Oh Rolf, and Jimmy, and Gary, and Stuart (and Cyril, too)

I reached double figures in November 1969. The 1970s embraced all of my teens, as well as some of the most formative years of my life (so far).

The past, they say, is a different country. I think it is several different countries, because my experience does not tally with the victims of the seemingly abundant celebrity sex offenders. I had a very sheltered upbringing and an all-male senior school. Girls were aliens who didn’t play football and cricket, did not like rock music, and who preferred to avoid gang-huts and silliness.

The seventies are a minefield of fallen or falling idols, and even those who have cleared their names have quietly drifted away. The seventies make for some very selective viewing as sex-offenders are excised from the archive TV channels. Anyone who follows Top Of The Pops 1979 has to adapt to gaps in the viewing schedule as some of the DJ presenters are now considered unsuitable for consumption. It feels like my past is being re-written. Looking back is to see an increasingly incomplete picture, a canvass edited as the awful are being removed.

I was never a fan of Jimmy Saville – I found him odd and annoying. I did like Rolf Harris who struck me as an anodyne entertainer. At one time I could recite all of Two Little Boys, and enjoyed a giggle at The Court Of King Caractacus. I was charmed by the wobble-board, and did try to see if I knew what it was yet. Seeing his fall from grace makes we wonder what else is to come out, who will be next.

It cannot be just me who wonders how we created a society that allowed so much abuse to happen. This is not just lapses of judgement by isolated individuals, this is collaborative, organised, systematic wrongdoing – aided by those who preferred to look the other way, rather than question and hold to account. It looks like elements of The Establishment were at best complacent, arguably culpable, and certainly derelict in their duty.

It does make me wonder about the past, the years that I am often nostalgic about, albeit always aware of some grim realities. Whilst those who have been caught should be punished, has the system that allowed this to happen changed? I do not know. But I do know that as shocking as the revelations are (and thank goodness for Operation Yewtree) I am more appalled by the apparent ‘so what?’ culture that was evidently in place three decades and more ago.

In my sphere, politics, sex scandals are frequent news. None, in my experience, come close the apparent depravity shown by Cyril Smith, a Liberal MP who came across as a person of integrity and honesty – oh how we were fooled. Although not of the same order, Chris Rennard has much to answer for.

All of us have feet of clay, anyone can do stupid things. Everyone has a past, is entitled to their past, and should be allowed to move on. What is utterly wrong, though, is a conspiracy of silence and acceptance.

No no no no no no no no no no no go

Two meetings last night. the first being the Southend Trades Council. I do not often get to their meetings, usually because of a diary clash, but I am acutely aware of the importance of trade unions. The dominating item was the impending strike by public sector workers, a strike for fair pay. The public sector has certainly seen falling standards of living since the Coalition came to power, and it can be no surprise that after four years of squeezed pay packets they are feeling rebellious.

Alston - Whitehouse - Kavanagh

Alston – Whitehouse – Kavanagh

I went straight from the STC meeting (in Southchurch) to the Essex Police Challenge Meeting in Westcliff-on-Sea. This was hosted by the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner, Nick Alston. He was accompanied by his deputy, Lindsay Whitehouse, who managed to read an extract from one email in the whole two hours. Also at the top table was Stephen Kavanagh, Essex Police’s Chief Constable, who made some substantial contributions.

The subjects covered: the two recent Colchester murders, police performance, local policing model, and the summer demand. There was also a question and answer session.

It was largely a public relations exercise. Some statistics were distributed, but I found these mostly frustrating owing to the lack of reference data. The audience was around the forty mark, and this included five Borough councillors (two from Labour, and one each from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Independent Group.)

Cllr Mike Assenheim (Independent, Shoeburyness) made the somewhat startling assertion that it was “well known that there are several no-go areas in Southend”. Well known? Not to this councillor it ain’t. I can confidently state that there are no no-go areas in either the ward I represent, Milton, or where I live in Leigh-on-Sea. If he reads this I hope he will enlighten me as to where he considers these no-go areas to be. Those residents about to be stigmatised by Cllr Assenheim will doubtless rejoice.

I am not about to pretend that there are no violent incidents in the Borough, I think my ward has had its fair share of these. But these do not make the site of these incidents out-of-bounds to anyone. I am frequently out and about in my ward, and not just during daylight hours. I am often alone. It is a safe ward with lots of civic-minded and law-abiding residents. If anyone tells me that they feel unsafe in any street my response is to contact the local policing team and request extra patrols. These requests have so far not been ignored. I cannot speak for Shoeburyness, which parts of which may fit Cllr Assenheim’s description – he knows his ward far better than I do – but even if on occasions true it cannot be helpful to make these sort of public outbursts.

Nick Alston finished the event by stating how accountable he was, and what an improvement he is on the previous governance regime. Aside from commenting about self praise being no recommendation, I also wonder how truly accountable he is. For starters only one in thirty-five Southenders voted for him, and as he carries a party affiliation he is as likely (if not more likely) to have been elected owing to this as to anything else. He cannot escape the fact that he now represents a politicised police force.

Domestic abuse freephone number

Victims of domestic abuse crimes have a Freephone number they can call so that they can get updates on the progress of their case without any cost. This number offers an alternative for those suffering from domestic abuse to make contact with Essex Police and is answered by the force centralised switchboard, who will transfer the caller to the most appropriate person to resolve their call.

The number is 0800 358 0351.

Calls to the Freephone number are free from landlines and may cost between 14p – 20p a minute from mobile telephones depending upon the service provider. Callers from mobiles can ask to be called back if they are worried about the cost.

Minute 668 Counter Fraud Update Report

Councillor Paul Collins (Liberal Democrat, Westborough) has written this: At last night’s Council meeting a labour Councillor attacked the report to the last Audit Committee which was presented to us on the current work being done by the Councils’ counter fraud team to challenge and uncover Fraud within and outside the Council.

Attacked? I think he means expressed unease – which is the words I actually used. I am less keen than he is to give extra powers to Council officers. I note that Cllr Collins also says that it “is my duty … that we challenge these reports as presented to us”. It is my duty too, although evidently when I do it I am attacking.

Here is what I actually said in the chamber:

This rather innocuous minute includes a proposal for Council Cops.

Under the Council’s plans, counter-fraud teams will be given new powers to carry out investigations independently of the police and other law enforcement agencies, including the ability to execute search warrants and seize assets that could be the proceeds of crime or benefit fraud.

In the last year benefit fraud and error accounted for 2.1 per cent of total benefit expenditure, ensuring the recovery of this public money is of top priority. However, giving council employees these powers seem draconian, unnecessary and a duplication of the proper authority and procedures of the police.

During the meeting it was announced that the powers will include access to various data sources, including the electoral roll and Tesco clubcard records.

We can all agree that benefit cheats must be caught and punished, and public monies recovered, but that these proposals leaves me distinctly uneasy.

Entering people’s homes, executing warrants and seizing property should be carried out in the proper manner, by the proper authorities. The police are accountable to the judiciary and a number of other public bodies, these new ‘council cops’ are expected to have all the powers, but where is the accountability?

In addition, the Council is proposing to use powers that have been available since 1985, and I wondered why nearly twenty-nine years have elapsed without need to seek recourse through these powers.

I wanted a response, I got a response; reassurances about policing the homeless

I was quite taken aback by an article in last week’s Yellow Advertiser and I wrote to the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner as a result. My letter is here.

I received this response:

Dear Cllr Ware-Lane
Thank you for drawing my attention to the article in the Yellow Advertiser about homelessness in Southend.
You might want to know that I discussed the matter promptly with the Chief Constable of Essex Police, and I understand that he has written to the editor of the Yellow Advertiser to ensure the position of the force is not misunderstood.
I’ve personally talked with several Southend officers and I know that they have a sympathetic understanding of the challenges of homelessness.
I think it’s important that homeless people are treated respectfully and professionally by police and partner agencies, and I have stated this publicly in my latest blog piece for our website.


Working with everyone in our communities
I’m very proud to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex: we live in a diverse and vibrant county where many different communities and groups live side by side, generally in a spirit of respect and compassion.
There has recently been some publicity about police and partner initiatives working with homeless people in Southend.
People become homeless for a variety of reasons, most often not by choice. Family breakdown, loss of a job, sometimes a mental health problem such as an episode of severe depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after military service – there are many factors and types of vulnerability that can lead to a life on the streets. These same factors and others can also lead to the misuse of alcohol and drugs which sometimes can add to the challenges of homelessness.
I am pleased that Essex Police is working closely with Southend Borough Council, the Homeless Action Resource Project (HARP), with charities and mental health associations, and with the Southend Multi-Agency Anti-social behaviour Response Team (SMAART) to provide support to homeless people. Sometimes police officers will need to act to enforce the law or prevent crime from happening, and sometimes officers can and do help individuals find support to improve their lives with partner agencies and charities.
Homeless people often find themselves in vulnerable situations, and can be victims of crime. For those who may be suffering with mental health problems, I note that a pilot project is currently being run across south Essex involving specialist mental health nurses working alongside police officers to provide early support and intervention. I welcome this initiative, and have asked for evidence of its impact to be gathered and compared with the experience in north Essex which is not part of the pilot project.
We live in a great county, where Essex Police and partner agencies are doing their utmost to keep our communities and businesses safe whilst also offering support to some of the most vulnerable amongst us.


Thank you again for raising this matter with me.
Yours sincerely
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex

My letter to Nick Alston, Essex PCC

I have written to Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, following an article in the Yellow Advertiser. Here is what I have written:


I am a little unsettled by a report in this week’s Southend Yellow Advertiser, which quotes PC Martin Knight. (All vagrants are either ‘druggies or alcoholics’)

Firstly I must put it on record that I consider the Police I encounter in my role as a Southend-on-Sea Borough councillor do an excellent job in difficult circumstances.

I take exception to this report, which seeks to label the homeless as all causing anti-social behaviour and crime.

The quotes in the article are some way from the reality I have seen. All rough sleepers do not have substance abuse issues, although I accept that many do. Whilst some choose the streets live on, the vast majority are there not through choice.

In my experience, albeit limited (and I do defer to experts, like Shelter) there are many reasons for homelessness. Some are poor, some lose their jobs, some are evicted from their homes. Divorce and separation figure amongst the reasons people are forced to sleep rough, as do mental health issues. Some are escaping abuse. It is a far from simple picture, and the glib explanation that all who are vagrant “choose to live on the streets and take drugs and drink alcohol” is misleading. It is also harmful.

Some of the homeless acquire substance issues because of being homeless – it is a symptom of their homelessness rather than the reason. Many rough sleepers encounter violence and articles like this, in my opinion, help legitimise this.

I do receive complaints from residents about begging and anti-social behaviour caused by some in the homeless community, and the Southend Police do a good job in dealing with this. I take a zero-tolerance approach to this. But to label all who are ‘vagrant’ in the way described by PC Knight is plain wrong.

I hope you will be able to tell me that the article misquotes Essex Police. I hope you can also assure me that the Police in Southend will continue to do the fine job in treating the homeless with respect that all deserve. Homelessness is a growing issue, and we should be looking for solutions rather than stigmatising the most vulnerable in our community.



Cllr Anne Jones: Support for those experiencing Domestic Violence

Anne Jones attended the premiere of a new Police Training video, which aims to encourage a more supportive approach to those experiencing domestic violence. Existing officers and new recruits will view the film as part of a redesigned training programme.

The film was inspired by the testimony of those who had experienced domestic violence and had consequently participated in the Freedom Programme. Two survivors of domestic violence appeared in the film and gave moving accounts of their experiences. They also talked candidly about their experiences regarding police response, action and attitude. The experience of the victims regarding police response was that they felt invisible and part of a paperwork process, rather than a person who had experienced an appalling crime and needed help and support.

The film was made by Essex police, but the particpants came from Southend. They and many others have benefitted from joining the Freedom Programme,run by Safer Places. The aims are;

To help people understand the beliefs held by abusers

To illustrate the effects of domestic violence on children

To assist in recognising future abusers

To help victims gain self-esteem and confidence and improve the quality of their lives

Anne says ‘ Domestic violence is a blight in civilised society. It needs to be dealt with with sensitivity and understanding. Dealing with Domestic Violence, must not centre solely on the perpetrator, but must focus on the victim and their family.

It is encouraging that the police are talking a number of new approaches, including use of body cameras to add to the evidence gathering process, which should help victims in a positive and constructive way’

FOR INFORMATION OR ADVICE PLEASE CALL SAFER PLACES ON 01702 618026 e-mail http://www.saferplaces.co.uk/

The Freedom Programme (12 week course) runs at Centre Place Family Centre and Safer Places provide a drop in session at the same location on Wednesdays 10-12, 2-4. (number above).


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