Wednesday the 19th of May marked the eighteenth anniversary of the death by hit and run of local girl Gemma Rolfe, 12, who was killed when the car she was travelling in with her stepfather was hit by a stolen van in Slade Green on May 19th, 2003. The Erith School pupil, who was on her way to Girl Guides at the time, had to be cut from the wreckage but died at the scene. No one has ever been charged in connection with Gemma’s death. Their car was hit by a stolen white Austin Maestro van and Gemma was killed – she was cut out of her Step Dad's wrecked Suzuki Vitara, but did not survive the ordeal. The driver of the stolen van then made off, and has never been reliably identified, and it is thought that some local residents may have had a part in concealing his identity. Now on the 18th anniversary of the crime, it would be appropriate for the cold case to be reexamined; I know that Gemma's case has never been formally closed. Surely someone must know something about this killing?
Last week it was announced that electric scooters - which up until now have been illegal to use on public land - would be partially decriminalised. Users will be able to rent an electric scooter to use on the road - not the pavement, in certain designated areas of London for a trial period of one year. Five boroughs – Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond and the City of London – will participate in the 12-month trial, which starts on June the 7th. E-scooters will also be available in Canary Wharf and can be ridden through, but not hired or left, in the wider borough of Tower Hamlets. The London Borough of Bexley is not currently thought to be participating in the trial. Three firms – Dott, Lime and Tier – have been selected by Transport for London to take part in the Government-backed trial. This will assess safety and whether riders obey the rules of the road. The scooters will be limited to 12.5 mph in London, 2.5 mph slower than permitted in trials in the rest of the country. Lights will be automatically illuminated during the ride, and an audible alert can be activated to warn pedestrians. The scooters will be allowed in cycle lanes in the test boroughs, but pavement use is still banned. Privately owned scooters will still be illegal on anything other than private land. Regular contributor Miles, who is a responsible electric scooter owner, has some interesting thoughts on the situation. Miles has a deep and some would say unique insight into the subject; he writes:- "I find it somewhat dubious how they've approached this scheme. The alleged justification is the government, and by extension TFL will have more control around how they are used, and where they can go. Yet we already know they'll be used irresponsibly by inexperienced riders, possibly under the influence not wearing the appropriate safety wear. Where this has been trialled before the scooters have been typically under powered (250 Watts), are in generally poor condition and are treated appallingly (given no mechanical sympathy, and worse, dumped and vandalised). A few companies (Lime?) are also working around the trial rules by "renting" scooters to consumers to get around the private ownership rules. Essentially if you have the money, you can keep a scooter as long as you want. Not only are we seeing dubiously legal workarounds, some owners are already repainting the livery of their scooters to stay under the radar - somewhat defeating the point. Having owned a model similar to the ones they plan to use, they are incredibly under powered, meaning they are dangerous to mix with road traffic. In fact there's prior art to demonstrating this is a bad idea, 50 cc petrol mopeds are not allowed on motorways. It's always unwise to mix vehicles of significantly varying capabilities and driver experience. You only need to look around to see we have a mixture of scooters riding on the pavement AND on the road when in reality they should be on the road, and ideally on segregated highways (cycle lanes) where viable. The government are so incredibly late to the game, the cat is already out of the bag. These scooters are everywhere now, the PLEV (Personal Light Electric Vehicle) market has completely exploded compared to when I had a scooter 8~ years ago. Clawing back control is going to be incredibly hard, if not impossible. They should have enabled PLEV riders to register and insure their vehicles, and maybe introduced some sort of compulsory basic training (as they do with L plate motorcycles). It's quite clear PLEVs are the future of short range commuting and last mile travel, it'll now be a catch up game to make it viable. They need to immediately reboot the cycle superhighway and segregation schemes that just fizzled out (and in a few cases, reversed!). It seems odd to treat a PLEV any differently than a pushbike which, if you've ever watched Tour de France, are quite capable of significant speeds. Lime Cycle scheme was originally going to be trialled in Bexley, yet nothing came of it. That would have been a great opportunity for the council to understand the benefits and foibles of running such a scheme - similar to EV charger roll out which seemed to receive a token, and rather late backing. The authorities are currently classifying the majority of PLEVs, with the minor exception of low powered eBikes, as unlicensed vehicles. not to be used on the public highway or pavement, no exceptions. The penalties of which are the same as if you were to drive an unlicensed car or motorcycle which I believe is incredibly disproportionate to the "crime", going back to my email this weekend, the threat of points on your license, seizure of property just leads to PLEV owners ironically using cars/vans - often petrol/diesel powered - to ferry around another vehicle that is quite capable of travelling under its own power. Furthermore it encourages dangerous behaviour in the presence of the police, a similar thread in a PLEV forum filled with owners whose opinion is now to avoid and escape at speed if necessary to avoid capture, which dare I suggest, makes sense when you spend potentially thousands on some of this equipment plus the risk of impacting your driving license. It's been handled in such a poor way. Our towns and cities would be far more pleasant and cleaner with PLEVs quietly wafting around, rather than enormous Chelsea tractors and noisy, expensive and unreliable trains. They just need to be enabled to operate safely and lawfully rather than criminalised". Some thought provoking points, I am sure you will agree. Comments and feedback should be sent to me via my usual Email address - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week I featured a story from World War 2, about three US airmen who died when their Douglas A-20 Havoc medium bomber crashed on Anchor Bay Farm, on what is now the Frobisher Road housing estate in Erith. This story prompted me to undertake some historical research, and what I found really surprised me. Opposite Anchor Bay Farm on Manor Road, Erith, was (and still is) a terrace of cottages which date back to 1861. Behind these and the on the banks of the River Thames is a parcel of land on which nowadays you can find the Abbey Car Breakers, City Batteries (formerly Vinton Metals) and EMR - European Metal Recycling. All three organisations use land that used to be occupied by an absolutely massive factory operated by The British Fibrocement Works. The factory - which was the largest of its type in the UK, manufactured cement items which were reinforced and made fireproof by the addition of Asbestos fibres. This company manufactured Asbestos cement sheets under the "Fibrent" name, used for walls and ceilings, and produced slates for roofing. The company expanded its operation beyond the original site, which previously had been an iron works, to incorporate land to the south, this of which was formerly occupied by Anchor Bay Farm and a large brick works. You can see an aerial view of the factory from February 1939 above - click on the image to see a larger version. You can see a number of other aerial photos of the factory and surrounding area by clicking here. Nowadays the production of Asbestos containing products is banned by international law, due to the highly toxic nature of the material. Much of the Asbestos used in the British Fibrocement Works was originally mined in the Ukraine. Parts of the factory buildings still exist today.
The building in the photo above (click on it for a larger view) is in Wheatley Terrace Road, Erith. Nowadays it forms part of the storage area of Abbey Car Breakers, but it once was the engineering machine shop for the British Fibrocement Works. This was where the Asbestos fibre reinforced cement manufacturing machinery was repaired and maintained, and also where specialist tools were made. Now the area is exclusively industrial, but at the time the aerial photo was taken, it was actually also residential, with houses directly opposite the factory, and around the corner in a road which was called Rumford Place, which sadly no longer exists - the houses in Rumford Place were badly damaged during World War 2 bombing, and were subsequently demolished. As can be seen in the promotional advert at the start of this article, British Fibrocement Works carried out a lot of contracts for The Admiralty; indeed, they had an exclusive contract for the supply of Asbestos insulation and fire protection for Royal Navy vessels for several decades. All of the submarines, and pretty much all of the surface vessels refitted at the huge Royal Navy dockyard at Chatham in the pre and post World War 2 era, up until the early 1970's used large quantities of Asbestos, both as pipe insulation, and for fire – proofing. Many of the civilian and military personnel were exposed to Asbestos dust during engineering works. As is now well known, exposure to Asbestos particles over time can cause Asbestosis, as well as several types of cancer. Nationwide there are nearly five thousand asbestos-related deaths a year (about half of which are from mesothelioma). The Medway area, which includes Chatham Dockyard, is in the UK’s top four for asbestos related deaths. A total of 104 people died from mesothelioma in Medway between 2006 and 2010. This is way above the number one would expect from such as geographically small area. I understand that several legal cases were lodged by former Chatham Dockyard workers with the Ministry of Defence over Asbestos related illnesses allegedly caused to people working there in the past. I ought to make it abundantly clear that the dockyard (now a popular museum and film location – it is regularly used by the producers of “Call the Midwife” to stand in for 1960’s Poplar, and the producers of films including Sherlock Holmes – a Game of Shadows, Les Miserables, Children of Men, and The World is Not Enough have used the place as a location) is absolutely not now an Asbestos or radiation risk. The dockyard makes for a fine family day out, with plenty to see and do for all ages. It even has an excellent pub / restaurant in The Ship and Trades, run by Shepherd Neame. You can read about the Chatham Historic Dockyard Museum here.
Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. As mentioned previously, there are currently ongoing issues with obtaining reports from all of the local Police wards. I understand that a meeting is scheduled to discuss the issue on Monday. The reports that have been published this week read as follows:- Barnehurst ward - no report this week.
Belvedere ward:-"Two bikes seized from people riding anti-socially in Thamesmead. We won't have any of this behaviour on our wards #ukbikelife down at Norman Road, we're coming for you!" Bexleyheath ward:-"On Thursday 13/5/21, a burglary in Rochester Way. On Saturday 15/5/21 a theft from person in The Broadway. On Tuesday 18/5/21 a robbery in The Broadway. Please remember to keep belongings safe when visiting The Broadway, purses, wallets and phones need to be kept out of easy reach from criminals". Crayford ward:- "A burglary occurred on the 3rd May, a blue off-road bike was stolen from a shed in Wolseley Close. A black Ford was stolen from the layby in Perry Street between Thursday 13th and Friday 14th of May. A black motorbike was stolen from London Road on Tuesday 18th May, it was driven off toward Crayford Way. There is a focus on violence against women and girls, please see advice on our web page www.met.police.uk for further advice on personal safety, this advice, of course, is relevant to men and boys too". Erith ward - no report this week. Northumberland Heath ward- no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week. Thamesmead East ward - no report this week. West Heath ward:- "No burglaries have been reported to us this week. One report of criminal damage in Bedonwell Road took place between Wednesday 12/05/21 18:00 and Thursday 13/05/21 08:00. Criminal damage to a motor vehicle in Brampton Road on Saturday 15/05/21 at 21:07".