Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Coal Threat to Pegwell Bay

A possible environmental hazard, to Pegwell Bay. Kent Online reports on the danger of coal waste pollution to one of Kent's coastal gems as it is revealed that the original hoverport slipway was built on a bed of colliery waste.

As the slipway deteriorates, the colliery waste is now coming closer to the surface as the concrete breaks up.

In an inspection of Thanet council’s Local Plan, the Government planning inspector has backed a plan to develop the site as to clean it up would cost too much for the authority.

The inspector admits in his report that the bay is surrounded by wildlife conservation areas and it is only by “an exceptional quirk of planning history it has been blighted by the erection of a huge slipway, which is now derelict”.

Rail Franchise - "Fast Link on Track" - MP

North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale, has welcomed the announcement of the appointment of the new rail operator for Kent as a major step towards the introduction of high-speed domestic trains using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between Kent and London.

"The intention”, says Gale “is that new trains will be running between the tunnel and St. Pancras by 2009" says the MP "and that the service will be literally up to speed in time for the 2012 Olympics.”

“This announcement”, he continues, “has major transport implications for East Kent and those us who have been campaigning for the CTRL domestic service now have some hope that at last the Channel Tunnel project will produce real benefits for those who have hitherto lived "behind the tunnel door". I hope very much that we shall at last realise the potential of an express link to a Thanet Parkway station - with all of the obvious benefits for the development of new passenger services at Manston airport."

An Exchange of Views

The online discussion forum at the Turner Contemporary petition site continues to host a lively exchange of views. Worth catching-up on when you have a minute.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanet from The Air - Now Available as a Book

Hot off the press, “Thanet from the Air” the book of photographs that Michael’s Bookshop in Ramsgate has put together from the more interesting aerial photos taken by me and Bob Shilling over the last year. Landmarks, schools, Margate Football Club, beaches, harbours and much much more!

A small local treasure of a publication along with other new titles from Michael (01843 589500) at only £5.99 which include “The Birchington & Westgate Directory of 1900.”

All great Christmas stocking fillers and fascinating sources of Thanet history, so please support Michael’s work by buying a copy of any of his local works if you can.

Skies Call

Busy day today, thanks to the Daily Express and you’ll see why if you watch Meridian or BBC South East news tonight. Meanwhile, outside its bitterly cold and dismal, so not a great day for filming anything I guess particularly where the view from an aircraft is concerned. (The BBC website story can be found here).

Some really good dialogue running on this website on a number of issues over the last few days. I’m really encouraged to see more people contributing so please keep it up. I know the same issues keep recurring, crime, anti-social behaviour, building, rubbish and so on but at least we have a number of people who are directly involved with such issues, actively engaged on this site.

More later I hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Top Gear Minister

And the winner is… unless I’ve missed a time somewhere; it’s Cllr David Green with 1:51 or under. A better than expected performance on the track from our mostly invisible man and Transport Minister for South Thanet, Steve Ladyman.

Well done Minister! David collects a free flight, to be arranged. Bring a parachute!

Ladyman on Top Gear

Lord help us, Thanet South MP and Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman (allegedly pictured left!!) will be appearing on BBC’s Top Gear motoring programme this Sunday (8PM).

The South Thanet MP is under the spotlight in the “Star In The Car” section where he is judged on his skill behind the wheel and is then marked for a place on the programme’s celebrity leader board.

Would anyone care to open the betting on where he will appear on the results board. I’ll start with 1:52 seconds, about the same speed as David Dimbleby and model, Jordan. Looks as though the winner will get a free aircraft ride with me! Could be worse, you could have won a ride with the Transport Minister.

Meanwhile, Roger Gale has his own plans to lap Mr Ladyman but in a more fuel efficient manner!

As this competition is in danger of expanding, I had better put down some Ts and Cs. Please write down your estimate to the nearest 10th of a second as a comment here. Leave you name. Watch Top Gear on Sunday and if you think you have won then please email me directly! I will announce the winner on Monday. In the event of a draw, I will ask ten year old co-pilot Charlotte to pull the names out of a hat. her decision is final.

Lessons from No Man's Land

A sobering feature from today’s Sunday Times, written by social worker Shaun Bailey, which in parts is as much a warning for parts of Thanet as it is for Tottenham.

“The more liberal we’ve been, the more the poor have suffered. “

“On one of the estates here there are 1,600 young people and kids under the age of 19. The sight of a big group of young people just terrorises most people. This is where it starts. The kids are perceived as a threat. They are dealt with in that manner. Then they take on the role they were handed. Put that with difficult parenting and you’ve got a problem.

“If you talk to those families where children are behaving the worst, you find that the kids have no rules and no boundaries. The reason is that the parents have never had any point at which to put them in place.

Many of the young people I deal with have never spent any meaningful time with their mothers or their fathers. Their parents didn’t do anything with them and they have no set of family rules that govern them.”

This short excerpt is taken from Shaun Bailey's pamphlet. No Man's Land: how Britain's Inner City Youth are Being Failed, to be published tomorrow by the Centre for Policy Studies. www.cps.org.uk

On the Record

An interesting, I think, comment from one of our readers which is worth putting-up to encourage a separate discussion thread. Do we agree or disagree with a well-presented argument?

He or she writes: “I am not a politician, just a council tax payer but I take issue with R Nicholson over the so called success of Westwood cross - it is just the death knell to our high streets - and also the council housing record - Incredibly TDC are proud of the fact that they have some of the lowest rents in the country - which we, the other inhabitants of the area - are paying for while the council tenants get a life of cosseted luxury at little or no cost to themselves.

I live in a mixed development, some council some private, my neighbours are council tenants, a normal family, not geriatric or disabled, yet they get even a drippy tap fixed for them, all the council houses in our road have just had new double glazed windows and doors, although the existing ones (the same as ours) are perfectly OK.

They have all had their gardens done with new topsoil - we have not, the Mears workforce or other maintenance company vans are to be seen every day doing small jobs on these houses - and all for a few pounds rent which in any case will often be paid by the benefits agency, so it’s all a freebie.

Now if these tenants were genuinely destitute I wouldn't be moaning but they mostly have SKY dishes outside and pretty new cars - which I cannot afford - and most of them seem to smoke and party pretty hard.

I am told they pay about £70 per week rent and that includes all upgrades and repairs, my house costs me £160 per week just for mortgage interest and I have to pay for everything myself, it takes two of us working to do it.

It’s just not fair. I want to be a social tenant but don't qualify as I am a hard worker and am not dishonestly claiming benefits.

One neighbour here doesn't work claims benefits as a result of not being able to walk because of gangrene in his feet.

However this seems to not stop him playing football with his five kids in the street.

I could go on and on but won't, it will put my blood pressure up!

And R Nicholson that is what you can be proud of, killing our high streets and supporting a load of scroungers with cheap rents of luxurious houses."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Life's a Gas - Not

British Gas is now the most expensive fuel in the world as the North Sea gas fields give out. Why are we in this mess you might ask?

Firstly, we have a storage problem. Unlike the rest of Europe which averages a sixty day supply in reserve, the UK has reportedly only thirteen days because we never built enough gas reservoirs. Why? Because until quite recently we had the luxury of being able to turn the tap on to rather more gas fields than we have today, on demand and at relatively short notice. As these have run out, more quickly it appears than anticipated, we’ve been caught with our proverbial pants down, with government and the gas companies failing to properly plan against the risk of a sudden and severe winter, lasting longer than well, thirteen days.

What does this mean? In the future, energy bills will continue to climb and families will start to notice the bite. I have already. Worse still, North Sea oil is on the way out between 2008 and 2013 and this has provided us with an enormous “cushion” to the economy, hiding some of our more serious problems behind our oil revenues. Dwindling oil money will lead to much higher taxation and an end to generous public spending and so the Prime Minister best buy his reportedly planned (Royal) Air Force One now while we can afford it and the fuel to go with it.

I predict that by the end of the decade we’ll see many more elderly people retiring to Spain and other warm climates, simply to avoid crippling energy bills.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Iraq - Where's that Then?

I’m just watching the news and all the fuss over the so-called Iraq memo between presidents Bush and Blair, which, as you may know, the government does not wish to see published in this country. “Can’t people just find it on the Web”, the CNN presenter is asking the Daily Mirror journalist and he replies that they can if they have the skills to know where to look.

Now I couldn’t possibly publish such a thing and risk prosecution but I can tell you that thanks to their own Freedom of Information Act, you can find all sorts of interesting things on the subject at a US-based web site called Cryptome. Not that I have read anything on it, honest Guv!

Hampton Preview

James Maskell offers us a preview of tomorrow’s football game at Hartsdown when the team meet Hampton and Richmond Borough. Rather them than me in this weather!

"After an exciting 1-1 draw with Bromley, Margate faces the league leaders, Hampton & Richmond Borough at Home on Saturday (Kick Off 3pm). Hampton has had a very strong start to the season leading the league by 5 points but has struggled recently - losing the last two games.

This will be a tough game for Margate so as many people as possible are needed to cheer on the Gate as they fight their way up the table.

Margate FC has an online shop where you can buy all sorts of club merchandise from wristbands, car stickers and mugs to official shirts, mini footballs and lapel badges. Visit the shop at shop.margate-fc.com "

The Great Wall of Birchington

Reading the Thanet Gazette this morning leads one to conclude that anti-social behaviour in both Westgate and Birchington is fast becoming an epidemic, even though the police would deny it.

Local residents reportedly say that the police simply don’t come when they are called and that there presently exists a pervasive fear of intimidation after dark, around Birchington square and Westgate station.

Why should local citizens, many of them elderly, have to tolerate this state of affairs, particularly as speculation suggests that the authorities know which groups are responsible for some of the more serious offenses and where they live or are housed. Nine to five community policing is good but what’s needed is a round the clock police presence in the villages and particularly after dark.

These youths know that they can create havoc with near impunity and very little chance of arrest, thanks to the existence of mobile phones and bicycles. Will it take a more serious crime than a local resident almost kicked to death before the authorities act?

Meanwhile, the Telegraph newspaper reports Home Office figures today that almost three million young people aged between 10 and 25 have been involved in crime or anti-social behaviour in the past year. On the Home Office's own definitions one young person in every eight is a serious offender, and one in every 12 is a prolific offender.

The most common offences were assault (16 per cent) and theft (12 per cent). However, of the sample, only small proportions had been arrested or sentenced in the courts. Separate research showed that almost half of prolific young offenders on a flagship community sentence breached their conditions or were thrown off the programme.


Heavy Wintry Showers Expected

Heavy wintry showers are expected to arrive in the South East today with the Met Office giving warning that the country is facing the coldest winter in living memory. The Met Office conducted an unprecedented emergency briefing to its industry clients yesterday on the prospects for this winter. A Met Office forecaster and spokesman, said that the briefing to industry, which was closed to the press, was just a precaution.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Lenin Returns

One can’t expect to write a newspaper column without criticism, even in the Thanet Gazette and Cllr David Green is worried that his own letter, attacking my rant of last Friday won’t be published there but at least it can find a good home here.

David accuses me of being a Conservative-stooge, parroting the party line but to be honest, I don’t care who’s in charge, as long as they don’t sit on their thumbs and deliver value and justice to the electorate. I would agree that the Council Tax revaluation is a particular dislike of mine, when it’s being suggested by government that because the capital value of people’s property is now greater, they should pay higher taxes, even though they receive no fiscal benefit from the value of their homes beyond the ability to borrow against them. Perhaps if the government that David supports were to rid itself of just some of the million or so civil servants that it has introduced, we might not have to pay such high taxes in the first place?

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s a rosy socialist world of opportunity we live in under New Labour. I should know, I used to work for them in Downing Street!

In an excellent letter, David writes: “Your columnist, Simon Moores contrives to link council tax revaluation, house building and development control in a poorly argued rant that leads to him detecting a lack of leadership in our local council.

Council tax is a Conservative introduced tax based on the relative value of properties in a local area. Its big drawback is that it is not based on the ability to pay, though subsequent Labour governments have modified it to give relief to those on benefits and pensioners. Whilst we have this tax, surely Dr Moores would agree that it is fairer that it be based on the true market value of properties, which is all revaluation seeks to do. Some will gain, equally others will lose.

Dr Moores repeats parrot-like the Kent Conservative line over house building. Over development may be a problem in areas of Kent nearer London, but it certainly isn’t so in Thanet. Currently identified brown field land plus the area around Westwood Cross is more than enough to meet the demands of the S E Plan. In fact we are already building more housing than is required. Westwood Cross housing is a specific response to what we are told are the requirements of inward investors for their staff. What is also needed is much more social housing, currently virtually stagnant, to meet the needs of the 3500 families on the Council waiting list that are currently prey to unscrupulous private landlords.

The Planning and Development Control system in England is based on the principle that citizens should be able to build what they like on land that they own. Over the years various controls have been added to modify this right to mitigate detrimental effects. It is this basic right though that has produced our varied villages and town centres. Dr Moores is rightly concerned about Westgate Seafront. The remedy here is to declare a conservation area, something within the powers of the local Council. Then the council would have more powers over what is built and potential developers would have a clear picture of what is required. Local councillors have failed their residents in this respect.

I can agree with Dr Moores on one point, and that is concerning lack of leadership at the Council. The current administration arrived without a manifesto and has coasted whilst projects in the pipeline from the previous Labour administration have come to fruition. Council officers try to fill the vacuum but inevitably opt for safety first and lack the feeling for what is required locally.”

Lower and Lower

Back from visiting the Halifax Bank in Margate and I’ll confess that I haven’t been in there since Marks & Spencer closed. My immediate reaction on leaving my car next to a broken parking meter is that from the appearance of the High Street, we have a serious local problem that needs urgent attention before it starts to slide towards the kind of scene that one expects in some of the country’s worst urban deserts.

No community wardens in sight but at least a dozen kids of school age hanging around between Burtons and KFC, with a couple more on cycles, “jumping” them between the cars. Hidden down the side of Burtons and not visible in my camera photo are a group of furtive-looking refugees, my guess being Albanians.

The Halifax was empty. A miracle I thought until I heard from the cashier that since Marks & Spencer went to Westwood that much of the Halifax business seems to have gone with it. “People use the hole in the wall”, she said but we aren’t anywhere near as busy as we used to be because M&S brought people into the High Street.”

On the seafront, a police van was parked-up but why I wonder are so many kids loose in the High Street and not being tidied-up during school hours. I guess the answer is the same as last week, there’s nothing they can do about it if they have bunked-off school and the home won’t take them back in during the day, if that’s where they come from.

Margate High Street is increasingly run down and looks increasingly set to become a magnet for many of our local problems with nowhere else to go. So what, I ask are we going to do about it? Opening an art gallery is not going to solve the problem of rows of empty shops and an uncomfortable, shabby and possibly threatening atmosphere for the shoppers who still use it. What would happen if Woolworth’s closed or even the Halifax I wonder? It’s too awful to even consider but needs action now before the rot spreads too far.

No Win - No Fee

Does God work on a 'No win no fee' basis I wonder? While the Archbishop of Canterbury is busily apologizing for the Crusades in a visit to Pakistan this week, in more immediate national news of political correctness and litigation gone crazy, a Muslim insurance salesman is sueing his employer, Direct Line because he believes he suffered religious discrimination. Why, because his team leader offered only alcohol as a performance incentive, an employment tribunal heard.

British-born Mr. Khan, who works for Direct Line Insurance, is seeking damages for "hurt feelings" under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

Mr. Khan's team leader, Louise Cummings, said she introduced the incentives as a means of "improving staff morale and performance". "If I had realised that I had hurt anyone's feelings, then I would have taken steps to rectify that immediately," she added.

I’m sure my own feeling have been hurt somewhere in the last fifty years or so and when I have worked out where and why and how much this might be worth on a “no win no fee basis” I’ll be calling a solicitor.

This story is doubly annoying because I've got an invitation in front of me to keynote the Middle-eastern Govtec conference in Bahrain and this kind of "hurt" or religiously offended behaviour is unheard of in the Arab world, which with a few exceptions, is pretty tolerant. My last company had its offices on the outskirts of Southall and my staff represented a strong ethnic mix of beliefs. We used to have an account with one of the big wine warehouses and would send boxes of the stuff to clients before Xmas and put some aside to incentivise the sales team. I would have hoped that any of my employees with a similar problem would have simply pointed out that he or she couldn’t take alcohol and was there an alternative, rather than being offended enough to sue me. What kind of society, I wonder are we busily creating in this country today?

Police Appeal for Witnesses over Birchington Assault

Thanet Police, in the case of last Saturday’s Birchington gang assault on Michael Evans, are appealing for information from three people who may have spoken to a group of youths outside Ursuline College on the same evening.

The two men and a woman were in a silver Peugeot 306 being driven along Canterbury Road, from Birchington to Margate, between 9pm and 11.30pm when a stone was thrown at their car.

They reprotedly made a u-turn and stopped to speak to the group of youths about the stone-throwing incident. After a brief discussion, the car did another u-turn and continued on its way towards Margate.

Police don't believe the two men and the woman in the Peugeot witnessed the assault. However, the youths who threw the stone at their car may have later been involved in the attack on Mr Evans.

A spokesman said: "Officers would like to speak to them about their exchange with the group of youths during the stone-throwing incident."

Mr Evans remains in a critical but stable condition at King’s College Hospital in London

A 16-year-old boy appeared before magistrates at Margate on Tuesday charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent. He was remanded in custody and will appear before Margate Youth Court on Wednesday, November 30.

Six other teenage boys, aged between 14 and 16, were arrested and have been bailed until November 30 pending a Crown Prosecution Service decision to prosecute.

Mr. Evans was walking home with his partner after an evening out in the village when the incident happened. His partner was unharmed.

Detective Chief Inspector Lee Russell, senior investigating officer, said: "This was a serious assault in a quiet residential area. This is an isolated incident, and to reassure our communities we are increasing high visibility foot patrols in the Birchington area.

"We would encourage anyone who has any knowledge of this incident to contact the police."

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police incident room on (01843) 222 192.

Two Degrees

It’s only two degrees in Herne Bay and dropping, as you may have noticed if you have ventured outside.

I was supposed to take an aircraft over towards Shoreham for maintenance but divine providence intervened with a flat battery, which can happen to an aircraft in much the same way as a car, trying to turn a big propeller in very cold and very damp weather. Mind you, it’s so foggy out there anyway that I wasn’t too keen on disappearing into low freezing cloud and I’m enjoying a hot cup of tea at home instead.

Snow would come as a surprise if we get any, as the sea temperature is still too warm off the Thanet coast after the Indian summer. If it comes, then I would expect it to melt very quickly but leaving the usual roadside havoc behind it.

Keep warm.

St Paul's Shines Again

St. Paul’s Church Tower in Cliftonville is shining for its second Christmas and it’s so bright it can even be seen from parts of Westbrook and Broadstairs!

The Christmas lighting display is once more supplied and fitted by the ward councillors as a small token of thanks to local residents for their help and assistance over the year.

The church tower stands at the highest point and at geographical centre of Cliftonville West and ward councillors Linda Aldred, Doug Clark and Clive Hart have worked with local traders to add a Christmas tree this year, outside the church in Northdown Road.

The team of ward councillors were delighted with the response to last years ‘beacon’ display, so when the Cliftonville Partnership asked them for financial assistance with a Christmas tree for Northdown Road this year, they used part of their ward councillor community fund to pay for it.

Cllr. Clive Hart said ‘Some people knocked the name for the display last year, but just think what has happened in Cliftonville West since the beacon was first lit just twelve months ago. A Dispersal Area designated due to crime and disorder has been removed, a Renewal Area has taken its place and millions of pounds of government funding have been allocated for our residents through the Safer Cleaner Greener programme’

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Art for Art's Sake

Local artist John Kirby, who you may recall from the “onelosthousemate” project on Thanet Life a couple of months ago, has won a prize for an open exhibition in Leicester and had two of his pieces accepted. Well done John.

He writes to tell us that among all the talk of the Turner Contemporary we’ve forgotten to mention another local art gallery, www.galleryiota.org/

IOTA was formed in 1998 and is a vibrant contemporary Arts Company, which promotes visual and community arts to audiences in and around East Kent.  Its mission is: to encourage and support progressive visual artists by providing a platform for exhibiting work and to create stimulating participatory community and celebratory arts projects fusing various art forms.

On the Fly

Just as I’m busy swallowing my anger at the unholy mess of litter at the far end of the St Mildred’s bay car park, Councillor David Green writes in with a letter on Fly-tipping. Could I ask David and other councillors to remind TDC that if they are going to turn our car parks into waste recycling dumps, then at the very least, they have a moral obligation to keep the surrounding area clear of floating garbage? Alternatively I might just explore taking action against the council myself for the litter it’s causing.

“Fly-Tipping”, writes David, “is one of my pet hates, and so difficult to deal with effectively. A couple of years ago I asked Council Officers what single measure would make the most difference. They told me that the law as it stood required someone to actual witness an individual dumping rubbish in order for a prosecution to stick. This was different to a company, who had a duty of care over what happened to their rubbish, and who could be prosecuted just from evidence of where their rubbish ended up. About two years ago I had the opportunity to talk to Margaret Beckett (Minister for the Environment) about this at Labour party conference. Our MP, Steve Ladyman, also took the point up. I don’t know if what I said made the difference, but I'm going to claim credit anyway!!

New waste regulations coming into force today (Monday 21st November) mean that householders must check who's taking their rubbish away or risk a fine of up to £5,000.

The regulations have been introduced to help reduce the thousands of tonnes of household rubbish which are fly-tipped each year. Householders must take reasonable measures, such as checking a waste carrier's registration, before allowing them to take their rubbish away.

People who need to have household, garden or construction waste removed from their home must check the waste carrier registration of anyone they employ, or who offers, to remove the waste for them. All builders and allied trades, landscape gardeners, tree-fellers and tree-surgeons, house-clearers, retailers (who remove old domestic goods such as fridges or sofas when they deliver new ones) and scrap metal dealers should be registered waste carriers.

The householder should ask to see the company's waste carrier registration and make a note of the number, or should ring the Environment Agency on 08708 506506 for an instant Waste Carrier Validation Check. They should also keep a copy of the Duty of Care waste transfer note and take a note of the vehicle's registration number.

If the waste carrier cannot produce a certificate and is not registered by the Agency, the householder should refuse the service. Rogue traders and skip hire operators will often offer the best price, but then just tip the rubbish up the road. If the fly-tip is traced back to the householder, they can be fined up to £5000. They may also be charged for any clearing-up that has to be done for illegally deposited waste.”

Giv'us a Job Tovarich

Is it my imagination or have you noticed how many eastern Europeans and even Russians appear to be living and working in Thanet?

I’m commenting on this because the statistics elsewhere are starting to show the impact on employment, where a cheaper and more willing immigrant workforce are starting to displace less willing and low aspirational young men who mistakenly believe that society owes them a living once they leave school.

Apparently, more than 290,000 eastern Europeans have applied to work in Britain since Poland, the Czech Republic and six other countries joined the EU last year and a further 59,000 applied to work in Britain this summer. Most of them are single men aged 18 to 34 with less than one-fifth based in London.

The majority are in low-skilled manual trades, with the largest single group described as "process operative" (or factory worker). The other most common jobs are kitchen workers, packers, warehouse operatives, cleaners, farm workers and waiters. Only 110 Polish people gave their occupation as plumbers when they registered.

Iranians are now the largest single group of new asylum seekers in Britain, followed by Eritreans, Chinese and Somalis.

A mobile workforce is of course a demonstrable benefit of the European Union, hence the angst over Turkey joining the club in the future. I do worry however that such competition at the lower end of the employment spectrum could create problems at a local level in an area, which like Thanet, is entirely suitable as an opportunity target for our new European friends and a waystation or new home for so many others from around the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Ramsgate Story

Michael’s Bookshop will be publishing another of their fascinating local history publications this week. John Huddlestone's book "The Ramsgate Story" was first intended for publication in 1970 and is a concise history of the town with maps and pictures. It is the only history of Ramsgate in print at the moment and it is fortunate that the original manuscript was not donated to Ramsgate Library and lost in the fire.

John Huddlestone is now unfortunately no longer with us and so the book has been published as he wrote it with added notes at the end to bring it up to date.

The manuscript was left in the care of Don Long in the hope that it would one day be published.

The pictures are mostly from the Michael’s Bookshop collection and that of Don Long

Flu Vaccine - "Elderly at Risk" Says MP Gale

The Department of Healthy and its Ministers are failing the public over the supply of `flu vaccine, says North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale. And as a result he believes that some of his elderly constituents have been "left at risk".

Speaking at the House of Commons this morning the MP said:

"It is only a relatively few weeks that the Secretary of State assured the House of Commons that supplies of vaccine were adequate.

Indeed, Members of Parliament - and I was one of them - were encouraged to participate in the annual publicity campaign to promote the cause of vaccination for "at risk" groups of patients.

It is now clear that the assurances that we were given were ill-founded and that demand has outstripped supply. In constituencies such as my own with a higher than average retired population it has become clear that the supply of vaccine is exhausted.

I wrote, at the weekend, to the Health Authority to ask what contingency plans they have to meet the demand: this followed a call from a constituent indicating that she had done a ring-around of chemists only to discover that they could not dispense her prescription for vaccine because they had run out of supplies.

This is not an isolated incident: there are patients with chest and other vulnerable conditions who now feel very let down by the Secretary of State and her Department and who are very disdainful of her attempt to blame General Practitioners for the shortage. If the Department has over-promoted the need for vaccination then it is the Department that must take the blame and the Department that must swiftly deliver the goods - whatever the cost."

One Charged Over Minnis Bay Attack

A 16-year-old Margate boy is to appear before a court today charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent following this week’s near-deadly assault in Birchington.

Two other 16-year-old boys arrested at the weekend in connection with the assault in Birchington have been bailed until November 30 pending further police enquiries.

Police have also arrested three other boys in connection with the incident.

Two of the boys are aged 15, one from Broadstairs the other from Birchington. The third is a 16-year-old from Margate. All were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and are currently at Margate Police Station assisting officers with their enquiries.

Ed: This fits with information that I had but was unable to publish, that the group, reminiscent of the sixties movie “Clockwork orange”, quite possibly came looking for trouble from outside Birchington, malicious intent.

Risk of Local Government Shake-up

Kent Online reports that ministers are contemplating a major shake-up of local government that could threaten the future of Kent County Council.

A leaked memo written by local government minister David Miliband has revealed he wants to open a debate on whether the two-tier structure of district and county councils - which has served Kent for more than a century - should be abolished.

The memo singles out Kent as an example of what Mr Miliband believes is a system that has led to public confusion and created fragmented and competing leadership.

Wrap Up Warmly

From Thursday strong winds are likely to sweep away the fog that has affected much of the country for the past few days, but most areas will be colder. By the end of the week much of Britain is expected to be shivering in below-zero temperatures — even throughout the day — while snow and ice are predicted to cause chaos with sporting fixtures.

Up to 8in of snow is expected in parts of Britain later this week as polar winds sweep down from the Arctic.

Northern and eastern areas are likely to bear the brunt of the icy winds, which will reach gale force in parts, but forecasters will not be able to predict the exact areas or magnitude until tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Arrests in Birchington

Police have reportedly made three arrests over the Birchington assault reported earlier today. Meanwhile, the victim remains in a serious condition in the Neurological Unit of King’s College Hospital in London.

Margate @ Home to Bromley

The Gate face Bromley at Home tomorrow (7.45pm Kick-Off) in what promises to be a very interesting and close fought contest with Margate aiming to continue their winning streak after their 1-0 win against Windsor & Eton on Saturday.

Two weeks ago Bromley beat Margate 3-2 after extra time in an exciting encounter in the Westview Cup. The first two encounters generated nine goals, so this one promises to be an exciting battle.

Day trip to Calais Tips

Reader Barrie Smith writes:

"As many of you might be planning a day trip to France before Christmas here is some info which might be useful........

I did a trip on the Chunnel last Friday, Having got up very early to get the 7.30am train, Eurotunnel disclosed on arrival at the check in, there was to be a delay, in fact I was kept in the car park for 90 minutes due to the combining of trains, as there were not enough cars, Eurotunnel often use this ploy to save money when traffic is low.

Damn annoying, as if you turn up late they charge £10 extra for changing the train but free to hold up passengers as and when they want without recourse.

My advice is go P&O ferry, it is much more pleasant to be on the ship and take a leisurely breakfast.

One thing is sure, the 7.30am ship sails at 7.30am (unless the seas are really bad) Another bit of news, Calais is to have parking meters and wardens from December the 5th with parking tickets and all that implies, they must be crazy or want to get rid of tourists.

So my advice is drive to Wimereux, much nicer than Calais, great shops, market on Fridays, good restaurants, I recommend Hotel du Centre in the main street."

Gang Assault in Birchington

Details remain sketchy about a vicious assault that took place near Ethelbert Rd, Birchington around midnight on Saturday. The 46-year-old victim was on his way home with his partner in when the pair were confronted by a gang of between eight and ten men at the junction of Ethelbert Road and Arthur Road. After the assault, the local man was taken to hospital with serious head injuries which have been described as "life-threatening". He has now been moved to a specialist neurological unit at another hospital. His partner was unharmed.

The gang are described as white men aged between 16 and 26.Anyone with anyinformation about this incident is asked to contact Margate Police on 01843 222192. Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. .


Ed: Given the location and the number of people, there is, I expect, a very good chance that residents may know or suspect who might have been involved. However, this is a very disturbing incident as my first reaction is to wonder whether the mob-style random attacks that have plagued Broadstairs have suddenly made an appearance in Birchington? Even more disturbing is that the couple involved were not teenagers and were walking home in one of the quietest residential spots in Thanet. I believe the local community will join me in calling for swift action in identifying and dealing appropriately with those responsible and I'm not talking "tagging" here either!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Armed Police Inevitable Says Thanet MP

Continuing with what has become a policing theme this week, "More armed police are inevitable without capital punishment " says Thanet North MP , Roger Gale expressing the view that an increase in the number of policemen and women trained to use and carrying firearms on the streets is inevitable without a restoration of the death penalty.

Gale, who has consistently campaigned for the re-introduction of capital punishment as the maximum available sentence for murder, said in his constituency:

"Every time that a police officer is murdered while on duty there is an outcry and every time that such a tragic event takes place those of us who have been warning against the growing incidence of armed crime are accused of "knee-jerk reactions". The fact remains that prior to the abolition of capital punishment most criminals did not carry weapons. Today, a knife or a gun is part of the "tools of the trade" for even the most minor and amateur of criminals. Why should they not be? With no realistic deterrent it is scarcely surprising that those intent on robbery or burglary should not only carry weapons but be prepared to use them.

Those of us who have been stating the obvious for a long time are well aware that this has not been an overnight change: it is a creeping disease that began with professional criminals and has spread throughout the entirety of the law-breaking community.

We would not dream of sending our armed forces out onto the streets of Basra, for example, without weapons but we still appear willing to send those that we require to enforce our law out onto the streets to face what is, in effect, an armed opponent without adequate protection. I do not like or welcome the prospect of a gun-carrying constabulary but you only have to look around the streets of our major cities to see that there has been a huge growth in gun-carrying policemen and without an alternative deterrent that is a trend that is bound to continue.

Stab vests offer modest protection against knives but will not stop a bullet and so-called "bullet-proof" vests are heavy and cumbersome and not wholly effective.

The sad fact is that we - including some very senior police officers who are belatedly experiencing a change of heart in attitudes towards capital punishment - have allowed a culture to develop that is probably irreversible”

Ed: Roger makes a number of points that will find a great deal of sympathy among the population. However, in a letter of my own, published on the Sky News site, I remark that: “Arming the police will not solve the problem of rising gun crime as guns, flooding in from Eastern Europe are both cheap and easily available, either here or through a quick hop through the channel tunnel to Belgium.

Simply giving Police officers guns will not necessarily make them safer and may, in some circumstances provoke the very response from the armed criminal they are trying to avoid. General experience of police firearms training standards does not inspire great confidence and it was Wyatt Earp, who said, "It's not how fast you are, it’s how willing you are", referring to a man or woman's ability to react with deadly force.

The two women police officers could just as easily have been shot if they were carrying guns and it's only a very small proportion of people in the population, who are physically and emotionally capable of using firearms accurately and correctly under stress as the Stockwell tube tragedy illustrated so well.”

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Last Orders Please

With 24-hour opening almost upon us, Councillor David Green writes:

“I've now had personal experience of the new licensing laws in action.

Along with a lot of other Thanet pubs, those in King Street, Ramsgate applied for extension of drinking hours and entertainment. Both the Council and I had received a number of complaints about noise and rowdy behaviour from residents living near, and once the application for extension was posted they organised a petition against. I organised a meeting at which about 30 residents attended and asked me to represent their views. The licensing panel hearing took place a few weeks ago, and I spoke for them. One of the pubs (Brace's) had its application for any extension of hours refused. They appealed to the Magistrates Court and I gave evidence in defence of the Council's decision on Friday. I'm pleased to say that the Magistrates upheld the decision with costs.”

“I hope this shows that given a pro-active group of residents and proper representation the new laws can and will work to resident's benefit. As an aside, I think I detected a change of attitude in the new owners of the pub that I hope will improve the environment and may lead to a successful re-application at some future date.”

Coal and Oysters

Curious, a mix of coal and oysters on the beach at St Mildred’s bay this morning.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the oyster population over the last twelve months, simply by looking at the number of shells washed-up on the beach. Some of these are quite enormous, the size of my hand, which implies that somewhere off St Mildred’s Bay there is a very large colony of Oysters that might rival the best of Whitstable.

As for the coal. Who or what is dumping coal in the water? Where is it coming from, a passing ship or fly-tippers?

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Long Arm of the Law

With the local paper packed with tales of thuggery, vandalism and petty crime this week it’s difficult to believe that most of us living here in Thanet live perfectly normal, law-abiding lives. Sadly though, as the Gazette reports, being a thug has very little in the way of deterrence in either fines or sentencing. Apparently collecting fines after they are awarded presents the courts with a major problem around here.

Policing is as we know; a difficult, thankless and frequently unrewarding task and we never seem to have enough to cover Thanet. So just in case you ever need to find a policeman and aren’t in easy range of Beanos cafĂ© at lunchtime, here’s some information gathered from the Police web site.

“In an emergency call 999 if there is a threat to life or a crime is in progress.

To report a non-urgent crime call: 01622 690690” – I didn’t know about this one, so you might want to write it down somewhere.

Need to report a minor crime online?

For local police matters call: 01843 231055

Please note the opening hours below, as I’m sure the criminals have. If you happen to observe any crime taking place after 6pm on Sunday in the Margate area, then please write down the details and wait for the police station to re-open after breakfast on Monday.

Ramsgate and Broadstairs residents should note that Sundays should be regarded as crime-free periods for reporting purposes.

Margate police station
Fort Hill, Margate, Kent CT9 1HL
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-8pm, Sunday 10am-6pm

Ramsgate police station
26 York Street, Ramsgate, Kent CT11 9DS
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday 10am-2pm, closed Sunday

Broadstairs police office
54 High Street, Broadstairs, Kent CT10 1JT
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-2pm, closed Sunday

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Great Turner Petition

The discussion forum on the site holding the petition against the building of the Turner Contemporary is turning into quite a lively exchange of views. You can find it here if you are interested. Over one hundred signatures have been added to the petition so far which for Thanet, has to be considered as pretty good going. Thanet District Council appears to be taking a great deal of flak on the subject.


The Man from UNCLE

I was over at our National Hi-tech Crime Unit at their secret building in Docklands this week. It rather reminds me of the classic “Man from UNCLE” series but I think the comparison was lost on their receptionist, who isn’t old enough to remember the characters of Napoleon Solo and Mr Waverly at their secret building behind a Chinese laundry in Brooklyn in the sixties.

One of the discussions I had surrounded identity theft and how bad it’s getting. Even with lots of news and education about “phishing”, the stealing of identities and financial information online or through social engineering, people continue to be conned in huge numbers.

Here’s one popular way of stealing your details, now that more people are shredding their bills and letters. You get a call from your doctor’s surgery about the appointment you’ve just missed. “I haven’t got an appointment”, you say. “But you are Mr Smith”, says the voice on the other end of the phone. “Yes”, you reply but I’m not ill.”

“You are the Mr Smith of 1 Sussex Avenue aren’t you”, says the voice. “Yes”, you reply. “Can I have your date of birth and national insurance number to confirm this”, says the voice. At which point if you give them the details, they’ve got you and can then trawl through other free online databases to add to the information, even as far as getting your mother’s maiden name, from a genealogy database.

So without giving away any secrets let’s just say that everyone reading this should be a great deal more careful about their personal information than they are already. And never never use the same password and pin for email and online bank accounts. I could tell you more but then they would have to shoot me!

Just be careful, there’s a whole criminal industry out there devoted to stealing as much information about you as possible and sometimes, your complete identity. In the States, it’s now so bad, that people have had to declare themselves legally dead to avoid the bailiffs! In the UK, we now have hundreds if not thousands of people in jail or walking around quite freely with false identities as recent cases in the press have revealed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Non PC or Just Say 'Non'

There’s a worry that my next column in the Gazette reflects some of the comments made in past weeks over runway development in Thanet, will be too political.

I’d  just like to say, for the record, that I don’t care who’s in government, local or central but if their respective policies are, in my opinion, bad for the people of Thanet, then I’m going to say so, regardless of whether they happen to be delivered by Old Labour New Labour, Conservatives, LibDems, UKIP or even the Moonies.

Have a read and tell me whether you agree with me or not. Some of it though you will have heard already but its been condensed and re-expressed for the benefit of the non-PC readership of the Gazette.

Gatso Factso

Not a lot of people know this but a "24x7 national vehicle movement database" that logs everything on the UK's roads and retains the data for at least two years is now being built, The system, which will use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), is a sort of 'Gatso 2' network, extending, enhancing and linking existing CCTV, ANPR and speedcam systems and databases.

The control centre is intended to go live in April of next year, and is intended to be processing 50 million number plates a day by year end. ANPR systems are planned every 400 yards along motorways, and a trial on the M42 near Birmingham will first be used to enforce variable speed limits, then to 'tackle more serious crime.'

The Register reports the primary aims claimed for the system as tackling untaxed and uninsured vehicles, stolen cars and the considerably broader one of 'denying criminals the use of the roads ' but having one every quarter of a mile on motorways quite clearly means they'll be used to enforce speed limits as well, which would effectively make the current generation of Gatsos obsolete. Otherwise, checking a vehicle's tax and insurance status every 15 seconds or thereabouts would seem overkill.

In the war against terror, being  able to see where a suspect had been for the last two years could be really helpful. Don't worry though - if you haven't done anything wrong you've nothing to fear.

The History of the Isle of Tenet

Michael of Michael’s Bookshop writes to tell us that he has a new local title “John Lewis, A Collection of Documents Referred to in The History of the Isle of Tenet 1723”.

John Lewis was Vicar of St. John's in Margate from 1705 to 1746. Archbishop Wake's private notebook (Notitia Dioces Cantuar,) now in Canterbury Cathedral Library describes Lewis as, a conscientious studious hardworking jolly good chap: "Vir probus, doctus, diligens; concionator bonus.”

Michael is constantly publishing local interest titles and he’s just sent along a proof for me to look at of one that uses my aerial photos of Thanet. Bound to be a best seller I hope!


Photo Ramsgate 1930s

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Last Orders - Commons to Vote Again on 24-hour Boozing

The Commons vote, tonight, on the introduction of 24-hour boozing, will the final opportunity for MPs to kick some sense into the Government, says North Thanet`s MP Roger Gale.

Speaking at the Commons the MP said:

"It is a fine irony that this vote takes place, in a final endeavour to put the brakes on round-the-clock binge drinking, on the very day that the police are launching a crackdown on anti-social behavior resulting from drunkenness.

Only last week this government sought to use police opinion to persuade the House of Commons to effectively suspend the ancient right of habeas corpus: how strange that the same government is unable or unwilling to listen to the voice of police officers over this unloved measure!

There has been no public demand, no demand from publicans, and no demand from brewers and considerable opposition from the police towards the principle of 24-hour opening of licensed premises. We have to hope that once again Labour MPs will listen to reason and join with the Opposition to at very least delay this ludicrous proposition while the government takes the chance to think again."

The Inspector Calls

The Daily Telegraph reports that council tax inspectors will be able to enter people's homes and take photographs even of their bedrooms!

Whitehall documents reveal that they will be allowed to "obtain factual information from internal inspections" as part of the enormous exercise to revalue 22 million properties in England.

Apparently, the Valuation Office Agency has sought the advice of the office of the Surveillance Commissioner on entering homes. The commissioner replied that inspectors taking photographs of properties would not contravene the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or the Human Rights Act, even though those laws were intended to protect citizens' privacy.

One in three homes in England - seven million - had been expected to move up a band in the revaluation. In the South, where prices have soared, bills were expected to rise by at least £270 a year in four out of five towns.

Monday, November 14, 2005

When in Wales

A pretty view on the way back in to Manston in the dark tonight. At just under two hours away, Swansea isn’t so far away and I was most impressed at what they are achieving, in regeneration terms, in the maritime quarter there, with immediate parallels with Margate and Ramsgate.

I stayed at the Morgan’s hotel, converted from a port authority building. Swansea's only five star hotel it’s only moments away from the city centre and the stunning Mumbles and Gower coastline.

Now I wouldn’t normally expect to find a world-class, five star hotel in a city like Swansea and coming back to what I’ve written about regeneration and Thanet, there’s no reason I can see that if Swansea can do this, then we should be able to do the same to support the £30 million investment in the Turner Contemporary and we can’t then we need to ask why.

Here’s an offer for our tourism people. If you want to see what’s being achieved in Swansea, I’m happy to take you and introduce you to your Welsh Development Authority counterparts. All you’ll need to do is chip in for the aircraft fuel!

Tram Tracks Saved

Architects working on proposals to demolish the tram shed on Canterbury Road Margate and build seven apartments for individuals with learning difficulties have amended their plans to keep the historic tram tracks at its entrance following pressure from County Councillor Clive Hart.

The amended application still calls for demolition of the Tram Shed but architects now plan to show the wall outlines of the historic building through their latest design.

Cllr. Clive Hart said ‘I’m pleased that the architects now propose to keep the tram tracks as a design feature but I still feel that the Tram Shed could be saved and used as a unique foyer to the development.

I will be lobbying the local county member for Margate West, Robert Burgess, in the hope that he will take this matter further’.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Very Non PC

I’m off to Swansea a little later today and so the Weblog will be quiet until I find myself back into Manston after delivering a speech on the future of the Welsh information economy. If you didn’t know it had one, then it does and it hasn’t been doing too badly in contrast with the rest of the UK either.

Mind you, I have to be in by 5:30 pm at the latest, as Wales closes early on a Sunday afternoon and I suppose that Swansea, like Pembury airfield further on, is left to the attention of wandering ruminants.

Manston have agreed to stay open until I stumble upon it in the dark tomorrow evening. As long as I keep flying East, from Cardiff and Bristol, I should come across it, either that or Ostende, where the beer is cheap.

Back in Kent, I was outraged to read today that while the Inland Revenue are prepared to descend like a ton of bricks, upon families that have been mistakenly overpaid tax credits or child allowances, they’ve decided that refugee and asylum-seeking families will escape their attention, because it’s not worth the effort tracking them down to recover the money. I would have thought that what was fair for citizens of this country would be equally fair for “wannabe” citizens but apparently not. It seems even more outrageous, when you have examples of groups and individuals, who deliberately play the system with false identities and traffic and sell children between so-called extended families to defraud the state of tens of thousands, which seems to be a regular event these days.

I had always believed that the law should be applied equally in a liberal democratic society such as our own but the evidence suggests that this is increasingly less likely and it’s a mixture of political expedience and political correctness which defines the law in Britain today.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Strange but True

That’s funny, I see the Charles Dickens School this week hosted visitors from Microsoft and the Police as part of the “Get Safe Online” launch I wrote about two weeks ago with the little speech from Top Gear’s Richard Hammond that is online here.

The funny part of course is the insular nature of Thanet and not knowing it was happening. Not only did I once teach at the Charles Dickens but I’m quite close to the Get Safe Online project as programme director of the annual eCrime Congress and so it’s ironic that I knew absolutely nothing about it or I would have written the story up with photos in a little more detail.

Big Brother or Good Idea

One of our local retired police officers has come up with an interesting idea for involving the public in reducing crime. Given the enormous interest in watching not very much happening in the “Big Brother” television programme, he suggests that our local CCTV cameras are given internet addresses so that residents can keep an eye on what’s happening in their area. If they see a crime or anything suspicious that might lead to an arrest, then a £20 reward from the police might motivate people to become involved.

This doesn’t seem such a bad idea to me. The technology to make it work certainly exists. Whether it breaches any specific privacy regulations I don’t know but given the fact that crimes are frequently committed right under the gaze of CCTV cameras and go undetected, then having a volunteer force prepared to keep an eye on the area, seems sensible. What do you think?

New Thanet Archaelogy Site

The online history of Thanet is now available with a virtual tour, dating back as far as 500,000 BC from the Trust for Thanet Archaeology at http://www.thanetarch.co.uk/ .

A meeting of the Thanet Archaeological Society will also be held at St Laurence parish church hall in Ramsgate on November 19th from 2pm to 4:30pm. Admission £2 and children free.

Of Mice and ASBOs

Following-on from the earlier thread on truancy and children in care, the Thanet Gazette reports that the island has sixteen ASBOSs in place, with the youngest holder being twelve and the oldest, a glue-sniffing forty-four.

With one of the younger thugs having breached his ASBO in Cliftonville just weeks after it was imposed, the courts have chosen to protect his identity, which makes it rather difficult for members of the public to spot him and report his “threatening, abusive and often racist language” to the police.

I'm wondering then who, in the greater public interest, should benefit from the court’s protection? The people of Cliftonville or the teenager in question? It seems highly likely that he will continue to breach his ASBO and it’s quite possible, without knowing who he is, that he’s already been sent in to care in Thanet by somebody else.

Local MP, Roger Gale, following the publication of “The Thanet Report” is asking for a moratorium on all placements until the problems surrounding children in care is “sorted-out.” Now while care and ASBOs aren’t necessarily a consequence of each other, both of these issues and the increasingly violent and threatening behaviour of teenagers and adults in incidents across Thanet is a cause for public concern. Even the QEQM hospital is now facing what are reportedly "The most violent patients in East Kent", commonly fuelled by a dangerous cocktail of alcohol and drugs. However, there seems very little that the authorities and courts can do other than wring their hands and point in the direction of a weak and ineffective criminal justice system and a society that is too liberal to act properly in its own defense.

Footnote: A teenager charged with GBH who failed to comply with the conditions of her bail has escaped being tagged after successfully convincing magistrates that the ankle-borne electronic device would look "stupid" with her preferred choice of attire.

Skirt-wearing 18-year-old Natasha Hughes, accused of grevious bodily harm against another woman, found herself before Worcester magistrates after failing to answer the door of her house to police officers this month, as required by the curfew conditions of her bail.

The Crown Prosecution Service demanded she be tagged as a result, but Hughes lawyer argued it would be visible, look strange and "affect her dress sense". Magistrates agreed, and Hughes walked tagless from the court.

Strange Fish

Washed in with the tide this morning, not the usual kind of fish you might expect to find on the beach in Thanet perhaps. Whether it died of natural causes, was mugged by a gange of local "Hooded Cod" or was simply depressed at finding out where it was swimming, I don’t know but although I recognise the type, I can’t name the species. Can anyone help and win this morning’s “Spot the strange fish” competition?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

On the Spot with Councillor Chris Wells

In the first “On the Spot” interview, Simon Moores interviews Councillor Chris Wells (Kent County Council & Thanet – Viking Ward) on the future of Margate and the Turner Contemporary and whether he believes that Thanet District Council is failing to express clearly enough and show sufficient leadership to the people of the area.

You can pass your opinions and comments to Chris in the comments section below.


MP3 File

Downhill Racer

The bombing of three hotels in Jordan have rather dampened my enthusiasm for a business trip to Amman in December. Mind you, I’m committed and HM Government are picking up the bill and at least the Intercontinental hotel is still standing, for now at least.

That said, I possibly have more chance of having a nasty accident on our local roads, which though short of suicide bombers don't feel much less hazardous at times. Driving down Coffin Hill at Hartsdown, from the lights the other evening, I encountered another car, a Suzuki jeep, overtaking fast around the blind bend opposite the cricket club, forcing me into the kerb to avoid a head-on collision Outside of the Middle-east and say Portugal, there’s nothing like Thanet for the standard of local driving.

Later this morning, I’m going to record a short interview with councillor Chris Wells, who has volunteered to be my first victim for “On the Spot”, a webcast interview with local councillors. Whether this first broadcast, that will appear later today, will be enough to encourage other local politicians to have their say or remain undercover, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Childen in Need

I’ve just got to the bottom of the mystery that prompted my comment on truancy last week.

A reliable source tells me that the problem surrounds children in care, of which as we know, there are a great many in Thanet and rather more than many residents believe is fair, given their distribution among our community.

These children, when they arrive here are found a school place as quickly as possible, but this process isn’t always as swift as the authorities might wish and where those with behavioural problems are concerned, one can’t blame the local schools if they are slow to volunteer places.

So what happens, as I understand it, is when a child is found a place, he or she is delivered to the school in the morning by the carer or home. In some cases, the children, normally teenage boys, will “bunk-off” or the child simply has no school place to go to. Where the carer does not have the resources to look after and supervise the child, then the home is unable to let him or them back in during the day and as a consequence, they are left to run wild on our streets in the middle of winter.

Apparently, this is a recognised “problem” which is being discussed, which is nice but somehow I doubt we will see it resolved in a satisfactory manner before the end of the decade.

If we can’t guarantee the proper supervision of children in care then there is no sensible argument for them to be present in Thanet or has our definition of “care” loosened so much, that running amok on the streets satisfies the criteria?

You tell me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

There's Justice and Then There's the Law

I was just getting a little hot under the collar reading about one of our local louts, who while unemployed and with nothing better to do, embarked on a graffiti spree, which included people’s cars. He was finally caught in the act by the police, his signature or tag left across Thanet leaving him “bang to rights”. Of course, in court, he’s very sorry and so the court took pity on him and gave him a conditional discharge, ordered him to pay £250 and told him not to do it again.

No if you or I commit a crime, however minor and unless it’s a tax offence – which carries a tariff longer than armed robbery – our lives would be significantly and adversely impacted by the weight and shame of a criminal record. There are however thousands of our fellow citizens who really don’t care, may not turn-up to court and in all likelihood, won’t pay the fine or even do the time. Is anyone prepared to bet that given the absence of any really tough deterrence, our local graffiti artist won’t be back in action very soon, with a new ‘Tag’ perhaps? Will he even pay the fine?

On the other side of the coin, I was standing outside Les Riggs sports in Cliftonville some years ago when I heard shouting and a commotion up towards Harold road. A youth had snatched a handbag and there were shouts of “Stop him” following him as he sprinted past me.

While I stood there with my mouth open, a typically robust local citizen, as broad as he was wide with a shaved head, stuck his foot out and tripped the alleged thief up, sending him sprawling along the pavement. Leaving the handbag, he jumped up and continued his run towards Margate.

Today, if that had happened, it’s quite likely that the intervening and quick-thinking citizen would have been arrested and the thief would have continued his run towards the nearest Accidents R Us solicitor in Margate, where he might possibly have found a willing Brief to sue the man who tripped him for criminal assault and injury.

So while government spends huge amounts of Parliamentary time attempting to drive through withdrawal of the centuries old right of habeas corpus under the proposed anti-terrorism legislation, the remainder of the criminal justice system looks very much to the ordinary citizen as if the lunatics are running the asylum.