It is now eight years since Erith was the scene of a horrific triple murder, which resulted in the murderer being subject to a whole life - "never be released from jail" sentence. A bungalow in Pembroke Road was the scene of a barbaric triple murder back in 2015, when former Eastenders actress Sian Blake and her two young children were murdered by her partner, drug dealer Arthur Simpson-Kent in the house, and their mutilated bodies buried in shallow graves in the back garden. Sian Blake, 43, and their sons, Zachary, eight, and four-year-old Amon, after the actress, who was terminally-ill with Motor Neurone Disease, planned to leave Arthur Simpson-Kent and take the boys with her. Once he had killed the three, he buried their bodies in the garden of their bungalow in number 54, Pembroke Road, Erith. The bodies were not discovered by the Police for three weeks, when sniffer dogs were used to search the property. All three had been repeatedly beaten and stabbed in a series of frenzied attacks. Simpson-Kent, who admitted three counts of murder, was sentenced at the Old Bailey in October 2016 by a judge who said he had been convinced he should receive the most severe punishment available for his ''truly horrific'' crimes. Mr Justice Singh, when passing sentence said he had been left ‘in no doubt’ that Arthur Simpson-Kent should spend the rest of his life in prison.‘Each murder involved a substantial degree of premeditation or planning. At the very least that must be true of the murder of each of the two little boys individually, and in turn after the defendant had already killed Sian Blake. Further, and in any event, there were serious aggravating features of this case. Each of the victims was particularly vulnerable because of age or disability. There was an abuse of position of trust. There was concealment of the bodies. He made efforts to remove evidence of his crimes at the house, including repainting. He sought to lay a false trail by using Sian Blake's mobile phone. He lied to the police and others about the whereabouts of the family.’ He was thus awarded the very rare sentence of a Whole Life Tariff – which means the only way he will ever be let out of prison is on the written orders of the Home Secretary, something that has rarely if ever happened. In his case, life really does mean life in prison, with no chance of parole. I used to see Sian Blake with her children occasionally walking around Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and every so often in Morrison’s. I did not know she was an actress, or had been in EastEnders at one time (I am not a soap watcher). I had not seen them for some considerable time before their untimely demise, I guess as her Motor Neurone Disease got worse, and she was forced to limit her mobility; the whole case was tragic. When the case first broke, I used Google Maps / Google Street View to locate the property; when I did, the image that the Google Street View camera car had captured of the house showed one of the little boys standing in the left hand window, looking out into the street. It had obviously been taken some time prior to the tragic events. I immediately decided that I would not publish or make reference to the image out of respect to the deceased and their surviving family and friends. I might have well not have bothered, as a couple of days later, the Sun newspaper published the image of the “ghostly” child in the window. I felt that this was in the very poorest of taste, but then the Sun is not exactly known for letting propriety or good taste get in the way of a story, whatever the circumstances.
Thanks to information supplied by a reader, it would appear that Erith Pier may be hosting a rather unusual barge in the near future. As many will know, the RNLI station on the River Thames is located at the Victoria Embankment in central London. However, their old station is being replaced with a new one, and in the meantime, the crew of Tower Lifeboat Station have moved to a temporary facility so they can continue saving lives whilst their new station is completed. Lifeboat crew from Tower RNLI have left their old station near Victoria Embankment and will operate from the new temporary base at HMS President – the Royal Naval Reserve’s training facility in London, located at St Katherine Dock. The dedicated full-time Thames Commanders and volunteer crew will still maintain their vital 24/7 life-saving service on the Thames whilst the new permanent facilities are completed. The current RNLI Tower station is due to be floated down the river later this month to make way for the new facilities. It will be used by Thames Marine Services on the Monarch Pier, Erith, where it will be used as one of six electrical charging facilities on the Thames as part of Net Zero Marine Services. Monarch Pier is better known as Erith Pier. It will be interesting to see how the station is moored, as Erith Pier dries out at low tide.
Two articles on illegal e-scooters this week; the first one is regarding retailers who sell electric scooters to members of the public. In a recent investigative article by an undercover reporter for ITV News, the anonymous journalist posed as a potential customer for an e-scooter at a number of high street retailers. The reporter writes:- "They're an increasingly familiar sight on roads and pavements across the country – people zipping past on electric scooters - but in the UK it’s a criminal offence to ride one on any public road, pavement or cycle lane. So are the public being given enough information about how these new vehicles can be used? As the popularity of e-scooters continues to rise, ITV News has been investigating the legalities around the trend and the confusing advice given to consumers. One ITV News reporter went undercover to a series of retailers to see what customers are being told. Here’s what they found out... Posing as a potential customer hoping to buy my first e-scooter, I went to speak to three different retailers to see what advice they would give me about using one for my daily commute. Having read on the website of one e-scooter retailer they are able to keep up traffic, I went to see what I’d be told face-to-face. I explained that I wanted to ride an e-scooter to work.The retailer immediately told me there was "controversy" surrounding the use of e-scooters on roads and pavements – explaining the UK is one of the only countries in Europe who haven’t legalised the use of e-scooters in public. He also reminded me of Emily Hartridge, who was killed in an e-scooting accident some time ago. Visibly concerned, I asked whether his advice was not to use an e-scooter in traffic. The sales representative said no – adding: "If you’re gonna use them, use them on the roads." He acknowledged police could possibly issue a fine or points on my driving license if they stopped me, but seemed pretty confident the most they’d give me would be a "slap on the wrist" – if that. The second retailer I visited made claims online I could use an e-scooter to "commute to work".After he’d showed me a few different models, I asked whether they would be suitable to use in traffic. He assured me they were. When asked whether I knew it’s illegal to use them on road, he added that he wouldn’t advise against using one on a road. He called it "a bit of a grey area", and said I just needed to be aware that I could be stopped by police to "have that conversation". A third retailer offered the opportunity to rent an e-scooter "to try out your particular journey". In their showroom, the sales representative talked me through which of the models were best for roads and which should be used on pavements – adding in passing that "it’s illegal anywhere". I asked what his advice would be about using them for commuting, he said "everybody" uses e-scooters to get to work. Similarly to the previous two retailers, he said that "police just stop people and say it’s illegal", but assured me that as long as I rode sensibly in a cycle lane, I shouldn’t have to worry. The advice I was given on e-scooters was contradictory. I was consistently told using one in public is illegal, but all three of the retailers I visited advised me to use one for my daily commute anyway. Safety campaigners are calling for legislation to be updated to keep up with demand for e-scooters – arguing we need proper regulation to keep users safe. The retailers themselves have echoed this to us today – they’re urging the Government to act fast to legalise e-scooters so that we can make the most of their potential benefits. E-scooters may be a speedy way to get around, but some feel the law is lagging behind this emerging trend in transport". The second issue related to electric scooters is one of safety. Transport for London some time ago banned e-scooters on all forms of public transport that it operates. The principal reason for this was one of fire safety. As if to underline this, there was a serious fire in a property in Arthur Street Erith on the 27th of January. Fortunately there were no fatalities, but a woman and three children were taken to hospital. The cause of the fire was found to be a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery on an e-bike. After the tragic incident, the London Fire Brigade issued the following statement:- "It’s incredibly concerning we are continuing to see a rise in incidents involving e-bikes and e-scooters. When these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and because the fires develop so rapidly the situation can quickly become incredibly serious. Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used and there is a significant risk posed by e-scooters which have been converted. We are predominantly seeing fires in ones which have been purchased from online marketplaces and batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards. Our advice is to try and store and charge these items in a safe location if possible, such as in a shed or garage, and if they have to be stored inside, make sure there is smoke detection fitted and your means of escape is not obstructed. However we know this won’t be possible for everyone, so if you are charging them indoors, please follow our advice on safe charging and ensure everyone in your home knows what to do in the event of a fire. We would also suggest people try not to charge them when they are asleep, so that if there is an issue they can react quickly". Comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I took the photo above back in late November 2019, it was one of a series of pictures of a protest organised by local residents at the news that the small park located at the Eastern end of West Street in Erith, adjacent to Chichester Wharf was to be closed and then have apartments built on it after the land was sold off by Bexley Council. Now, four years on, work to build on the site has begun. This week contractors cut down all of the trees on the site and erected fencing prior to the commencement of ground works. The following statement was made at the 2019 protest, which gives some background to the local objections to the new development:- "The clock is ticking to save the West Street Park in Erith. After consultation with Erith and West Street residents, local community group the Erith Think Tank are launching a campaign to save this green space for the town. The creation of the West Street Park came out of a 1970's programme where the Council identified the southern side of West Street as a General Improvement Area (G.I.A.). Under legislation which dealt with the Council’s promoting of G.I.A.’s, Councils were able to acquire land so that it could be laid out as Public Open Space. The current location of the West Street Park was chosen to create a street that was more desirable with clear open space for communities to enjoy, and to provide respite down a busy road. The proposed development that Erith residents now object to go against these original ambitions. The objections are:- This would mean the loss of key green space in Erith. Aside from the Riverside Gardens there is very little open green space in Erith for communities to enjoy. It was a criticism of the Council’s Growth Strategy, by the GLA, that not enough provision for green space was allowed for in their regeneration plans. It is too costly to lose another Erith asset. The development includes no affordable housing allocation, in spite of there being a great need for this kind of housing. It will be sold at market value. Leader of Bexley Council Teresa O’Neill, indicated in an email to the Think Tank that BexleyCo will ‘prioritise’ Bexley residents when the properties are sold, but refused to expand on any detail about how this might be done. It would mean the removal of the majority of 20 mature trees to make way for the development and a car park; and the remaining trees would likely not survive because of the trauma to roots. It would mean the loss of light for residents living in the existing flats that surround the park. There are no provisions for additional civic infrastructure. In fact, there are no plans for new nurseries, schools or doctor’s surgeries in the whole of Erith, despite huge increases in population size owing to recent and in-progress new builds, many of them on West Street. This green space plays or could play an important role in connecting old and new Erith – at one end of West Street is the town’s oldest building St John’s Church, and at the other end the current town centre. Local residents also question the tactics being used to push this development forward; Residents have been given only days to have their say regarding the plans, as the deadline set by Bexley Council is 02 December. A public exhibition, held on one evening, was also poorly publicised and announced with little notice. In 2003, when the new build flats were constructed, residents were promised that this area of land would remain a park. In 2015, the council delivered consultation on about 30 pieces of land which included the West Street Park. At the time, local residents strongly opposed plans to build on the park. However, these consultation reports were never published and now cannot be located. The BexleyCo representative was not aware of this consultation, and didn’t deem it relevant. The developer is BexleyCo, a private company that is 100 percent owned by Bexley Council. This raises questions about accountability and use of public funds. In the Bexley Growth Strategy there is a commitment to enhance social and green infrastructure for the wellbeing of the borough’s residents and its environment; there is little evidence of this in the current proposals, and no information is available on the bigger picture for Erith’s regeneration, therefore making a valued judgement impossible". As predicted, the protests from local residents were ignored by Bexley Council, and the land sold off for redevelopment. More on this story in the weeks to come.
The end video this week is some historical footage shot in Erith, Crayford, Bexleyheath and Welling in what appears to be the mid 1950's. The film is mostly silent, with the occasional piece of period music. Do give it a watch and let me know what you think by emailing me at email@example.com.