Sunday, May 21, 2017

Back on Medium Wave.


The photos above were taken recently by me in the Erith Riverside Gardens. You may recall that not long ago I wrote about how Bexley Council were replacing a lot of the old and overgrown bushes in the garden with new ones; they went as far as hiring a tracked excavator and operator for a week to dig up the old and overgrown bushes, to trim back the trees and to generally tidy the gardens up. Once this had been done, they then planted hundreds of new baby bushes. This coincided with one of the longest dry spells in recent memory. The council have since done little if any watering of the newly planted shrubbery, and as you can see from the photos above (click on either for a larger view), at least half of the baby plants have now died from lack of water. The heavy rain on Wednesday and Thursday of last week was too late for many of the delicate, newly planted bushes, which had not had long enough to develop deep root systems which otherwise might have allowed them to survive the drought. Ironically FORGE (Friends of Riverside Gardens Erith) have offered to carry out the watering to take the burden off the council and their contractor, but at the time of writing, nothing has happened. I understand that a fresh water outlet is located underneath the flagpole at the Western end of the gardens, but the tap is covered by a padlocked door, and FORGE do not have the key. Suggestions were made that if a number of watering cans were obtained, these could be filled at a FORGE members apartment in West Street and transported to the gardens; this would however be impractical - you would need at least ten watering cans and dozens of refills to properly water the several hundred new bushes that have been planted - even allowing for those that are already dead due to council neglect. It seems that all of the hard work and council tax payers money has been for nothing - talk about spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar! The costs in refurbishing the Riverside Gardens will have been considerable. A tracked digger of the type used in the work costs around £700 per day to hire, along with a suitably qualified operator. The digger was on site for over a week. Forgetting all of the other associated costs, you can already tot up just how much the work must have cost - my own rough estimates put the total cost at not very far short of £10,000. Not watering the plants has invalidated much of this expensive work.  I have discovered that the contract between the council and the supplier does cover the death of plants - and that the bushes that have not survived the lack of watering will be replaced by the contractor at no further expense to the council tax payer, which is somewhat of a relief. If the council lack the foresight to do arrange regular watering when we have no or little rain, perhaps they will hand over the responsibility (and the associated budget) to FORGE who are far better placed to look after the gardens, which form one of the most attractive parts of Erith. There are willing volunteers who would love to care for the gardens, as it would appear that Bexley Council just cannot be trusted to do so. There are further implications to the whole water situation in the Riverside Gardens. Plans are afoot to hold a series of public events in the gardens later on in the year, which will necessitate a supply of fresh running water. I feel that it is down to Bexley Council to “grasp the nettle” and resolve this prior to it becoming a very high profile issue. If everything pans out as planned, this Summer could be a very good one for Erith residents, with a number of “pop up” events being planned. More on this soon. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com



Some excellent news was released on Friday. My former employers Radio Caroline have after many years campaigning, been granted an AM Medium Wave broadcast licence in the Norfolk / Suffolk / Essex region of the UK. Up until now the station has broadcast extensively (and very successfully) on the Internet, by satellite and in certain parts of the country by DAB radio. In a statement published on Friday morning, station manager Peter Moore wrote:- "We are pleased to announce that Ofcom have just informed us that our application for an AM licence has been approved and that a licence will be awarded. Further details will be sent to us by Ofcom in due course. Power levels and frequency are yet to be decided. This is the end of – or a further step in – a process started by Bob Lawrence in 2010 and enthusiastically supported by Tracey Crouch MP. We thank them both and further thank the many other people who have helped along the way. There are many preparations to be made and these may take some time. I am sure we will make further announcements in the future. The basis of our application was that our traditional heartland was Essex and Suffolk, where the signal from our ships made first landfall and that we wished to entertain on AM, an audience that we have not been able to serve in this way since 1990. We said that this audience may hear music radio of a style they remember and in some cases presented by the same people they remember. That in essence is what we intend to do". My understanding is that the regional licence is a stepping stone to a full, national licence - something that Radio Caroline should have been given many years ago in my opinion. You can see photos of my time with Radio Caroline at sea back in 1990 by clicking here. More on this subject later.

On Friday, the Metropolitan Police revealed that thieves on scooters and pedal cycles are committing up to 50,000 offences a year in and around Greater London. Gangs of youths are using stolen scooters, mopeds, motorcycles and bikes to commit tens of thousands of snatch offences across London. Police revealed how gangs of mainly teenage boys are stealing mopeds in outer London boroughs and using them to commit snatches in the West End - often motivated by the thrill of speed. 
The full scale of the moped crime surge came as police revealed details of an alarming new tactic in which a gang sprayed a fire extinguisher into the face of a motorcyclist in a bid to hijack his machine. Detectives say they are targeting at least 500 known offenders behind the crime spree - with suspects moving between using stolen mopeds and pedal cycles to snatch mobile phones. Police also urged Londoners to take simple steps to help prevent crimes, in particular warning scooter owners to use locks to secure their bikes in the street. The scale of the offending can be revealed in new figures released by the Metropolitan Police which show thieves are stealing around 1,500 scooters or motorcycles in London every month. In addition, the same criminals are using scooters or pedal cycles to commit 2,500 theft offences a month, most of them mobile phone snatches. Thefts involving mopeds or motorcycles are currently running at 13,005 over the past 12 months, a 41 per cent increase over the previous period.most offenders were in their teens and early 20s and some were organised in groups of around five to 10 people who use a stolen bike for a period before dumping it. The bikes are stolen in outlying boroughs and used to travel into the West End to commit crimes.  Many prolific offenders have 20 or so crimes to their name, one 15-year-old was only jailed after being arrested 80 times. Bike gangs such as the notorious, Thamesmead - based Bike Life TV UK are thought to be behind much of this increase in reported criminality. 

You may recall that at the beginning of this year I wrote at some length about the plans for the first shelter for the homeless that had been planned for over the New Year period; well, the report on the outcome of the project has recently been published. The night shelter programme was a great success, and will be expanded this coming Christmas. A number of lessons were learned, but overall it was a very positive experience. Many thanks to the Reverend Simon Archer, the Curate of Christ Church, Erith for sending me the details for publication, an edited summary of which you can read below:- "The idea for this project originated from Transform Bexley Borough (TBB) representing the churches in the London Borough of Bexley sometime in 2014. Rev Jim Charles visited the Greenwich shelter in the early part of 2016 and this gave him an insight to the planning process and the need for a coordinator. So, he advertised in local churches for a coordinator. On a volunteer coming forward an initial meeting with Jim took place late in July with several people who had already shown an interest in this idea. A “start-up” meeting then took place in November with some 25 interested churches/people attending. It was clear that there was good support for this venture to proceed and a steering committee, including treasurer, was formed by mutual agreement from volunteers stepping forward. This steering committee then sought to take the project forward and to manage it over the next 5 months and was to meet six times. Despite a request across the Borough churches for venues for this project, only three came forward. So the shelters were going to be at the New Community Church in Sidcup on a Monday evening, the Boys’ Brigade hall by Christ Church Bexleyheath on a Wednesday and all the other nights at the Welling Salvation Army hall. Sidcup and Bexleyheath were able to make showers available, while all three had good cooking facilities and plenty of room for sleeping, eating and recreation. They also had the possible advantage of being easily accessible and in public thoroughfares and so were unlikely to cause any problems with residents. Advertising through the churches, and then word of mouth brought forward some 150 volunteers, not all church attenders. These had to be divided up to cover three shifts viz. an early evening shift (7.00 – 10.30 pm) an overnight shift (10.00 pm – 6.30 am ) and a morning shift (6.00 – 8.30 am) and then dispersed across the seven days- taking into account folk’s preference for the shift, the day and venue. A team leader for each shift on each day was appointed and information on what was to be expected was forwarded. We had been made aware of Housing Justice - a national organisation both politically and charitably, seeking to improve the situation for folk who find themselves in this predicament for whatever reason. We had “joined up” (£1500 fee) with them and they were able to provide information on the running of shelters, a format for a Volunteers hand book and carried out two Saturday morning. It was realised early on that whatever we did had to be consistent across the venues and nights. We would open at 7.30, lights out 11.00 and our visitors left the premises by 8.00 am. On arrival the “guests”, as they were to be respectfully known, were provided with a hot drink and then a sit down two course meal around 8.15. This took the form of a set menu over a 9 day rota. Breakfast, along with cereals, was mainly things on toast. These all seemed to be acceptable to our guests with little to no adverse comments. One observation was that guests seemed to be eating less as the weeks went on! A cook book entitled “Feed my Sheep” produce by another Salvation Army unit was used as a basis for recipes and quantities. All food had to be prepared on the premises (hygiene regulations) and we are indebted to some 12 or so cooks along with the morning catering staff. For this first attempt at running a Night Shelter we were only able to accommodate men and the most we could cater for was 12 (in fact as reported below we never had more than 9 on any given night). An air bed and a sleeping bag were provided along with pillows at each venue. The sleeping bags were named and kept for each guest at each venue. The donated pillow cases were laundered locally. It was recognised early on that there had to be some way of engaging with the “rough sleepers” in the first place, and the need to have some form of assessment as to their suitability for the shelter and if the shelter was going to be suitable for their needs. We were soon made aware of a volunteer organisation called “Cornerstone” which was working out of Trinity Baptist Church with folk who had addictions, mental health problems and homelessness. This resulted in them drawing up an assessment check list and making arrangements to “interview” potential guests – initially after their food bank session on Mondays and Fridays at Trinity but, later by appointment having established a dedicated phone line for folk to ring. If the rough sleeper was deemed suitable, an “invitation” was issued and an agreement as to the conditions and requirements of the guest had to be signed. Cornerstone then advised the venue leader or team leader of the name of the invited guest. Only folk with a specific invitation were allowed to come into the venue. There was to be no “walk in” arrangement and this procedure worked very well with few hiccups.  Flyers were produced for churches and others (e.g. Council and Police) to hand out to people they came across that appeared to be rough sleepers. Most of the referrals were received via the Council, Colleges, Citizens Advice and word of mouth. The service and help provided by Cornerstone was pivotal to the project – it would have been very difficult without them. They were also able to take a firm line with any guest that seemed to not be fulfilling their part of the agreement. They assessed some 23 folk, most of whom were deemed suitable and offered an invitation for the shelter. Not all took up this invite and over the 10 weeks that the project ran, some 16/18 guests did come along for at least several nights before they moved on for whatever reason. Although we were able to offer a “dog sitting” service, potential guests were reluctant to leave their animal and in the end, did not access the shelter. Only one guest had to be excluded and in general, behaviour was respectful, good and settled down once Cornerstone had reiterated the conditions to one or two guests. The service, support, advice and help given has been recognised by the steering committee - approving a donation to them as a token of our indebtedness. Beside a safe and warm environment, along with hot meals, we were able to provide toiletries, clothing and haircuts. A little late in the day we were able to ask a volunteering GP to meet with some of the guests. She diagnosed several guests with severe mental problems that were in need of urgent psychiatric assessment and at least one guest had to be admitted to a special unit where he would have to remain for several weeks’ treatment. The volunteers did get alongside guests by chatting to them, playing games and seeking to give support, understanding and guidance. Citizens Advice has also played a large part in helping guests to sort out their circumstances. However, volunteers where under strict requests not to give money, personal details or agree to help or see guests outside the venue and to keep details confidential. At the end of the project, the guests were asked what they had thought of the service. Guests all reported that the venues were easy to find but a couple of guests expressed a difficulty in travelling between them, particularly as they had no money. All of them felt safe at the venues and felt there was enough to do in the evenings. It was noted that the Sidcup facilities were the best and that a shower at Welling would have been welcomed. One guest reported that the sleeping arrangements were a ‘bit uncomfy’ and another that the Welling venue was cold, particularly in the mornings. There were a couple of suggestions of opening earlier and one guest thought a Playstation would be nice Guests were all in agreement that there was plenty of food available, one guest commenting that he has put on weight. They also all agreed that the quality was good. 2 guests thought there could be more variety and we had some suggestions of steak (!), hash browns, stir-fry and ribs. Another guest thought the food was a bit bland and would have liked a bit more spice. There was also a comment about having too many mince-based meals. The guests were all made to feel very welcome by the volunteers and were treated with respect. According to the guests, all volunteers were happy to engage in conversation and responded well to any issues that arose. The consensus was that volunteers were friendly, caring and helpful. One guest said that volunteers were “generous with their time” and spoke about them helping with clothes etc, while another said the volunteers were “awesome”. An excellent and inspiring article; I am glad to hear that women will be admitted this year - something I did raise when I heard about the inaugural night shelter programme, but I was told that there were no female rough sleepers in the London Borough of Bexley - something I found (and still feel) to be hard to believe. 

Bexley Council found itself in the press this week again for all of the wrong reasons. A BBC Panorama investigation had an undercover investigative journalist secretly film Kingdom Services Group - the company that Bexley Council has employed to police littering in the borough, and to collect fines from people who are caught littering. As anyone who has read the Maggot Sandwich for any length of time will know, I am a keen anti littering / fly tipping campaigner, and have been involved in a couple of successful prosecutions of criminal fly tippers in the past. What was uncovered by the Panorama team was appalling - the Kingdom litter police get cash payments every time they issue over four tickets in a day - £5 per ticket, and up to £6 if they issue fines to enough people. There is a real financial incentive for the Kingdom enforcers to collar as many people as possible, and some of the prosecutions were positively Orwellian. If you are a UK resident, you can see the half hour Panorama documentary by clicking here. My concern is that the approach exhibited by Kingdom may well turn local residents against responsible waste disposal - which would be counter productive. 




On Friday, March 10, just after 9.30pm a White Ford Transit pulled into the Shell Petrol Garage in Northend Road, Erith, using a false licence plate reading AX04 XJV. The thieving scumbag was caught on CCTV in the photo above, which shows the driver filling the van with diesel, before returning to the driver’s seat and pulling away without paying. If you know who this thief is, then please contact Bexley Police directly, or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.


Word reaches me from a couple of impeccable sources in Erith Morrison's supermarket that the switch to self service checkout tills has not been a happy one, as I predicted earlier in the year. I hear that the level of mis - scanning and outright shop lifting has gone through the roof. One supermarket worker, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous, told me last week that "You get a different type of person using the self service tills; nobody (the staff) likes supervising the self service area, as you are constantly worried that you are about to get assaulted. The kind of people who tend to use the self service area are trying to get away with nicking things. Last week when we had the travellers in the car park, two Pikey women tried to steal over £500 worth of stuff through the self service checkouts - they did a runner when security locked the doors though". Their words, not mine. Earlier last year a report was published by the Criminology Department of the University of Leicester on self service checkout tills. The report found that installing self-service checkouts raises lost revenue by 122 percent. Some of it is accidental – people forget to scan items, or get confused by instructions; other times shoppers get so frustrated with self-service kiosks that they feel justified in not paying. But the report  states that mostly people shoplift because the technology makes it so easy. Mobile phone scanning technology is just as vulnerable – the study found that at the end of a typical shopping trip, up to ten percent of items had not been scanned, leading to “shrinkage” (loss through wastage or theft) of about 3.9 percent of turnover. Unfortunately the technology makes it very difficult to prove that customers are deliberately stealing. One retailer admitted they almost never prosecute people. For that reason supermarkets are now introducing tagging systems so un-scanned items trigger alarms. Supermarkets such as Morrison’s in Erith have now expanded the number of self – service checkouts so that now half of all tills are of this type. Finding open, traditionally staffed checkouts are becoming a challenge to find. I have always wondered why you have to pay the same price for an item when it is purchased via a self – service till when compared to a traditional one – after all, you are doing work on behalf of the supermarket, and surely this should be reflected in a cheaper cost? Answers on a postcard please.




Now for a story which in one way falls outside of my usual remit, as it took place somewhat outside of my normal coverage area, but in another way is entirely appropriate for me to address, as it concerns people's reaction to a story that they uncritically read on social media. The News Shopper have been reporting that according to a story originating on a fake news website that has subsequently been circulating on social media, a popular New Cross based Indian Restaurant has been serving human flesh to customers. If that did not immediately get one's suspicions going, I would be extremely surprised. It turns out that the story is a so called "prank" published on a notorious fake news website called Channel 23 News. The website allows individuals to publish scurrilous and untrue stories about others, which are then automatically posted onto FaceBook and then seen by millions of people.  The originator of the libellous story wrote (excuse the poor spelling and grammar):- "Last night Indian restaraunt owner Rarjan Patel was arreasted for using human meat in his food recipes at his New Cross Restaurant, it is said that a total of 9 Human Body’s were found frozen ready to be processed for meat, Rarjan Patel remains in Custody for further questioning whilst the restaurant has been closed down.” The obvious unprofessional structure of the story did not deter people from believing the entry when they saw it on Facebook however. One brainless Facebook user subsequently wrote (all in capitals - which in itself is a certain sign of somebody unbalanced) "ASIAN RESTAURANT SHUT DOWN FOR USING HUMAN MEAT”. The restaurant in question of course has had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this - but it has been bombarded with abuse by credulous Facebook users who seem to be of the opinion that "If it is on Facebook it must be true". The story has been widely reposted and the restaurant in question, which has only been operating for a little over two years has lost a substantial amount of business, as well as the owner and staff being subject to a number of threats. The Karri Twist restaurant is a relatively new development, but the same family opened their first restaurant on the original site, called the Curry Mahal, back in 1955. You can see photos of both restaurant frontages above - click for a larger view. The damage that has been done to the reputation of the family owned business may be too severe for it to survive. How people can be so malicious in originally posting such a libellous story, and how others can be so gullible to not only read the story, but to repost it to others without checking its accuracy first amazes me. I am not aware of the identity of the person who originated the fake story, but I would hope that the Patel family are taking legal action to bring the person to justice. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The ending video this week shows the ITV News at Ten report on Radio Caroline getting a broadcast radio licence, as per my earlier item. Give it a watch and see what you think. The Ross Revenge certainly looks a lot smarter than during my time on board when it was moored 13 miles off the North Foreland, in the middle of the North Sea. Happy Days.