Two weeks ago, I featured an article on the unusual X-Ray facility at Erith Hospital - the only Grade II listed wartime bunker in a hospital in the UK. I had contacts from several readers who had distinct memories of the hospital when it was a general surgical unit, and also from a reader who recalled that it had its own hospital radio station. Some years ago I wrote a feature on the station, and recounted the memories of a chap called Derek Smith, who was a very active part of it; I am revisiting the article now, which has been extensively revised and updated. These are Derek's memories of the volunteer - run station:- "My involvement started in about 1973 when I was given contact details for the Chairman. I rang him and was invited along to the studio in the old surface air-raid shelter just inside the gates. The building had been used as a storeroom but at some time the radio equipment rack for the BBC had been put in to supply the three bedside channels. If I remember correctly the channels were Radio 1, 2 and 4. I could never really pin down when Radio Erith actually started - there was a sort of vague 'about 5 years ago'. The station was run by a committee headed by the founding member Dennis Burrage, who I seem to remember lived in Slade Green. He must have been well into his 40s when I joined and I believe he has since died. There was also an elderly lady named Joyce, who lived in a very dilapidated house in Queens Road while waiting for re-housing. The engineering member of the committee was Terry Brett, a BBC engineer who had been building a new studio mixer (when time allowed - which wasn't often). In terms of presenters other than Joyce and Dennis there was Brian Lee, another chap who was OCD about Johnny Mathis, and Alan. The last named was a great experimenter and would often sit at home getting steadily drunk making up tapes to play on his show. His 'piece de resistance' was to mix Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of The Moon with The Clangers - interesting but not quite sure what the patients made of it! Finally there was Peggy, the hospital switchboard operator, who presented the Wednesday night request hour. I was 'interviewed' and sound checked and given the job of engineering the request show. The studio was small and consisted of a small 'green room', the studio control room and a presenter's booth. The control room was set for both engineered and self op programmes. Peggy was a great laugh but always presented her programmes with style - the patients loved her. Together we revamped the hour long request show as a two-hander before Peggy disappeared and I carried on with a general music programme for another hour. Normal broadcasting was carried out from 7pm to 9.30ish, with extra hours on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday. We gradually attracted more young presenters but these were not always welcomed by the Chairman - who had very set ways. Erith being a small hospital, had very few listeners so we decided to spread our wings and raised enough money to rent a post office line to Dartford West Hill. This enabled us to broadcast to both hospitals simultaneously but relied on the hospital engineer at West Hill switching us on at set times. Unfortunately our Chairman had rubbed the guy up the wrong way and he could be less than co-operative, so we were broadcasting to nothing as far as Dartford were concerned most evenings. The friction between some of us younger members and Dennis came to a head in early 1977. There were big changes in the world of hospital radio but Radio Erith wasn't keeping up. Brian and I suggested we should move our studios to Dartford and broadcast back to Erith - Dartford being the much bigger hospital. This suggestion was met with mounting anger from Dennis, and at a hostile committee meeting Brian and I announced we were moving to West Hill and were in talks with the Hospital Administrator to find a suitable building to house the studio. West Hill were delighted and allowed us to use an old store room over A1 ward as the studio - one great benefit was that it had a couple of large windows that looked out over the hospital, which made us feel a bit more part of it. In July 1977 we attended the Dartford Show as the fledgling 'Dart Radio', and received a lot of support. Part of the money raised from the show was donated to us to buy equipment and by September 77 Dart Radio was operational. I left after about a year to join the local cable station 'Greenwich Television', and Brian went on to become a star in local politics. with the destruction of West Hill, Dart Radio moved in with Radio Joyce Green and has now been absorbed by Valley Park Radio at Darent Valley. Radio Erith continued on after we left but not for too long. Don't have a date for closure but it was winding down by the end of the 70s and with the closure of the operating theatres in the early 80s the need for a dedicated hospital radio station had gone. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures - there was an article about the station in the Erith Times in about 1975 I think, with a photograph of some of the presenters. Funnily enough the sign outside the old studio that you featured was made by me in 1974 - so it has survived OK (probably better than me!)" Brilliant stuff from Derek – many thanks for a fascinating recollection. It would be brilliant to think that Radio Erith could perhaps be resurrected as a local community radio station, though knowing the costs and bureaucracy involved in such an endeavour, I doubt that this is a wish that would be fulfilled, although I would love to be proved wrong. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As previously described, E-Scooters are shortly to be available for hire in a test project covering several London boroughs - but not for the time being in Bexley. As you can see above, preparations for the roll out of hired scooters has already begun. Thanks to Miles for the photograph. As I have written before, there are currently no plans to legalise the personal ownership or use of E-Scooters in public places, though this rule is so commonly ignored as to really make the regulation irrelevant. It occurs to me that when the E-Scooter hire test project gets under way, one of the largest challenges to the operators will be what retailers euphemistically refer to as "shrinkage" - or more correctly, theft by customers. I and others are concerned that a significant percentage of the E-Scooters will be stolen, the onboard tracking system disabled, and either kept for personal use, or most likely broken for spares which will then be sold on. Many E-Scooters - in the same way as conventional cars and motor cycles are often worth considerably more as spares, than they are in whole form. I can see a lively black market in stolen E-Scooters and their components soon being established. Time no doubt will tell. I also have reservations regarding a much more well established form of electric transportation - the electric mobility scooters used by the elderly and the mobility impaired. These mobility scooters can be real a menace when operated irresponsibly – they may have several humorous alternative names such as the "Nanbretta" or the "Frinton Ferrari" (an offshoot of the old saying “Harwich for the continent, Frinton for the incontinent"). This hides a sad story that quite a large proportion of mobility scooters can travel at substantially more than normal walking pace; when this is combined with the lack of compulsory training or the need to have third party insurance it does leave a legal minefield for both the operator of such a vehicle and also the members of the public than encounter them. I firmly believe that mobility scooters are a good thing; they enable people who otherwise might find it difficult to get out and about, and stay in contact with general society. The old situation with people becoming housebound and isolated when their ability to move under their own steam became impaired has become far less common. I think it vital for elderly and mobility impaired people to retain their independence. The problem is that a small minority treat the scooters as some kind of fairground ride. I think that there should be some kind of compulsory formal training for mobility scooter owners, on a similar basis to the (voluntary) cycling proficiency test, along with a compulsory insurance policy covering third party liability. Some mobility scooters seem to be capable of travelling much faster than the fifteen miles per hour limit that is meant to be applicable to such vehicles; indeed I have seen a couple of elderly ladies on the pavement beside the Erith Construction HQ (the former Job Centre) in Queen’s Road who were racing each other – it reminded me of the Monty Python “Hell’s Grannies” sketch. It is only a matter of time before a mobility scooter rider, or a pedestrian is seriously injured unless some action is taken. What do you think? Email me at email@example.com.
I normally write about the positive aspects of living in the local area, along with pointing out where things could be done better; However, there is a story from the relatively recent past which a far darker side – it concerns an individual who the press at the time called “The Plumstead Ripper”. Perhaps not since Jack the Ripper prowled the streets of East London has there been a killer as depraved as Robert Napper. Yet his name is hardly known. A flawed police fixation on criminal profiling that led to the jailing of an innocent man - Colin Stagg - for Napper's most notorious crime, the murder and mutilation of Rachel Nickell, denied the killer and rapist of his notoriety. Robert Napper was the eldest child of Brian Napper, a driving instructor, and his wife Pauline. He was born in Erith in February 1966, and is considered to be probably the most notorious son of that town. Napper was brought up on the Abbey Road Estate in Plumstead. His background was troubled and dysfunctional. The marriage of his parents was violent and Napper witnessed violent attacks on his mother. His parents divorced when he was nine, and he and his siblings (two brothers and a sister) were placed in foster care and underwent psychiatric treatment. The psychiatric counselling Napper had at the Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell lasted for six years. At age of thirteen, Napper underwent a personality change after a family friend sexually assaulted him on a camping holiday. The offender was jailed, but Napper became introverted, obsessively tidy and reclusive, according to his mother. His Asperger's Syndrome was worsened by his experiences, and he began to develop Paranoid Schizophrenia. He attended Abbey Wood Comprehensive School, where classmates said he was “despised”. One said: “No one wanted to sit next to him in class. He did not have any friends and he was teased a lot about his spots. In a game of football once, when he headed the ball, the game stopped because no other boy would go near the boy after it had touched his forehead". Napper left school at 16 with qualifications in seven subjects, lived at home until the age of 21 and took a variety of manual jobs, including work as a warehouse man in the publications and forms store for the Ministry of Defence. His workmates considered him dull and boring: he turned up on time and did not speak much. But undetected by his colleagues and later, the police, his sexual deviancy became ever more extreme. It started with flashing and voyeurism, then it escalated into rape and finally into murder. Before he killed Rachel Nickell, Napper was suspected of four rapes, and he has since been convicted of three of them. Those rapes were part of a series of 106 sexual assaults known as the Green Chain rapes, in south London in the early 1990s near where he lived. While Napper has admitted his involvement in four of them (one never got to trial), it is suspected, although has never been proved, that he committed all of them. In 1986, Napper first came to police attention after being convicted of an offence with a loaded air gun in a public place. In October 1989, police had rejected information conveyed in a phone call from Napper's mother that her son had admitted to perpetrating a rape on Plumstead Common. No case apparently matched the evidence. However, a month earlier a man armed with a knife had attacked a 30-year-old mother of two young children at her house in Plumstead. Police now believe that man was Robert Napper. He let himself in through a rear door which had been opened to let out the family cat after watching the property for some time. He gagged and raped the woman before making his escape. The investigating officers had not looked very hard. Some eight weeks earlier, a 31-year-old mother reported to police that she had been raped in her home in front of her children. The intruder entered the house through the rear door, armed with a Stanley knife and wearing a mask. The woman's house backed on to Plumstead Common. Police had taken DNA from the woman, which had they bothered to interview Napper and take a blood test, they might well have matched to him. It was after this that Napper's mother broke off all contact with him, and she burned all of the photos she had of him. Still in his early twenties, he moved into a bedsit, holding down a string of menial jobs but using his spare time to stalk and choose his victims. A major inquiry was set up after the 1992 attacks. Officers were hunting a perpetrator who showed extreme violence towards his victims, using a knife, and on more than one occasion attacking a woman with her children present. Throughout the inquiry, 106 crimes were identified involving 86 women. And it was in the middle of this inquiry that Rachel Nickell was attacked. Despite similarities between the cases, no one appeared to be joining up the dots. Paul Britton – the well-known criminal profiler a leading influence on the Nickell murder inquiry, was also working on the Green Chain rapes case. Professor Laurence Alison, the chair of forensic psychology at Liverpool University and the author of a book on Napper, told the Guardian: "Frenzied random motiveless knife attacks on women are rare. Even more unusual are frenzied, random knife attacks on women with their young children present. Here was Briton with two of them under his nose and no one noticed." If the police were not drawing the threads together, others were attempting to point them in the right direction and bring Napper out of the darkness. In August 1992, one of his neighbours in Plumstead rang the police to say he looked like the photo fit of the Green Chain rapist. Detectives went to his house, questioned him and asked him to give a blood sample at the local police station. He failed to turn up. On the 15th July 1992 on Wimbledon Common, Napper had stabbed the young mother Rachel Nickell forty-nine times in front of her son Alex, then aged two, who clung on to his mother's body begging her to wake up. Napper was questioned about unsolved attacks on other women during the year, but was eliminated from inquiries, as his false alibi that he had been at work at the time of the murder was not sufficiently investigated by detectives. Officers asked him to visit to a police station on 2 September 1992 and give a DNA sample, but he never turned up. The following day, he was again identified as the man in the E-fit by a caller who identified him as "Bob Napper". Again police visited and asked him to attend a police station to give a sample. An appointment was scheduled for 8 September 1992, but again he failed to turn up. Despite his unwillingness to provide the police with DNA, knowing it would match samples found on the three rape victims, Napper was then ruled out of the rape inquiry simply because he was 6ft 2in and police believed the man they were looking for was 5ft 9in. Three months later in October 1992, Napper was flagged up to the police again when he was arrested over suggestions that he had been stalking a civilian employee at Plumstead police station. Officers searched his bedsit and found a .22 pistol, 244 rounds of ammunition, two knives, a crossbow and six crossbow bolts. Police files from the inquiry show they also found pocket diaries, hand-drawn maps, notes written on the borders of newspapers, and a London A-Z. Part of his fixation appeared to be to target mothers while they were with their young children. He preyed particularly upon women in parks and commons, but would also stalk them at their homes, watching them for days before choosing his moment to attack. In his rented a room at a house on Plumstead High Street, detectives found a padlocked red toolbox, inside of which were his darkest secrets. They discovered a torch, a restraining cord, and medical notes on how to torture people. There was an illustration of the neck showing how the various human muscles work and interact. Another showed the anatomy of the human torso. One hand-written note said “Mengele’s way” – an apparent reference to the Nazi doctor who practised surgical and psychological experiments on living and dead victims. In the notes were references to methods of restraining someone, including the phrase "cling film on the legs". Another note named particular streets and gave map references for them on the A-Z. Pages had been marked with black dots highlighting certain areas; other locations were marked with dashes. They were concentrated in the Plumstead, Eltham and Woolwich areas of South-East London. Three days later he was arrested for possession of a firearm and sentenced to two months in prison. Napper pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition. In court, references were made to his disturbed mental state and a psychiatric report was produced saying he was "without doubt an immediate threat to himself and the public". Napper was given an eight-week custodial sentence and no further inquiries were carried out into the disturbing evidence found at his flat. In April 1993, Napper's fingerprints were found on a tin box discovered buried on Winns Common, neighbouring Plumstead Common. Inside the box was a Mauser handgun. Despite the fingerprint link, Napper was never questioned about the find. In July of the same year, according to police files, Napper's name was logged on an intelligence report after a couple phoned the police to say they had seen a man spying on their neighbour, a young blonde woman who often walked in her flat semi-naked. The husband followed the man, and when police arrived they spoke to Napper, who gave his name and address. The officers' notes read: "Subject strange, abnormal, should be considered as a possible rapist, indecency type suspect." Shortly thereafter, in November 1993, in a house in Plumstead, Napper stabbed 27-year-old Samantha Bisset in her neck and chest, killing her, and then sexually assaulted and smothered her four-year-old daughter, Jazmine Jemima Bisset. In her sitting room, the 6' 2" Napper mutilated Samantha's body, taking away parts of her body as a trophy. The crime scene was reportedly so grisly that the police photographer assigned to the case was forced to take two years' leave after witnessing it. After a fingerprint belonging to Napper was recovered from Samantha's flat, he was arrested, and charged with the murders of Samantha and Jazmine Bisset, in May 1994. Napper was convicted at The Old Bailey in October 1995. He also admitted two rapes and two attempted rapes at this time. From the time of the first Old Bailey trial, he has been held at Broadmoor. In December 1995 he was questioned about Nickell's death but denied any involvement. Napper is also believed to be the "Green Chain Rapist", who carried out at least 70 savage attacks across south-east London over a four-year period ending in 1994. The earliest of the 'Green Chain' rapes have been linked to Napper, and were those he admitted to in 1995. Napper is known to have kept detailed records of the sites of potential and actual attacks on women. As if this was not bad enough, Colin Stagg, an entirely innocent man was initially charged with the murder of Rachel Nickell until, in 2004, advances in DNA profiling revealed Napper's connection to the case. On 18 December 2008, Napper was convicted of the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He also admitted to four other attacks on women. Napper was to be held indefinitely at Broadmoor Hospital. At the same time, Colin Stagg received a public apology from the police, and an unprecedented compensation payment from the Home Office which exceeded £735,000. As he progressed from peeping tom to stalker, then to multiple rapist and finally serial killer, Napper came on to the police radar at least seven times, on at least two occasions displaying behaviour that marked him out as a danger to women. But he was never pursued. Had the links been investigated, the connections would have led detectives to Napper earlier, preventing Colin Stagg from being made a pariah and saving another young mother and her child from murder and depraved mutilation. Now Robert Napper is spending the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital; recent accounts state that he is still highly delusional; he erroneously believes he has a Master’s degree in Maths, had won the Nobel Peace Prize, been awarded medals for fighting in Angola and had millions stashed in a bank in Sidcup. He also believes that his fingers had been blown off by an IRA parcel bomb but had miraculously grown back. The only good news to come out of this sad and disturbing tale is that Napper will never be released from Broadmoor Hospital, and cannot further threaten the public.
Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Unfortunately many reports from the various Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams are once again missing. Barnehurst ward - no report this week.
Belvedere ward:- "The use of Direction to Leave Notices under Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Act 2014, has been authorised by Inspector Lowe for the area of Barnehurst Golf Course with the Boundaries being Lee Verhorevoort Bonsai, A2000, Mayplace Road East and Manor Way. This is due to the anticipated rise in ASB within the area defined by the map. Officers are being deployed to the area to assist with the policing of the dispersal order. This will be in place from 11.00HRS on Tuesday 01/06/2021 to 1059HRS on Thursday 03/06/2021". From Neighbourhood Watch coordinator:- "On Wednesday 2nd June a very elderly resident of Kentish Road who suffers from dementia was approached by a conman at Belvedere station. The conman said to him that a neighbour had told him that he had a water leak. The conman followed the resident back to his house and said that the roof had a loose tile, which he would return to fix and it would cost £115. The resident handed over the money and the conman left". Bexleyheath ward - no report this week. Crayford ward - no report this week. Erith ward:- "The date of the next Erith ward panel will be the 4th August 2021 7 pm at the Exchange Erith. Due to some ASB your Erith team are out today patrolling around car parks and the Town centre, we are working late tonight and will be stopping any large groups of youths". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week.
Thamesmead East ward:- "On Friday 21st May 2021 officers from Thamesmead and Belvedere SNT arrested a male for possession of an offensive weapon, aggravated theft of a vehicle, possession of drugs and driving with no licence and no insurance. Officers attempted to stop a vehicle in Norman Road, Belvedere when it failed to stop for officers. The vehicle managed to temporarily get away until it was found crashed into the central reservation on Yarnton Way. The driver got out of the stolen vehicle and began to run from officers where he was rugby tackled to the ground. He was handcuffed and during the search, a large hunting knife was found down his waist band. This is yet another example of proactive work carried out by your local officers. Violence is our number 1 priority and we are committed to keeping the community safe. We will continue with our proactive campaign and we will get more criminals off our streets". From Police SNT Team - PCSO Buckley:- "Dear residents, We are appealing for volunteers to join our local Ward Panel. You do not need previous experience with ward panels. We would like people who are in touch with their local community and willing to be a voice for them. Anyone who lives, works or volunteers in an area is welcome to join that areas Ward Panel. A Ward Panel is a group of volunteers who come together for meetings three or four times a year. The Ward Panel invite the local police, councillors and local authority to those meetings where they alert them of issues that affect the Ward. The panel jointly devise an action plan for dealing with issues and then hold police/local authority/councillors to account for actions assigned to them. The Safer Neighbourhoods Team arrange and organise the meetings, finding a suitable date and venue. There is usually the ability to attend in person (Once covid restrictions are lifted) or to attend virtually. The meetings last about an hour and consist of input from the Supervisor of your Local Policing Team (Safer Neighbourhoods Team) who will provide you with information on crime data, issues the police are aware of and updates on progress from previous meetings. It is important that all members of the community are represented and heard and that these meetings are representative of the community. This link contains Maps of wards and their boundaries. If you are interested or would like more information about Ward Panels please do contact us on 0208 721 2049 or email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org".
The end video this week is a short film by a visitor to Erith and his experience whilst in the town; it is an interesting perspective from someone who lives outside of the local area. Give it a watch and let me know what you think - Email me at email@example.com.