creating a single database run by the state to hold such personal data would amount to an extreme solution representing an unwarranted intrusion of personal privacy.

Instead the Home Office is looking at a £2bn solution that would involve requiring communications companies such as BT, Virgin Media, O2 and others to retain such personal data for up to 12 months.

The decision to abandon a state central database is a setback for the police and security services who wanted rapid access to the data while conducting counter-terror and crime investigations. Instead they will have to apply for the data to be released to them on a case-by-case basis to each individual telecoms ..."

The government is not giving up on snooping, mind, just asking the individual service providers to keep records. Still, any setback for the police and security services is better than none.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Stepping out in Tolpuddle time

ONE of the biggest political demonstrations ever held in London took place 175 years ago,when an estimated 100,000 people gathered on Copenhagen Fields, Islington, to march to parliament, then on south of the river to a rally on Kennington Common, all to demand freedom for six Dorset farm labourers, transported to Australia as convicts because they had formed a trade union.

The Combination Acts forbidding unions had been repealed ten years previously, and in 1832 the first Reform Act tackled rotten boroughs and extended the vote to many people, though still not to property-less workers like the farm labourers. In the Dorset village of Tolpuddle, six men gathered and decided to form a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, vowing to stand together to try and improve their lot.

Their aim was ambitious - a wage of ten shillings (50p) a week, at a time when wages had been falling and when the usual pay for farm labourers was more like seven shillings. There was nothing illegal in what they were doing. But they had taken an oath to help each other and to keep their society's affairs hidden from the masters. A local landowner did get wind of it, however, and wrote to Lord Melbourne, the prime minister, urging that the men be prosecuted under the 1797 law against illegal oaths.

This had been passed during the French Revolutionary Wars, to deal with the Spithead naval mutiny and perhaps societies like the United Irishmen. It seems inappropriately heavy for a group of quiet farm workers who merely sought a living wage. But there had been previous unrest across rural southern England, and the landowners and farm employers were frightened. Class interests prevailed - the six were arrested and charged, eventually with Conspiracy, and sentenced to be transported.

The six were James Brine, James Hammet, George Loveless - who was a Methodist lay preacher, his son John Loveless, and brother in law Thomas Standfield, and the latter's son John Standfield. They were sentended to seven years. But such was the revulsion and public anger aroused by this cruel class justice that within two years they were released, except John Hammet who was freed in 1837.

The massive demonstration at Copenhagen Fields, uniting working people and democrats, from top-hatted respectable craft union members to the very poor, was a major part in this struggle, and all the more remarkable when we consider that those calling it had none of the modern means of communication we enjoy today, and many people could not even read. Nor did they have easy public transport to get them to the strting point, or bring them home. But 100,000 came, so it was said, and they bore a petition with twice that number of signatures at their procession's head.

Things have changed. Copenhagen Fields has gone as an open space, and last week when I joined a small crowd of people for a guided walk around "Radical Islington" as part of the 175th anniversary commemorations, first thing we saw, above the Mitre pub which bears the commemorative mural, was the 'For Sale' sign which means it may never serve another pint nor remain standing with its fine mural- there is no preservation order,sadly.

The economic crisis with all its crazy features - bankers bonuses and workers' pay cuts, repos, homelessness and unemployed builders, public money for "private finance initiatives' - shows what nonsense was talked by those politicians and hacks who told us we were becoming a "classless" society. All the more credit to the historically-minded local people and trade unionists who have organised this week's commemortive events in Kings Cross and Islington, to remind us who we are and how our predecessors united and struggled.. Fortunately, those of us joining the march tomorrow will not have to walk as far as our forebears managed in 1834!

Around the world, and here in Britain, trade unionists are still fighting for their rights and respect in the workplace, and in our time we have seen men jailed for "conspiracy" . Ricky Tomlinson and others are still fighting for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets. We still have to confront Thatcher's anti-union laws, which New Labour has clung to, hampering effective union work by outlawing solidarity sction.

So while patriotic fools and profiteers are exhorting to celebrate the mythical St.George, let us honour and celebrate six real English heroes, among them that other George, Loveless, who managed as he was being transported to penal servitude to pass on these words on a slip of paper:

God is our guide! from field, from wave,
From plough, from anvil, and from loom;
We come, our country's rights to save,
And speak a tyrant faction's doom:
We raise the watch-word liberty;
We will, we will, we will be free!

Events on 25 April:

The Big March

Meet at Caledonian Park and join the big march down Caledonian Road to Edward Square headed up by the Cuba Solidarity Salsa Band. Caledonian Park, Market Road, N7

25 April: TolpuddleKX goes live with Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, Leon Rosselson and Northern Celts. Performances by Caledonian Youth Project and Copenhagen School, the Cuba Solidarity Salsa Band, speakers, banner making, storytelling, Woodcraft Folk kids events, Kate Greenaway Nursery under 5s events. 2pm. Edward Square, Copenhagen Street/Caledonian Road, N1

See also:

and on the Radical Islington walk (courtesy Marg Nicol)

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Teacher blew the whistle - now three face the sack

TEACHERS at a North West London comprehensive school are to ballot on strike action in defence of colleagues whom they feel are being victimised. Three staff have been suspended after a row over 'the boss''s bonuses. Staff at the Copland Community College in Wembley are also likely to lobby Brent council, whose planning committee meets next Tuesday evening (April 28) to discuss plans for a second City Academy on land at Wembley Park.

Although the suspension of three teachers is not officially linked to either the exposure of top pay at Copland or the opposition to the City Academy, all three are union representatives. First to be suspended, last Friday, was geography teacher Hank Roberts, who has led the campaign against the academy plan by teachers and local residents,which included a tent occupation of the site. Opponents say that besides transferring children's education and resources from a democratically accountable local authority to a private body, the Wembley Park plan would deprive the community of sports fields, worsen traffic problems, and create an expensive white elephant school at the wrong end of the borough, within walking distance of an existing comprehensive.

The Greater London Authority turned down the planning application in January, so that Lib Dem- controlled Brent has had to come up with a revised version.

But it was the issue of top money that has brought Copland into the news this month. "Comprehensive head picks up £130,000 bonus over two years" (Times, April 7). "Are there really teachers among the fat cats?... Step aside, bankers. Now teachers are in the firing line over bonuses.(Guardian Education, April 7). Once again it was union representative Hank Roberts making the news.

Speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers(ATL) annual conference, in Liverpool, Roberts said that Copland, a specialist science and technology school, had paid senior teachers up to £1 million in bonuses over the last seven years. He had handed a dossier on the bonuses to the Audit Commission and Ed Balls, the education secretary.

Head teacher, Sir Alan Davies, was paid £65,000 in 2003-04, taking his salary to £162,000. This is £16,000 less than what the prime minister was paid that year. Last year, Davies received an £80,000 bonus.

oberts said: "I'm putting my job on the line because it's absolutely wrong to be giving these kinds of bonuses. The sickness of bonus culture has infected state-funded schools".

Controversy over the bonuses has continued, with some arguing that unlike bankers, the teachers have been rewarded for hard work and success, in turning around the 2,000-pupil school's academic record and status. (Some 52 per cent of Copland pupils obtained 5 GSCE passes, including English and Maths, at C level or higher, one perecnt more than the average for London).

Chairman of the Copland governors Indravadan Patel said Sir Alan was "worth every penny". The head had raised private sponsorship worth £300, 000 for the school. Mr.Patel said Copland was proud that it paid its staff more than the nationally agreed pay rates. "This is not money for nothing. We expected them to work for it, and they do."

Some former pupils of Copland said it was a pity extra money had not been available to improve facilities and the state of the school buildings. Teachers who preferred to remain anonymous made similar points.

Education secretary Ed Balls declined to comment on Copland specifically; but in contrast with his previously publicised opposition to the London living wage for lower paif workers, said that in general he sympathised with linking head teachers' pay to performance, and with bringing private sector-style leadership and pay rates into state schools.

Adding a twist to the story, the Evening Standard quoted Hank Roberts saying that Sir Alan's son and son-in-law are employed as caretakers, while his sister works in the school office. "I do not believe that state-funded schools should be family firms." He condemned the "gold rush" in state schools, particularly among heads of privately sponsored city academies.,000+bonuses+puts+his+family+on+the+payroll/

Roberts was suspended last Friday, and since then two colleagues have been dealt with the same way. Last night Brent Trades Union Council heard from a Copland teacher that staff had met, including members of the National Union of Teachers(NUT), NASUWT, and ATL, and decided to ask for a strike ballot. The trades union council agreed to support them, and to keep up its opposition to the City Academy plan by joining the lobby of the planning committee on April 28. .

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A Comedy of Terrors
QUICK PHOTO-OPPORTUNITY with plan for 'Operation Pathway'

THE news on TV was sensational enough. Armed police at Liverpool John Moores University, a "terror suspect" forced to lie face down on the ground. Homes raided in Greater Manchester. Britain on high terror alert. Suspects linked to al Qaida..Gordon Brown claimed there had been a "very big plot" against us, and pointed the finger at Pakistan. Other MPs and newspapers said it was too easy for terrorists to come into Britain on student visas.

Police had "foiled a major terror plot", aimed at blowing up football stadia, according to the Daily Star , which had a photo of Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick arriving at Downing Street, with an armful of documents. "We are talking about something big", it quoted police as saying.

Indeed. But what exactly is a matter of opinion.

It was Quick's strange behaviour in placing his terror raid document for 'Operation Pathway' on top of the rest so it could be seen for the cameras that was said to have forced the police to move more quickly (no pun intended) than had been planned, rushing to nab the alleged conspirators before they were warned and could escape.

That was on April 8. Cynics wondered whether it was a coincidence that a major terror plot was discovered so soon after we'd seen pictures of police violence at the G20 protests, so that, reminded of the terrorist danger we would close ranks behind the gallant police officers, who would appear once more in a different picture, as the thin blue line protecting us. Some ventured to predict that, as in some previous cases, following the initial publicity, the fuss would gradually die down, until the suspects could be released quietly without charges. (As happened in an earlier case, involving Kurds in Manchester, whose possession of tickets to watch United was taken as evidence of - a plot to blow up Old Trafford. You'd think whoever feeds the Star could come up with something more original)

After that dramatic scene of the young man on the ground at gunpoint outside the John Moores University library we learned the following day that it was a mistake, they had got the wrong guy. He had naturally been shocked by wht happened to him. Still, at least he was not a Brazilian electrician on his way to work.

AC Quick had to resign after a row from MPs and the media over his mistake flashing the plan for the operation. Police spent a fortnight looking for bomb-making materials and equipment, apparently finding nothing (which would not have been the case had they raided schoolboys' bedrooms and back sheds in Cheetham Hill when I was a kid!). They switched to looking through computers. Still no conclusive evidence, it seems. By last night it was reported that all 12 men arrested had been freed without charges. Greater Manchester Police said the Crown Prosecution Service had said there was insufficient evidence to allow either further detention pr charges to be pursued.

Tory shadow security minister Baroness Neville-Jones said: "It is very worrying that, following an investigation based on strong intelligence into what the prime minister described as a serious terrorist plot, the police have not been able to present sufficient evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service on which it could lay charges against any of the 12 arrested."

The BBC reported that security services continued to maintain that a terrorist plot had been disrupted by the operation. The Guardian said MI5 had wanted the police to wait while more intelligence was gathered before making any arrests. "But in an example of the tensions between Whitehall counterterrorism officials and their counterparts in the police, the decision was made to take 'executive action' even though the intelligence suggested there was little evidence to charge the suspects".

Although the 12 have been freed, it looks like they are to be deported to Pakistan on "national security" grounds, except one who is a British national. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty has expressed concern that in future the power to deport people on such grounds could be used on people for political rather than real security reasons.

The cynics have not been proved altogether right. The big terror scare did not succeed in pushing concern over police brutality and repressive tactics against demonstrators out of the news this time. And the authorities have not been able to bury the news that those arrested as "terror suspects" have been released for lack of evidence.

Two worrying things remain outstanding among the farcical elements of this tale. One is that we are being accustomed to the sight of armed police forcing somebody they don't like the look of to the ground, especially if that person is dark-skinned, And too used to the news that people who have not faced any charge or court can be deported.

The other is that given we may still face genuine terror threats, which can mean innocent people being killed, too much crying wolf by the authorities and media can dull the senses, so that we are less rather than more alert.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

AIPAC caught at it

SEEMS the habit of bugging, like other forms of surveillance, can have its advantages after all. A story about the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC), which is probably America's main Zionist lobby outfit if we leave out the Christian variety, reaches me courtesy of the US West Coast-based Jewish Peace News(JPN).

JPN's Judith Norman writes:

'An AIPAC-related intrigue has come to light. The National Security Agency (NSA) recorded a conversation that took place several years ago between a suspected Israeli agent and Rep. Jane Harman (a Democrat from California). In the conversation, Harman agrees to pressure the Justice Department to ³reduce espionage related charges² against two AIPAC officials. In return, the suspected Israeli agent would help get Harman appointed chair of the Intelligence Committee.

This deal was known, or at least suspected, in 2006. An FBI investigation recording of this conversation has surfaced (the recording came from of a court-approved wiretapping of the suspected agent); and second, that it appears that the FBI investigation against Harman was not dropped for lack of evidence after all. Rather, it was dropped because then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales intervened to get the charges dismissed, so that Harman, a big cheerleader for the Bush administration¹s warrantless wiretapping program, could be free to defend it (this was at the time when news of the program was breaking in the New York Times).

The deal was ultimately unsuccessful, from the standpoint of the players involved: Harman never got her committee appointment after all, and the two AIPAC officials (Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman) still face trial (in June) ­ lest we be tempted to draw conclusions about the omnipotence of AIPAC. What happens next remains to be seen.

There is lots of information about this at:

Judith Norman

AIPAC might have qualified for the Guiness Book of Records with the number of standing ovations it managed for former Vice President Dick Cheney when he addressed its conference at the hight of his unpopularity with US voters. Well to the right of most American Jewish opinion it could certainly qualify as a laughing stock, if it was not that it still commands big money, and when it speaks, politicians, including it seems Barack Obama, still listen.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bullets answer peaceful protest at Bil'in

THE man on the right of this picture is Bassam Abu Rahme, a resident of the village of Bil'in in the Palestinian West Bank. The tee shirt he is wearing, showing joined Israeli and Palestinian flags, represents the Israeli Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom. A symbol of optimism, perhaps.

But Bassam Abu Rahme, 29, is dead. He was hit in the chest by a high-velocity gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier during the protest at Bil'in on Friday. For the past four years there have been weekly demonstrations at Bil'in against the Israeli separation barrier, which cuts the village off from a large slice of its farmland.Abu Rahmeh was taken to hospital in Ramallah but died of his injuries. The Israeli military said it was looking into the incident.

But what is there to "look into"?

The people at Bil'in have been demonstrating for four years. They have been joined by iother Palestinians, by Israelis and by international supporters. They even obtained a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court that the fence seperating them from their land was illegal. The army and so-called Border Police have answered with brute force. They have used rubber-clad metal bullets and tear gas.

These supposedly "non-lethal" weapons can cause serious injury, especially when fired at people at close range. This has happened. A month ago American peace activist Tristan Anderson suffered severe head wounding. Now we have the killing of Bassam Abu Rahme. Gush Shalom believes there is a deliberate escalation in military brutality, reflecting political developments at the top in Israel.

"This escalation was not caused by the demonstrators' behaviour, in which there had been no change, but to new instructions given to the military forces on the ground. Whether by explicit instructions or by a tacit nod and a new 'spirit of the commander', the finger on the trigger was loosed and authorization given for the tear gas containers as lethal missiles.

"This is the harsh heritage of the Gaza War and the mass killings which it entailed. To this is added the odious spirit of the new government, which confronts the entire world and places a racist provocateur in charge of its foreign affairs - not to speak of the new-old Defence Minster Ehud Barak, who is responsible for a lot of bloodshed".

We can add that it is not only the Israeli government that is encouraging the army to think it can get away with murder. It might have been thought that the presence of internationals would inhibit the military. But four years after the Bil'in protests began, the media still seem to have difficulty finding their way to the village. Jewish peace activists from Britain thought they would make things easier by calling a press conference in Jerusalem to talk about what they had experienced in Bil'in. But still nobody came. When Nobel prizewinner Mairead Corrigan was injured at Bil'in it did not make headlines in Britain or Ireland.

The recent findings of a BBC inquiry into 'bias' by veteran Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen did not amount to much. But they delighted the Jewish Chronicle and the Zionist Federation, whose spokesperson claimed Bowen's position was now "untenable". Many of us may have felt that Bowen's sensitive report from Gaza went some way towards making up for the BBC's disgraceful refusal to broadcast a humanitarian aid appeal. In the Independent Robert Fisk has accused the Corporation of cowardice, while Tony Lerman says it will be a sad day if Bowen's voice is curtailed.

While the Beeb keeps trying anxiously to placate the Zionist lobby, the people in Bil'in keep having to face escalating Israeli military violence, and supposedly wise men safe here from the smell of gas or range of rubber bullets periodically suggest helpfully that the Palestinians need a Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King (forgetting both of them were assassinated?). We may feel thankful that more young Palestinians, seeing that you can get killed after wearing a peace camp tee shirt, don't conclude that you may as well don the suicide bombers' belt of terror.

Men like Bassam Abu Rahme, or Bassam Aramin of Combattants for Peace, whose daughter was gunned down by Israeli Border Police outside her school, represent hope for a better future in Israel/Palestine. Don't let the IDF's brutality be assisted by the acquiescence of politicians and craven cowardice of the media, in suppressing and destroying such voices.

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Servants or Masters? Who is in charge?

CIVIL RIGHTS campaigner Shami Chakrabarti. Targetted by reactionaries, and by police delving through MP's correspondence.

WHO is in charge of the police in this country?
HOW do they keep acquiring new powers?
ARE they serving the public? The politicians? Or making themselves our masters?

The police violence seen during the G20 protests in London, with the death of a man they assaulted, may not be new, but its exposure is making people ask questions. In an unprecedented public criticism the chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission(IPCC), Nick Hardwick, has said the trend for officers to conceal their identity numbers is "unacceptable".

The IPCC, which initially accepted the police story that news vendor Ian Tomlinson had died of a heart attack, is now independently investigating the case, after it was revealed that Tomlinson had been attacked by a police officer and died of internal bleeding. The IPCC says it needs more resources. It has received 185 complaints, and even sifting through them to remove those which did not have first-hand evidence, only 44 were rejected. The cases being investigated include that of a young man who says he was assaulted by police at Cornhill, in the City of London, and a woman attacked by an officer who, as seen in video footage, had no number showing.

Hardwick says the trend for officers to hide numbers raised serious concerns about who was in charge of them. "Why was that happening, why did the supervisor not stop them? What does that say about what your state of mind is? You were expecting trouble?

"I think that is unacceptable. It is about being servants, not masters: the police are there as public servants."

But are they? Do they see themselves as our 'servants', or regard us with contempt? This year we have been remembering the miners' strike, and the way the Met in particular conducted itself went sent to smash miners' pickets then. If we thought this was just a North-South issue we learned different when 'Maggie's boot boys' showed themselves at home, protecting Rupert Murdoch's fortress at Wapping. News International may not pay much tax in this country, but the ordinary citizen can but admire the dedicated way our boys in blue looked after its boss's interests, like they do those of the City bankers.

This week was the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough stadium disaster, and watching Jimmy McGovern's 1996 dramatic reconstruction of events on ITV3 was a reminder of the inhumanity with which police responded to this tragedy, treating it as a 'public order' issue, and regarding the victims and their loved ones with hostility. If you have not seen this film I recommend you look out for it.

Step by step, over the years, without any hullabaloo or headlined legislation, we have seen the police apparently giving themselves powers to close tube stations (it started during the big poll tax demonstration, so people who wanted to get away from the trouble were stranded in central London); to stop people taking photographs (one group of Austrian tourists had the film taken from their cameras); and to surround and detain groups of people in the street for several hours, regardless of their discomfort (the so-called "kettling", used on May Day demonstrators a few years ago, and on the recent G20 protesters). It seems this last, leading to the situation where someone is provoked into remonstrating with officers and gets battered for protesting, may now be challenged. And about time, too.

What about our elected representatives? Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith may still have been getting over the humiliation of her husband's taste in home entertainment appearing in her controversial expense claims, and rows over Home Office leaks. Her reaction to the death of Ian Tomlinson was to call for a swift inquiry, supervised by police officers.

The IPCC's Nick Hardwick says the wider issue of police behaviour, such as removing idenity numbers, is within the Commission's remit, and he has also called for a wider public debate about what sort of policing we want. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said his party had been given a guarantee by senior officers after clashes with climate change protesters at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, where there were also complaints of police disguising their identity, that there would be no repeat of such tactics at the G20 protests.

Some officers now appeared prepared to flout recent orders from senior commanders to display their numbers, Huhne said, with another officer photographed at the protest staged by Tamils in Parliament Square with his numbers disguised. "What we appear to have is repeated cases of police officers ignoring the direct orders of their police supervisors and this is very worrying.

"There's only one motive for a police officer disguising his identity and that's because he thinks he's going to be doing something reprehensible."

The row over the arrest of Tory MP Damien Green in connection with leaked Home Office information on immigrants took on a new aspect this week. Green, the Tories' immigration spokesman, cleared of any wrongdoing by the director of public prosecutions, has said his arrest resembled actions taken in "police states".

In an interview with the Times he also accused the police of using the opportunity to searrch his laptop, delving into matters concerning people who had nothing to do with the case. They were apparently interested in anything to do with the director of Liberty (the former National Council of Civil Liberties), Shami Chakrabarti.

"They chose key words to search all the e-mails and documents and among the more noteworthy and alarming words they were searching were Shami Chakrabarti, ", Green says. "The police wanted to look at every e-mail over the past few years between an opposition politician and a civil liberties campaigner, although Shami Chakrabarti had nothing to do with any of the leaks." He added that the search for information on the human rights campaigner was "very disturbing".

Did Jacqui Smith give the order for police action against Green, and if so, did she also ask them to get information about Shami Chakrabarti, who had nothing to do with the case but has got up the government's nose, and enraged some very reactionary forces, by her campaigning for civil liberties and concern over detention and deportation cases? If the Home Secretary says it was nothing to do with her, then who was in charge? Who was behind the police interest in information about the civil liberties campaigner?


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Man died, Police lied.

THE police officer who struck Ian Tomlinson and knocked him to the ground, before he died during the London G20 protests, is being questioned and may face manslaughter charges. It has now been revealed that the 47-year old news vendor died from internal bleeding.

The authorities said nothing about injuries and blood found by pathologist Freddy Patel when they released results of the first postmortem. City of London police said only that Tomlinson had "suffered a sudden heart attack while on his way home from work".

It was only when witnesses came forward, including a visiting New York fund manager who videoed the incident, that it was revealed and confirmed that Ian Tomlinson had been attacked from behind by police before he collapsed and died.

The victim's son Paul King said yesterday: "We believe we were badly misled by police about the possible role they played in Ian's death. First we were told that there had been no contact with the police, then we were told that he died of a heart attack. Now we know that he was violently assaulted by a police officer and died from internal bleeding. As time goes on we hope that the full truth about how Ian died will be made known."

This has reminded people, notwithstanding different circumstances, of the shooting of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes on the London Underground. Once again an entirely innocent person has been killed, and once again police were quick to put out their version of events before the truth emerged. The New York fund manager who handed the Guardian the video evidence said last night that he felt vindicated by the findings. "Now I'm glad I came forward. It's possible Mr Tomlinson's death would have been swept under the rug otherwise. You needed something incontrovertible. In this case it was the video."

It has also brought to mind the killing in Southall thirty years ago of New Zealand-born teacher Blair Peach, who was struck from behind by a member of the notorious Special Patrol Group (SPG). The SPG was replaced in 1987 by the Territorial Support Group (TSG). It is a TSG officer who is being questioned about the attack on Ian Tomlinson, and a TSG sergeant (with number concealed) who has been filmed striking a woman on the G20 protest, first with his gloved hand, then with his baton.

Cities of London and Westminster Trades Union Council has decided to collect information about police tactics and methods in dealing with demonstrations. The trades union council decided on this step after being approached by trade union members who work in the City and were shocked by some of the things they saw, both at the bank and when police waded into climate camp and student protesters. "This is not just crowd control, it is crushing people's right to peaceful demonstration and protest," says a trades council spokesperson. They want evidence not just about particular incidents but the overall tactics such as "kettling", surrounding and detaining people for hours on the street. They want to know who decides, and what orders are given. The City and Westminster trades unionists will be raising the issue in the wider labour movement and with government.

If anyone has relevant first-hand information on this issue they can pass it on to Roger Sutton,
Secretary CLWTUC,
c/o GFTU
Central House, Upper Woburn Place,

Roger Sutton,

Southall Remembers...

The events of thirty years ago, when Blair Peach was killed, are being remembered in his native New Zealand and in Southal where it happened. Here's a letter that has been passed on to me:

Thirty years ago, during the run up to the election in which Thatcher triumphed, the fascist National Front arranged a public meeting in the centre of Southall - an open racist provocation to the overwhelmingly Asian local community. and so the community blockaded its own streets.
On the day of this meeting there was a mass shut down of shops, factories and businesses and peaceful occupation of our own streets by the local community. Protests to the Council that they should deny the NF use of our town hall were ignored and so the community blockaded its own streets. This peaceful event was brutally smashed by the police, who beat up men and women indiscriminately, drove vehicles at crowds at high speed, hospitalised many and killed anti-racist demonstrator Blair Peach. Another man almost died and there could have been more. Thus the police enabled thirty fascists from outside the area to meet in the centre of Southall, where they had not a single member. Democracy for the racists, brutal repression for the Southall community.

Hundreds of local people were attacked by the police, many taken away and dumped on roadsides miles away. 350 people were charged by the police to justify their own brutal behaviour. To ensure unfair treatment, they were tried by professional magistrates across the other side of London. The media covered the whole event by repeating propaganda fed to them by the police. The truth had to come out piecemeal over time as a result of determined campaigning by local people and friends of Blair Peach. In a landmark case, one peaceful demonstrator was compensated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board aftter being held by several officers while another kicked his teeth in.

An anniversary event has been organised on Sunday 26th April this year, from 2.00pm to 6.00pm, Dominion Centre, 112 The Green Southall. there will be many community speakers.

Please pass the word to whoever you think will be interested.

Oliver New

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Palestinian Theatre Fighting for Freedom

PALESTINIAN cultural workers are finding themselves in the front line of their people's fight for freedom and progress - both sides of the so-called Green Line (the unmarked pre-1967 border between the State of Israel and the Israeli- Occupied Palestinian Territories).

Samieh Jabbarin, 41-years old, is a citizen of Israel, from Um al Fahm, the Palestinian town on the Israeli side of the border. Samieh is a theatre and film director, who trained in Germany and is currently completing his Masters degree at the Theatre Arts Department of Tel Aviv University. Upon his return to his native country, he settled in Jaffa, which before the 1948 war was a largely Arab city, many of whose residents were driven out and became refugees in the Gaza strip. In more recent times Palestinians who re-established their community in Jaffa faced opposition. Samieh became involved in the struggle against attempts to evict Arab-Palestinian residents.

Samieh is also active in the Abnaa al Balad (Sons of the Village) movement, which arose among young Palestinians, particularly from Um el Fahm, back in the early 1970s, asserting their Palestinian identity and national aspiurations, while using legal and democratic means (such as becoming elected local councillors) to advance their people's needs, much to the chagrin of the Zionist authorities. While challenging the legitimacy of the Zionist state, Abnaa al Balad, as a secular nationalist movement, does not reject co-operation with Jewish Israelis, indeed it accepts them as members if they are willing to be considered Palestinian Jews.

Samieh was one of the organizers of a conference last year in Haifa on the Palestinian Right of Return, and prospects for a secular democratic state. In December he helped organize public mourning rallies and non-violent protests against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. In other words, he has done no more nor less than other like-minded citizens, both Arab and Jewish.

But Samieh is an Arab. In January he was warned by the Security Services that a way would be found to punish him for his perfectly legal activities. The opportunity presented itself on February 10th, general election day in Israel. A group of extreme rightist fanatics announced their intention to serve as official monitors of the voting process in Um al Fahm, second largest Arab city in Israel. This was a clear provocation by the far Right, who from the days of the late Meir Kahane have more than once tried to march on Um al Fahm.

Samieh joined residents of the town where he was born in a protest demonstration. He was arrested along with a fellow-resident minutes after the event began. The following day detailed charges were presented at the Hadera court against him for supposedly assaulting the Chief of the Northern Border Patrol, Commander Uri Mor-Yossef. All attempts to disprove and deny such outright deception have been in vain. The open 'secret' is that Israeli police video-document all demonstrations and arrests. In this case, however, no evidence was produced beyond the police officer's own statement.

Samieh was held prisoner in Kishon Prison under harsh conditions for seventeen days, and following a legal struggle, was transferred to strict house-arrest at his parents' home in Um al Fahm. Two family members must be with him at all times, and an electronic shackle is attached to his ankle.

Officially, this ruling is in force "until the end of the legal proceedings". These proceedings, however, have come to a strange near-halt. In sharp contrast to the speed with which they charged him, the authorities are in no hurry to show the prosecution's evidence at an open trial. The prosecution "forgot" to summon Samieh and his attorneys to the indictment last month. Consequently, another indictment has been set for April 27. Who knows how many months will elapse until the trial itself ?.

Thus, Samieh Jabbarin is denied access to his creative work, his studies, and his normal living environment. His fate also serves as a blatant warning to intimidate other social and political activists. Many of us, looking at the circumstances which led to Samieh's arrest and charges, will be reminded of events here like the famous Battle of Cable Street, when Jews in London's East End confronted police to prevent a march into their neighbourhood by Mosley's fascists.

An appeal has gone out to all concerned for democratic values, and particularly those working in the arts and cultural field, in education and the law, to raise their voices in support of film and theatre director Samieh Jabbarin. Among those supporting this I see is Professor Avraham Oz, who teaches English and Drama at Haifa University, and has had his own experiences defending Arab students against interference and harassment from the authorities, trying to censor cultural expression.

To sign the petition please go to:

Meanwhile, in Jenin, the Freedom Theatre which originated in the work among Palestinian children by the late Arna Meir-Khamis, has survived the Israeli military's brutal assault on the town and refugee camp, and been restored after it was trashed by Israeli soldiers. Children have thronged enthusiastically to the theatre, and its students reecenly mounted an ambitious production of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

But plainly not everyone is happy with this bold enterprise, as this sad news below (in Arabic and then English) indicates:.

بيان صحفي
Press Release

مسرح الحرية يتعرض للاعتداء

في صباح الخامس عشر من نيسان 2009 تعرض مسرح الحرية الواقع في قلب مخيم جنين لمحاولة إحراق على يد شخص مجهول الهوية. وقد احترق الباب الرئيسي للمسرح بشكل كامل، ولحسن الحظ لم تمتد ألسنة النيران إلى داخل مبنى المسرح، فلم يصبه أي ضرر أو خراب.

كانت تلك هي المحاولة الثانية لإحراق المسرح، ففي نفس الليلة التي أُحرق فيها معهد الكمنجاتي للموسيقى في جنين بشكل تام قبل ثلاثة أسابيع، جرت المحاولة الأولى الفاشلة لإحراق وتدمير مسرح الحرية.

تم إبلاغ الشرطة الفلسطينية على الفور بمحاولة الإحراق الأولى للمسرح، ولكن حتى اليوم لم تسفر تحقيقات الشرطة عن شيء البتة. تبرهن هذه المحاولة المتكررة بشكل واضح أن مسرح الحرية لا يزال بلا حماية وسوف يكون عرضة لمزيد من محاولات التدمير في المستقبل القريب إن لم تتخذ التدابير اللازمة لحمايته.

إننا نناشدكم اليوم وندعو أصحاب الضمائر الحية وكل من يؤمن أن مستقبل فلسطين يكمن في ثقافتها، أن يرفعوا أصواتهم عاليا وان يقفوا إلى جانب مسرح الحرية في وجه هذه المحاولات الهمجية التي تريد النيل من مستقبل الشعب الفلسطيني برمته.

ونطالب السلطة الوطنية الفلسطينية، أن تقوم بكل ما في وسعها للنيل من أولئك المجرمين وتقديمهم للعدالة وإنقاذ نضال الشعب الفلسطيني من اجل التحرر، من قتامه وسواد أيام مقبلة.
تطور مسرح الحرية وأحرز نجاحات باهرة في منطقة جنين. زار المسرح في العام الماضي أكثر من 16,000 من الفتيان والفتيات والكبار وشاركوا في أنشطتنا، والتي كان آخرها "مزرعة الحيوانات" التي لقت نجاحا باهرا وترحيبا من قبل الجمهور الذي توافد بالآلاف من جميع أنحاء منطقة جنين إلى المسرح.
لا تسمحوا لهم بتدمير مسرح الحرية

The Freedom Theatre Under Attack!
On the morning of April 15, 2009, an unknown individual set fire to The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp, Occupied Palestine. The main door of the theatre was completely burned, but the fire did not spread inside the building and the theatre remains largely unharmed. This was the second attempt to burn the theatre. On the night when Al Kamandjati Music Centre in Jenin was devastatingly set on fire three weeks ago, there was also a first failed attempt to destroy The Freedom Theatre. The Palestinian Police was immediately informed of the initial attempt to burn the theatre, but to date nothing has come out of the police investigation. This renewed attempt confirms that the theatre remains unprotected and a target for more attacks in the near future. We are therefore calling upon all of You, who believe the future of Palestine lies in its culture, to raise your voices and stand beside us to confront these barbaric acts against the future of the Palestinian people. We are calling upon the Palestinian Authority to do whatever in its power to bring these criminals to justice and to save the Palestinian liberation struggle from ever darkening days.
The Freedom Theatre has grown to be very successful in the Jenin area. In the past year more than 16,000 boys, girls and adults visited the theatre and took part in our activities, and the recent theatre production of “Animal Farm” was a great success, bringing thousands of youth from the whole Jenin district to the theatre.
Do not let The Freedom Theatre be destroyed!

The Freedom Theatre Foundation - Ägostigen 5, SPÅNGA, 163 44, Sweden

It would be nice and convenient to think that the only enemies of Palestinian freedom and cultural expression were on the Zionist side. Unfortunately, liberation struggles are seldom that simple. It seems possible that four decades of Occupation have produced, along with brave and enlightened resisters, destructive elements who are deluded into attacking their own people's efforts like the Freedom Theatre, either because they are seen as reflecting Palestinian-Israeli cultural collaboration, or simply because any secular cultural expression which breaks through the misery of oppression is seen as an affront to religious dominance. Or, it could be that some felt the pessimistic parable of 'Animal Farm', where the leaders come to resemble and collaborate with the oppressors, so 'the animals looked from pigs to men, and men to pigs,..', was too close to home for comfort.

We know that Juliano Mer-Khamis, in his efforts to raise awareness and support for the Freedom Theatre his mother started, ran into ill-informed or malignant opposition in some quarters in Europe, from people claiming he was breaking the boycott of Israel. It was also reported recently that the Palestinian Authority had disbanded a Palestinian youth orchestra from Jenin after it had performed at a concert for Holocaust survivors in Israel. I was reluctant to comment on this, suspecting we were not getting the full story from those with a vested interest in telling such tales (for instance how come the Israeli concert goers had not been informed the orchestra was from Jenin?).

We could also understand that after the Israeli military's brutal havoc in Jenin, and so soon after the slaughter in Gaza, many people in Jenin may not have felt happy with sending their children to entertain Israelis, however well-intentioned or otherwise the invitation had been. But the Authority had better show some alacrity in protecting the Freedom Theatre and pursuing the arsonists,if it is to be an authority in more than just name, though admittedly it has yet to protect Palestinians from rampaging Israeli troops and settlers, which would give people more confidence.

Whoever was responsible for the attack on the Freedom Theatre - and it could well be Israeli agents, who don't. want such efforts to succeed, - such actions, regardless of intention, do serve the occupiers, who in Palestine as in Iraq, deliberately target educational and cultural institutions, and harass artists, teachers and scientists, in order to prevent development, demoralise people, and impose backwardness.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Telling evidence caught on camera - and a message of support for family

IAN TOMLINSON, who died near the Bank of England as the police launched their assault on G20 protesters, was attacked by the police before he collapsed with a heart attack. Video footage, taken not by a news camera person nor a demonstrator, but a New York funds manager in London on business, shows Mr.Tomlinson, a news vendor, being attacked from behind by baton-wielding police in riot gear, and thrown to the ground.

The video, which confirms what demonstrators said, forms part of a dossier of evidence, including photographs and witness statements, which the Guardian newspaper has now handed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Commission, which earlier accepted the police claim that they had no physical contact with Mr.Tomlinson before he collapsed, has now ordered an inquiry.

People are remembering wryly that the police ordered CCTV cameras shut off in the vicinity of the G20 meeting, for "security" reasons. They are also reminding each other of the recent moves to threaten people under "anti-terror" laws if they take photographs of police. Police officers could now face criminal proceedings as a result of the evidence gathered by an onlooker with the courage and presence of mind to film what was happening.

The 47-year old newspaper seller had been on his way home from work when he found himself facing lines of police, at Royal Exchange Passage. The film shows him turning, and walking in front of them with his hands in his pockets, He does not speak to the police, nor offer any resistance, as they push him forward. Then a Metropolitan Police officer appears to strike him from behind with a baton, hitting him on the upper thigh, before rushing forward and shoving him to the ground.

The police stand back, while people come forward to help the victim to his feet. According to some witnesses Mr.Tomlinson had already been hit with batons, before being pushed down. They also dispute police claims that they had "missiles" - plastic bottles - thrown at them as they tried to help Mr.Tomlinson after his collapse.

The inquiry for the IPCC was to be carried out by City of London Police. Mr. Tomlinson's family said in a statement: "There were so many people around where Ian died, and so many people with cameras, that somebody must have seen what happened in the Royal Exchange passageway. We need to know what happened there and whether it had anything to do with Ian's death. We know that some people who were at the protest may not feel comfortable talking to the police. People are putting pictures on the internet, writing on blogs and talking to journalists. But we really need them to talk to the people who are investigating what happened."

The IPCC has now taken the inquiry in-house, after realising the City of London Police had members present when Mr.Tomlinson was killed.

Relatives and friends of another man who died as the result of police action have sent a message of sf sympathy and support to the Tomlinson family:


The family of Jean Charles de Menezes and their Campaign wish to express their deep condolences to the family of Ian Tomlinson over his tragic death. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time. We have been following the emerging evidence relating to the police assault on Ian with grave sadness as we remember the early accounts of how Jean Charles’ death was reported. The Tomlinson family has a right to find out the truth behind what led to Ian’s death. We know from experience that their pain at this time is only being exacerbated by the misinformation and half truths that have been circulating.

We are concerned that the police appear to have misled the public about vital information regarding the circumstances of Ian’s death and find it deeply worrying that Ian’s death is not being independently investigated but rather; the City of London police force is investigating the Metropolitan police. How can an investigation claim to be independent if police officers are investigating themselves? The notion that the Met has fully learned the lessons of the Menezes tragedy must be called into question in the way in which they have handled the aftermath of Ian Tomlinson’s death. The media also must shoulder some criticism for its continued unquestioning acceptance of police accounts of contentious deaths. Justice4Jean continues to campaign to ensure that no family has to go through what the Menezes family endured. We have long called for an independent inquiry into the over arching issues raised by the shooting including the ability of the IPCC to deliver justice and how the police are able to repeatedly mislead the public over contentious deaths. The need for such an inquiry is clearly needed now more than ever and we hope the Tomlinson family get the truth and justice they deserve".


Monday, April 06, 2009

Another Death in the City, Another "Misadventure"? BLAIR PEACH born New Zealand, 25 March 1946, killed Southall, west London, 23 April 1979. Witnesses said he was battered by police. The inquest said "misadventure".

A man died during the police violence which I anticipated would meet G20 protests in London. Ian Tomlinson was just coming from his work. He collapsed, apparently with a heart attack. Witnesses say he was assaulted by riot police, near the Bank of England, before he collapsed.

If so, it would not be the first death caused by Metropolitan Police taking action against demonstrators.

On April 25, trade unionists and local people in the Kings Cross -Islington area of London will be commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Grand Demonstration when 100,000 people marched from Copenhagen Fields to demand the release of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset farm workers transported to slavery in Australia, for daring to form a trade union.

But across west London, in Southall, friends of another trade unionist and socialist, New Zealander Blair Peach, will be marking the thirtieth anniversary of his death at the hands of the Metropolitan Police. Blair Peach, who taught in a special needs school in London's East End, was a member of the National Union of Teachers and the Socialist Teachers Association. A firm opponent of racialism, Blair was also a member of the Anti-Nazi League(ANL), although he is said to have resigned from the Socialist Workers' Party, a central element in the ANL, just before he was killed.

On April 23,1979 the far Right, racist National Front was holding a 'St.George's Day' election rally in Southall Town Hall, in an area with a large Asian population which had become used to fighting back against racialism. Anti-Nazi League supporters and Asian youth demonstrated against the Front's presence in their area, and were confronted by a large force of police, including units of the now notorious Special Patrol Group(SPG).

It's said Blair, who had answered the ANL's call to demonstrate, had turned and was urging youth back on to the pavement when the police charged across the road, and he was hit on the back of the head - some say with a cosh, some with a rubber-clad police radio.

News of Blair's death sent a shock wave through the community and the labour movement. An inquest recorded a verdict of death by "misadventure". Blair's girlfriend Celia said the killer was being let off scot-free, and vowed to seek justice. A search of SPG lockers and homes found numerous unauthorised weapons. But no one was ever charged. The Metropolitan Police reached an out of court settlement with the Peach family in 1989. Labour MP Jack Straw had supported the call for a public inquiry, and for the death to be reinvestigated, but he never accepted this call after he became Home Secretary.

Blair Peach has been commemorated by a primary school named after him in Southall, as well as a plaque on the school in Tower Hamlets where he taught. On the tenth anniversary of his death there was a big march through Southall. We are still waiting for justice.

Blair Beach was not the first person to be killed while demonstrating against the National Front. This year will see the 35th anniversary of Kevin Gateley's death, during the clashes at Red Lion Square. Kevin, born in 1954, was a second-year maths student at the University of Warwick, near Coventry. Although not particularly involved in left-wing politics, he was certainly against racism and fascism. When he heard that the National Front was holding a demonstration in central London, culminating with a rally in Conway Hall - more commonly a venue for left-wing events - Kevin was persuaded to join his girlfriend and other Warwick students going down to London to oppose them.

It was 15 June, 1974. Apparently the first time Kevin had been on a political demonstration; certainly his last.
The London Area Council of Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom) had called the anti-NF protest, but it was also supported by among others, the International Socialists (who later became the Socialist Workers Party), the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) - a Maoist group - and the International Marxist Group(IMG). Some of the Warwick students were IMG supporters, and it was among their contingent that Kevin Gately found himself.

While a large part of the anti-fascist demonstration filed past the police cordon and held their own rally, a group of Maoists made an ineffective attempt to break through the cordon into Red Lion Square, and this seems to have been the police excuse to kick off, charging the crowd. The International Socialists decided to pull their people back, but there seems to have been some uncertainty among the IMG over what way to turn. Their contingent came under attack from both SPG and mounted police, and was at one point chased into a side street, where the police tried to arrest one of their organisers, asking for him by name.

Kevin Gately was very tall, well over six foot, and stood out among the crowd. He may have been hit by a blow from a mounted police truncheon. It was after the Warwick students had got away and were about to set off home that they realised Kevin was missing. Back at the scene St.John Ambulance crew were attending a young man with serious head injuries. Kevin Gately was gone. The first person to be killed on a political demonstration since the 1930s.

Neither a coroners inquest nor a public inquiry into the Red Lion Square events headed by Lord_Scarman were able to find conclusive evidence to prove or disprove claims as to how Kevin Gately was attacked. An IMG commission of inquiry into the Red Lion Square events seems to have been constrained by "security" considerations. A silent march of protest was organised, and Warwick students campaigned against the National Front. A Kevin Gately Memorial Painting hangs in the Warwick University Students' Union, and was restored in 2004.
It depicts anti-fascist struggle, but not Kevin himself, nor the events on June 15, 1974.

Blair Peach was a dedicated political activist, Kevin Gately was attending his first demonstration because of his concern over an issue, and to join his friends. It is perhaps appropriately symbolic of the present capitalist crisis that the latest apparent victim was not even a demonstrator, but just a person coming from work and caught up in events near the Bank - like millions of people have been.

Here's the report by Mark Townsend and Paul Lewis in Sunday's Observer:

'The man who died during last week's G20 protests was "assaulted" by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack, according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Investigators are examining a series of corroborative accounts that allege Ian Tomlinson, 47, was a victim of police violence in the moments before he collapsed near the Bank of England in the City of London last Wednesday evening. Three witnesses have told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson was attacked violently as he made his way home from work at a nearby newsagents. One claims he was struck on the head with a baton.

Photographer Anna Branthwaite said: "I can remember seeing Ian Tomlinson. He was rushed from behind by a riot officer with a helmet and shield two or three minutes before he collapsed." Branthwaite, an experienced press photographer, has made a statement to the IPCC.

Another independent statement supports allegations of police violence. Amiri Howe, 24, recalled seeing Mr Tomlinson being hit "near the head" with a police baton. Howe took one of a sequence of photographs that show a clearly dazed Mr Tomlinson being helped by a bystander.

A female protester, who does not want to be named but has given her testimony to the IPCC, said she saw a man she later recognised as Tomlinson being pushed aggressively from behind by officers. "I saw a man violently propelled forward, as though he'd been flung by the arm, and fall forward on his head.

"He hit the top front area of his head on the pavement. I noticed his fall particularly because it struck me as a horrifically forceful push by a policeman and an especially hard fall; it made me wince."

Mr Tomlinson, a married man who lived alone in a bail hostel, was not taking part in the protests. Initially, his death was attributed by a police post mortem to natural causes. A City of London police statement said: "[He] suffered a sudden heart attack while on his way home from work."

But this version of events was challenged after witnesses recognised the dead man from photographs that were published on Friday.

An IPCC statement was due to be released the same day and is understood to have portrayed the death as a tragic accident. However, the statement's release was postponed as the complaints body received information that police officers may have been more involved in events than previously thought. An IPCC spokesman said yesterday that in light of new statements it was "assessing" the information it had received before deciding whether to launch a full investigation.

Part of the commission's inquiries will involve the examination of CCTV footage from the area.

Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth said: "Eventually there will have to be a full inquest with a jury. It is a possibility this death was at police hands."

A police source told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson appears to have become caught between police lines and protesters, with officers chasing back demonstrators during skirmishes. He was seen stumbling before he collapsed and died on Cornhill Street, opposite St Michael's Alley, around 7.25pm.

At around 7.10pm, protesters had gathered outside the police cordon to call for those contained inside - some for hours - to be let out. Officers with batons and shields attempted to clear them from the road.

Around 7.20pm, five riot police, and a line of officers with dogs, emerged from Royal Exchange Square, a pedestrian side street. Three images taken around this time show Mr Tomlinson on the pavement, in front of five riot police, and in apparent distress. He had one arm in the air, and appeared to be in discussion with the officers.

Mr Tomlinson then appears to have been lifted to his feet by a bystander. Minutes later he fell to the ground. "We saw this guy staggering around," said Natalie Langford, 21, a student. "He looked disorientated. About five seconds later he fell, and I grabbed my friends to help him."

Police have claimed that when paramedics tried to move Mr Tomlinson away for urgent treatment, bottles were thrown at them by protesters. He was later pronounced dead at hospital.

Branthwaite added: "He [Mr Tomlinson] was not a mouthy kid or causing problems, but the police seemed to have lost control and were trying to push protesters back. The police had started to filter people into a side street off Cornhill. There were a few stragglers who were just walking through between the police and protesters. Mr Tomlinson was one of those."

The police tactics during the G20 protests were condemned in the aftermath of the demonstrations. The clearance of a climate camp along Bishopsgate by riot police with batons and dogs after nightfall on Wednesday came in for particular criticism.

Protesters marched to Bethnal Green police station in east London yesterday to demand a public inquiry into Mr Tomlinson's death'.

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