Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bexley Beer Festival 2014.

For only the second time in its nine year history, the Bexley Beer Festival was blessed with stunningly good weather. The event was held at the Old Dartfordians club in Bexley Village, and was very well attended indeed. Last year the visitors had to crowd into the main clubhouse building, and huddle together against the freezing temperature. This year the beer was served from a large marquee to the rear of the main building, which was a far more pleasant experience. on top of the already friendly and congenial atmosphere, a very civilised game of cricket took place on the green owned by the club, which many of the attendees were free to watch. Click on the panoramic view above to see just what the event was like - very laid back and civilised. Thanks to the Rev for supplying the wide screen photo. If you fancy playing a game of "Where's Wally?" (or in this case "Where's Pewty?") see if you can see me in the picture. I am hidden away somewhere in the shot. Answers on a postcard, please. Better still, leave a comment below.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich – our “local” hospital has been the subject of an in – depth investigation recently, and the results have been released this week. They do not make for encouraging reading. The report author, the Chief Inspector of Hospitals found that the Accident and Emergency department was “not fit for purpose”. The essence of the findings were that there were too few staff on duty, many of which were agency temps, rather than permanent staff. There were long delays in seeing patients, which often exceeded the four hour maximum the official guidelines stipulate, there was a lack of capacity to accommodate the number of patients requiring treatment, and the process for transferring patients from Accident and Emergency to a ward was inadequate. All of the points raised were directly or indirectly the result of chronic and ongoing under staffing. Bearing in mind that the Queen Elizabeth is the prime hospital for South East London, and if you live in the local area it is the most likely place for you to be taken should you require the services of an ambulance, it does somewhat focus the concentration. Not only was the Accident and Emergency department in trouble, but patients on general wards reporting that there were so few staff available that it could take thirty minutes to get a call bell answered. From my own limited experience of the hospital, the staff are very good and professional, but it would seem that there are just too few of them. I don’t know if the results of the report will get the hospital additional funding for extra medical staff to be employed, but plainly something needs to be done to address the problem of chronic understaffing.

The skyline over Erith is now starting to return to normal. The large orange tower crane that has loomed over Walnut Tree Road for the last year or so has gone. It would seem that construction on the new Bexley College campus has now reached a point where heavy lifting is no longer required. I must admit that I almost miss the sight of the crane, though I doubt that the residents of Stonewood Road, Cricketers Close and Tranquil Rise will be so keen. The crane, and the new college main building structure have obscured the Clarke belt from their satellite dishes. To explain, the Clarke belt is the area of geosynchronous orbit where communications satellites are located. It is named after science fiction author Sir Arthur C Clarke, who created the concept in the 1940’s for a story he was writing.  The effect of the new college building for a handful of local residents is that they can no longer watch Sky TV. I would imagine that Virgin are rubbing their hands with glee. Their fibre optic cable TV does not require access to satellites. I would think that a swap to cable TV would be the most pragmatic solution for those in close proximity to the new building. The mention of new building brings me back to last weeks’ lead story – the construction of a passenger lift at Bexleyheath station, despite there being little actual need for it. Reader Paul B commented “As a regular user of Bexleyheath station (long time commuter), I was amazed when I saw we were getting lifts. There are two perfectly good road bridges (with pavements) at either end of the station. To go from one platform to another using these existing bridges (rather than the station footbridge) takes but a few minutes. To my knowledge, no work was being done on the footbridge prior to the installation of the lifts began”. This is an interesting observation; my contact told me that the reason that the lift was being installed was that as maintenance work was being carried out on the passenger footbridge anyway, the installation of a lift was deemed to be cost effective, as contractors would already be working on the site. What Paul says is that this may not actually have been the case. If any other reader has information regarding this, please contact me at – you can remain completely anonymous if you so wish.

May 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of Laser 558, the offshore radio station that for a brief period between 1984 and 1986 became the most popular music radio station in the UK.  Laser was known for its fast paced format “you are never more than a minute away from the music”, and exclusively employed American DJ’s, including some, like Charlie Wolf, who went on to become household names. It all sounded very glamorous, and nothing like any rather more staid British radio station of the period. Most listeners believed the story that the station was crewed and operated exclusively by Americans, and supplied from mainland Europe, and therefore operating completely legally. The reality was that whilst the broadcasters were all US citizens, the station and the supplies all came covertly from the UK – the main supply point was Herne Bay.  The Laser ship was called the M.V Communicator – it was a converted hydrographic survey vessel originally names the Guardline Tracker. The work to convert the ship to a marine broadcasting station was carried out in Port Everglades in Florida – if you ever see a rerun of the Miami Vice episode “Phil the Shill” (the one that guest starred Phil Collins) there is a long aerial tracking shot of Crockett and Tubbs driving through Port Everglades – and the M.V Communicator can clearly be seen whilst it was being converted to a radio ship. When Laser 558 first came on air from the North Sea, the station tried using a novel wire antenna suspended from a helium balloon. Whoever thought of this idea clearly had no concept of the weather frequently experienced in the area. The strong, gusty and changeable winds soon destroyed the balloon antenna, and a conventional tower array was built to replace it. Laser quickly picked up a massive following in both the UK and Europe. It had a strong, loud signal on Medium Wave, it played far more music that BBC Radio One, and operated a format of top 40 pop and familiar oldies, played back to back. The sound was slick and very professional, and soon listeners started to defect from local radio and BBC national stations to Laser. At this point the government became worried – they could not let this upstart pirate take all of their precious listeners from the BBC and ILR stations. A ship called the Dioptric Surveyor was despatched by the Department of Trade and Industry Radio Investigation Service to monitor both Laser 558 and Radio Caroline, in what became known as the “Eurosiege”. It was soon apparent that Laser, rather than Caroline was the real target. This was mainly due to the constant on air jibes and arch comments made by Laser DJ’s – most notably by Charlie Wolf, the station motor mouth. Soon a spoof record was released called ”I Spy for the DTI” by the Moronic Surveyors (actually the Laser DJ’s) which got heavy play on Laser, and got into the lower reaches of the charts. In contrast, Radio Caroline continued in their policy of not annoying the authorities, and they carried on pretty much unmolested. Eventually a mixture of running low on supplies, bad weather (the Communicator was not an ideal ship for the North Sea and its heavy swell – it rolled terribly, unlike the Radio Caroline ship the M.V Ross Revenge – a massive, former ice breaking trawler which was solid as a rock in rough seas) and a lack of advertising revenue caused the crew to bring the ship in, under escort from the DTI. The other reason for the failure of Laser was its management, which was pretty financially incompetent, and also a few suppliers that managed to con a large amount of cash out of the station for very little in return. The whole project lasted only around eighteen months, but it did shake up UK radio, which up until that time was legally restricted as to the amount of music it was allowed to play. The “needle time” rules dictated that fifty percent of broadcasting time had to be dedicated to speech; this was later relaxed when it was found that the audiences for Laser 558 were primarily attracted by the stations policy of “never more than a minute from the music”.  In contrast Radio Caroline continued at sea for another six years,  which was when my own involvement happened. Back when Laser and Caroline were both broadcasting to Northern Europe, I was still at school – I recall many occasions when there would be scuffles in the 6th form common room when some pupils wanted to listen to Laser on the ancient radiogram we had, whilst I wanted to listen to Caroline. Strangely I cannot recall anyone wanting to listen to Radio One at the time. I think that just about says it all.

Going about as far as it is possible to go in the opposite scale of radio station, the photo above shows an old and abandoned building in the grounds of Erith and District Hospital. I have to make an appeal; if anyone has any information or period photos of Radio Erith when it was operational, could you please get in contact with me? So far, nobody has any memories or information about the long closed hospital radio station, and I can find nothing online either. If you volunteered on the station, or know someone who did, please drop me a line to, or leave a comment below.

Bexley Police are being equipped with wearable video cameras (the Police terminology is Body Worn Video, or BWV) to record incidents for possible use as evidence. As you may have gathered from my previous postings, I have severe misgivings over the way in which face recognition technology can be misused in order to form a database which records where an individual goes, what they do when they get there, and a host of other personal behaviours. Despite this, my overall feeling in respect of the Police being equipped with cameras is that this is a good thing, both for the police, and for members of the public. It will remove the possibility of dispute in the event of an incident, in places where wearable cameras have already been deployed (including some U.S states) the level of disputes about what took place has dropped considerably once the video footage was released. It also protects the public – with the caveat that any cameras should be permanently on, and the video footage should be non editable by the police officer. Unfortunately I have received a letter in an Email from Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling, the Borough Commander, which contains some frequently asked questions on the subject. I it would appear that the cameras will be switched on and off at will by individual officers. Personal video recorders are becoming increasingly widespread, as the price falls and their storage capacity increases. It is getting quite usual to see private drivers fitting them to their car windscreen to record any potential road accident – for some reason the Russians seem particularly keen on this approach – though whether this has any reflection on their overall standard of driving, I could not say. Anyway, the letter I received was addressed to "Dear (insert name of stakeholder)" so I am not exactly being personally favoured! Some pertinent points from it are outlined below:-

I am writing to let you know that Bexley Borough has been selected to take part in the Metropolitan Police Service’s pilot of body worn video (BWV) equipment. You may have seen some debate and publicity around the use of these cameras in recent months. Our Borough will be taking part in the largest urban trial of this technology in the world to date. I think it is therefore essential to inform you as to what the pilot will look like locally. As always, I would be keen to hear feedback, so I would be grateful if you could cascade this information as you see fit. Below I have listed some ‘Frequently asked questions’ in respect of the cameras, and I hope they will prove informative. 

Which officers are using BWV? 

Front line emergency response officers from two teams on this Borough will be using the cameras, as well as armed response officers from the MPS Firearms command, who may be deployed on the Borough from time to time on patrol or in response to incidents. 

The reason only two teams are being issued with the cameras at the moment is because we would like to assess how productivity and performance is affected by the teams using the cameras as opposed to those teams without them. By having teams on the same Borough with and without cameras, this is the most efficient way of ensuring that other local factors remain the same. 

Why use BWV at all? 

BWV provides an additional option for officers to gather evidence at incidents. 

BWV cameras have already been used in the MPS and in other forces to good effect. The cameras can capture evidence of criminal behaviour and can help to ‘set the scene’ for the court at a later date. 

By capturing this evidence, officers can spend less time writing statements and completing paperwork at the station. This allows them to spend more time patrolling and responding to incidents in the community. 

The use of BWV in other countries has been shown to moderate the behaviour of people present at incidents, resulting in less of force by officers and reduced complaints against police. It is hoped this will help to ensure public confidence in police actions. 

Evidence from other forces in the UK has shown that, where BWV is key evidence, guilty pleas at the first opportunity at court rise significantly - this means reduced burdens across the Criminal Justice System, not just in policing. 

When will officers be using the BWV? Will it be ‘always on?’ 

No - the use of BWV will be ‘incident specific’ - officers will switch on the camera when they would ordinarily be considering recording an incident or interaction by conventional means - for example, a statement or notebook entry - or if they feel that there would be evidential value in recording the incident. 

Officers will, when practicable, tell those present when they are recording and when they are about to switch off the camera. They will usually only switch the camera off when the incident has concluded or where there is no further evidential value to be had in continued recording. 

To have the cameras ‘always on’ may result in private or confidential interactions with the public being recorded and also may represent a significant intrusion into the privacy of those who might be caught on camera. 

As well as this, continual recording will result in massive amounts of data being retained and stored by the police, which would result in increased logistical problems in back office functions. 

What is the pilot going to measure? How long will it last? 

At this stage the pilot is expected to last for the next financial year. 

The pilot will be measuring a number of outcomes including: criminal justice outcomes, complaints against police, use of force by police, amount of time saved in administration tasks and the impact on public confidence through the use of cameras. 

The pilot will compare the performance of those officers issued with the cameras against those without cameras. It is hoped that the pilot will be able to demonstrate improvements in these key areas. 

How does the BWV work? 

The BWV camera is a video and audio recording device. Depending on the model, the device is either mounted on the body or worn on a head mounting. 

The camera records footage onto an internal and secure hard drive. Footage recorded can then be uploaded to MPS servers for use as evidence at court or other proceedings. 

What about rights to privacy? 

It is understandable that some people may be concerned about officer’s recording their interactions with the public at incidents. They may be worried that footage concerning them may be held on police data servers. 

This is a key reason why officers will not indiscriminately record all interactions and activity. This is to ensure that any intrusion into private lives is kept to the minimum level necessary. 

All footage recorded on BWV in the MPS is subject to legal safeguards and guidance set by the Information Commissioner’s office and the Home Office. 

Footage that is not likely to be of evidential value will be removed from the system within a very short time - the current guidance is within 31 days. 

Footage that is retained is subject to regular review and, if no longer required or likely to be required as evidence, will again be weeded. 

People who have been recorded have the right to see footage of them that has been retained by the MPS. See our website -  for details on how to obtain this footage. 

How do I give feedback or find out more? 

A key consideration for the MPS pilot is to gauge feedback from the public and London’s communities about their feelings around BWV. 

You can give your feedback and/or comments to your local Safer Neighbourhoods Team or you can find out how to give feedback to the MPS at

Overall I think this trial is a good move; I just have reservations about the potential for a bad cop to switch the recording off midway through an encounter if they thought it might go badly for them if the footage was filmed and later reviewed. What do you think? Either leave a comment below, or drop me a line to

Local historian Ken Chamberlain has been busy - he recently sent me the following piece on a historic steam engine that originally worked in Erith, before it was restored: In March 1932 a new Bagnall 0-4-0 steam locomotive was delivered to the Fraser and Chalmers engineering factory in Erith. For many years the engine was a familiar sight in Nordenfeldt Road, crossing West Street. It was made redundant in 1969 and sold to a private buyer, a member of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton Road. There it has been painstakingly restored and over the May Bank Holiday weekend was on display in full steam. The first photograph shows the engine working beneath the gantry of Messrs Talbot Estates in the late 1930s. The site is now redundant but the location is still recognisable from Sandcliffe Road, with the exterior wall of Fraser’s on the left. The houses to the right are those of Crusoe Road and Friday Road. The second photo (below) is the Loco fully restored and in steam at Quainton Road earlier this month. Only the colour has changed.

You may recall that not very long ago, Jeremy Clarkson test drove a giant, reproduction 1930's Blower Bentley, which instead of having the usual supercharged 4.5 litre engine, had a 27 litre V12 Rolls - Royce Merlin engine, as used in the Supermarine Spitfire. The car was a one - off project built to a customer special order by bespoke engineering company Bob Petersen Engineering. At the time, the owner of the one - off car was not mentioned. It obviously had to be a car enthusiast with a great deal of money, as the car was worth well in excess of a million pounds. Recently, American comedian and TV chat show host Jay Leno started a new, YouTube only television show called Jay Leno's Garage, which showcases cars from his collection - he and other experts talk about the model in question, then it is test driven. As well as being exceedingly wealthy, Jay Leno has reputedly got the World's largest private car collection - though in the nature of being private, this is impossible to verify. His collection is certainly huge with over 880 vehicles, and is housed in a giant warehouse on an industrial estate somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Understandably the precise location is kept secret. In a recent edition of the show, Jay Leno revealed that he was the owner of the 27 litre, Merlin engined Bentley, that Jeremy Clarkson had so adored. You can see the episode below - please feel free to comment. Enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment