A trip down criminal lane

Have you ever had that feeling that you’ve arrived in a place where you couldn’t feel more out-of-place if you tried?

Yesterday I went to interview Charles Young, founder of the London Anti-Crime Education Scheme (LACES). An ex-prisoner himself; he has spent the last 18 years travelling around the country teaching young people about the slippery slope. And yesterday was my chance to hear a firsthand account of prison life.

The venue: Tower Hamlets, East London.

Having never driven properly through London I arrived slightly flustered and uncomfortable as I had spent the last 2 hours driving round aimlessly following a sat nav that seemingly repeated to “[calculate]” my route as I kept missing turnings! As I parked in a bay alongside the venue, I went to get change in a local shop for parking. Walking there I could not have felt more uncomfortable. I was already feeling slightly uncertain, but walking past a large group of teenagers hovering outside the newsagent: one of the boys shouting “Alright darlin’” to me certainly did not make me feel at ease. I kept my head down and focused on parking and preparing myself for the next two hours.

The venue had moved to a larger hall, a church in the middle of an estate. I was introduced to Charlie, who I immediately warmed to. A bit of a jack the lad character: he was chatty; charismatic; but at the same time determined to put the point across to youngsters not to go down the same route as he had done.

With the mock prison cell set up (Charlie has been given an old bed from a real prison, draws, tables, a toilet and bucket, and a sink, in order to create a prison cell to engage the audience.), we awaited the arrival of the local kids.

As they entered, it was clear they had a bit of attitude. The stereotypical estate characters that appeared to think they knew more than everyone else. I was told afterwards that some of them had in fact had run-ins with the police already, despite being only 15-17 years old. But the fact that they turned up was promising. And Charlie had them engaged for entire 2 hours: 45 minutes longer, I was told, than any other talk that they would have been given by the local authorities.

“This could be your future…”

Although Charlie had his own stories from prison, he had also brought in 3 volunteers to help put the point across.

One really stood out for me. For the purposes of this blog I will call him “X”, as I don’t know if I should say his real name. He had started abusing drugs before resorting to street robbery which had lasted for 10 years, in and out of jail with sentences lasting between 2 months and a year. He had been addicted to crack cocaine and due to his drug abuse is now in hospital after being in a low secure unit, having guidance from 2 occupational therapists. The drugs had affected his concentration and he had to read from a script about his experiences in order for him to stay on track of his thoughts. In contrast to Charlie, who told us that he used to steal credit cards, cars and money for a better life, “X” was willing to use knives to rob people on the street for money. In prison “X” also said that he would not have ruled out violence, whereas Charlie said all he wanted to do was chat to pass the time.

Prison Life

 

Charlie went on to tell us about prison life. He told us about how he used to pass the time: 23 hours in a cell per day. They would make jokes by placing excrement on paper towels and throwing them on other inmates during yard time hoping they would have diarrhoea that day in order for it to “splat” better.

Holding up a plastic cup, Charlie asked the audience how this was the most effective weapon in prison. Some said heating it up, others said to cut other inmates. The real answer: boiling water and sugar; the boiling water to scald and the sugar to stick to the skin…

And it was the simplest tasks that were the most difficult. Sharing a cell, Charlie explained that you never had any privacy. Going to the toilet would echo around the cell, prison officers would bang on the door to humiliate inmates when they were using the toilet. And for a man’s typical way to relieve tension again, no women, and no privacy.

And it wasn’t just the prison surroundings that were hard to handle. Some cell mates would be abusive. They would call the cell “my cell”, even though it was meant to be shared, and wouldn’t take any “shit” from anyone. Some would even go to the toilet in the other cell mates bed to make a point.

SHUT UP!

 

I believe the reason why Charlie engages the audience so much is because he involves them in his presentation. From the very beginning he challenged the most cocky ones to an arm wrestle to see how “hard” they were. Joking with them but also telling them who was boss by making them turn their phones off in order to listen to what he had to say. One boy was caught playing on his phone during the talk and Charlie made him stand up and asked him to sit in the cell. Standing at the front, looking like a naughty child, the boy refused to sit in the cell for the rest of the session. And this was a fake prison cell!? I was told afterwards by the sister who was in charge of the church venue that these boys look up to the older people on the estate who break the law, and, as I said earlier, some themselves have already been arrested in the past. But in this case, the boy wasn’t happy with being caught out and made a display of. Which makes me question why commit crime in the first place?

There are other things in the world that don’t involve breaking the law which are fun and don’t run the risk of being locked up and ruining the rest of your life by having a criminal record.

Prevention

As we left the group of teenagers who had been in the audience were outside the church in the estate next door shouting and swearing at each other, and I wondered whether anything that Charlie had just said had got through to them.

Speaking to some of the girls in the audience, though they really enjoyed Charlie’s talk and said it was better “coming from the horse’s mouth as such” because you can see how it affected him, and how the other volunteers regretted their actions and were trying their hardest to get through to these boys.

Earlier, I mentioned Charlie’s volunteers. One was a boy who had been put forward by his mum who believed his behaviour required some assistance in order to direct him away from turning to crime or ending up in the wrong crowd (she admitted when seeing the rest of the audience that she may not have noticed that in the grand scheme of things her son was not actually as much of a nightmare as he could have been!)

To this boy, the presentation couldn’t have been better. Finally out of his prison attire from the talk, he told me how he did not want to end up being bored in a prison cell for 23 hours and wanted to do something with his life.

Inspiration

 

It was an inspiration to see that Charlie has turned his life around to help people. Some of the feedback afterwards by audience members and participants showed hope that schemes such as LACES can help deter crime.

But is it not about more than that? Charlie said that he is struggling to get funding for the talks. What happens if, one day, he has to stop? Who will be there to help deter crime? Who will be there to explain, from their own experiences, how undesirable prison is?

And I wonder what will happen to the boys from the estate. Will they have listened and taken in the warnings from the speakers, and will they stay on the right side of the law in the future? Either way, the fact that they turned up to the talk is always promising and it was clear from them that they did not enjoy the idea of not being able to do anything all day everything if they were sent to jail. Despite appearances I overheard some of them speak to each other about wanting to become an occupational therapist like those who were there with one of the volunteers, while others, when asked by Charlie why they wanted a job, answered to do something with their lives. I don’t think any one wants to go to prison; they just need that extra guidance to make sure that they really don’t.

Charlie’s talks are increasingly popular and a great way of preventing crime. It’s going to take a long time, and the help of many organisations, to noticeably reduce crime figures.

Sometimes life runs in a vicious circle. It takes a lot for someone who has been brought up in a crime ridden neighbourhood; run by the local gang, to escape the inevitable generational downfall, and I don’t think there will ever be a time when we can completely eradicate crime. But in the mean time, with the help of those dedicating their time to put the word out that prison in not a glamorous place and is not a good life choice, then maybe we can relieve the pain for those who are victims of crime and allow youngsters to do something with their lives and make the most of the options they have, education or otherwise, while they have the chance.

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The Immigration Economy

I am now coming to the end of my course at the University of Westminster in Journalism. As many of you have probably noticed, this blog has not been a hive of activity for a couple of months now! However, thought I’d upload a recent radio project I did for one of my final assessments.

It looks at the impact of immigration on the UK following a recent report by the NIESR that immigrants, from Eastern Europe alone, contribute to 5% of the growth in GDP, but it came with criticism from groups such as Migrationwatch UK who see this as a “poor deal” for UK citizens.

This podcast looks at the real impact of immigration: reaffirming the costs and benefits of allowing immigrants to live and work here. Do they really take all our jobs and drain oour public services or can they help rebuild our economy, and what would happen if we were to have no immigrants?

Click on the link below to hear all about it:

http://soundcloud.com/daisyrose2010/[soundcloud%20url=%22http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/15490052%22]

The Immigration Economy

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Wikileaks: Detrimental to security or provision of public information?

(N.B. Podcast of findings and comments at end of article)

Wikileaks highlights a significant conflict between public interest and confidential information. 

Many of the documents Wikileaks has publicised over the past four years, have caused embarrassment to the US government. 

Some of the issues exposed are important for the public to know, such as the cables relating to the conduct in the Iraq war, but insignificant statements by US government officials concerning their opinions of other governments, in particular those refering to Gordon Brown’s inability to act as Prime Minister seem unimportant and could damage relations internationally.

While it is interesting and perhaps entertaining to find out how US officials see the UK government as e.g. less connected to the Muslim community despite our governments alleged commitment to reconnecting to ethnic communities in the face of terrorism, and how other members o the US government believe Ed Balls to be “dull and charmless” but in light of other more important cables, are Wikileaks just tyring to stir up trouble?

 Law

 As a journalist student I am expected to report on things of public interest- whether that be government corruption, showbiz gossip or crimes and criminal injustices. 

But at the same time, I am restricted by sketchy laws which provide a guideline about things I can and cannot report. And to be honest, when it boils down to it, the laws concerning breach of confidence and defemation and the defence I can use if I am blamed for these issues are fairly inconclusive and subjective to each case. 

 Conspiracy

Today, the Sweedish prosecution are appealing bail of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. He has been accused of sexually assualting two women while in Sweden in August. His bail was rejected last week becasue the judge feared that he would flee the country but on Tuesday he was granted bail. For the same reasons he was kept in prison until today’s appeal. 

There are suspicions that Mr Assange’s arrest was orchestrated by America in order to protect its official confidential documents and so by extraditing Mr Assange, Wikileaks would finish. 

However, Wikileaks is determined to continue providing a service regardless. And it is clear many people see Mr Assange as a saviour of freedom of speech. 

Cyber attack

Since his arrest, many companies who withdrew support of the organisation have come under a cyber atack, particularly Mastercard and the Swiss bank account which withdrew their services to Mr Assange. 

This group of anonymous hackers are fighting out against these firms in support of the Wikileaks founder and freedom of speech. 

But if his arrest is a politically motivated move by America to stop embarrassing documents being published and this is the response, is it proving that Wikileaks is just a trouble causer?

Or is Wikileaks just providing a service and should the US own up to what it has done?

Public Interest


As a journalist I think its important for the public to know things which affect them. The things which have determined important events in our lives such as the Iraq War.  

While it is important to know about these issues it is also irrelevant to disclose information about peoples personal opinion of other officials and other governments or countries. 

I investigated the issue of security and public interest. Listen to what I found:
Wikileaks: public interest or security damaging? by daisyrose2010

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Protest Damage

 

Since finding myself in the middle of the first violent outburst of students protesters against increased tuition fees, similar outcomes have resulted from further demonstrations and I fear it’s dampening their pledge.

I’m all for student rights, but the extent to which these protesters have gone to, to influence the government, seems a little damaging. 

  

From one extreme to another  

You may remember my oersonal account from the first demonstration “A birthday to remember…”. What started out as a peaceful protest, in which Aaron Porter, NUS President, told Passing Comment journalists that he was confident that violence would not take place, resulted in chaos as a number of students broke into Tory HQ at Millbank Tower

 

Daisy Bambridge 2010

 

 

I got the impression that some protesters I spoke to didn’t understand the proposals, while those breaking into Milbank Tower were 6th form students who didn’t even know what the NUS was. 

 

Government proposals 

A common misconstrued argument against fees is that they disadvantage poorer pupils. In fact, those from poorer backgrounds are better off paying less than they currently do, while it’s those from wealthier backgrounds who have to pay more, according to the BBC.  

Ed Milliband commented, in the Evening Standard, that fee increase is to accommodate education cuts outlined in October’s budget.

The BBC says that the government admits this but in the Evening Standard, David Cameron says the plans are “fair” (click here to read his comments).  

On BBC Q and A of University funding, Education Minister David Willetts says that institutions can only charge £9,000 under exceptional circumstances (e.g. high teaching costs). If universities charge more than £6,000 they must offer scholarships, bursaries, summer schools and outreach programs to encourage poorer people. 

In addition:

  • Maintenance grants increase for households earning less than £25,000 a year. 
  • Partial grants for incomes of £42,000 as opposed to the current £50,000 cut off 
  • Pay back when earning £21,000 as opposed to £15,000

 

Convincing Pledge?

 Previously, I too was against fee increase but three weeks of protests: a number of arrests; and injuries from violence; I can’t help admit I have lost sympathy. 

 When discussing tube strikes, MP Caroline Pigeon told Passing Comment’s Lucy Laycock, that one or two strikes are ok: more and we lose interest. I think that this becoming the case among student protests. 

I realise that by writing this I’m probably making a few of you scream with dismay but in all honestly, this “revolution” isn’t helping the cause, but damaging the fight. 

Revolution: Protesters at Millbank, 10.11.10 demo (Courtesy of Lucy Laycock, 2010)

 

I should mention that the media has magnified the problem. When covering fee proposals they focus on extremes. Few have pointed that it is unlikely many universities will charge £9,000. During protests, the BBC in particular, chose shots that imply more people than there really are; focusing on the few causing damage, in comparison to the many peaceful students attending the 10.11.10 demonstration. 

Nevertheless, damage is still being caused: it could be those few people who ruin the appeal for the entire student population against fee increase. Mr. Clegg, Cameron, and Milliband, have shown apathy in the routes students are taken to be heard.

I cannot predict what the outcome of the vote on tuition fees, but I can be sure that students are doing themselves no good by crying out in such destructive ways.

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Snow, snow go away

Is it me or whenever there’s an extremity in the weather, is our entire nation flung into utter chaos?

In rain, traffic ques build up for miles on end and floods permeate the riverside towns, and when it’s hot, there’s always a sudden rush to report doctors medical advice as local residents turn pink with sunburn because, for some reason, it’s a common belief that English sun isn’t as strong as that in the Mediterranean or in more exotic locations-wearing sun screen is a thought to be unecessary when we bask in the hot summer sun.

But when there’s snow, predicting a stand still doesn’t even cut it. 

Us southerners have only had the snow this winter for a day or so now but already there have been additional school closures, drama on the train lines and chaos on the roads.

Earlier this month, the government was happy to comment that we are fully prepared for the snow that was predicted because they said they had enough grit to keep people safe, but as my train chugged slowly through the surrey countryside, closing in on my home town of Guildford where I was able to watch the tiny cars below build up in laborious looking traffic jams and the driver announced we would be arriving late due to “adverse weather conditions” I couldn’t help but dispair with the country.

Yes, the snow looks pretty and, yes, we were all eager to see what this years winter weather would bring but let’s face it, the harsh reality is it’s not as magical as it seems.

I chuckled to myself as for the last few days I’ve watched my Facebook news feed fill up with people determined to see that first fall of snow, those statuses which have now been replaced with utter dispair over disrupted days, delays and cancellations that have affected the simplest of everyday tasks.

Snow cynic

Personally, I’m a little cynical when it comes to snow. I still shudder when I think back to that first heavy snow a few years ago when I was at Southampton and had to walk up one of the steepest hills just to get to uni. Needless to say I was one of those embarrassing people who was laughed at because I just couldn’t hack walking in the freezing conditions.

And I’m not ashamed to say I slipped and slide all over the place while my housemates wandered around effortlessly on the icy pavement. I distinctly remember one of  my housemates taking absolute pride in the fact that he knew how to walk on the snow because of his time as a skiing instructor. He used to skid past me while I struggled to keep my head up.

Unnecessary chaos

And while missing a day or two of work is fantastic, I can’t help but admit that I think were all treating the situation like complete children.
I mean it’s just a bit of snow! How do other countries, who have copious amounts of snow per year cope so well when we end up having to deal with unnecessarily extensive problems.

From past experience, we should know by now that we are going to have more snow than we have had in the past.

Those days of praying for a white christmas are gone and we are having to deal with leading our day-to-day lives in the freezing conditions.

I mean surely it’s going to get worse, what more will we be subjected to? A complete lock down? no travel? no shops? nothing to do but sit inside by a roaring fire with a hot mug of cocoa and the latest rom-com? and while that does sound like an ideal day (and I’m not going to complain if a few of my winter days end up this way,) I don’t think it’s really good enough to be subjected to flakey travel facilities and dangerous pavements and roads.

Theres just so much a can take of walking like a complete retard on the snow before I will have to think twice about venturing out of my house at all. And that’s not really what I want.

So I’m hoping that, in time, hopefully sooner or later, we get our act together and sort out this ridiculous stand still that comes with “adverse weather conditions”.

And for those people who can do something about cancelled transport and treacherous roads, please do something soon. You know how, from past years, what our climate is now like, we were predicted a cold and snowy winter months ago, so why not make a difference and make sure a bit of cold weather doesn’t completely ruin our lives. because we appear to be completely unable to cope with the conditions? Surely it can’t take much to send out a gritter or some sort of plough in the morning and afternoon/night? perhaps give all those unemployed something to do?

But it’s almost the 3rd year in a row that we have had snowy weather, and we knew we would once again be subjected to such severity so why do we still have to put up with authorities who are unable to cope and keep things running. There are plenty of other countries around the world who cope perfectly well with severe weather conditions, why does Britain have to slow down?

Why should we have to stay at home and be restricted from getting around because of a slight change in the weather, something which we knew would happen? It just seems ridiculous.

For me, it’s been 2 days now, and with more snow yet to come, I hate to think what will happen when that arrives, I hope I’m not expected to hibernate for the next
three months!

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Fire Fighters bring fight agasint cuts to Westminster

Fire fighters brought their fight against spending cuts to Westminster yesterday. More than 2,000 members of fire brigade units from across the country attended a parliamentary lobby in hope of forcing MPs against further cuts on the frontline, The Fire Brigade Union announced.

  

  

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) says that the new “modernization” agenda has eroded their ability to respond effectively.

The FBU official website fears fire authorities are using the decrease in fire related deaths to justify cuts in emergency response whilst hiding increased response times from the public.

MPs, union representatives and parliamentary support groups attended yesterday’s conference where FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, spoke of his anger at frontline forces being cut while office and senior officer positions were increased.

He is angry that people in these positions are happy with the cuts that they see as an opportunity to create efficiency and retrain officers. He added: “What planet are they from?”

  

Speakers at FBU conference at Central Hall, Westminster (Daisy Bambridge, 2010)

 

  

Anti-Government action

David Cameron was booed when speaker, Katy Clarke, told the congregation that he had thanked fire fighters helping in the Cornwall floods but failed to mention the service cuts at his earlier Prime Ministers Questions.

Clarke, Labour MP for Arran and North Ayrshire, blames right wing MPs who are committed to looking after themselves.

Adding: “We won’t let them get away with it.

“If the government will axe our public services this will be their poll tax moment.”

John Macdonald, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlsfield, also speaking at the conference said: “it’s not us who has caused the economic crisis and so it should be those who did that pay.”

Macdonald noted that the “only way for the government to listen is action.”

  

 

Investment not cuts

In “the most serious onslaught on our service in living memory”, according to the FBU, the 25% proposed cuts will:

  •  cut 10,000 jobs,  
  • freeze pay, 
  • attack pensions,
  • threaten service conditions
  • regionalize fire controls.

The FBU, talking on the BBC, claims its members face the sack unless they agree to change their contracts which alters their working patterns and shift length.

Service response to emergency calls has already been affected by the cuts, one fire fighter from Leicester told me. He said that as there are less frontline officers and fire engines it takes longer to reach an emergency.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, at the conference said Britain’s debt was twice as large in the 20th Century but the government built the Welfare state, “and that’s what we need to do now.

Invest in public services and create jobs.”

Wrack finished by telling the conference: “It makes sense to fight together.

“If we stand together we are stronger.

“We will not be broken.”

The Fire Brigade Union will join other Public Service members early next year to fight together against the cuts.

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Liberal Democrat heaquarters the target of future student force

Student activists have announced that they will target Liberal Democrat headquarters in the same way the Conservative headquarters were last week, according to the Press Association.

The Education Activist Network has said that it will not rule out violence on the Liberal Democrats who have been accused of “betrayal” over university fees.

Protesters will build opposition to the decision to triple university fees, through nation wide walk outs, sit-ins and demonstrations on November 24.

Betrayal

Mark Burgel, member of the NUS national executive committee, was reported by the Press Association saying: “The Liberal Democrats stood on a platform of free education and millions of students voted for them. they now feel totally betrayed.

“People argue that you can change democracy at the ballot box. We’re going to show that we can change democracy through direct action.”

Radical students from the University of Sheffield will also meet today to decide if they will be joining the EAN in targetting the home and offices of Deputy Leader Nick Clegg.

They also believe he is guilty of betrayal after he originally signed a pledge opposing a rise in tuition fees during the local elections, The Independent reports.

Student Divisions

Student protesters remain divided as this announcement comes after Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, declared a news tactic that would avoid violent infiltrations that are damaging to their fight.

Following the riots at Milbank last week, Porter told the BBC that he was planning a news strategy that “maintains high profile political pressure, whilst avoiding the pressure of by highjacked by violence.

The University College Union, who organised the demonstration with NUS, has condemned the violence which took place at Milbank.

However, many higher education lecturers, including Alan Whitacker from UCU, has signed a petition supporting those students involved in last week’s demonstration, according to The Independent.

A YouGov poll revealed that 65% of people asked had sympathy with the students demonstrating in last weeks protest.

However, 69% did believe that the violence had damaged the validity of the cause. To see a summary of these results go to: http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2874

Bergel, 23, added: “The Tories and Lib Dems want to create an education system for the few and the privileged and we’re going to fight,” he said. “We are targeting the Lib Dems in particular for their lies. I think we have the right to target Lib Dems up and down the country, occupy their offices and call on them to join our fight. Ultimately, we want to split the Government.”

The Independent has also announced that security at the coalition party’s headquarters will be stepped up as student activists announced their new target.

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Tory HQ victim of “peaceful” student protest

Students broke into the conservative headquarters yesterday afternoon as a national demonstration turned riotous.

 

                      

 

 Violence: the site of Tory HQ as riot police try to control the chaos

 

52,000 students were demonstrating against the government’s decision to raise caps on university fees.  What started off as a peaceful demonstration turned into chaos when a group of rebel protesters broke into the Conservative Headquarters near the final destination of the Tate Gallery.

The NUS president, Aaron Porter, told the morning’s student media press conference that he was confident that violence would not break out because otherwise it would be detrimental to the aim of the demonstration.

Chaos

However, a small group of rebels congregated around the Milbank building, before breaking in. The glass front of the Headquarters was torn down as the students broke in, before covering the walls in graffiti, smashing other windows further up the building and standing on the roof setting off fire extinguishers and throwing toilet rolls, banana skins and news papers into the crowds below.

“Tory Scum”: the geers of the crowds and the vandalism echoed across the inside of the Conservative headquarters

A fire continued to burn in the middle of the crowds while crowds chanted “Tory scum” and threw their placards onto it. Riot police were sent in to control the situation and barricade the front of the building to prevent others from entering.

When Porter heard the news that hundreds of protesters had congregated around the Milbank situated, Tory HQ, and vandalised the property, he was devastated and told us that he would now have to work extremely hard in order to gain back respect from the government,  and to rethink his strategy in tackling the controversial issue.

He wanted to make it clear that he was certain this was not the work of students, but other members of the public who had been caught up in the protest and just wanted to cause trouble.

The London college students who had climbed to the roof of the building said that they realised it may not have been the right thing to do but felt so strongly about the situation which is making them reconsider higher education.

The coalition government wants to raise the cap on university fees to as much as £9,000 in some institutions. The current charge sits at £3,225 and has already created a decrease in the number of people entering higher education since it was raised in 2006.

There are fears that this increase will deter people from considering higher education and in yesterday’s demonstration there was a strong agreement that it is unjustified to introduce such high fees for prospective students in when the government is struggling to rebuild our economy. The NUS president said that creating deterrence to young people from continuing education is not the way forward when we are reliant on the younger generations to continue our country and enter careers which will help economic stability and the country’s competition.

The national demonstration, which is thought to have been the largest protest since the Iraq War protests in 2003 and the biggest student demo in a generation, kicked off the national strategy that would continue throughout the constituencies in order to persuade the government against education cuts.

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A birthday to remember: How we found ourselves at the heart of student rioting

As I grow older my birthday becomes a little more mundane and I have to admit the excitement is lost compared to when I was under 20. So deciding to cover the national student protest for the day seemed like an exciting way to spend the day which I would probably otherwise only have been doing some sort of essay or coursework.

So zoom and camera in hand, Lucy and I headed to the UCU for the student media press conference with the NUS president and president of UCU, the institutions organising the demonstration.

Little did we expect the day to turn into such chaos let alone that we would unwittingly find ourselves at the very heart of all the action.

Peaceful start

After the press conference where Aaron Porter, the NUS president, reassured us that the demonstration would be the beginning to a national fight against the university fee increase and that violence would not occur we headed to the congregation point at Horse Guard Avenue.

I have never been to anything like this before and so I certainly had no idea what to expect. As we joined the already mile long group of protesters as they marched down the Horse Guards Avenue towards Millbank and the Tate Gallery we conducted a few vox pops, recorded a few chants and took some pictures to capture the moment.

Protesters

It started off quite exciting. The atmosphere created by the crowds fighting for something they all felt so passionate about was inspiring and it became difficult to remain professional and impartial as journalists. We often found ourselves tempted to join in their chanting and placard bearing.

I found myself even more inclined to join in when one MP completely ignored me when we tried to interview him. It’s not exactly the best impression to make for an MP to run away from a student journalist when the very thing people are fighting for is the rights of students. The least he could have done would have been to defend the government’s decision or let us know that he was on our side.

Fate

We soon realised that not much was happening so we made our way to the front of the demonstration next to the Houses of Parliament.

Heading to the front we had a fantastic view of the sheer extent of the amount of people involved. The queue was never ending as we looked down on thousands of placards and banners.

We walked further down towards the end of Milbank. It was lunch time and it was clear nothing much was changing. It was the same old people chanting and walking, while stewards stopped and started them in order to control the rabble of people.

Lunchtime viewing

So, given it was my birthday we went into a nearby Pizza Express, thinking that we had enough time before the protesters would reach their final destination, probably about half a mile ahead.

What happened next was a complete surprise.

As we sat at the window seat, which we had requested in order to see the march as it passed, we opened a bottle of wine and began to make our order.

Within about 15 minutes a group of boys ran past the restaurant in the adjoining courtyard. We Were intrigued to find out what was going on as more and more people congregated in the space.

Students turn on Tories

Being a keen journo, I went onto Twitter to see if anything had been reported. To my delight (to hear about something “kicking off”) a reported had tweeted that “100 students had broken into Tory’s HQ and they are burning placards.”

It became clear from that, that the orange smoke we had seen above the heads of the crowds outside the window were from the placard burning. Keen to go to the heart of the reported riots we asked our waitress where the HQ was.

To our delight she gestured next door. That was it. We were right next to the riots. What were that chances that we just happened to have lunch right next to the Conservative Headquarters. We couldn’t believe our luck. We were considering heading on to the final meeting point at the Tate further down the road in which case we would have missed what was going on.

We hurriedly finished our meal, downed the wine (Lad!), paid and made a dash for it into the crowd outside.

Chaos

I literally couldn’t believe it. The whole courtyard was rammed with protesters and people were shaking the glass entrance and throwing things at it so that it would smash.

All around us people were chanting, cheering and shouting. A fire started in the centre of the crowds. It got pretty big as people began throwing their placards on it.

We sat, pride of place, on the railings which separated the raised area surrounding the courtyard. We had an overview of everything that was happening. Although, to our dismay, the crowd of people in front of us were inhibiting our view of the entrance of the building but we could see enough to know what was happening.

In true journo style we brought out the zoom and asked a few people around us what was going on. We also we fairly proud of ourselves in creating a war type correspondent package at the scene.

Playing with fire

I’m not going to lie. Or act hard core. I feared for my life when a flare was lit next to us and the crowd pushed back into us. I was only sitting on a very small rail and could see, any second, someone would push slightly too hard and I would go falling, head first, onto the concrete below and probably, while there, get trampled on by the protesters.

The riot police stormed through the crowds as a group peered over the edge of the roof of the building down at the crowds below. The people who had got into the building had stripped the glass windows off the front of the building. The walls were covered in derogatory graffiti, displaying obscenities towards the Conservative party.

Plants from inside the building were thrown out of windows and passed through the crowds. Fire extinguishers made it feel almost magical as they were set off from above and the foam came falling through the sky like snow. Rolls of toilet paper and old newspapers and banana skins were also thrown out of the windows.

The police barricaded the entrance to stop more people getting into the building as the helicopters above surrounded.

Let me tell you one thing about mobs. They do not like the police. I was shocked at the way the crowds jeered at them and shouted abuse when all they were trying to do was control the situation which looked like it was going to escalate.

And then suddenly, after a few minutes of mulling it over, we decided to make our way to the front of the crowds to where the proper press were. Right opposite the police wall.

As we pushed our way to the front placards and bottles were thrown over our head. When we reached the front a bottle skimmed past Lucy’s eye, and another hit my back. As one girl shoved a policeman with a wooden stick she slid on the glass on the floor and before we knew it both the police and other protesters seemed to congregate around her and almost attack her. We got pushed around and slide on the glass.

That was when I knew we had to get out. It was just becoming too dangerous. As the afternoon progressed people were finding new things to through and there was glass everywhere.

We headed to that back but just couldn’t quite drag ourselves away. So we ventured up a stairwell at the back of the courtyard. It was a fantastic place to overlook the mob below.

Riot at Milbank

A boy walked past to show his friend why they couldn’t get in and I soon realised people were trying to get in the building at this entrance as well but the police were protecting the door from the inside and so no one was getting in.

By this time we were all mobbed out. The scene was absolute chaos. I had never experienced anything like it. All i could think was, “best birthday ever!”

Technology fail

It was like the day had been guided for us because as we went back to the station away from the riot we bumped into, no other than, the NUS president himself!

Lucy and I looked at each other. “Oh my god, massive exclusive!” this could be our chance to get a face to face interview with the very man who orchestrated the day and believed that it would not succumb to violence.

We went up and asked him a few questions. The man looked deflated. He was devastated that because a few people had taken the march out of hand, months of his work had been ruined. We overheard him say he was considering to resign from president.

Wow. Massive scoop! Lucy sneakily edged the zoom towards him as he revealed to his friends just how much the events had destroyed his reputation.

Unfortunately, technology failed us. None of our war correspondent style audio could be heard on the playback and to our dismay our scoop was completely inaudible.

We couldn’t help but feel a little cheated by technology. I mean what are the chances! All of the things we had gathered had gone.

But I can’t complain. It was an amazing experience. If not a little scary at times. It was a shame that some people, who were clearly not students, had taken the whole demonstration out of hand and potentially ruined the validity of the very cause so many people came out to fight for.

The government’s decision to increase fees is completely ridiculous. All it is going to do is deter those from less privileged backgrounds from going to university. And these young people are the future of our country. I can only but hope that the occurrences of the day have not completely destroyed the fight and that the government will reconsider their proposal.

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A claustrophobic’s nightmare

Overcrowding on trains will get continually worse over the next four years, MP reports have found. When there are too many people on a train, travelling can become unbearable. I recently had a particually busy experience on the train which has made me dissapointed to hear this finding and angers me that little is being done to calm the situation.

Just a normal commute

Friday night, bonfire night. Lucy and I were on a train to a friend’s house in Clapham; thinking the journey across London on the tube wouldn’t be too unbearable.

We were already fairly late, but it didn’t even cross our minds that we would be travelling at peak commutor time.

It usually takes about 40 minutes to get to Clapham from Northwick Park. Fortunately we’ve been taught how to back track time (!) so with this in mind we were confident that we would have no trouble with gettting there in plenty of time to catch the fireworks.

Public Transport Melt Down

The whole day had been a little bizarre when it came to transport. For a start, leaving uni I noticed the BBC breaking news about a cement mixer which had fallen onto a train track by Oxshott station.

Chaos: Cement Mixer falls from road onto train in Oxshott

I can potentially go through Oxshott on my way back from London and I know a few people who live in that area, one of my best friends included. Luckily no one I knew was on the train.

I don’t know why, but it sent a bit of a shiver down my spine. I don’t know whether it was becasue it was an area that I had driven many a time before or becasue of the following events.

When I got to Lucy’s room, so we could get ready for the fireworks, we recieved a phone call from Jodi. She had been to meet her boyfriend around Oxford Circus. She was cut off the first time she rang us and sounded a little flustered on the phone.

Fire Alert: Passengers at Oxford Circus were evacuated

We eventually got through to her and she explained that Oxford Circus tube station had been evacuated due to a fire alert. We both kind of thought, “yeah right a fire, probably code for bomb.” And I know that sounds cynical but considering it was only days after a bomb was discoverd on a plane in the East Midlands and various other bomb plots nad scares had taken place while notifications to enhance security, it was understandable. Not to mention after Lucy said that one of her friends had said he had a strange feeling something bad was going to happen when they were out the night before.

It was all just a little worrying. And I know it may sound lame but, at the time, when things are going through your mind its hard not to think something bad is going to happen. But you can’t live in fear. It was just a few random events that had happened and there was no point in letting it ruin our night.

Sardines, or should I say sharks?

The journey started off fine. We managed to get a seat even though it was quite busy. And when we had to change at Bakerloo it was horrifyingly busy. It was like a normal commuting busy-ness.

We stood up, which was fine, becasue there were no seats left. Bearing in mind Lucy was carrying a plate full of brownies which she had made the night before for the evening, so if it got busier we knew she may have difficulty.

The extent of occupancy though, we did not predict. I think it was when we went through Westminster that it became worst.

We were seperated by a rabble of people although I was kept entertained by a group of boys in front of me who were laughing at a guy in the carriage behind us who looked like he was stoned.

When Westminster came, it literally felt like we were sardines. I think one of the boys even mooed becasue it reminded him of cattle.

What makes me really angry is that when a tube is clearly rammed, why would anyone bother trying to get on? You can’t be in that much of a hurry to get somewhere so that you have to, not only make your own journey unbearably uncomfortable but you also have to squish everyone else in your proximity into the confined space as well.

It was amusing how my morning journey also started off with a fairly chavy lady who got on the train and asked people to move down when there was clearly no room for anyone to move to. At Westminster, after the doors shut, they resorted to openning again and someone got on.

I couldn’t see but the fact that this man had got on appeared to make things even worse in the carriage as most people moaned about his attempts to catch the tube.

Luckily the next stop was Waterloo, and I thought most people would get out there. Unfortunately they didn’t so I had to squeeze my way out.

At this point I have never felt shorter in my life. I’m not exaclty the tallest girl, which I like, but when trapped surrounded by other people it often makes me feel as though I have somehow shrunk about half the size.

Before I knew it there was some sort of chaos happening in front of the boys. Little did I know it was the man who had pushed his way on at Wesminster.

And if I am using the sardine analogy to describe the carriage this man was definitely the shark. He pushed Lucy and they had a little argument. This triggered other people to also get involved, the boys shouted “Well you shouldnt have pushed your way on!” and there were a lot of “chill out!” comments to be heard.

Lucy grabbed my hand and we eventually got off before the train pulled away.

Packed

The chaos didn’t end there. As much as we would have liked it too the Northern line to Clapham was equally as bad. Despite not having an obnoxious little man with us on the train this time it was just as busy and there were delays too so it took twice as long.

Things were evidently made worse by a woman next to us complaining throughout the whole journey. F-ing and blinding at how bad the tubes were.

Lucily we made it. Probably in about twice the amount of time it should have taken but we got there. Alive and unscathed.

Overcrowding

Over crowding

This is just one example of a horrific tube journey. Every day commutors have to put up with this extent of overcrowding, and now we’re being told that it will continue to get worse over the next four years.

I think the worst is being stuck in the tube underground when it is so busy. Its bad enough on an overground train when you can get a seat but at least then you can sit on the floor. On the tube your trapped in the tunnels; theres very little escape. I wonder how there aren’t more people who have panic attacks or collapse. In the summer there was the added problem of the heat which made travelling stuffy and unbearable, in addition to the stench most passengers were giving off. I think they underestimated the amount they would sweat in the tunnels!

It has been reported that over the past 10 years there has been a 40% increase in passengers and this is expected to double over the next few decades aparently despite the nine billion pound attempt by the Department of Transport to improve railways.

Paying for drama

And the price of tickets is now astronomical. Transport operators seem to think that if they increase the prices by a small amound every now and again we won’t notice. But we do. I used to be able to get the bus home for one pound eighty, now I have to pay three pound fifty for a single trip that takes just twenty minutes across Guildford.

I just don’t understand where the money is going. Its clearly not going on pay, else the workers wouldn’t be constantly moaning and going on strike and it’s evidently not going on improving the space.

It’s ironic that I thought trains should have some sort of system that would identify the amount of passengers on a train and then use some sort of lock down mechanism to stop people coming on when the carriage reached its limit, something like a lift, when The Public Accounts Committee has recommended that the DfT introduce an automatic passenger counting device to show how many people are travelling  and when and a smart card system on tickets to help reduce inefficiencies of overcrowding in peak times and underused trains at other times.

Transort Secretary Phillip Hammond says “we currently have the most expensive railways in the world.”

Quite frankly, its not good enough, and if I’m paying more than other countries I am expecting something amazing, which at the moment, is not the case.

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