Sunday, November 29, 2020

Slebs.


I took the photo above on Monday lunchtime. It shows the queue of customers waiting to enter the Barclays Bank branch located in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. I have had a number of concerned readers contact me to tell me that they have received letters from Barclays HQ, informing them that the Erith Branch of the bank will be closing in the middle of February 2021. If this closure goes ahead, it will be a great loss to the town; it is the only bank, and is used by a large number of private individuals and local businesses. All of the main high street banks are closing branches - they are trying to persuade users to do their banking online - this is far more cost effective for the banks. It does however somewhat disenfranchise long term customers, especially those without internet access, and also those businesses which are still heavily cash based, and who need somewhere secure to deposit it. If you have any further information about this forthcoming closure, please contact me in complete confidence - Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

With all of the disruption and uncertainty that has surrounded us all for nearly all of this year, I have been doing some research. The Covid-19 situation has brought about a great number of theories and suppositions - some of which are not only wrong, but outright dangerous. The number of conspiracy theories and other unsubstantiated stories that are currently doing the rounds made me wonder what the cause of them was. After doing some research, I found that psychologists have long been studying people with a tendency to believe conspiracy theories. Here is some of what they found. There has been a lot of recent work in psychology attempting to figure out why some people are particularly drawn to conspiracy theories. For example, research has found that people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to have a greater need for cognitive closure (the desire to find an explanation when explanations are lacking) and to be unique. They are more likely to have a cognitive bias called hypersensitive agency detection or teleologic thinking (whereby events are over attributed to hidden forces, purposes, and motives). Some research has also found that conspiracy beliefs are associated with lower levels of education, and poor analytic thinking. That said, studies have also revealed that half of the US population believes in at least one political or medical conspiracy theory. So belief in conspiracy theories is far more “normal” than many of us might think. The figures for the UK are thought to be broadly similar, if a little lower. The popularity of films like JFK, The Manchurian Candidate, and Conspiracy Theory illustrates how many of us can be drawn to a good conspiracy theory. According to a new scientific paper authored by Robert Gonzalez of the University of South Carolina and Elisa Maffioli of the University of Michigan, the researchers found that people who exhibit high levels of distrust, particularly towards government institutions, are most likely to believe false information. “We find that demographic and economic characteristics of individuals are poor predictors of whether they are more likely to believe false narratives,” state the researchers. “However, consistent differences arise along a key dimension: conspiracy theorists are significantly more likely to report high levels of general distrust. Specifically, a one standard deviation increase in [distrust] increases the likelihood that an individual believes misinformation by about 14 percentage points.” Studies show that conspiracy theories tend to snowball during times of crisis, when fear is rampant and clear explanations are in short supply. They appeal in part because they offer a straightforward narrative and someone to blame. But researchers are starting to pay more attention to these theories, and the motives and mechanisms that drive them, as it becomes clear that they aren’t a harmless method for coping with the unknown. They can have truly damaging consequences in the real world. In order to understand the “psychology of conspiracy theories,” we have to start by acknowledging that about half of the population believes in at least one conspiracy theory. Unlike delusions, which, by definition, are for the most part not shared beliefs, conspiracy theories are usually shared by groups of people. We should also acknowledge that conspiracy theories occasionally turn out to be true. So belief in conspiracy theories is relatively normal and shouldn’t be conflated with being “crazy.” That said, there has been considerable recent research in psychology to understand differences between those who believe in conspiracy theories and those who don’t. This body of research has revealed a number of different “cognitive quirks” of people who believe in conspiracy theories, like greater need for control, certainty, and “cognitive closure” (the desire to have an explanation for events when explanations are lacking) or the desire to be unique. Other research has found that those who believe in conspiracy theories are more likely to have a cognitive bias called “hypersensitive agency detection” or “teleological thinking” whereby events are over-attributed to hidden forces, purposes, and motives. Finally, it has been found that lack of analytic thinking and something called “bullshit receptivity” - the tendency to be duped by superficially profound statements that are in reality meaningless - are over represented among those who believe in conspiracy theories. Once you’re falling down the misinformation rabbit hole, “confirmation bias” -  the tendency to seek out information that confirms pre-existing intuitions - tends to steer us toward certain kinds of information over others. For example, research suggests that “conspiracist ideation” - the general belief that hidden, nefarious forces are pulling the puppet strings of human events - may be one kind of pre-existing intuition that accounts for why people gravitate towards conspiracy theories and why belief in one conspiracy theory tends to predict belief in others. But the related cognitive process of “motivated reasoning” whereby we sift through evidence to reinforce our ideological beliefs rather than to find objective truth also accounts for why people are drawn towards particular conspiracy theories. What do you think? Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com with your thoughts. 


Both of the photos above show the view looking Eastwards along Manor Road in Erith; the top photo was taken in approximately 1920, and the lower photo was taken by me last week. It is remarkable how little the view has changed - excepting the different aspect ratio of the lenses used to photograph each scene. What was a newsagent and tobacconists shop (and later on, a fish and chip shop) is now The King of the Grill kebab shop. Other than that, the changes over the century are in essence minimal.

As we head towards Christmas, a relatively new form of crime is becoming increasingly common. It is called Porch Piracy – criminals targeting people’s porches and apartment entrance halls to steal parcels delivered by courier services. As more and more people buy online from web based retailers such as Amazon, the theft of goods in transit has become a major concern, this has been exacerbated to to a great degree due to the increase in home working and online shopping due to the Covid-19 lockdowns. Whilst some customers fill in the “special instructions” section of the delivery details online with details of a neighbour who a parcel can be left with in the event of them not being home to answer the door themselves, many do not. Delivery personnel may in such cases leave parcels in porches, in bin cabinets, or even propped up against the front door. Personally I have seen Amazon parcels left unattended on many occasions – and these definitely attract both opportunistic and dedicated thieves. Ways to counter “Porch Pirates” include:- 1. Lock boxes: You can build or purchase a rugged lock box for your porch.  Bolt it down to a permanent surface, concrete or asphalt work well. Install a simple combination lock on the box and then share that combination when you purchase something online.  Nearly every delivery service has a “special instructions” section during online checkout. Delivery personnel can then key in the combination and deliver your package to a secure box. To add even more security, change the combination frequently or when you feel you've given it out too many times.  2. Security Services: The emergence of Porch Piracy has created an entire industry determined to prevent these thefts. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has a service called Amazon Locker. Instead of a package being delivered to your porch, the packages arrive at a nearby Amazon Locker location, where they’re placed in a secure compartment. You can collect your package with a code and without waiting in line or talking to anyone. There is a general delivery locker system in Morrison’s in Erith, which has been in place for quite some time. 3. Timely Package Collection:  Pick up your package as soon as it's delivered or have a neighbour collect it. Courier services such as UPS, FedEx and Amazon all have tracking services. This allows you to monitor the progress of a shipment very closely by tracking it online and even by receiving email or text alerts.  You can be notified the moment your package is delivered and then make arrangements to have the package collected. Porch Piracy is a crime of opportunity. If the package doesn't sit on your porch for long the opportunity to steal it is vastly decreased. 4. Security Cameras: Security cameras are a tried and true deterrent for all manner of criminal behaviour. Thieves are very aware of cameras and often look for them before attempting a theft.  Also, if you do ever have a package stolen, you have video evidence to pass along to police and online stores. Camera packages can be purchased relatively inexpensively online, and come with a wide range of options, including wireless capabilities which make them easy to install.  Some systems have the ability to remotely monitor your home from mobile devices like tablets and mobile phones which adds an extra layer of security and better peace of mind. 5. Security Signs: If all of the previous options seem too expensive or too much hassle consider posting a sign in your front window informing the would be Porch Pirate that your home is under video surveillance or has security alarms. Many criminals are not going to take the time or the chance to call your bluff and proceed with their theft. Again, this is a crime of opportunity, and thieves may not see your package as a great opportunity if they think there is a chance they might be recorded - even if they can't immediately see the security cameras. Personally I have a designated neighbour to take parcels if I am not available. I find that this greatly reduces the risk of parcel theft. This is a problem which is only going to grow in severity unless steps are taken to prevent it. Technology, such as Ring doorbells are all well and good, but the human touch of a concerned neighbour is to my mind far preferable. 


I received copies of the photo above from a couple of readers on Wednesday of last week. The photo was taken on Wednesday afternoon at The Running Horses pub in Erith High Street, opposite the Riverside Gardens. I was somewhat perplexed as to what a couple of "A" list celebrities would be doing in a pub in Erith. From what I have been able to gather, Amanda Holden and comedian Alan Carr were filming for a TV show in The Running Horses. I am somewhat unsure what Mrs. Holden is actually famous for - I gather she presents a couple of television shows, but I am not certain as to the exact details. I do note that both celebrities are not observing correct social distancing, or indeed wearing masks in the photo above, which is certainly a concern. Whilst I am glad to see that the recent change of management in a pub that is closed to the public during the current Covid-19 lock down has found a way to earn a fee from the television production company, it does strike me as rather odd that they have chosen to invite visitors from the West End, rather than locals to such an opening. If you have any insight into the appearance of a couple of television "Slebs" into the local area, then please do let me know. It is all rather unusual, to say the least.


During the week, the controversial building Electricity House was covered by scaffolding; I spoke to one of the workers, and he told me that the South facing part of the 1930's building was to be re - pointed and then the face of the building was to be rendered - which is exactly what has happened. I find this very surprising; it is widely known that Electricity House is at the end of its useful life, and indeed Bexley Council are apparently involved in buying out the leases of the buildings' current tenants in order that they can redevelop the site. The land is now worth far more than the building itself. Quite why someone would spend what must be a considerable amount of money on cosmetic improvements to a building that only has a very few years left before it is to be demolished is indeed a mystery. If you have any insight into this somewhat strange and certainly unexpected behaviour, please drop me a line to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com. Thanks in advance. 

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "We are pleased to report that we had no burglaries recorded this past week. Vehicle crime is continuing to be a concern as it is throughout the borough. Below I have listed the vehicle crimes on our ward since the 18th November 2020. We had two separate incidents of theft of number plates in Watery Lane this past week. The first incident occurred on Friday 20th November where the number plates were stolen from a vehicle between 0700hrs-1600hrs. The second occurred on Tuesday 24th November between 0840 hrs-1345 hrs. We also had three Catalytic Converters stolen. Excellent news this week following a residential burglary two suspects were arrested at the scene. The burglary occurred on Saturday 21/11/2020 at 12.39 pm in Grasmere Road. Thanks to a local resident who called police after seeing two males acting suspiciously, Police were quick to attend the scene. Two males came over a rear brick wall and were met by Officers and subsequently arrested and both males later charged for Burglary. All items stolen were returned to the rightful owner. In Colyers Lane on Wednesday 18/11/2020 overnight Christmas Lights outside a residential property have been cut by unknown persons. In Twigg Close on Saturday 21/11/2020 at 11.37 am a resident reported seeing a Luton Van taking residents wheelie bins and putting them on the back of the van. Between Tuesday 17/11/2020 and Thursday  19/11/2020 in Parkside Avenue criminal damage was caused to a van whereby a long deep scratch was found along the side of the vehicle. Please continue to stay vigilant we have had some unwanted individuals wandering around the ward. In East Holm, a male has been seen in this road on a few occasions and is seen to be taking particular interest in the houses here. The male is white with brown hair and carries a black back in his hand. The last time he was seen was on Tuesday 24/11/2020 at around 03.00 pm. In Taunton Close Police were called after a male was seen acting suspiciously at 04.30 on Saturday 21/11/2020. This male knocked on a door here but quickly walked away so it’s believed he was hoping no one was home. He was described as being in his mid-twenties wearing a tracksuit with a hoodie attached. Once again we have an off-road bike driving around dangerously on pavements and in the road in the area of Hurstwood Avenue. We believe this may be the same bike that’s been reported over on Barnehurst golf course".  Belvedere ward:- "We were recently made aware of another attempted burglary in Picardy Road in which an unknown male had called at an address and was let in by the resident on the pretence of a water leak on the upper floor of the property. On this occasion, the male was challenged and left the address without having taken any items from within. Please remain vigilant; if an unexpected caller arrives at your home, you do not need to answer the door. However, should you choose to, always ask the caller for identification and if you remain concerned, call for Police assistance. There was a burglary in Halt Robin Road on Wednesday morning during which a vehicle was also stolen after the keys were taken from the property in the early hours of the morning. This investigation is ongoing. Police were also called to Picardy Road over several days last week regarding a group of youths throwing items such as stones at shops and properties in the street. We have patrolled at the relevant times but have seen no behaviour of this nature thus far. Our patrols will continue. Chalk markings were found on the boundary wall of a property in Woolwich Road, and are suspected to be linked to the property possibly being marked for burglary. If any markings are found on your property, please ensure that these are reported to Police. Further Anti-Social behaviour is also taking place in and around Nuxley Road/ Albert Road involving a group of young males who constantly ride E-scooters in a dangerous manner. Once again, our efforts to speak the group have gone largely ignored, and our patrols so far have been unsuccessful. If anyone has information in relation to this group, please contact the team". Bexleyheath ward:- "On the Thursday 19th November between 10 am and midday there was a report of a theft of a purse. An elderly female was shopping around the Bexleyheath shopping area and placed her purse in her bag and later discovered it was missing. Also, personal items were reported stolen when the victim was changing their child at the Mall shopping centre. The victim had forgotten them and when returned, they were missing. This had taken place in the morning on the Monday 23rd November. A vehicle was parked by M&S and the driver window was smashed, the suspect was seen by other members of the public. This took place on Thursday 19th November at about 9.30 am. On the Thursday 19th November from about 1130 am onwards, an elderly victim had parked their vehicle in the ASDA car park and the vehicle was stolen from the location". Crayford ward:- "I am really sorry to say that we have two incidents that have been classified as burglary to report this week.  On Monday 16th November three padlocks were removed from a garage in Maiden Lane and a Honda CRF red, white and blue Motorcross bike was stolen, the three padlocks were also taken.  Four suspects are seen on CCTV. On Sunday 22nd November at about 18.10-18.15, suspects banged at the front door of an address in Samas Way and forced their way in to confront the victim when the door was opened.  A brick was also thrown through the window.  It is possible that the suspects were known to one of the victims. A Ford van was broken in to on Friday 20th November between 12.00-15.00 whilst parked at Hall Place car park. A circular hole was made around the lock to expose the locking mechanism.  In this instance, additional security had been added to prevent this and the thieves were unsuccessful in entering the vehicle. A Suzuki motorbike with number plate RO06 MZZ was stolen from a parking bay at Woodfall Drive between 16th and 18th November, the owner still has the keys. On Monday 23rd November police indicated for a vehicle to stop in Perry Street, the vehicle was on false plates.  The suspects ran from the vehicle but were arrested nearby, the vehicle was recovered.  This is an ongoing investigation. Between 21.00 on Monday 23rd November and 07.00 on Tuesday 24th November a grey Hyundai parked on a driveway in Station Road was broken into.  A Pandora bracelet with ten distinctive charms plus about £10 in change was stolen. We were alerted that a moped had been dumped in Wolsley Close, it had been reported stolen and we were able to advise the registered keeper that it had been located. As we head out of the current lockdown, please take time to familiarise yourself with the details of the tier that will be set for where you live.  More shops are likely to be open and there will be a rush to complete Christmas shopping.  Please remember to take and wear a mask when shopping or travelling on public transport.  Let’s all work together to keep everyone safe as we head into the festive season". Erith ward:- "Burglary - Friday 20/11/2020 CHRISTCHURCH AVENUE – Money stolen from house, No signs of a break in at this time. Sunday 15/11/2020 NEPTUNE WALK – Window opened no signs of anything missing at this time. Vehicle Crime - Friday 20/11/2020 – Theft of motor vehicle BEXLEY ROAD. Saturday 21/11/2020 – Theft of motor vehicle CORINTHIAN MANORWAY. Friday 20/11/2020 – Theft from motor vehicle HOLLY HILL ROAD. Sunday 22/11/2020 – Theft from motor vehicle COMPTON PLACE. Monday 23/11/2020 – Theft from motor vehicle RIVERDALE ROAD. Erith SNT has now moved to Bexleyheath Police Station, We will still be covering Erith as usual". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "A burglary took place overnight Monday into Tuesday (23-24/11) in Whitehall Lane. Entry was made via a rear window. Property taken included jewellery and electrical items. Enquiries are ongoing. Four vehicle crimes have taken place in the last week. A moped was stolen overnight from Alderney Road on Saturday 21/11. Bank cards were taken overnight from a vehicle in Frobisher Road on Sunday 22/11. A window of a car was smashed overnight in Hazel Road on Thursday 19/11. A Doctor’s medical bag was stolen from a car overnight in Rainbow Road on Wednesday 18/11. At the time of writing, PC’s Mark and James have today arrested 2 males in Dale View for various offences after an altercation with a different wanted suspect this morning". Thamesmead East ward:- "Burglaries - Tuesday 24/11/20 between the hours of 11:30 am and 5:00 pm a property in BAYLESS AVENUE was entered, the informant stated that the front door was open and that a front door key and a key to a locked room was taken, unknown what else has been taken. Remember remain vigilant, close and lock windows and doors even if you are only going out for a short time. Keep burglars guessing when the nights are getting longer– use timer lights. Motor Vehicle Crimes - Overnight of Tuesday 17/11/20 and Wednesday 18/11/20 a motorcycle was stolen from WHERNSIDE CLOSE. A vehicle locked and secure on a driveway in RUSHDENE was broken into between the hours of 11:00 pm on Thursday 19/11/20 and 8:40 am Friday 20/11/20. A charging cable, Bluetooth speaker, sweets and a hand sanitiser were taken from the glove box". West Heath ward:- "On Monday 23/11/20 at 0547 hours the victim reported that someone tried the door handle of their house in Canberra Road Bexleyheath. The informant had clear CCTV as the suspect appeared to be trying door handles of other properties. The suspect was seen on CCTV in the neighbour’s front garden. The informant has a Ring Door Bell and a notification on it to check the CCTV. The victim indicated that the CCTV footage shows the male posting a leaflet through the door, but at the same time using the other hand to try the door handle to see if it was open. The male was described as white, tall, slim build, short hair, in his late 20s and wearing a hooded top. The male tried the neighbour to the left of the informant’s house but misses the one the right. The victim also indicated that it appears on the CCTV footage that there was someone else with the suspect across the road doing the same thing. A car also pulled for a few minutes where the male suspect was, but the footage was not clear to be able to see if the male gets in the vehicle. On Tuesday 3rd November 2020 at 0600 hours, the victim parked his Black Honda Civic in Hurlingham Road Bexleyheath at 0600 before returning to the vehicle at 19.30. The victim started the car and could instantly hear that something was wrong due to the loud noise of the engine. He walked around to the passenger’s side and saw a number of reciprocating saw blades and some cardboard packaging. He then realised that someone had stolen the catalytic converter from the vehicle. On Wednesday 18/11/20 at 1710 hours there a reported theft from a motor vehicle that was parked in King Harold's Way Bexleyheath. The Informant’s phone had been stolen from his vehicle. It is not known how entry to the vehicle was gained. On Wednesday, November 25th at 0831 hours the victim reported that between date and time showed person(s) unknown have removed and stole both number plates from his motor vehicle a grey Vauxhall Astra that was parked in Denton Road Welling".
 
The end video this week features a short documentary explaining the improvements and new developments currently being constructed in and around Thamesmead by the housing association Peabody. Comments / feedback to hugh.neal@gmail.com.