Thursday, 24 February 2011


This kind of thing is happening far too often despite Home Office and Police authority guidelines to prevent innocent people facing 'apprehension' by security officers who think they are the law.

Original letter from Simon St Clare to the Milton Keynes Citizen

I am a keen photographer and I regularly travel to CMK to watch films in Cineworld in Xscape. In the afternoon on Monday 7 Feb prior to watching a film I was ‘arrested’ by two of the Xscape security staff for taking photos of the outside of the building. I had just spent a while taking photos of the derelict part of The Food Hall and then I strolled over to Xscape where I took a few photos of part of the Xscape building. I had only been there for two minutes when I was approached by a security guard. He questioned me on my actions and I think he asked me to leave the area. I refused to leave the area and said I had the right to take photos in a public place. I thought it was reasonable to assume I was in a public place and my normal rights still applied.

A second security guard approached us and he stood behind me – which I thought was strange. I was then told that Xscape was a privately-owned building and I needed special permission to photograph it. They said it was both illegal and against Xscape company policy for the building to be photographed without permission. They then threatened to call the police if I did not leave the area. I thought it was reasonable to assume I was outdoors in a public place and any specifics regarding a company policy did not apply – afterall it wasn’t as if I was inside the building or in a nightclub or restaurant. I invited the security to call the police as I suspected they were being over-zealous and I hoped the police would confirm this and put them in their place.

We stood there outside in the cold waiting for the police to come along to let us know who’s right or wrong. After a couple of minutes I wanted to walk away (my plan was to go to see a film in Cineworld) but both guards stepped forwards and placed their hands on my arms. They told me I couldn’t go until the police arrived. I asked them if they would restrain me if I tried to go and they said they would.

Just after that I noticed one of the guards was not wearing an SIA  (Security Industry Authority) badge – I thought a badge number was meant to be on display so that it was easier for them to be held accountable. I asked the guard if he had an SIA badge and he replied "Who are you to ask me that?". he then said something along the lines of 'A f***ing judge or a magistrate can ask me that but you can't.

I estimate it took the police ten to fifteen minutes to arrive. When they came they asked me some questions, took my details and then let me go. They were very polite and reasonable, they said I had done nothing wrong and that Xscape should have some signs on prominent display if they wanted to prevent photography outside the building. They recommended I complain to the Xscape management about the situation.

A few minutes after the police had left I spoke to the manager of the Xscape security to complain about the situation-specifically about the guard who swore at me and although he apologised, one of the things he said was to the extent of : some of their staff are direct in the way that they speak and deal with situations -they are, therefore, more suited to working later in the day when there are rowdy drunk people to be dealt with. On this occasion, he explained, one member of staff had ended up working earlier in the day than usual.

I’ve taken many photos in public places around MK and I never take photos that invade privacy. I have found that security guards often want photographers to go away – even if they have the right to take photos in a certain area. I accept that if I am approached and questioned by the police when I am near a shopping centre their intention is to protect the public. When I was approached by these guards I could not understand how what I was doing could be seen as wrong or illegal. From the moment they approached me I felt as though they were on the offensive, they were not polite and they treated me like a suspected criminal instead of treating me like a customer of the Xscape building.

Link to Report in Amateur Photographer (1)

Saturday, 19 February 2011


While most of us are having to commit to a belt tightening exercise that extends far beyond what a strictest diet might achieve for our waistlines, the fat cats, particularly those in the higher echelons of public service are not suffering one jot. To the contrary most are seeing their wage packets increase at the expense of the rest of us.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalists in collaboration with the BBC's Panorama programme has revealed that more than 38,000 government workers are being paid more than £100,000 and 9,187 of them earn more than the Prime Minister. Of these 6,500 NHS employees are paid more than David Cameron. Even the Government are said to have been shocked by this because they had estimated that the number earning in the £100,00 bracket to be half this. Of these only one in five is a woman which knocks any suggestion of pay equality at a senior level. The shocking truth is that in schools and universities there are six men for every woman in the £100,000 pay sector and only one in eight women earns £200,000 or more. The Judiciary is even worse where pay equality at the highest level reduces to one women in eighteen.

When Labour came to power the number of public sector workers amounted to around 5.2 million people but this rose to 6.1 million over the last 13 years. This increase has also witnessed a sharp increase in the Government's wage bill to £157.7 billion with the highest paid three per cent of public sector workers seeing a 64 per cent rise in salary. Britain's highest paid public servants are costing the taxpayer £5bn a year.

The highest paid public worker is Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC who earns £838,000, but many GPs are earning more than the best surgeons and medical specialists.  Ten general practitioners earn more than £300,000 with 1,145 of them earning more than Cameron. The highest paid of these works at Hillingdon and earns £475,500. The NHS is extremely protective about revealing the identities of their highest paid GPs but as they are paid for out of the public purse shouldn't we have a right to know? The Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust accounts for four of those in the top ten with a combined wage bill of £1.5 million.  

In education, 385 teachers are paid more than £100,000 a year, 17 of them more than the Prime Minister and one (not named) is paid £232,500 by Essex County Council.  With salaries such as these the National Secretary for Public Services at the GMB Union is fully justified in saying: "The fact that a head teacher could be paid so much while other staff in the school are paid so little is causing our members working in schools to feel this is outrageous."

In the nation's town halls 2,000 top paid executives earn a combined salary of a quarter of a billion pounds and 1,500 council chiefs earn more than David Cameron. Wandsworth, hardly an affluent area of London, spends almost £5 million on just 36 employees and their chief executive, Gerald Jones is said to be the country's highest paid local government worker with a salary of £299,925 including £54,000 in bonuses.  Is it really any wonder that the country is in a state?

What really puts the higher public sector salaries into perspective is that the average UK salary is  £22,405 but tens of thousands of employees earn far less than this especially those that work in menial jobs for local authorities.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


The way that our armed forces are treated when they return to civilian life after tours of duty in Afghanistan and formerly from Iraq is disgraceful.  Whether we agree whether the engagement in Afghanistan is necessary or not is not the issue and our military personnel cannot be blamed for doing what they agreed to do when they signed on. But, after putting their lives on the line every day and witnessing their friends dying, being maimed or losing limbs when they leave the services many are left to fend for themselves when they return home.  Successive governments are quick to commit our troops to danger but once they return to civilian life their needs are widely ignored leaving public supported charities to pick up the pieces.
In a hard hitting BBC Panorama programme (9 Feb 2011) Colonel Tim Collins exposed the traumas  returning soldiers were having to face.  Although not all will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many will be affected by other war-related conditions that has led to family splits, violence and serious drinking problems. A study of around 10,000 Armed Forces personnel found that almost one in five (19.7 per cent) reported signs of a common mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety or insomnia that is leaving many lives shattered. It did not believe that multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan had an effect on rates of PTSD, which was estimated to have affected between 3 and 4 per cent of British troops over the course of the study. The Combat Stress charity said there has been a 66 per cent rise in demand for its services in the past five years, with discharged veterans taking 14 years on average before seeking help. Military veterans are, in the main, extremely proud individuals who are reluctant to ask for help. Support services have been reported to be seeing about 4,000 new veterans each year, but this could rise to 9,000 a year within a decade, the charity added. Veterans with psychiatric problems are unlikely to receive the treatment they need from the NHS since mental health provisions were axed and this could cause massive problems within the community in years to come that are not being addressed.
Soldiers have also been abused, attacked and refused entry to pubs and nightclubs and the levels of protests against homecoming troops from Muslim reactionaries in Barking and Luton have been well documented.  Veterans are also finding difficulties finding work in a worsening job market while others have been forced to live rough on the streets when they have been unable to find affordable accommodation. A few have also ended up serving prison sentences. Had the appropriate level of State funded help been available most of these former soldiers could have been spared from the ruination of their lives. Instead, the role of helping these victims continues to fall on the charity sector such as Support Our Soldiers and the Royal British Legion. However, the Panorama programme revealed that the RBL (which has an income of £125m)could offer assistance to many more veterans if they knew who they were, but the Ministry of Defence has hidden behind the Data Protection Act and has failed to release information to identify those in need.
The former Army chief, Sir Richard Dannatt, has revealed that there are 2,000 armed services fund-raising charities with a joint income of £800m but with so many there is a lack of coordination and cooperation between these which leads to overlap and duplication. Dannatt has praised the public for their generosity in supporting its military but he didn't expect their generosity to last forever.  The chief executive for Veterans Aid Chris Simpkins said "Veterans are for life, not just for Christmas. So the real issue is about who's going to be here, can everyone sustain themselves for the long haul?"
The Independent on 15 November 2009 carried the headline 'Homecoming fit for heroes? The plight of Britain's veterans' . What followed was a hard hitting story that serves as a poignant reminder that not enough is being done. The responsibility for these veterans is really the responsibility of central government and it really isn't doing enough.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


 David Cameron is finally saying what sane minded people have been saying for a long time.

View the report here

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


The Legal Action Group has reported on their blog how the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) that pays for nearly 500 debt advisors based at Citizens Advice Centres anf other non-profit help centres will end in March. The Fund was established by the Labour government in 2004 to provide £45m in funding to pay for face-to-face advice services that was used by around 100,000 people a year. This is a further example of how those that cannot afford to pay for legal advice, will be hit by cut backs.  The advisors funded under the scheme also face redundancy. Read the full story here