Posts Tagged ‘Harmondsworth’

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners – two protests I photographed on Saturday 7th May 2016, one on the edge of London and the other in the centre.


Detention Centres Shut Them Down – Harmondsworth, Saturday 7th May 2016

Mostly protests begin later than expected and I was surprised when I arrived at Europe’s largest detention centre complex at Heathrow, two Category B prisons, Colnbrook & Harmondsworth, managed by private security company MITIE to find that the action organised by the Anti Raids Network as a part of a day of action at all UK detention centres had already begun.

Most of the protesters had come out to the protest on the west edge of Greater London from the centre and had apparently got there earlier than they expected and had immediately rushed past the few security guards onto the private roadway between the two prisons to communicate with the detainees who had gathered around the windows of the two blocks behind their 20 ft high fences. I’d photographed earlier protests here where the protesters had walked noisily around the Harmondsworth block (strangely on the Colnbrook side of the complex) on the rough track around the fence, but the centre was now under new management and MITIE were determined to keep them further away.

As I arrived and talked with the small group who had remained at the entrance those inside appeared at the far end of the road, being slowly moved out by the police reinforcements who had arrived shortly before me, and I followed protesters down the road to join them.

As well as making a lot of noise with pots and pans, megaphones and kicking the solid metal bottom of the fence, the protesters also held up a large banner with a phone number so that the detainees could contact them and tell them what was happening inside. At first the police made slow progress in moving them along, but soon another police van arrived with more officers and they were able to move them quickly to the front of the complex.

After regrouping there, most decided to walk along to the public footpath that runs along the east edge of the centre. Although bushes and small trees in front of the fence made the centre almost invisible, it was easy to hear the detainees shouting from inside and for them to hear the protest. Soon phone contact was made with some of them and they were able to speak over a megaphone. As I wrote back in 2016:

“Bashir from Lebanon told us he had been held in detention for 18 months and that his wife and children need his help, but he is stuck inside, unable to see them or do anything. Indefinite detention such as this seems a clear breach of so many of the human rights that everyone in the UK should be entitled to under our Human Rights Act 1998. Treating people like our system does is simply shameful.”

Detention Centres Shut Them Down – where there is more about the protest.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre – Barbican, London, Saturday 7th May 2016

I left to make my way to central London where Cleaners union United Voices of the World were holding a flashmob at the Barbican Centre after cleaning contractor Servest proposed making many of the cleaners redundant or severely cutting their hours and pay. As well as the UVW, the action was supported by activists from the Bakers Union, Class War, SOAS Unison, Unite Hotel workers branch and IWGB Couriers branch.

I met the cleaners close to Moorgate Station and walked with them towards the Barbican, where they burst into a run as they turned a corner and rushed into the main entrance, past a couple of security guards who had no chance of stopping the unexpected arrival. They made there way to the middle of the arts centre, to protest noisily outside the hall where customers were entering a sold-out concert of music by Yann Tiersen.

After a few minutes police arrived and told the protesters they must leave or be arrested, and after some argument they slowly and noisily made their way back towards the main entrance, with police continuing to harass them.

They continued to protest on the street outside the main entrance, and the protest was still continuing there when I left for home.

More on My London Diary at Cleaners invade Barbican Centre.


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Harmondsworth – A Middlesex Village

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

Harmondsworth – A Middlesex Village

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

Going back to Harmondsworth feels very much like going back to my childhood as I grew up only a few miles away and lived for years on a bicycle cycling out from Hounslow and along country lanes through villages like this on the edges of London, before the M25 and M4 chopped up the country around here and the growing airport at Heathrow produced both sprawling new housing estates and a huge increase in traffic in the area.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

From 2003 to 2009 I took part in the protests against the plans to build another huge runway for Heathrow, which now only uses two though it was built with more on its existing site. The shorter runways were abandoned partly because planes grew larger. I was very pleased when one closed as on the few days a year when there were strong cross-winds it brought planes at low heights over my current home a couple of miles away, sometimes low enough to shake the whole building. I think building Terminal 4 which opened in 1986 put an end to its use.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village
A mural across where the airport would end

We celebrated in 2009 when plans for a third runway were dropped, but the lobbyists for Heathrow expansion didn’t take no for an answer and persuaded the coalition government to set up the Davis Commission to put the plans back on the table again. The protest in Harmondsworth on Sunday 12th April 2015 was before the report came out, but its conclusion was predictable – and the one it had been set up to come to.

John Stewart of HACAN

Since then and the government’s acceptance of the case it made for expanding Heathrow, the world has changed, or at least our understanding of the future has. The case for airport expansion has disappeared and we now know that we have to have rapid decarbonisation of the economy to survive. Instead of looking forward to exponential growth we need to find ways to stabilise and reduce demand and aviation is one of the most climate-damaging sectors.

While Davis took as its basis that expansion is necessary to continue growth, it is now clear that expansion would be a disaster. At last I think that message is beginning to get through to our government, though too often it is still thinking in terms of short-term financial benefits to the pockets of its members and their friends.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

Harmondsworth is still one of the most interesting of the small villages on the fringes of London, with a fine church in its churchyard, and although its village green is a pocket handkerchief compared to many it still has a couple of pubs and some picturesque cottages along its north side. But the real gem of the village is tucked away immediately to the left, its magnificent Grade 1 listed Great Barn, built in 1426 , the largest surviving example all-timber barn which Sir John Betjeman called ‘the Cathedral of Middlesex’.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

In agricultural use until the 1980s, it was then allowed to decay until a public campaign strongly supported by the local MP John McDonnell persuaded English Heritage to take it over in 2012. They carried out a substantial restoration leading to it being re-opened to the public free of charge on selected days and it is managed by the Friends of the Great Barn at Harmondsworth. My pictures of the barn are not available for any editorial or commercial use.

On the 12th April 2015, the Datchet Border Morris were dancing inside the barn and around the village green during the day. The campaign to save the village (again!) was launched with a huge mural and speeches from all but one of the candidates standing for the area in the general election the following month. The Lib-Dem candidate also supported the campaign but had been sent the wrong date for the rally. Also present were campaigner John Stewart of HACAN, and five polar bears who had held a protest a few weeks earlier with the banner ‘Any New Runway Is Plane Stupid‘.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

The weather was fine and it was an interesting day – and warm enough for me to sit outside and eat a quick lunch in the garden of the Five Bells, before rushing to photograph the Morris performing again outside The Crown. And before leaving for home I went to take another look around the interior of the parish church, parts of which date from the 12th century.

More at Heathrow Villages fight for survival.


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Deaths in Eritrea & the UK and a Peace March 2017

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Most embassies are in the most expensive parts of London, with a large number around Belgrave Square and others in Mayfair. Eritrea’s is in Islington and I can only recall once having been to a protest outside it. There should be more, particularly by jounalists, as Eritrea, a one-party state ruled by presient Isais Afwerki since independence in 1993, has one of the worst human rights records and, according to Reporters Without Borders, has the worst press freedom in the world. In 2001 all independent media in the country were banned and politicians and ten leading journalists were arrested and thrown into isolation without charge, without trial and without contact with the outside world. Nobody knows their whereabouts and only four were thought to be still alive in 2017.

Those still alive are still in jail and have now been held for 20 years, along with other journalists imprisoned since then. Very little is known about most of them with no official information being released, other than government denials that some have been tortured, which are widely disbelieved. They are held in jails where torture is commonplace. In December 2020, 28 Jehohova’s witnesses, some of whom had been in jail for 26 years were released, raising hopes of the families of journalists, but there have been no further releases.

On Thursday 21st September 2017 there were 12 chairs set out at the protest across the street from the Eritrean Embassy, one four each of the journalists jailed in 2001, with photographs of them all. Protesters sat on four of the chairs, representing those thought still to be alive.

I went to another protest about deaths in prisons, this time in the UK. It was called at short notice after a Chinese man in Dungavel immigration detention centre. This followed the death earlier this month at Harmondsworth detention centre of a Polish man who took his own life after the Home Office refused to release him despite the courts having granted him bail. There have been thirty-one deaths in immigration removal centres since 1989.

Britain is the only EU country which holds refugees and asylum seekers to indefinite detention, and both official reports and media investigations have criticised the conditions at these immigration prisons. The protest outside the Home Office called for an end to immigration detention, which is inhumane and makes it difficult or impossible for asylum cases to be fairly assessed.

Stop Killing Londoners blocked traffic briefly in a carefully planned operation in Trafalgar Square, which involved the simultaneous stopping of traffic at all five entrances to the road system. As in previous events, it was a token block, holding up traffic for less time than it gets halted by congestion on some busy days, and around ten minutes after it began they moved off the road, returning a few minutes later for a short ‘disco protest’, dancing on the road on the east side of the square for a few minutes until police asked them to move.

The protest was to publicise the illegal levels of air pollution in the capital which result in 9,500 premature deaths and much suffering from respiratory disease. It was one of a series of similar protests in various areas of London.

I hurried down from Trafalgar Square to Westminster Bridge, going across it just in time to meet the World Peace Day Walk as several hundred campaigners walk arrived having walked beside the Thames from Borough Market carrying white flowers. The London Peace Walk was one of a number takeing place in Barcelona, Paris and other cities around the world on World Peace Day.

The marchers wore black and walked in silence to grieve for the recent loss of precious life due to violence in all forms, including terrorist, state, corporate, domestic. They stated that there can be no peace without justice, equality and dignity for all and that “We stand together against the forces of hate and division – for peace.” At the end of their march they went onto Westminster Bridge and threw flowers and petals into the Thames.

More at:
World Peace Day Walk
Trafalgar Square blocked over pollution
No More Deaths in immigration detention
Free forgotten jailed Eritrean Journalists


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Immigration Detention – a National Shame

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Detainees seen through the wire fence, Harmondsworth Detention Centre, Sat 7 Jun 2014

Recently the Home Office under Priti Patel got its knuckles rapped in court, when the High Court ruled it broke the law by housing cross-channel migrants in the run-down Napier barracks in Folkestone, Kent. Public Health England had earlier warned that the barracks were unsuitable for accommodation for asylum seekers during the Covid pandemic, and with 380 detained in poorly sectioned off rooms of 12-14 with shared bathrooms and toilets the spread of infection was clearly inevitable, with around 200 people catching Covid-19.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 requires the Home Office to provide “support” for asylum seekers who are unable to support themselves, including if needed accommodation, but this must be adequate for their needs. Clearly in this case they were not, and the situation was worsened by employing a private contractor to run the barracks, who in turn outsourced much of the work required.

John McDonnell MP speaking

Many of those sent to the barracks were clearly unsuitable to be housed there because of pre-existing mental health issues arising from trafficking and/or torture before their arrival in the UK – and the Home Office’s own assessment criteria should have prevented them being sent to the barracks.

The whole judgement is complex and lengthy but reading the evidence it examines leaves the impression of a total lack of concern for human rights and common humanity in the operation of our asylum system, and one which is evident across the whole range of how we deal with migrants and asylum. In 2020 over 23,000 people were held in detention centres in the UK, around a third held for more than a month; but it is indefinite detention with no limit to the time they may be held and for some their stay has lasted around three years. Over half of those detained have claimed asylum.

Of those detained in 2019, just over a third were deported, some illegally. A small number – just over 300 in the year ending 2019 – received compensation, averaging £26,000, after proving their detention was illegal. (figures from https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/ The Migration Observatory.)

On Saturday 7th June 2014 I went to the neighbouring detention centres (a polite name for these immigration prisons) of Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, just across the A4 Bath Road north of Heathrow Airport, along with campaigners organised by Movement for Justice, who had come to protest with prisoners inside the immigration prison against the unjust ‘Fast Track System’ and mistreatment of detainees by private security firms.

The were joined outside the prisons by local MP John McDonnell who has a long record of supporting asylum seekers, who told us that when he first became MP for the area in 1997 the immigration detention centre was only a small building housing a dozen or so detainees. Now these two large blocks house several thousands – and their are other large immigration prisons across the country.

After the rally on the pavement outside, the protesters – who included many former detainees – marched onto the site and began to make a circuit on the roadway which goes around the Harmondsworth centre, most of which is enclosed behind tall fences. The stopped at places on the way where they knew that those inside the prison would be able to see and hear them, making a lot of noise chanting and shouting as well as with whistles and other noise-makers.

Detainees are allowed to have mobile phones and the protesters were able to contact a number of those inside, some of whom were able to speak by holding the phone they were calling to a microphone of the protesters’ megaphone. Many inside feel they are forgotten and all had complaints about the way they were treated by the detention centre staff and the poor conditions.

At later events here that I photographed, police prevented the protesters marching around the 20ft fences that surround it, limiting them to an area in front of the administration block. Clearly the tall fences mean there was no security risk, but the sight and sound of the protest was important in raising the morale of those held in the centres – and something those private contractors running the jails wished to avoid in future.

More pictures at Support Detainees in Harmondsworth

Any New Runway Is Plane Stupid!

Monday, April 12th, 2021

On a day when some of our Covid restrictions are being eased and when more people are apparently thinking about overseas holidays, it’s perhaps appropriate to think about the impact of flying on the future of our planet and the need to curb the exponential growth of air travel, particularly by the increasing number of ‘frequent flyers’. Personally I signed the Flight Free UK pledge not to fly in 2020 – and events later made that easy to keep – and I’ve signed up again for 2021.

Back in April 12th 2015 I spent a pleasant day in Harmondsworth, where a day of action was taking place against the revived plans for a third long runway for Heathrow Airport. A few years earlier I’d covered the local celebrations in neighbouring Sipson after building the third runway had been ruled out because of its environmental impact.

Of course nothing has changed to lessen that environmental impact, but years of continued lobbying on a grand scale, including setting up a fake PR organisation with spurious surveys – and a short-sighted and biased commission to expand aviation in the UK led the government to put the runway back on the table again, despite the growing awareness of the need to urgently tackle the environmental crisis which the planet is currently rushing headlong into.

Harmondsworth is one of the Middlesex villages surrounding what in pre-war days had been the village of Heath Row, full of orchards and market gardens, that I cycled around in my youth in the 1950s, when the airport was smaller and less obtrusive with many less flights and those mainly be smaller and quieter aircraft. Back then it was possible to enjoy the peace and quiet and largely rural nature of the area, even in those places such as Longford and Colnbrook directly under the flightpath. Although the Comet began to change things so far as noise was concerned it was only really around 1960 with the widespread use of the Boeing 707 that peace was definitively shattered.

Harmondsworth is still very much a village, a small place on the edge of the River Colne, with no through traffic in its centre which has a small village green, two pubs, a fine church and the Grade I listed Great Barn, the largest medieval barn in England to have survived largely and remarkably intact – and was recently saved from dereliction by a local campaign which led to its purchase and restoration by English Heritage in 2011.

It was good to be able to visit the barn again – volunteers now keep it open on selected days – and to be able to wander through what John Betjeman described as “The Cathedral of Middlesex”. Later the Datchet Border Morris performed in the barn, and also outside the pub and in the recreation ground where a tree was planted. The Morris dancers I think give a greater sense of its scale.

Local politicians including John McDonnell who has been the area’s MP since 1997, but also all but one of the candidates (except one) standing for the seat in the then forthcoming election came along to speak at the rally on the airport’s proposed new boundary, just a few yards south of the village green – and including most of the housing in the village.

The one missing candidate also supported the rally and opposed airport expansion but there had been a mix-up over dates which made him miss the event. As Labour, the UKIP, Green and Conservative candidates all spoke to oppose any airport expansion, as did several local residents, and campaigner John Stewart of HACAN, and the five polar bears who had recently protested inside one of the Heathrow terminals came along with their banner ‘Any New Runway Is Plane Stupid‘.

Heathrow Villages fight for survival


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.