Posts Tagged ‘Heathrow’

End Immigration Detention – Harmondsworth 2015

Thursday, April 11th, 2024

End Immigration Detention – Harmondsworth: Saturday 11th April 2015 saw what I think was the largest protest to date outside the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre on the Bath Road immediately north of Heathrow airport.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

Various organisations had held protests here over the years, but these had grown since Movement for Justice began organising them, bringing a large group of current and former asylum seekers out from London on the tube to Terminal 5 and then on the short bus ride to the prison. They included some who had come from other cities in the country – and even from Glasgow. Other groups at the protest included No Borders, Southall Black Sisters and Shoreditch Sisters W I.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

There are two detention prisons on the site, both surrounded by 20ft high fences with a private road to a BT site running between them. Called Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, they were in 2015 both run by Mitie’s ‘care+custody’ division, and the overall name for the centre had changed to Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, which made clear that the government intention was to deport people rather than operate a fair asylum system.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

The Home Office has long proved itself to be both incompetent and racist, and huge backlogs have built up over the processing of asylum claims. They seem to start from the position that all asylum claims are unfounded and those making them are liars, often despite the evidence. Claims that should be processed in days take months or years – during which time people may be kept in detention centres like these generally quite unnecessarily. We should imprison criminals, not asylum seekers.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

As I commented in 2015:

these are prisons, with those inside being unable to leave; they have a few privileges denied those in normal jails, including the use of mobile phones, but some disadvantages, including that they are all on indefinite sentences at the whim of government and subject to a constant threat they will be forcibly bundled onto a plane and taken back to the country from which they have fled, often at fear of their lives. These prisons are also run by staff who often lack the basic training, supervision and accountability of normal jails.”

The majority of those who claim asylum are eventually granted leave to remain in the UK as their claims are well-founded. Some have been deported before they are given time to prove their cases to the Home Office’s satisfaction under “fast track” procedures that have been ruled illegal.

Our laws prevent them from working and contributing to our economy and society, and almost all are keen to do so and have skills which are in short supply. We need a system that gives people the medical treatment they need and gets them back into normal work and life as quickly as possible. Instead far too many are simply parked in prisons like these without proper medical care and largely isolated from those who could help them. Its both inhumane and economically unsound.

Although police and a large team of security guards stopped the protesters from going down the road toward the prison blocks, forcing them into a pen in front of the administration building at the front of the site, the loud protest could be heard throughout the site. Some of the prisoners were able to use their mobile phones to welcome the protesters and let them known about the poor conditions inside, and their calls were relayed over the public address system the protesters had brought.

Most of those who spoke at the protest had themselves been held inside these or other detention centres often for long periods after escaping from beatings, rape and torture in their home countries, and several spoke about their experiences in the system here. Some said they had been treated as troublemakers because they stood up for their rights – and that inmates who failed to do so, whatever the strength of their cases, were likely to face deportation.

I was tired after a couple of hours of the noisy protest, with chanting, singing and dancing – though mainly I had just been taking photographs, and left to catch a bus home. I could hear the protest continuing from the bus stop several hundred yards away, and when the bus came – ten minutes late – saw the protesters making their way out of the site to a public footpath which runs along the side of the Colnbrook site to continue their protest closer to those prison blocks.

Many more pictures on My London Diary at End Immigration Detention.


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No Third Runway, TTIP & Zombies

Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

No Third Runway, TTIP & Zombies: Saturday 10th October 2015 saw me in Parliament Square for a rally against building another runway at Heathrow, then outside the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills against a secret US/EU trade deal and finally meeting charity zombies walking across the Jubilee Bridge.


No Third Runway – Parliament Square

No Third Runway, TTIP & Zombies

Community protests and a little environmental common sense had defeated plans to expand Heathrow Airport which was cancelled by the coalition government in 2010, but the aviation industry didn’t take no for an answer. A biased commission was set up to look at airport growth and in July 2015 came out with its report putting a third runway back on the table.

No Third Runway, TTIP & Zombies

Around a thousand people turned up a few months later on October 10th for a central London rally against the third runway at Heathrow as levels of noise and pollution across London were already unacceptable. They argued the Davies commission was flawed and airport expansion was both unnecessary and impractical.

No Third Runway, TTIP & Zombies

Any expansion would be a catastrophe for those living around the airport whose land and homes would be lost, but huge areas around already suffer from noise and illegal levels of pollution due to Heathrow, including Chiswick, Hammersmith and Teddington. And we would all suffer from increasing carbon emissions leading to global heating as environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace pointed out.

No Third Runway, TTIP & Zombies

As well as the flights and the problems they cause directly, Heathrow expansion would also increase traffic in the surrounding area, where roads including the M25 which are already often greatly overcrowded are already under stress, with minor incidents often bringing large areas to a standstill. Another runway would bring more road traffic with more pollution and more and more gridlock. The existing problems would also be made worse as the expansion would further disrupt traffic routes in the area.

The meeting was chaired by one of my least favourite media presenters Gyles Brandreth who introduced in his usual sick-making way a number of well-known speakers including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, MPs Andy Slaughter & Tania Mathias, four of London’s Mayoral candidates, Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan, Sian Berry and Caroline Pidgeon, Richmond Council leader Lord True, campaigners John Sauven of Greenpeace, John Stewart of HACAN and others.

Also treated to his ingratiating manner was the star of the show, local resident Mrs Taylor who has lived in a house right on the edge of the proposed extension for 80 years and came on helped by her daughter and grand-daughter to be interviewed by Brandreth.

Although Parliament approved the expansion in 2018 and legal challenges were finally dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2020, given that we now feel so much more keenly the disastrous effects of carbon emissions on global temperatures it seems virtually impossible for it to take place – and if it did that it would become a massive white elephant, greater than even the current HS2 scandal.

More at No Third Runway.


TTIP protest at Business Ministry, Westminster

A short distance away outside the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills a part of an EU-wide protest against TTIP was taking place. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was a secret US/EU trade deal which puts company profits above democracy and over 3 million of us EU citizens had signed petitions against it.

TTIP would have forced us to accept US grown and processed foods, including GM crops and meat and dairy products from animals fed on GM, chickens that are washed in chlorine, meat containing high hormone levels and other chemical solutions to allow sloppy husbandry.

TTIP would also allow corporations to dictate government policies by taking them to courts where any policy might possibly impact on their profits, and would drive the rapid privatisation of the NHS and other public services.

Fortunately the secret negotiations ended without conclusion at the end of 2016, and the EU later declared that they were “obsolete and no longer relevant“. The documents detailing the negotiated proposals are still secret, only available to authorised persons.

Since Brexit, TTIP would not have directly applied to trade between the US and UK, but similar secret negotiations have been carrying on between the UK and the US. But the US has taken little interest in concluding these as the UK is less important as a trading partner.

TTIP protest at Business Ministry


Zombies crawl for St Mungo’s – Jubilee Bridge & Embankment Gardens

I was too late to see the start of the Zombie crawl at Leake Street,but was able to photograph them as they came up the steps from Jubilee Gardens onto the Jubilee Bridge and as they took a short break in Enbankment Gardens before their lengthy crawl around the West End.

This Zombie crawl was a fund-raising event for St Mungo’s Broadway, a charity which provides the homeless with emergency shelter, housing, healthcare and training, and the zombies were remarkably friendly. Perhaps a little less dramatically zombified than on some zombie crawls I’ve photographed in the past, and certainly rather less alcohol-fuelled than most.

Some zombie crawls have been overtly political, others just young people having a fun pub crawl. This one was for charity, and the fact we need to have charities to provide support for the homeless certainly shows a failure by government to provide support for some of the most needy in our society.

Back in the 1960s I remember going to Paris and seeing people sleeping on the streets and not understanding what a beggar who approached us was doing – I’d just not experienced this on the streets of London.

Of course there were some homeless people in our cities, and homeless men walking to the centre of London would sometimes come to our back door and ask my mother for a cup of tea (which she always provided, along with a few pence we couldn’t afford) but nothing on the scale we have seen over the past 20 or 30 years.

I didn’t spend long photographing the zombies. There were too many other people taking pictures for me to be able to work in the way I like, and it was even worse in the Embankment Gardens than on the bridge. I don’t often crop pictures, liking to work with the full-frame though occasionally making some minor adjustments, but on this occasion there were simply too many other people with cameras who I wanted to remove.

Zombies crawl for St Mungo’s


Access to Work & Harvest Festival – 2015

Tuesday, September 26th, 2023

Access to Work & Harvest Festival: On Saturday 26th September 2015 I was pulled in two directions, wanting to attend both a protest for disabled people in Westminster and the harvest festival at Grow Heathrow in Sipson on the western edge of London. In the end I managed to get to both, leaving the first early and arriving a little late at the second, going more or less to the end of the Piccadilly line at Heathrow Central and then catching a bus.


Deaf & Disabled Access to Work protest – Westminster

Access to Work & Harvest Festival

The Access to Work scheme was set up in 1994 to provide disabled people with funding to pay for extra disability-related expenses which enable them to work, including travel, support workers and specialised equipment. It was a significant milestone in equality for the deaf and disabled in the UK, and at the end of the Labour government in 2010 was supporting almost 28,000 people. Under Tory cuts this number had been reduced by 15% to around 22,000 with many applications being refused by the DWP.

Access to Work & Harvest Festival

In 2015 the government put a cap on the amount which could be claimed annually by those on the scheme of around £42,000, applying immediately to new claimants and in a couple of years to those already part of the scheme.

Access to Work & Harvest Festival

According to the protesters the cuts would not only prevent many currently supported by the AtW scheme to be able to continue their jobs but would also would lose the government revenue as the current scheme brings in £1.48 for every pound invested.

Access to Work & Harvest Festival

Many of those taking part in the protest were disabled people on the AtW scheme who fear they will be unable to continue in their careers if the cuts are implemented, including many deaf people. Many signed with their hands as I photographed them, and the hand, a symbol for British Sign Language was prominent on some of the banners and on at least one face.

The campaigners met in Old Palace Yard and then assembled to march through Parliament Square and a short distance up Victoria Street and then past the Department of Work and Pensions in Caxton House and on to a rally opposite Downing Street.

I left as the rally there was about to start to take the District line and then the Piccadilly to Heathrow Central from where I could catch a 111 bus to Sipson.

More at Deaf & Disabled Access to Work protest.


Grow Heathrow celebrates Harvest Festival – Sipson

Grow Heathrow which had occupied an abandoned and overgrown nursery in Sipson in 2010 were holding a harvest festival to celebrate another year’s harvest there with ‘music, pumpkins and pizza’ as well as holding an open ‘No Third Runway!’ discussion. which I was keen to attend and take part in.

The discussion was already underway when I arrived a little out of breath after running the short distance from the bus stop, but I was able to ask several questions and make some comments as well as taking pictures. With John Stewart and other campaigners including Christine Taylor of Stop Heathrow Expansion and Sheila Menon of Plane Stupid taking part it was an interesting discussion, and if fairly small the group taking part was certainly a select one.

As I commented then, “Whatever decision the current government take over the curiously defective considerations of the Davies committee (and I think we may well see some very long grass coming into play) it seems to me unlikely that Heathrow expansion will be deliverable.”

The commision had been set up in order to approve Heathrow expansion and it became official government policy in October 2016. It was supported by a parliamentary vote in 2018, but an application for judicial review by environmental groups, the Mayor of London and local councils ruled the decision unlawful as it had failed to to the government’s commitments to combat climate change into account. The government accepted the court’s decision, but Heathrow appealed to the Supreme Court who overruled this decision.

Although this theoretically allowed the expansion to go ahead, it currently seems unlikely to do so, with increasing environmental concerns, changes in forecasts of future air traffic, increasing costs and also increasing capacity at other UK airports almost certainly make it no longer viable.

After the discussion I took the opportunity to walk around the site to see what had changed since my last visit, and take more pictures. The case for eviction of Grow Heathrow had been recently adjourned until Summer 2016. Half the site was lost by an eviction in early 2019 but the site was only finally evicted in March 2021.

More at Grow Heathrow celebrates Harvest Festival.


Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow 2014

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow: Back in 2014 I could take a bus a short walk from my home which took me to within a few yards of what had recently been renamed the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre on Bath Road to the north of Heathrow Airport. And since the bus only ran every half hour I arrived a while before the protest there began and had time for a short walk – and almost half an hour to wait on my way home.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

Surprising both buses had fairly clean windows and I also took a few pictures through them on my journey, and you can see a few more at Colnbrook and Heathrow. Before the protest I’d walked beside the Duke of Northumberland’s River which runs through the extensive grounds of the British Airways offices, and on the other bank is a tall fence for the Immigration Centre and BT premises.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

The river is a man-made distributary of the River Colne, dug to take water to the Isleworth flour mill and Syon House. Along with another channel, the Longford River, built to take water to Bushy Park and Hampton Court, it has been rerouted around Heathrow airport and some of the pictures from the bus show the two in their new largely concrete channels beside the perimeter road.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

There are two immigration prisons on each side of a private road leading to the BT site behind. On the left of the picture is the Harmondsworth prison block, and on its right the high-security Colnbrook centre. At the start of the month both had been taken over by Mitie, as ‘Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre’, making ‘Care and Custody’, the Mitie subsidiary running the centre the “largest single private sector provider of immigration detention services to the Home Office.”

Mitie’s track record in running such centres should have disqualified them from running and government services. At Campsfield there had been three mass hunger strikes, a suicide and a disastrous major fire – perhaps why they had become one of the government’s favourite contractors.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

The name ‘Immigration Removal Centre’ reflects the government’s racist policies towards asylum centres. It wants to remove immigrants, whether or not they have a sound case for asylum. Such centres lock up people making it harder for them to pursue their case to remain in the UK and easier for them to be deported. The great majority of those imprisoned will eventually be given the right to remain in the UK, but may be held in centres like this for many months or even more than two years before being released so they can continue their lives – and make the positive contribution they will to UK society and our economy.

At previous protests here the protesters had been allowed to march down the private road between the two prisons and continue alongside the 20 foot fence around the Harmondsworth site back to the front. But now – perhaps due to the new management – police refused to allow them access, restricting the protest to a pen in front of the centre’s administrative block.

The protest was one of a number here organised by the Movement for Justice, and supported by many other organisation and the protesters argued for some time to be allowed to march down the roadway and around the Harmondsworth centre as usual but without success. Eventually the around a hundred protesters who had travelled out to the western edge of London moved into the pen provided.

The majority of those attending the protest were immigrants, many of whom had been held in this centre or others around the country. Harmondsworth imprisons male detainees, and many of the women at the protest had spent time in Yarl’s Wood near Bedford. Later MfJ would concentrate their protests at that centre.

The protest was a very noisy one, with loud shouting and drumming and a great deal of dancing between the speeches. Phone calls from inside told the protesters that they could be heard inside the cell blocks.

Most of those who spoke were former asylum speakers and told of the suffering they had endured in our immigration detention. As some said, it was worse than prison, as the detention was indefinite. They had no release date to look forward too, and could have been deported at any time back to the countries which they had fled in fear of their lives.

Speakers also called for an end to the ‘Detained Fast Track’ system, deliberately set up when Labour where in power to make it impossible for many asylum claimants to defend themselves against deportation and remove them from the country before they are able to do so. It’s a shameful system that no country that believes in the proper rule of law, fair play and human decency could support.

Various legal challenges to ‘Detained Fast Track’ led to the High Court declaring in January 2017 that DFT had denied justice to asylum seekers for the previous ten years, with thousands being deported without a lawful hearing of their cases.

A friend of the family of Rubel Ahmed who described how he died in Morton Hall immigration detention centre in Lincolnshire on September 5th 2014 after having been refused refused medical treatment for his chest pains. Fellow prisoners heard him screaming for help, and had rioted after his death, taking control of the detention centre until brutally suppressed. One who contacted the press was brutally beaten by prison guards.

Many more pictures from the protest on My London Diary at Close UK Immigration Prisons.


Workfare, Methodists & Grow Heathrow – 2012

Friday, September 8th, 2023

Workfare, Methodists & Grow Heathrow: Saturday 8th September 2012 was another day of travelling around London, with protests against forced unpaid work for benefit claimants in Camden and Brixton, Ghanaian Methodists celebrating at Victoria and then an open day at Grow Heathrow in Sipson from where a couple of buses took me home.


Day of Action Against Workfare – Camden & Brixton

Boycott Workfare held a UK day of action targeted against charities and shops that take part in the government scheme of forced unpaid work which treats the unemployed as criminals. They also celebrated companies and charities that have withdrawn from the scheme.

Although the scheme is described as voluntary those who refuse to take part or or whose participation is judged unsatisfactory face the loss of some or all of their benefits. Under harsh government targets the number of claimants being sanctioned had increased threefold over two years and in 2012 there were over half a million under sanctions. It’s work for nothing or lose your benefits.

As Boycott Workfare pointed out, the four week Mandatory Work Activity scheme is the equivalent of a medium level community service order – such as might be given to someone found guilty of assault or drunken driving. And while the longest community service order a judge can give is for 300 hours, under some workfare schemes claimants are being forced to work without pay for 780 hours.

Many claimants unable to find paid work do find useful unpaid community activities they can volunteer for – and then are forced to give these up by workfare schemes.

These schemes are supposed to provide work experience than can then lead to actual jobs, but many companies in the schemes use them simply as a source of free labour – which then then be replaced by new free workers when they come to and end of their period. Often there is no possibility of people on the schemes moving into paid work.

Among well known shops and charities making use of this unpaid labour in 2012 were Boots, Argos, Scope, Cancer Research UK, Poundland and British Heart Foundation, and the protests took place in front of a number of their shops. In Brixton protesters handed out leaflets inside Poundland.

Protests against workfare had already had some effect with groups including Burger King, Oxfam, Waterstones, Shelter, 99p Stores, Pizza Hut and Sainsbury’s pulling out from the scheme.

More on My London Diary at Day of Action Against Workfare.


Ghanaian Methodists Celebrate 10 Years – Westminster Cathedral

Celebrations of 10 years of the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship UK and its 16 churches were to end in a thanksgiving service the following day. On Saturday the met at Westminster Catholic Cathedral and then danced away down Victoria Street towards Methodist Central Hall.

Methodism in the UK tends to be worthy and rather rather less exuberant, though with loud singing of hymns and much drinking of tea. There was a very different atmosphere at these dancing celebrations.

More pictures Ghanaian Methodists Celebrate.


Grow Heathrow Open Day – Sipson

A journey to the end of the Piccadilly line and a short bus ride took me to Sipson where over two years ago Transition Heathrow moved onto the local eyesore and dumping ground of the former Berkeley Nursery site. This was an open day for their Grow Heathrow project.

People had moved onto the site to fight against plans for a third runway at Heathrow, but realised the potential of the site to create a productive alternative off-grid home that would become a creative hub for the area.

They started by clearing the rubbish and getting the local council to take away around 30 tons of it, but much of the material on site was a valuable resource that with a great deal of ingenuity they recycled for there own uses. Many built there own small temporary houses in the wilder areas of the site, though some were still then living in tents. And patched up part-ruined greenhouses and a couple of cabins on the site became communal spaces including a comfortable sitting area, a library and a vistor’s room.

Their activities gained a great deal of support from the local residents and when the site owners gained permission to evict them they were granted leave to appeal on human rights grounds with the judge describing the site as as “much loved and well used” by the local community. The site was open to them and other visitors weekdays from 10am – 6pm and on Sunday afternoons.

There are regular events every week open to anyone, including bicycle workshops, art workshops and gardening, and some of the results were impressive. Were it just a little closer to my home I’d be tempted to come here more often, but although it might be a pleasant place in Summer I think I would miss the comforts of my own home rather too much in winter. The wood-burning shower did look rather draughty even if the water was very hot.

Among firm supporters of Grow Heathrow was local MP John McDonnell who stated “This inspirational project has not only dramatically improved this derelict site but it has lifted the morale of the whole local community in the campaign against the third runway and in planning a sustainable future for our area. We cannot lose this initiative and I will do all I can to enable it to continue.”

And continue it did for some years, surviving a number of legal challenges. Half of the site was reclaimed by bailiffs in 2019, but the final eviction only came in March 2021.

More at Grow Heathrow Open Day.


Protest against fast track deportations

Friday, May 5th, 2023

Protest against fast track deportations: On 5th May 2014, the early May bank holiday, protesters went to Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre close to Heathrow in solidarity with the prisoners inside who had gone on mass hunger strike against the unfair ‘fast track’ system which denies many a proper hearing. The were also protesting against other problems in the private-run prison.

Protest against fast track deportations

The hunger strike by over 300 men held at the centre was sparked off by the failure of the only fax machine at the centre, an essential service for those trying to prepare their case to gain asylum in the UK.

Protest against fast track deportations

The strike was suspended over the weekend after Home Office officials met delegates from the hunger strikers and promised to give answers to their demands on Tuesday, 6 May.

Protest against fast track deportations

Detained Fast Track (DFT) was first introduced by New Labour, but its use had expanded under the coalition government. As I noted, it “is inherently unfair, giving asylum seekers little or no time to prepare their cases and has resulted in many unfair decisions. It disadvantages those in most need of asylum who are unlikely to have prepared essential documents in advance and to be in a condition to represent themselves effectively. And as they are held in detention it is very difficult or impossible for them to prepare a case, particularly when communication with the outside world is limited and difficult.

Protest against fast track deportations

As well as being unfair, DFT is also expensive, thought to at least double the costs to the country for every asylum seeker held in detention, though the government does not release the exact figures. But despite the cost, the quality of accommodation and services in the detention centres is extremely poor. Many of those held have medical problems, often linked to the reasons why they fled their countries and there has been a desperate lack of proper healthcare at this and other immigration detention centres.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that many in the Home Office – including those in charge – have lost any feeling of compassion for the desperate people who seek asylum, seeing them as a threat to our country, best locked away and as far as possible out of mind. In my post on the protest I mentioned the case reported by HM Inspectorate of Prisons of an 84 year old man suffering from dementia who died after being held for almost 3 weeks without and proper medical attention before being taken to hospital in handcuffs.

Hard too not to see the incompetence often displayed as deliberate, as in the case of those held sometimes for over a year after having agreed to voluntary repatriation or those transferred to here for interviews in London and then abandoned here rather than being returned to other detention centres to continue to consult with their lawyers and have family visits.

We could vaguely see a lot of hands and very dim faces in the windows. As well as the grid of the fence there is a layer of dirty glass and another of plexiglass between them and us

Difficult to understand the lack of legal help and advice at this and other centres enabling the detainees to prepare their cases, and the many holdups that they encounter in doing this – even when the fax machine is working.

Probably the main changes that have taken place at Harmondsworth since this protest nine years ago is that the prison, together with its neighbour Colnbrook are under a new private management and that security and police presence has been considerably tightened. In 2014 the protesters were able to walk down the private road leading to a BT site between the two prisons and continue around the outside of the 20ft high prison fence. Since then protests have been restricted to the front of the building, out of sight of the prisoners. Back in 2014 the police told them that so longs as they behaved sensibly and caused no trouble they would be allowed to protest – and they were.

Later in 2014 the High Court ruled that the Detained Fast Track procedure was was unlawful, though the Home Office appealed and eventually only minor changes have been made. The process is clearly in breach of international law, as is the wholesale detention of asylum seekers.

As recently as 2018 the UK again committed to a declaration that it would “ensure that any detention in the context of international migration follows due process, is non-arbitrary, is based on law, necessity, proportionality and individual assessments.” Current and proposed UK policies break every aspect of this commitment and other aspects of international law, much of which was driven by the UK and to which successive governments have at least paid lip-service. Our current government has declared it will ignore those aspects it finds inconvenient.

More on the protest at Support Harmondsworth Mass Hunger Strike.


Hindu Festival and Heathrow Protest 2007

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Back in 2007, My London Diary’s text was still firmly stuck in lower case – an affectation perhaps reflecting my admiration for the work of ee cummings, whose works, though not completely free of capitals used rather less than the normal quota, but I did it more to speed up my use of the keyboard. I’ve corrected at least most of the capitalisation in the following account I wrote back then about the events I photographed on Sunday 19th August 2007. When I set out I hadn’t intended to go to Heathrow – their restrictive media policy had put me off, but a police search changed my mind.


Janam Ashtami Shobha Yaatra – Shri Krishna’s Birthday, Shree Ram Mandir, Southall

On Sunday 19th August 2007 I cycled through the light rain to the Shree Ram Mandir (Temple Of Lord Rama) in King Street, Southall, which was apparently the first Hindu temple established in Britain, although recently rebuilt. They were holding their Janam Ashtami Shobha Yaatra, a procession in honour of the birth anniversary of Krishna which in 2007 was on September 4th.

I have to admit to finding the Hindu religion confusing, but processions such as this are lively and colourful events even if their full appreciation may require a rather different mindset to mine.

it is easy to share the feelings of celebration and of community, and to feel the welcome given by so many. I also met for the first time the newly elected MP for Ealing Southall who held the seat for labour in last month’s by-election, Virendra Sharma, taking part in the procession; many were eager to pose for their picture with him.

Many more pictures on My London Diary


Heathrow Climate Camp Protestors – Bath Road, Sipson Sun 19 Aug 2007

I took a route back from Southall along the north side of Heathrow, close to the climate camp. On my way to Southall, along the Great South West Road which runs along the south-east of the airport, I’d been stopped and searched by police at Hatton Cross. Its a power that police are using more and more – on average around 11,000 a month in London now, and one that makes me feel uneasy. We now seem to be in a kind of police state I’ve certainly never voted for and don’t wish to live in.

I won’t appear in the Met’s figures, despite being searched in London, as the two officers concerned had been drafted in from Surrey for the day. They were polite and we had a pleasant enough conversation, but to me it still seems an unreasonable intrusion – and I think they only did it because they were bored. Under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the police can search anyone in an area designated as likely to be the subject of a terrorist attack – such as airports. They don’t need to have any grounds to suspect you, being there is enough.

Cycling back along the pavement by the bath road (a shared path) there were rather more police around, but they were too busy with more likely targets to stop me. As I came along the road I found myself riding along with a woman who was obviously hurrying to get somewhere. We both stopped at the same point, opposite where three activists had scaled the side of a small building with a banner reading “MAKE PLANES HISTORY”.

She jumped over the fence between the two carriageways to approach the protesters, while I stayed on the opposite side from where I had a better view. Later she came back to talk to the TV crew beside me and was talking to one of the protesters – obviously she was proud of her daughter’s action.

And she had every right to be proud. we need action over Heathrow, action to prevent the takeover of even more land for the third runway. I’ve long opposed the expansion of Heathrow – and was on the local march against the third runway. Now there shouldn’t even be a possibility of further expansion, but the government must look at ways of running down the activities at Heathrow, or it will be failing not just west London but the world.

Further along the road I found protesters gathering around the British airports authority offices, which were ringed by police. Nothing much seemed to be happening and the media were there in force, so I left the guys to it. I’d previously been upset by the restrictive media policy adopted by the climate camp, which had the effect of preventing sensible photographic coverage of the event. So I was rather less interested than I might otherwise have been in putting myself out to take pictures.

Along the road I met a few groups of demonstrators and did take a few pictures of them, including some on the bridge over the road into the airport, and a couple of the clown army being harassed by a police photo team, but my heart still wasn’t really in it.

The British airways offices had seemed to me a likely place for a confrontation – and obviously the police had thought so too, as teams of black clad figures paced up and down spoiling for a fight, watched over by the guys in uniform and a group of suits. At the top of the mound in front of the offices were a couple of officers on horses.

It was like some painting of the field lining up before a medieval battle, and I wish I’d stopped to take a picture, but they were so obviously looking for trouble I decided I didn’t want the aggravation that this would most likely have caused. For once you will just have to imagine it!

more pictures

Surround Harmondsworth – End Immigration Detention

Monday, July 11th, 2022

Surround Harmondsworth - End Immigration Detention

Surround Harmondsworth – End Immigration Detention – Saturday 11th July 2015

On Bath Road immediatly north of Heathrow Airport

As a boy I spent much of my leisure time cycling around south-west Middlesex, either on my own or with a couple of friends exploring both the quiet lanes and busy roads such as the A4 Bath Road, then heavy with traffic, most of which now prefers the M4 a mile or so to the north here.

As we came to Longford we came to the Peggy Bedford, a pub at the junction where the Colnbrook Bypass, which had been opened in 1929 to take traffic away from the narrow streets of quiet villages of Longford and Colnbrook. The streets were still fairly narrow back in the 1950s (and remain so) but the quiet was then regularly replaced as planes taking off or landing at Heathrow, a stone’s throw away, thundered overhead. And what had been annoying but bearable in the age of propeller-driven aircraft soon became deafening as these were replaced by jets.

The Peggy Bedford was a typical fake-tudor building of 1930, complete with mock half-timbering and exaggerated chimneys, but the name (and licence) had a long history, dating back to a tavern around half a mile west in Longford, The Kings Head Inn. This was the first of a long string of coaching inns through Longford and Colnbrook where coaches out of London picked up their second change of horses, having made their first change in one of the hundred inns of Hounslow High Street.

Walking to a pen outside the Harmondsworth prison administration block

In 1782 Peggy Bedford was one of six children born to the licensee of the inn, and later she owned and ran it from 1807 until her death in 1859. All the locals came to call the pub by her name, and it became known as the Peggy Bedford, though officially still the Kings Head. When the bypass was built, the brewers realised it would bypass the pub, closed it and built a new pub at the junction and were persuaded by its patrons to officially name it so. For a while in the ’30s it was a popular roadhouse for some of London’s idle young smart set, who would drive out and race along the bypass. And when it was pulled down – to some local disgust – in 1995 the name was given to the McDonalds which replaced it.

When we chose to take the bypass – a rather smoother and faster ride for us too – we soon passed on the north side of the Bath Road a government site – The Road Research Laboratory. A monument on Moor Lane at the north of this large site now records “Tests conducted by the Road Research Laboratory against model dams built on this site during 1940 – 42 assisted Barnes Wallis in his development of the bouncing bomb (Upkeep), used by No. 617 Squadron Royal Air Force to breach the Ruhr Dams 16/17 May 1943.” But the main business of the RRL was to find ways to make roads faster and safer for cars and lorries – if rather less safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

The RRL moved out to Crowthorne in the late 1960s and the part of this site closest to Bath Road is now the site of two of the UK’s heinous immigration prisons, Harmonsdsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (now collectively called Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre.) An area behind them is in use by BT.

It was outside the detention centres on the Bath Road that I met with a large group of people who had come from London by underground to Heathrow terminal 5 and then a local bus to protest against the unfair treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, including some still being held under the Fast-Track system then recently found unlawful by the High Court.

People spoke about their experiences of being detained

The recent change of name of these prisons from ‘detention centres’ to ‘immigration removal centres’ makes clear that the government’s intention is not to properly investigate asylum claims but to simply deport those making them as fast as they can. Although the ‘fast track’ system, designed to make it impossible for people to properly fight their case to stay has now been declared illegal, those held in the centre are still under threat of being bundled onto a plane without a proper chance to present their case.

The group marches out of the centre

This protest at Europe’s largest detention centre complex was the eighth organised there by the Movement for Justice, who have also organised protests at other immigration prisons including Yarls Wood. MfJ have also worked with many detainees whilst they are inside the centres, providing assistance and preventing many cases of premature deportation. Thanks largely to the efforts of them and other bodies which also work with detainees many have eventually been released and allowed to remain in the UK, and most of those taking part in the protest were former detainees.

Along a public footpath beside the prison fence

Security had been stepped up greatly at the Heathrow centre since some previous protests and police and security staff confined the protesters to an area in front of the administration block, well away from where detainees are held. But the protest made a lot of noise, shouting and dancing with megaphones and a small public address system, and phone calls with the detainees confirmed they could be clearly heard inside.

which leads to a field beside the prison fence.

Detainees are not held under the same conditions as prisoners in jail, though the Colnbrook centre is built and largely run on prison lines. But while trying to argue their cases the detainees need mobile phones to try to contact their legal advisers and MFJ were able to contact some of them and amplify their messages to the protest.

After a lengthy protest in front of the Harmondsworth administration building the protesters moved off and walked down a public footpath that runs beside the 20ft fence on the east of the Colnbrook blocks. Here they were much closer to the people inside but the tall fence, a hedge and some trees prevented us from seeing them at the windows. But again they could be contacted by phone and told those outside about the poor conditions and treatment they were experiencing and gave profuse thanks to the people outside who had come to visit them.

They could hear people shouting from inside as well as by phone

Finally the protesters decided it was time to begin their hour and a half journey back into central London and I said goodbye to start my shorter journey home.

More on My London Diary: Surround Harmondsworth.


The Racist UK Immigration System

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

The Racist UK Immigration System: The Home Office a couple of years ago commissioned a report following the huge publicity over the Windrush scandal after government ministers had been forced to agree to educate all Home Office employees about our colonial history and the experiences faced by black people coming to the UK.

The report, “The Historical Roots of the Windrush Scandal“, by a well-known historian the Home Office refuses to name, details how the whole history of post-war British immigration legislation since the Second World War was “designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK“, reflecting the “racist ideology of the British Empire.”

For over a year politicians and others have been calling for the report to be published but the Home Office has refused. Last month it was leaked in full to The Guardian, but is still not available to the public, despite having been paid for by our taxes. Many requests for its publication from MPs including the home affairs select committee and campaigners over the past year had been turned down and a freedom of information request about it was refused.

The protest began on Bath Road in front of the Immigration Removal Centres

Some speculate that the true reason for it being kept secret was because it was in direct contradiction to last years report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities which had ludicrously concluded there was “no evidence to suggest that Britain was an institutionally racist place.

Others suggest the refusal to publish was that it would bring new highly discriminatory policies being introduced – such as the attacks on cross-channel migrants and the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda – liable to greater opposition as a development of an already clearly racist immigration system.

Colnbrook on the left, Harmondsworth at right

Back in June 2014, when the Movement for Freedom organised a protest on June 7th outside the adjoining Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres on the northern boundary of London Heathrow, the thrust of the protest was against the the unjust ‘Fast Track System’ and mistreatment of detainees by private security firms inside these immigration prisons.

John McDonnell speaks outside the detention centres on Bath Road

Local MP John McDonnell who came to speak told the protest 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 rather than the two large blocks the protesters were in front of. The protesters argue that immigration detention is almost entirely unnecessary, existing only to deter immigration and harass and punish those who come here to seek asylum.

Asylum seekers wave from behind the 20ft fence, razor wire and window bars

The fast track system was set up with the deliberate aim of deporting people before they had time to put together the evidence that would enable them to properly present their case to remain. You don’t get a certificate given to you for being tortured or raped but our system treats all of them as guilty, trying to evade our immigration laws and rather than the Home Office having to prove their stories are fabricated calls on them to provide proof of threats, torture, rape and other events that forced them to flee. Legal challenges including that by Detention Action in 2015 found “rules setting the tight timescales for asylum-seekers to make appeals were unlawful and ‘ultra vires’ and that the strict time limits in and of themselves were ‘structurally unfair’.”

Although the legal judgements led to the suspension of DFT, the deportations of asylum seekers to Rwanda currently about to take place clearly represent a ratcheting up of this punitive approach and seem likely also to be successfully challenged in the courts – thought not before hundreds or thousands have been wrongfully deported.

The detention centres were built on a site which has a private road leading to a BT site at the rear. After the speeches on the public highway in front of the site, the marchers walked down this road, making a lot of noise chanting and shouting as well as with whistles and other noise-makers. Detainees came to the windows and waved thanking the protesters for their support, and some were able to communicate using mobile phones.

Mobile phone messages from inside were broadcast to protesters using a megaphone

The two detention prisons are both surrounded by 20 foot high fences, the lower half solid metal sheets and the upper half with a dense solid wire mesh, which makes photographing the windows difficult. But we could clearly see the detainees and they could seem the long banner with the message ‘Stop Racism – End Fast Track – End Detention’ which was held up, and we could make out some of the messages they had written calling for freedom.

We were able to walk completely around the Harmondsworth building (but not the higher security Colnbrook one) and when I left the march organisers were planning to return their route in the opposite direction as they had so many phone calls from those inside, but I had to leave.

Diane Abbott published an opinion piece in The Guardian on the leaked report at the end of May this year, “The truth is out: Britain’s immigration system is racist, and always has been. Now let’s fix it“. Unfortunately I think our current government is unlikely to have any interest at all in doing so. She ends her piece: “The system is calibrated for racism. It always was. We know it, and now we know that, behind closed doors, Priti Patel’s Home Office knows it. The dirty secret is no longer secret.”


No Third Runway – 31 May 2008

Tuesday, May 31st, 2022

No Third Runway – 31 May 2008 – several thousand campaigners against the expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport marched from Hatton Cross through part of the airport to the village of Sipson which will be obliterated if the third runway is built.

No Third Runway - 31 May 2008

I’m not sure whether it was on this occasion or another similar event where I was approached and asked if I would like to be the official photographer at height on a cherry-picker taking the photograph of thousands below me on the ground in a giant ‘NO’ each holding up the message ‘NO’ but having no head at all for heights I was very pleased to be taking part in the event with both feet firmly on the ground. I was holding up my poster with its ‘NO’ in one hand and my camera in the other when I made this picture.

No Third Runway - 31 May 2008

I don’t think I’ve ever had much of a head for heights. Perhaps it was my early experiences when my father was sometimes left with the baby and had to take to to work with him – even when he was up fixing roofs. I have some vague but vivid memories of being up on the roof of a house, perhaps our own, under the Heathrow flightpath with aircraft – propellor rather than jet in those days – passing low overhead. But things have worsened in more recent years as my balance has worsened, and now even low walls are a step too high.

The account on My London Diary – Heathrow – Make a Noise – No Third Runway – makes my views on Heathrow clear, beginning with the paragraph “It is now obvious to everyone with their head out of the sand is that London Heathrow is in the wrong place. It always was, since its creation by subterfuge and lies during the last years of the war, but no government since has had the nerve to challenge the powerful aviation lobby.

No Third Runway - 31 May 2008
MPs Justine Greening (Con, Putney), John McDonnell (Lab, Hayes & Harlington), and Susan Kramer (LibDem, Richmond Park)

It was a view backed by the politicians of all parties who came to speak at the rally, though Labour – then in government – were only (if ably) represented by local MP for Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell. And although the Deputy Mayor of London was there, Mayor Boris Johnson who had promised to come had decided instead to fly off for a holiday in Turkey – just as he has done on various occasions as Prime Minister. The Archbishop of Canterbury had also been expected, but was at the last minute unable to make it and sent an envoy with his message.

No Third Runway - 31 May 2008

Most of those marching were local residents, particularly from Sipson and Harmondsworth which would be destroyed by the development, but also from the other areas under the flightpath, which includes a great swathe of West London. Given the nature of the protest and those taking part the level of police interest in it seemed excessive, and it was noticeable that they seemed to be particularly interested in photographing and filming the photographers who were covering the protest – I several times found myself staring into the lens of the police team.

I don’t know why the police do this, nor what happens to the photographs and videos. On the only occasion I’ve bothered to send a Freedom of Information request requesting details of the photographs they have of me from a number of events where they had quite clearly taken them I received a reply stating that there were no images on record… We are not being told the truth.

One of very few flights on the northern runway as the march went past

Notably missing from the event were any representatives of Spelthorne Council, my local council and the only council in the area not to oppose the expansion. The Conservative MP for Spelthorne, David Wilsher also supported airport expansion against the then party line and “also denies that climate change is caused by human activities and some constituents expect him to announce his membership of the flat earth society any day soon. Best known for his introduction of the anti-gay ‘Section 28’ amendment in 1988 he replaced for the 2010 election by Kwasi Kwarteng after being implicated in an expenses scandal involving the payment of £105,00 of parliamentary expenses to a company set up with his partner to run his office. The inquiry into his expenses was suspended because of his poor health.

John Stewart of HACAN and Geraldine Nicholson of NOTRAG perform a duet: NO THIRD RUNWAY

You can read a full account of the march and rally with a large number of pictures on My London Diary: Heathrow – No Third Runway