Friday, February 28, 2014

Fast Train

On  the high speed train from St Pancras to Margate on a dark wet evening. No Northern Lights over Kent tonight unless you happen to be looking out of the window of a passing passenger jet, high above the earth.

A pleasant planning lunch with Nominet at Cigale in Lambs Conduit Street, working on an agenda for their annual conference in April. I dived into an overcrowded British Museum, hoping to catch the new 'Vikings' exhibition but discovered this doesn't start until 6th March.

Last time I was at the museum, it was overun by Chinese tourists. On this occasion it was crocodiles of small children on school outings and even larger crocodiles or are these dragons of Chinese visitors? I lasted ten minutes before making a decision to return next month instead hoping to find a quieter day.

Next-up was the Conservative local government conference at Russell Square, where I delivered a talk on the experience that two other councillors and I are having with the police and explained in great deal here and in the national media. I was pleased to see a copy of The Independent's story on every chair.

It was my privilege to follow the Local Government & Communities Minister, Brandon Lewis MP and I was able to have a separate meeting with him to give a more detailed account of the story. While I'm sure the familiar trolls, gun-range obsessives and masonic conspiracy theorists will insist, it's all another private fantasy, I'm also pleased to see that there is considerable momentum building behind my owninquiry on the much wider picture of how we arrived at a position, where three of your local councillors are the subject of a criminal complaint of conspiracy on social media, which also involves Facebook and Blogger.

Yesterday, some quite dramatic new email information was passed to me, which I promptly passed to the investigating police officer.  Quite how Kent Police will respond remains to be seen but it had me grinning from ear to ear.

Back at Westgate or more accurately, Westbrook, my daughter took the pottery and shell fish samples from the last story into university for an expert opinion. The result came back as Roman period with a request to know exactly where so Kent Archaeology Trust can become involved with a proper dig. All very Time Team.

In the morning I will sort out a map and take some more photos for the university but I would please ask everyone not to go looking, as there is some potentially useful and fragile archaeology now exposed and should be left to the experts to investigate further.

Forgive any typing and spelling mistakes as I'm on my iPad on a lurching train passing Sittingbourne.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Old Bones Exposed

The Thanet Gazette reports that human bones may have been found by a dog-walker sticking out of the cliff at Westbrook. The police have removed these for further examination.

I have been over to have a look and can only find a single point of disturbed chalk, which looks as if this might have been close to the spot (see photos). I've also had a chat with my council colleague, the geologist, Dr Alasdair Bruce.

The photos show what looks like a horizontal two foot square alcove cut into the cliff face around half way up. The position is very close to the archaeological site of a roman villa, discovered and excavated on the ground above some 15 or more years ago. At that time, it was almost a mile from the sea.

This leaves me a little baffled, as a horizontal shaft would be much later than roman times I would have thought? Dr Bruce thinks it might also possibly be a beaker people burial from 3,000 years ago, like those found at Thanet Earth. We know that there was also a small community around that time in St Mildred's Bay and remains have occasionally been found at very low tide, in the mud of the freshwater spring, which runs out from under Old Boundary Rd. Minnis Bay also has some Iron Age archaeology of its own.

So it remains a mystery and I'm not 100% sure I have the right spot but the photos possibly show something. I wait to see what the police come-up with if anything because dating would be interesting if they prove to be human rather than animal.

Update: I've just been back to the site with geologists Dr Alasdair Bruce, his wife Kim Bruce and my daughter, Charlotte, presently reading archaeology at Canterbury.
The shaft remains a mystery but the recent weather has exposed what we believe may be the rubbish midden from the roman villa that once occupied the cliff top, 2,000 years ago.

We have removed several samples of oysters and pottery in situ, taking photos to preserve their provenance. Charlotte will be delivering these to the university archaeology department tomorrow for further examination and assessment.

We suspect the bones reportedly discovered earlier, may have come from the midden but until someone tells us more about this morning's find, the rest is conjecture.

Fabulous Fox

Sitting in my study working on a presentation for Friday, one of our local foxes has wandered into my garden to bask in the late winter sunshine.

Despite all the recent bad weather, she looks health enough.

On another subject entirely, I've this morning, sent out Freedom of Information requests to Kent Police, the Police Commissioner's Office and Thanet District Council, requesting the costs to the police in pursuing a recent harassment complaint that has involved me. The cost to Thanet District Council of multiple FOI and subject access requests from a single individual and details of any correspondence between the office of Ann Barnes and Kent Police in regard to an on-going investigation involving cyber-bullying, local councillors and harassment.

I expect to wait some time for the replies.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reading Between the Lines

Over the last twenty-four hours, I've noticed an explosion in the number of barrack room lawyers across the local weblogs, those quite clearly unable or even unwilling, to distinguish between civil and criminal law; particularly where social media and web-related content is involved.

As much as I try and explain the finer principles of the law and why national newspapers, such as The Guardian might take an interest, then many of the usual suspects wander off on subjects such as Tesco, gun ranges and even better, that local Tory councillors drive Bentleys. Naturally these support the inescapable logic of their argument, that there is more to the story than I am prepared to write.

But that would make no sense as the papers would soon sniff-out any fibs, so it must remain a puzzle to some.

What appears on websites and social media is governed by the revised Defamation and Libel Act of 2013, Civil Law, which clearly described the obligations of a publisher and the the process of remediation, if material is regarded as defamatory or offensive or both.

Criminal Law is something far more serious, involves a prosecution rather than civil action and requires a much higher burden of proof to present before a court.

As an example, a conspiracy in public life, a serious offense would require a solid audit trail of proof linking the alleged conspirators; documents, remarks, comments, emails etc among the evidence. Proof beyond any reasonable doubt would have to be presented to the court, along with motive, opportunity and ability, if you happen to be a fan of detective Columbo.

Presently, what has attracted the interest of the media is actually very simple, although I see elsewhere that some people have been distracted by speculation that has absolutely nothing to do with the story itself.

What interests the journalists, other than another town Tesco squabble, is whether the police commissioner has acted outside her remit, in resurrecting a complaint that the police originally chose not to pursue and how can one councillor 'Liking' the Facebook comment of another, form part of the evidence chain presented in support of an allegation of conspiracy?

"So he 'Liked' a comment on Facebook?"
Presently, what we have seen to date, makes no rational sense to the journalists - even today's Independent - and to the three of us on the receiving end of a complaint on the evidence presented. The police don't appear to know either and to be frank, have been quite apologetic but feel under pressure from elsewhere. So they have simply passed the matter up to their own legal advisors to make some sense of it all and make a recommendation on what they should do next.

That's it all in a nutshell really. The other characters involved are not really relevant to the questions I'm asking because its the law I'm testing and every active blogger should sit-up and pay attention because the conclusion is absolutely relevant to what they allow, by way of comment on their own weblogs or Facebook pages.

Footnote: Meanwhile, this evening, the local paper, The Thanet Gazette has now waded into the debate by publishing it's own account and taking the extraordinary step, of offering an apparent 'opinion' on the nature of the comments on this weblog.

 "The comments made reference to Ms Oldfield’s B+B business and her roots in the North of England among other insults as well as claiming that Thanet council was spending money defending Ms Oldfield’s legal challenges."

"Insults' is a highly emotive term and is presented as an opinion on the evidence by the paper. Nobody, national press or police, has described any of the remarks here on ThanetLife as being anything other than comments. The press exists to report and press standards are considerably higher than blog standards. By expressing an opinion on an active criminal investigation, it could be interpreted that the Thanet Gazette is acting in a partial and prejudicial manner and I have sent the editor an email asking for her explanation.

(Update - the Editor has corrected the story after I contacted the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) earlier today. I have also politely requested an explanatory short retraction statement on the advice of the PCC.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Reasons to be Careful, 1-2-3

Imagined and Not the Real Tesco Plan
If you happen to be visiting my weblog from The Daily Mail, The Observer and Guardian website this morning to discover more about the story 'Rival Facebook campaigns stir up a storm in a seaside teacup,' then I'm adding a few links here to the relevant back stories in sequence and context. An effort to add a little clarity to a bizarre criminal justice farce:

The first, is from June 16th last year, which kicked-off the complaint and is the original statement from Sir Roger Gale on the decision by the Secretary of State on the Margate Tesco application. It was the comments attached to this, which led to a police interview under caution in January and a subsequent standards complaint to Thanet District Council that I had made those same comments, as opposed to simply acting as the publisher of the weblog.

The Real Plan - Tucked Away Right of Picture
The second entry, is the story, 'Under Caution,' where I recount what happened, following an interview by the police and the evidence they presented for taking the matter directly to caution, rather than requesting a simple interview.

The third story is 'Question Time,' where I ponder if 'Liking' a comment on Facebook, really could become a criminal offense in the Orwellian dystopia which appears to have overtaken me. This led me to ask the Guardian's Jamie Doward, whether liking a Facebook comment made by Nick Griffin was worse than liking one made by Nigel Farage? It's a vexing question, as I'm sure you will agree and I'm no closer to finding out the truth.

There are three principles at stake which led me to approach The Guardian. The first surrounds the rather strong circumstantial evidence, that Kent Police Commissioner Ann Barnes or her office, appears to have resurrected and somehow directed a police investigation that had already been dropped in the summer of last year; adding a more serious inquiry which took in me and two other local councillors, on evidence described as risible by a solicitor

The second principle surrounds social media and whether the law is capable of dealing with the many issues, such as cyber-bullying that surround it, both intelligently and proportionately.  Is 'Liking' a Facebook comment, really grounds for a criminal complaint?

Finally, a new and worrying phenomenon, if, like me you happen to be working for your community as a local councillor. Going to law on civil matters, such as defamation, is expensive but the public appear to have discovered that going to criminal law costs nothing and has a direct and disproportionate impact on the target of the complaint. Having a personal agenda and simply believing oneself to be the victim of a serious crime can be enough to prompt an investigation, with little or no personal consequence, should that belief prove to be exactly that, a delusion with no evidence to support it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Edge of Heaven

The new ITV comedy, 'Edge of Heaven,' only having lasted eight minutes before I lost the will to live, I've warmed-up the PC for a quick blog entry before bedtime.

Some nice picture postcard shots of the beach but I suspect our absent diversity champion had been tasked by the council, with removing any marauding staffies and the visible presence of  normal day-to-day multi-cultural make-up in the high street. The show's cast, I'm guessing were mostly from Essex rather than Kent but I'm reliably informed the large inflatable willies were sourced locally.

On a somewhat different cultural note, I have been asked if I could promote the forthcoming Pugin's birthday concerts with the poster opposite and I'm very pleased to.

Tomorrow, I'm scheduled out with my replacement aircraft, to Portsmouth with a banner demanding the mayor's resignation over the loss of the naval dockyard; Twitter #CEPACTION. For the first time this year, the weather forecast looks to be just about within my working limits from Lee on Solent airfield, so fingers firmly crossed. It may cause a small stir.

This afternoon, the Observer newspaper tied-up their interviews on my 'Under Caution' story and I'm told this will appear in print on Sunday. Astute readers may have noticed that the local paper has, as yet, shown no interest in the matter while a national Sunday newspaper has.

I had a couple of quotes lined-up and wonder if 'The Ob' will use any?  Here's one of them:

"Many good people become involved in local politics to stand for something, to have it make some difference. Not to become the target of vexatious complainants or the criminal justice system, simply because they might hold a contrary opinion on a matter of public interest."

At this time the police appear quite unable to determine whether the simple action of ticking 'Like' on a Facebook comment may constitute a criminal offense of harassment and have referred the matter to a higher authority to decide. This led me to ask the journalist whether liking a comment made by Nick Griffin was worse than liking one make by Nigel Farage? It's a vexing question, as I'm sure you will agree and I'm no closer to finding out the truth.

There's also an interesting contradiction involving our hard-working police commissioner Ann Barnes. On the one hand, I have a police email confirming that they were conducting an investigation as a consequence of a complaint made to Ms Barnes  - Please see here - but then thanks to the intervention of Sir Roger Gale, I have another email from her office to him, where it says "The Commissioner cannot intervene in an ongoing criminal investigation/case.”

So, dear reader, the police appear to be saying their resource-intensive  investigation into a harassment and conspiracy complaint against three local councillors, was prompted by the intervention of Ms Barnes but this is directly contradicted by the statement given by her office on Thursday. As you can imagine, this has left me somewhat perplexed and the Home Affairs Editor of the Guardian too I suspect.

What The Observer newspaper will make of it all, is hard to say but I was keen to have someone else take a view on the political farce which is presently playing out here in Thanet and at some point, the authorities are going to have to act rather than obscure the facts. In such matters, going to one's MP and The Guardian may hurry matters along a little.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Stones Go Rolling from Manston

Photographed this morning from TG Aviation, air side at Manston and just about to depart, the Rolling Stones, chartered Boeing 767, on the way to the band's next big gig in Abu Dhabi, with a stop-over in Paris to collect the gear, groupies, girls, ginseng? Who knows at their combined and much celebrated age.

One thing's for certain however, they won't be squeezed into economy class with a binary choice of chicken or beef on the menu.

Ironically, I have had to cancel my forthcoming KLM shuttle plans from Manston and go from Heathrow to Spain instead. This sounds daft I know. However, the simple change at Schipol to catch one of the many Madrid-bound flights, adds almost £300 to the cost of the flight. That's crazy and removes Manston's local advantage at a stroke, which is very disappointing to a business passenger like me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Soggy Valentine

All Photos (c) Airads
These are photos of the outskirts of Canterbury around Sturry, that I took before the last two days of rain. I expect the impact to be a great deal worse by now.

I wonder if I will be called back into the air tomorrow to photograph the aftermath of this weekend's storm.

Question Time?

What a Valentine's night that was. If my greenhouse hadn't already been blown away in the storm of Xmas Eve, there's little doubt that it would have imploded in the wind overnight. What was interesting was the short calm periods before the wind returned again like an express train, rattling the house. I'm sure it was much worse on the southern side of the island on the exposed coastline.

That the BBC chose to show the movie, 'An Enemy of the State' last evening, with Will Smith and Gene Hackman wasn't lost on me, as MP's ask questions about the GCHQ's role in the United States NSA surveillance programme. The movie appeared before 911 and the war on terror but the surveillance technology, which may have seemed like science fiction then, has been revealed as near science fact over the last twelve months and many people are deeply worried by the legal and privacy aspects and I've been doing some recent work around the subject.

The law and civil liberties is a subject close to my heart and so when I read elsewhere, that I'm reportedly 'sulking' having been interviewed by the police under caution - detailed in the last blog entry, it reveals an alarming lack of intelligence on the part of the person posting the comment.

Let me explain. When former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan was first questioned by the police, he was assisting them with their inquiries. Only when he was established as a suspect in the News International phone-hacking story, was he then interviewed under caution, as a prelude to the possibility of formal charges.

Once you grasp this example, then the recent actions of the police in my last story appear somewhat irregular, that is, asking to see three councillors and going straight to a caution and without any solid evidence to present. I could have insisted on a lawyer present but chose not to, having nothing to hide and being quite prepared to assist, caution or not.

This may explain why I'm a trifle exercised by the matter and over the last few days, more detail has been volunteered by several people. I've passed this over to a Sunday Newspaper, the BBC and my MP, who are all seeking greater clarity on the role of Ms Barnes in this story. The last I heard of the matter, yesterday afternoon, was that the Police Commissioner had 'gone to ground' and so those answers on her part in this were not yet forthcoming. This means that I won't see any impartial newspaper report on this matter on Sunday but may have to wait a little longer to understand how a complaint against a blogger named John Hamilton, expanded into a second allegation of criminal conspiracy involving three local councillors; a giant and very serious leap, requiring both senior police resources and a significant body of evidence to support such an inquiry.

So, what is exercising me is both the process and the evidence followed, in addition to the level and cost of police resource being thrown at the complaint. Something isn't quite right here and others appear to share my concern over process and proportionality. Who may have said what on one weblog or was allegedly cyber-bullied on another's blog, written in Arizona, is really quite irrelevant. You may notice that the Thanet Gazette made no mention of this at all yesterday, even though I did speak with the editor shortly after I published the last blog entry. I find that curious but I'm sure she has her reasons and is likely waiting on the result of the police inquiry. After three weeks since the interview already, it could take us up to Easter.

Because, some of the familiar trolls are making their presence felt again, i.e. 'Guilty as sin' and I should be hanged immediately for being a Conservative and for a vague but unspecified involvement with the Deal barracks bombings (poor Duncan had to take down his Facebook page to stop the flow of abuse) I have followed Michael Child's example and will no longer accept purely anonymous comment. I'm afraid it's too time consuming filtering out the looney and abusive element  trolling around with their own agenda in Thanet's crowded cyberspace.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Under Caution

'There's daggers in men's smiles.’ (Macbeth)

Oddly enough, even my strange sense of humour can be a little stretched, when I have a senior police officer sitting in my home, his notebook open, his pen poised at the ready to interview me under caution; all over what I can only regard as an outrageous complaint by a member of the public.

Not everyone will be familiar with Tom Wolfe’s famous political novel or the movie, ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ but a recent short story of politics, planning and policing, here in Thanet, has an uncomfortable resonance.

Imagine for a moment, that you are the happy owner of a well known Margate boutique B+B. A relative newcomer to the area but already energetically and vocally active on the political scene. Perhaps having recently failed to be elected as an independent councillor, you are drawn to indulge in some brief episode of melodrama. This might even stretch to believing you have become the focus of harassment and abuse by a sinister cabal of local Conservative councillors?

Your crusade to prevent an iconic local tower-block having a Tesco opened adjacent, has attracted its supporters and its critics too and the costs of taking subsequent appeals to the High Court, weighs heavily on the cash-strapped resources of a struggling local council

Imaginary friend or not, if you should choose to place yourself in the public gaze, online, here in Thanet, it can be a bruising and frequently unpleasant experience. Here, I'm thinking of a lady who may wish to restrict or even refuse comment on her part in this long-running planning battle ; on her own weblog ,She appears equally reluctant to accept criticism elsewhere and with it, the attention of the handful of trolls, who frequent our gossip-ridden and frequently abusive local weblogs.

In June of 2013, such comment apparently became too much. On ThanetLife and focused on an entry; ‘A Necessary Decision.’ Sir Roger Gale MP delivered his view on on the Secretary of State`s determination to grant consent, with conditions, for the Arlington (Margate)Tesco project. This was a rejection of the planning appeal that the lady had worked so hard to support and in the story’s comments, anonymous readers question her motives.

They remark on the cost to the Thanet taxpayer and one reader suggests, rather unkindly, that she’s an outsider, recently arrived from the north of England, hell-bent on reforming local politics and regeneration efforts to suit her personal agenda.

But what happens next is remarkable as both a test of the law and in regard to what many readers might believe to be their right to exercise free speech on a matter of public interest. Our B+B owner complains to the police, reportedly claiming a conspiracy of sorts against her exists, involving harassment by three local councillors. In particular the police officer, directs my attention to the comments on the ‘Necessary Decision’ story, as the evidence of her complaint.

Not Quite What's on the Plans!
The Facebook page of former Mayor of Margate, Mick Tomlinson, is produced by the police officer, where she is chided for exaggerating  the size and position of the proposed Tesco. The police are then pointed to another councillor, ‘Liking’ that same comment on Facebook as further evidence of a clandestine political conspiracy. You might be forgiven for wondering, if overnight, Thanet had been revealed as a forgotten corner of North Korea with a simple 'ticked' opinion perceived as a criminal offense?

Now, ‘Conspiracy to harass as described by the police, is a serious criminal offence, particularly so if you happen to be a political figure, work in local government or are employed in a professional or responsible role. When the police see this for the first time, they take a quick look at the evidence on offer and do absolutely what you might expect of them; absolutely nothing.

Perhaps she believes this reluctance to take action is simply evidence of another conspiracy or perhaps simple incompetence on the part of the police for not seeing the truth of it all?

For the complainant, it’s not good enough. So the lady reportedly lobby’s our new Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes. After all, Thanet Councillors have, in the past, earned an unhappy reputation in ‘Private Eye’ magazine, for one thing and another and this complaint is the icing on the cake.

Ann Barnes, then reportedly refers the complaint to her Chief Constable and in response, he appoints two senior inspectors to review the file and re-open the complaint, reporting back to the Crown Prosecution Service on whether a prosecution should follow.

So the first I hear of this complaint, is an email from the police requesting an interview on a matter of sensitivity. Always happy to cooperate with our hard-working and under-resourced law-enforcement, I invited the inspector to my home, where to my surprise; he announces that he would like to interview me ‘Under Caution.’ With nothing to hide, I waived my right to have a solicitor present and wait to see where this is all going.

The next ninety-minutes of my afternoon, are taken-up with questioning and examining my weblog in the light of the printed evidence the police officer has bought with him. Apparently, it’s alleged that together with two other council colleagues, I have somehow conspired to harass the worthy lady owner of a Margate B+B, by making untrue and defamatory comments damaging to her reputation and business. You can of course read all of these comments on Thanet Life. But there’s one small problem. I haven’t made any comments. In fact, I had rather foolishly believed I was on good terms with the lady; pointing the police officer to the exchanges on my Twitter feed. More the fool me.

There exists a world of difference between an opinion and a conspiracy and there are, as I pointed-out to the inspector, comments left by other people on Some are anonymous, some are not. Yes, I do moderate my weblog and have an acceptable use policy but while some of the remarks are undoubtedly robust, frequently badly-expressed and occasionally unkind about her origin in the north of England, they do, I believe mostly represent fair comment on a story of real local public interest are no different, I suspect to what you might find under stories in the Daily Mail Online.

If the good lady in question had any issue or concerns, there is protection for those running websites if they can show they are not the authors of defamatory posts and assist in identifying those who are. I pointed-out to the police officer, a simple call or email would have had me remedy the situation.

Apparently then, the same overworked police inspector has been making the rounds of Thanet’s bloggers and trolls, interviewing them and attempting to determine whether they are part of some wider conspiracy to harass Margate’s self-appointed public champion and B+B entrepreneur; reportedly, involving Google and tracking one elusive ‘blogger’ all the way across the Wantsum Channel to the state of Arizona, which, I have discovered, lies beyond Whitstable.

During the ninety-minute inquisition, the inspector warned me that a Standards Complaint was also winging its way from the same source to solicitor, Harvey Patterson at Thanet Council and this proved correct, when a few days later, I received notice, ref TDSSC112/13 that it is alleged by a member of the public that I have “Made unacceptable comments” about a member of the public on my weblog, which of course I haven’t and this account will be delivered to the council's Standards Committee in my own defence.

So, in addition to the costs involved in challenging the building of a Tesco on Margate’s seafront, we now have considerable police, personal and council time taken with pursuing a serious complaint against three of Thanet’s councillors and I will soon be submitting an FOI request to determine the costs of this frivolous if not malicious exercise.

Furthermore, the judgement of the Police Commissioner is once again under scrutiny. If the police rejected this vexatious complaint once, why did Ann Barnes, as I was told by the police, intervene to resurrect it? I don’t know but I’m sure that many people, local politicians of all parties included, would dearly like to know the answer.

Finally, many of us may accept accept that Thanet has always been insular by nature and people don’t always take kindly to newcomers on personal crusades. That said, Cllr Ian Driver appears to be successfully breaking new ground, busily driving his own militant soap-box around Ramsgate and hoping the wheels don't fall off before the next local elections. One might however remark, that by involving the police, this particular Yorkshire lass appears to be piling-up her own bonfire of the vanities. This may yet become the funeral pyre of her reputation in Margate’s politically-active community, if she’s not prepared to accept criticism from anyone, anywhere and at anytime.

The police have today, now referred this to their legal services department for direction as they are unable to reach a decision on the matter and for now, at least I have to turn-off comments here.  I do wonder what the Wifi signal is like in the prisoners accommodation on the Isle of Sheppey as I wait for the police to decide, in the 'newspeak' of George Orwell's 1984 whether that innocent act of ticking 'Like' on a Facebook page, constitutes for one of my colleagues, a serious criminal offence in the Britain of 2014.

“Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . " George Orwell 1984

Friday, February 07, 2014

Преступлéние и наказáние

I was planning to publish the rather odd story everyone has been anticipating this morning but as the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky might remark, the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly but then he wrote: “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”

Since sending it to the home affairs editor of a national newspaper yesterday, it appears to have provoked enough interest for him to want to send a journalist down to see me next week. Meanwhile, a learned friend took a look and recommended that I wait for a conclusion, now promised for Tuesday in order to ensure it's all neatly wrapped with no loose ends.

So there you are, you may have to wait a little longer; sorry.

It very much look as if we are in for another 'Megastorm' over the weekend and I have absolutely no intention of moving my replacement aircraft, now re-fitted and waiting for collection, over to Manston, to risk being blown away again. Placed in perspective, the centre of the advancing Atlantic storm at 954 Mb is much more like a small hurricane going the wrong way, with a pressure difference of 2,000 feet between what is normal sea level pressure and what is presently coming our way. It's going to get very windy!

Given what we have witnessed this winter and a predicted rise in sea levels over this century, by as much as two metres, many of us may confidently predict that one day, in the not too distant future, Thanet will once again become an island but parts of our town may find themselves rather closer to the sea than residents might wish.

Looking at the coverage from Dawlish, where I flew in the airshow two years ago, I'm struck by the devastation caused by the sea. It reminds us all that even the thickest concrete defences are no match for nature at its wildest.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A Third World Man

While the authorities take rather longer than I might have expected, concluding the investigation, which led to my remarks last week, as I wait to press 'Publish' on a story which is already written, I might as well write something else while we wait.

One of my favourite bands from the past, was Steely Dan, which were big during my University days in the United States. There was one song, 'Johnny is a Third World Man', which oddly, I was reminded of, last week, when councillors were invited to a briefing on the work of the Margate task Force; which integrates all the important support and intervention services into a single team, dealing with the priority wards of Margate central and Cliftonville-west. I have to admit, that within a minute of so of the Police inspector's briefing starting, my jaw was in danger of bouncing off the table in front of me.

Let me say first of all, that the Task Force are doing remarkable and vital work, dealing with challenges that lie somewhere between the darker pages of a Charles Dickens novel and the worst examples of inner city dystopia; all within two square miles of a Thanet town.

Almost within a single sentence, I heard, Sexual Abuse, Honey Boys, Syphilis, STDs, Crack Cocaine, Crystal Meth and the influence of Jamaican and Somali gangs. We heard of unusually high levels of mental illness, punishment stabbings and more besides but I think by now you grasp the picture. And thanks to the ability to overlay statistics on Google maps, we could see where crime and health issues are clustered in particular roads, as data from the emergency services and local government were integrated to deliver a graphic picture of despair.

The good news, if you can call it that, is the police firmly believe they now have these areas under control and that it's focused intervention from local government, health, housing and social services, such as mobile doctors, dentists and health workers, which will make the difference in rolling back the tide. The police also would like to use the lessons learned in Margate, to start introducing similar initiatives in other areas of Thanet, some surrounding the priority hot-spots, to also re-assert finer control and improve health outcomes.

So what does this tell us? I'm sure readers will arrive at their own conclusions. On the one hand, we have visible and encouraging signs of regeneration in Margate, thanks to the 'Turner effect.' On the other and thanks, in part, to the ready availability of cheap rental properties and uncontrolled inward migration, we have third world levels of despair and disease on our doorstep that are sucking-in huge level of resource and effort from all the different agencies focused on improving people's lives and fighting crime.

It was not lost on me and I'm sure the police too, that last week, an attempt to introduce an amendment to the immigration bill, to deport foreign criminals and prevent them hiding behind the European Human Rights Act was lost in Parliament and I would like to congratulate those members of the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats who feel so passionately, that we should defend and nurture such offenders in our own communities. In Thanet, sadly the statistics speak for themselves.

So, a pat on the back for the Margate Task Force but at the meeting, I expressed my own deep concern that serious diseases such as Syphilis were making an appearance and at levels higher than one would expect in this small population. There's frequently a separate narrative to this but there appears a reluctance to discuss it publicly and this may be associated with the prevailing atmosphere of political correctness.

Cllr Iris Johnston said that such problems existed in the 1960s and to a certain extent, yes they did in many parts of the country; particularly in slum inner city areas. But that's fifty years ago, almost the entire lifetime of a welfare state, which has still managed to deliver the likes of Benefits Street to our TV screens. I would say that Margate and Cliftonville when I was a boy, looked very different, when I used to shop at Les Riggs Sports or Bobby's Department Store. Today, we have equally different problems facing a completely new generation and drugs, health and organised crime present a unique challenge to everyone involved and trying so very hard to deliver the outcomes on which to build a better future for everyone, living in the areas involved.