Thursday, May 29, 2014

Building Collapse in Ethelbert Square

A small army of police, fire-engines and ambulances on their way this evening to Ethelbert Square in Westgate.

Reportedly, part of a building has collapsed in one of the large multi-tenanted properties, next to the Westgate-on Sea club.

The area is cordoned-off and at this time, I'm unable to ascertain the extent of the damage and how many people may have been injured if at all.
Should you happen to find out more please Twitter @simonmoores.

Keep On Saving

The fate of Manston airport is a very sensitive matter this week, with its new owner, Ann Gloag, scheduled to meet our Council Leader and possibly our Members of Parliament, tomorrow, Friday, in Margate.

I have been speaking with several national newspapers interested in what they see as a bigger story, where a small and deprived community becomes a helpless victim of big-business profiteering at its worst. However, I do believe its better to leave the investigative journalism to the greater resources of Fleet Street and not Garlinge and it's certainly not, in my opinion, a wise idea to float highly inflammatory allegations, twenty-four hours in advance of a delicate negotiation with the airport's new owner. The timing could not have been worse unless the objective was to throw sensible diplomacy out of the window and simply to create a tense atmosphere of acrimony and allegation with a suggestion of 'fraud' thrown-in for rhetorical good measure.

The #SaveManston debate is hugely important to a great many people on the island, who see future opportunities for an already impoverished and struggling local economy, pulled-out from under our feet by plans to build a 1,000 house or even a 'Garden City.' If we were sitting at a poker table then we would be holding a very poor hand indeed but the Council, as the player of last resort, has a CPO up its sleeve but needs the right circumstances and support to play it.

I know people feel very strongly indeed about what has happened so very swiftly in the last month, as I do too. But we need to find a 'Keep Calm' solution with Mrs Gloag and not a confrontation; so please, no 'Burn the Witch' posters waving outside the Council offices tomorrow and let's do all we can to express how we feel about saving our airport from housing blight but not in the same excitable way that that a small group welcomed Nigel Farage.

I was at last night's Police and Community engagement meeting in Birchington last night and was disappointed to see that aside from Council Leader Iris Johnston and UKIP, KCC leader Roger Latchford, I was the only councillor present. Local crime and anti-social behaviour issues were discussed, such as the prolific beach-hut vandalism along our coastline but I did want to share with you the police warning of an increase in burglary in Westbrook, Westgate and Birchington.

Please be sure to attend to your own home security, take extra precautions and don't fall victim to burglars. At the same time, there are lots of telephone and internet scams in circulation and I've come across a couple myself. If you get an unsolicited call from an Indian call-centre, you should be particularly cautious, as they frequently appear to have discovered a virus on your PC and want to help. Don't believe it for a minute!

In fact and this may surprise you, on average over 100,000 new computer viruses are now appearing each day and the anti-virus industry has finally conceded it's lost the battle. I don't actually use anti-virus software on my PC anymore; I'm just very careful about the websites I visit and I never open email attachments from people I don't know or follow web-links in emails either. If you are equally cautions then your chances of being compromised remain relatively low.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Save Manston March

This afternoon's march on the Thanet District Council offices at Cecil Square, was really quite well attended and vocal too. When I left, the demonstrators were chanting for Council Leader, Iris Johnston, to come outside and talk with them; does anyone know if she did?

Here are some of my photos from this afternoon and I was really pleased to see such strong support for the suggestion of a compulsory purchase of the airport. Time is of the essence if the Council is to act on this, rather than sit on its hands, I would expect to see an special meeting of the Council called very soon to debate the matter properly. I'm sure many thousands of people in Thanet, who support the airport, would expect the same of their councillors.

Not by Night

I have received the video of the Manston Night Flights debate from the Thanet District Council meeting of 24th May, 2012. As promised, I have placed this online, so everyone, who may be interested, can see how we finally arrived at last week's closure of the airport, given the level of night-flight restriction placed upon it by Clive Hart's Labour administration at the time. You might note my cartoon from then.

If you watch it carefully and ignore the robust and often personal nature of the debate, you will have a much clearer idea of the individual  political positions on the airport's future and the level of support expressed by several prominent councillors, that may indeed be at odds with what they have claimed their stance was of late.

How naive I was in believing that Manston could not be closed-down because of a Ministry of Defence commitment to its runway, as obviously, the information I was given, was quite wrong.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In This Week's Letters

As you may have seen on BBC South-east Today, The police having concluded that two fellow councillors and I had no case to answer in regard to the complaint covered in their evening news report, one inquiry ends but another now begins as you can can see from the attached letter.

While I understand from Twitter exchanges today, that one person in particular would rather not have me share this information, I do believe that the story is now very much in the public domain and as I have not made any of the (36) comments attributed to me in the letter, I very much look forward to seeing how the Council's new standards process, will deal with this matter.

At the same time, my two fellow councillors, who are the subject of similar complaints, will I'm sure, be equally interested in how a matter dropped by the police through lack of evidence to the contrary, will be pursued by the standards committee of our local council.

Tonight, I see that there is an up-coming documentary on our Police and Crime Commissioner, exploring her work, here in Kent and judging from the preview I saw yesterday, and my own experience of her involvement in my own case, the programme is bound to prove enlightening.

People ask why I have announced that I have no plans to stand again as a Councillor next year and perhaps the letter shown above, coming on the heels of a police inquiry of five months, serves as an explanation. Anyone, even minor local politicians, should have an absolute right to hold an opinion on a controversial development, without fear of giving offense, a police inquiry at one's front door, vexatious complaints or even social media harassment from those who may disagree with their position. Here in Thanet, the often toxic and adversarial nature of community politics, can make even holding the most reasonable of positions open to vigorous challenge from a small number of vocal individuals and interests.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Playing with Fire

Tesco's Bizarre
‘So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot.’  George Orwell.

Have your Volvo destroyed in Broadstairs by hooded thugs wielding baseball bats and as the local paper reports, you  may not deserve a 999 visit from the police but if someone alleges you have 'Liked' a Facebook page, you might find yourself in really big trouble. With all the considerable investigative resources of Kent Police and the Police Commissioner, leveled against you.

It’s not every day that the police come knocking at your door, asking to speak with you in connection with an allegation of a serious criminal offence and it’s not every day, that you receive a police caution in your own home, an event which is bound to cause some small concern to your family present.

Imagined Tesco
If you follow this weblog or read the Daily Mail, The Independent or The Observer, then you may recall this is exactly what happened to me and two other Thanet councillors, earlier in the year. The police,were  acting on a complaint from the summer of 2013, by Miss Louise Oldfield, the proprietor of The Reading Rooms boutique hotel in Margate, that I was involved in a ‘Criminal Conspiracy to Harass’ the lady. Subsequently, I even read on one news site that I had been arrested!

You may also recall, that the complaint against me, surrounded comments made by anonymous characters on my Thanet Life weblog,  I was informed a popular former mayor of Margate on his Facebook page, had challenged her artist’s impression of a Tesco development on Margate seafront, which was then subsequently ‘Liked’ by another councillor, who was also interviewed under police caution.

The Real Plan
Compared in the newspapers with North Korea, this bizarre story of politics and policing here in Thanet, was also presented, as a cautionary lecture on the perils of social media at the Local Government Association conference in London. It was discussed with a local government minister, a director of Facebook and was even taken-up by the influential Simon Davies, at the London School of Economics and described as 'A dangerous prosecution trend' on his weblog.

In every discussion, Kent police, given the questionable level of evidence offered to support their inquiry, were viewed as acting disproportionately; unwilling but diligent agents in the pursuit of a frivolous and possibly malicious complaint, reportedly pressed-upon them by the office of the publicity-hungry Kent Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes.

Simon Davies LSE
Last week and after four months of pressing for information against a stalled bureaucracy and helped by my Member of Parliament, Sir Roger Gale, the police finally dropped the criminal conspiracy and harassment complaint against me, for lack of evidence. This, without so much as an apology for the time and costs involved in pursuing it.

You may recall from the earlier stories on Thanet Life that two senior police officers had been working on this investigation since the autumn of last year and at great cost to the taxpayer. How much, I can’t tell you, as the police won’t reveal this under the Freedom of Information Act, (FOI) as an individual's complaint is involved. Neither will Thanet council reveal the cost of Ms Oldfield’s own FOI and subject access data requests, seeking any and all relevant communications between councillors.

So, it appears, that after many months of inquiry, Kent Police have concluded, that anonymous comments on my weblog are, as I told them on the day of interview, a matter for civil law and not criminal law. That ‘Liking’ a comment on Facebook, is not a criminal offence and, I assume, that challenging the position and style of an artists’ impression of a giant Tesco, development, placed adjacent to Dreamland, is truly what the former mayor of Margate said it is, at best an exaggeration and at worst a misrepresentation of the facts.

Furthermore and on the absence of any evidence, three councillors of long-standing and good reputation clearly did not, between them, seek to conspire against Ms Oldfield, in a directed and malicious effort to damage her reputation or business as initially suggested by the police. One might argue as a consequence, that she didn't need our help and did rather well on her own.

Ann Barnes - Kent Police Commissioner
But other important questions need answering too. The police inspector told all of us involved in the complaint, that when the police were approached last summer; no action was taken because the original allegation had no merit. But then, the office of Ann Barnes, our crusading police commissioner became involved.

In a reply to a letter to Sir Roger Gale on my behalf,  - see below - she denies any personal involvement in placing pressure on the Chief constable. A copy of an email, received under my own Freedom of Information request, shows that on 15th October, Ann Barnes’ office was clearly involved in encouraging the police to reconsider Ms Oldfield’s complaint.

“Dear Roger

I know you have recently been in contact with a member of my staff, and wanted to take the chance to update you on the matter relating to your constituent, Cllr Simon Moores.

I am sure you are aware that Police and Crime Commissioners are constrained in law from interfering with Chief Constables’ operational independence.  I want to be absolutely clear that in relation to this case, I did not ask or insist that the case be re-opened, or request that the Police interview the councillors involved.  For anyone to suggest otherwise is simply untrue.”

I have attempted to request the correspondence from the police side with the police commissioner’s office, (PCO) but this has been denied.

Also, correspondence between Ms Oldfield, other parties and the Police Commissioner, which would allow me to understand how this complaint developed, is also denied but it's clear that something happened in October 2013, as you may  see the attachments in the email from Ann Barnes office in the image.

The Police Commissioner's Office email Sent to Kent Police on Oct 1st
I now have several questions that remain unanswered and defy my efforts to use Freedom of Information legislation.

The first, is how a complaint surrounding the blog of someone writing on local issues under the name of John Hamilton, developed into a more serious allegation of a criminal conspiracy to harass by three prominent local councillors with evidence up to the best standards of a Soviet political show trial?

Why did Ms Oldfield, apparently intent on shutting-down any negative remarks or comment on social media, resort to making a criminal complaint, when in my own case, a simple email, call or polite request would have been sufficient for me to review comments and take action on my own weblog under the civil law and Libel and Defamation Act of 2013? What was her motivation, other than as the council solicitor commented, that ‘A criminal complaint costs nothing and immediately ties you-up, while a civil complaint is expensive and takes time.’

Political Show Trial 1930's
Once again, the judgment of Ann Barnes is called into question and this time on a more serious and politically-charged matter than the 'Tweets' of a juvenile youth commissioner. What was the true involvement of our PCO, who clearly denies any involvement in her letter to Sir Roger Gale but apparently open to contradiction by the account of an investigating police officer and a copy of an email from her office. This suggests to me that all is not what it appears. Did she not look at the flimsy evidence first and consider the implications of placing pressure to re-visit the complaint on the Chief Constable, who then, I'm told tasked two inspectors with investigating the matter?

Given the level of evidence and having cautioned them as potential suspects, why did the police keep three local councillors waiting for over four months, when a simple interview to assist them with the inquiries, would have been more than sufficient, from the legal advice I have received? The bar for a criminal complaint of this nature is set very high indeed in the courts, I'm told, so why pursue it, other than the fact that there was a political dimension?

Let me be clear. A criminal complaint to the police against a politician of any status is a very serious matter. Using it in pursuit of a personal grievance or political agenda against individuals is deeply worrying. If you happen to be a professional person or an individual enjoying a hitherto good reputation in your community, it can be potentially catastrophic and we have seen this of late with the recent trial of Nigel Evans MP and the ‘Plebgate’ farce.

In regard to Louise Oldfield one informed correspondent writes:

“I am very surprised at her approach to the police. She has sought to involve herself in the Margate High Street shops arena and also to object to Tesco.   I understand she adopted a similar role elsewhere before arriving in Margate.

She has busied herself becoming involved in every aspect of life with no real mandate from local residents.  I was shocked to hear that you were interviewed in this way. I expect that someone without such a high profile would not have secured police co-operation on such an allegation.”

This is perhaps an example of well-intentioned ‘Localism’ gone crazy. This is supposed to give greater powers to groups to determine the future of their communities. Instead, what I’m starting to see are small groups of activists using the legislation in pursuit of their own unelected ambition or agenda. This month, for example, the Margate neighbourhood plan came in front of Council’s Cabinet for a vote. This placed us in an impossible position on the Conservative side to comment on it, because Louise Oldfield leads it and we were still under caution at the time, remaining under the long shadow of a conspiracy complaint. As a result, the free and democratic process was successfully frustrated by the existence of a criminal complaint.

I should add here that this matter is not yet concluded, because Louise Oldfield also submitted a parallel standards complaint against all three councillors for the same complaint. This was held pending the result of the police criminal inquiry and now will have to go through process, even though the police have dropped the investigation and all at more cost to the Thanet taxpayer.

I still have no redress against any frivolous or malicious allegation of criminal behaviour in public life. As a consequence of this unpleasant ordeal and my growing loss of confidence in our justice system, I have no plans now to stand for re-election next year.

A second prominent councillor, friend and colleague will also be standing down. I’m sure that many readers from Thanet’s wayward political scene will be delighted by this news. I did not join local government to become a political punch-bag and the focus of frivolous or malicious police complaints but instead, to use my talents to help my community, here in Westgate; perhaps even to make it a better place to live and work.

Yesterday, we lost Manston airport and in return, we gained the implicit threat of a thousand new houses, which will be difficult to resist under present planning policies. Listening to Clive Hart's rather graceless speech in Council last night, where he told us that we 'Should never wrestle with a pig', the warning I will leave you with today, is that Thanet’s political scene has become a bitter, divided and deluded playground for fringe personal interests,and policies that have no real place in local government and still further frustrate attempts by some of us attempting to restore the waning  public confidence in local government.

The Tories and Tesco. See today's analysis in The Independent Newspaper

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Counting Down the Hours

Unless a final rescue package can be agreed, Manston airport will close tomorrow with the loss of hundreds of jobs, a number of local businesses and the resulting catastrophe to the lives of many connected with the airport for their livelihoods.

A number of aircraft will be showing support today with a WW II P-51 Mustang included at 2:30pm. I will be dragging a small 'Save Manston' banner past, as a small gesture of both solidarity and sympathy for everyone involved in a farce with very real consequences for many people I know.

To paraphrase the famous novellist, Ernest Hemingway asked about his bankruptcy: "How did you lose Manston airport?" "Gradually and then suddenly."

As a matter of public record for the future, it appears that the Council have found the video of the last debate where Manston's future was discussed in 2012. Mrs Gloag's involvement aside, If people need to understand how we arrived at such an unhappy place, then they need to watch it and once I have it, I will attempt to load it on to YouTube.

Some readers may recall the controversial character of Gordon Gecko, from the movie, Wall Street, who represented everything that was wrong at the the time with unrestrained capitalism in the 1980's. Here are a number of famous quotes about making money for all the wrong reasons and of course the most famous of them all, "Greed is good"

I understand that negotiations with Mrs Gloag's agents are continuing right up to the wire but as the hours tick by to the shutters falling on nearly a hundred years of history and the silent shadows of all the many young men whose lives ended suddenly on the airfield during WWII, let's all of us consider for a moment what we are losing for the future and Thanet's economy. All this, in the very same week that Heathrow and Gatwick are bidding against each other in anticipation of the aviation industry boom to come.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Clive Quits!

The shock news this morning on the BBC is that Thanet Council's Labour administration Leader, Clive Hart has resigned. One assumes that his deputy, Cllr Alan Poole will take over the political direction of the Council,  until matters are properly resolved at this week's annual meeting of the Council on Thursday

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Time to be Saved

Laura Sandys with Will Scobie Saving in Background
Some of my photos from yesterday's great turn-out at Manston to protest the airport's closure.

I was delighted to see UKIP busy saving vigorously before this month's EU elections and several of Thanet's Labour politicians running around waving "Save Manston' placards, which did not fail to strike me as ironic.

Here's my weblog account of the big Manston debate in Council and you might like to re-read it.  I'm going to be asking democratic services if they have the video available, as one after the other, several of prominent characters firmly hammered a nail into the airport's future. If I get it, I will be sure to put it up on YouTube.

At the time, I wrote: "Instead, Labour has placed the airport in a commercial straight jacket and while Labour wins votes in Ramsgate, overall, the people of Thanet are the losers." Someone tell me I was wrong?

Barrack Obama Saving Too
There is still time for a last minute reprieve for the airport if Mrs Gloag or her representatives are willing to talk. Of late, she has appeared very unwilling to engage in negotiations, which has led the UNITE trade union to describe her position as 'Bizarre.'

I have heard it suggested that there is a second agenda, a Shakespearian sub-plot, where Ann Gloag is merely playing the part for another interest, which as yet is unrevealed. Whether this is true, I can't know but the whole process to date has been extremely irregular and a reason of some kind must exist for this.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Big Bird in Dubai

Arriving in Dubai
I've been watching the news from Manston in Dubai this week and with a seven hour flight ahead of me, on-board a giant Emirates A380, I may as well tap-out my thoughts before settling down to watch a film or two. In fact, I can't fault the Emirates service. It had been showing signs of wear last time I came this way but it's now back to its highest standards and sits well above our European caririers; BA included.

Yesterday, I 'Tweeted' that many people in Ramsgate, appear to imagine the demise of the airport will lead to some economic and property-value renaissance. This provoked a small wave of outrage but when I read some of the daft ideas and suggestions floating about on Twitter, I can live with the hostility that goes with being both a councillor and a pilot.

World's Tallest Building
Many readers will understand that the council is not in the development business but there are those out there who firmly believe, that released from the worry surrounding the future of Manston, Thanet District Council will wave some kind of magic wand and perhaps turn Ramsgate into Kent's vision of Monaco; perhaps by collecting all the loose change that may have fallen between the cushions of everyone's sofas on the island?

My own views are firmly on the record here. They have nothing to do with my being a pilot and everything to do with being a local councillor, familiar with the struggling local economy. I am deeply concerned for the future prospects of the island, should it lose one of its few remaining economic assets of an international scale; loss making or not.

Simon Moores Learning to Fly the A380
The island's economy is a complex one, made more so by relatively high levels of unemployment, disability and acute welfare dependency in six pockets around Thanet. Ramsgate and Margate are large pieces of an even bigger puzzle which involves addressing the need for regeneration with dwindling budgets. Closing Manston may be good news for some but based on the public reaction in the last month, it's a rather less attractive prospect to many more and as Mrs Gloag owns the airport, there's very little anyone else can do, politicians included, to tell her how she should run her business.

Young Shoppers at the Dubai Mall
don't believe the final chapter in Manston's history has been written quite yet and until gangs of men with pick-axes start breaking-up the runway I will try and remain the optimist. The national economy is growing again and air travel is high on the agenda. It would be sad indeed if the people of Thanet lost an opportunity that's time had almost come.

While in Dubai, I managed to grab some time in an Emirates A380 simulator. It was a lot of fun practising a series of instrument approaches into Heathrow's RW27 in low visibility but you have to stay well ahead of the aircraft when attempting to manoever something as big as an A380; it doesn't quite throw itself around the sky like my own much smaller 'White van' of an aircraft that I spend so much time in.

Time to Board the Emirates A380 Home
Wandering around Dubai's big shopping mall, complete with seaquarium and ice-rink, I wonder what people do when they have run out of luxury items to buy.  A cappuccino and a slice of cake at £12, was quite enough for me, while I waited on one of the stores to neatly shrink-wrap a duty free Bentley, to add to my modest hold luggage for the trip home

It's a big weekend of football ahead but with the weather forecast as it stands, I think fans and advertisers together, will be lucky to see banner aircraft over three end of season matches. Tomorrow, I'm booked all afternoon over the Cunard ships at Southampton and I'm fearing a repeat of last year's conditions, which proved near impossible; there's a sobering video up on YouTube.

More thoughts perhaps over the weekend.