Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Tydd St. Giles

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Tydd St. Giles

We made inroads into Tydd & Gorefield today.  A smaller team than previously, probably due to it being Easter and all, but still a very good day.

We started in Tydd St Giles, canvassing all the central area of the village.  Tydd St. Giles is probably the village where I know the most people and so I always enjoy walking around there and saying “Hi” to old friends.  Usually, I know more people than anybody on a campaign team, having worked in the area for so many years.  But not anymore.  Literally, Sam Clark seems to know everybody.  Awash with energy, she zig-zags from one side of the street to another, greeting people by their first name, introducing us to one of her relations, regaling us with tales of how she knows this person and that person.  It’s a lot of fun!

We enjoyed refreshments in Gorefield and then moved on for a couple of hours there – but this wasn’t primarily a Gorefield day.  Those are coming next week.  So we stuck mainly to a few key areas where we know our support is strong.  We’ll be back for a more thorough canvass shortly.

Nobody appears to have seen hide nor hair of the Lib Dems or Labour.  Perhaps they are keeping their powder dry until the campaign has progressed a little?  UKIP have been around somewhat, though I’m not picking up news of much activity and people’s enthusiasm for them appears to have waned.  As one gentleman said to me today: “Every week there’s some new crazy thing they’ve said or done.”  Quite.  But they do maintain some die-hards, as you might imagine.  One man told me he was: “Voting UKIP because there was going to be a mosque in Wisbech.”  It’s rare that I’m stumped for words on the campaign trail, but that was a puzzler.  How do you respond to that?  I mean, as far as I know, Wisbech isn’t inundated with devout Muslims, but I could be wrong.  Maybe they are hiding?  Maybe they’ve got some secret plan to conquer us all.  There is that big empty old Court House after all…. ;)

The Independent Candidate, Erbie Murat, has been seen here and there.  A lady told me a very funny story about his visit to her, but since I have no way of confirming the truth of it, it would be improper for me to relate it.  It did make me chuckle though.

We didn’t quite get a full day in because Sam had a function to attend and I needed to get back to the office and collate the data from the previous week.  Also, my feet were sore.  I’m out of shape!  But by the end of this campaign I’ll be back to normal.  Walking (what seems like) hundreds of miles has a way of sorting out your condition.  Funny how nobody has thought of political campaigning as a new exercise regime.  I think there’s something to be said for it.

There still a lot to do, but I’m pleased with the campaign so far.  People seem very supportive of Sam as the local candidate.  The fact that she is so well-known and -liked is a big help.  People know that with Sam Clark they will be voting for a genuine, caring and compassionate local lady.

The Battle For Leader

The Battle For Leader

One of the interesting things about being a local Conservative, but never having been a District Councillor, is that I can take a view about things going on at Fenland District Council in a detached way that many of my colleagues cannot.  So it is with some fascination that I watch the Local Media and other pundits trying to guess the outcome – and the politics – going on as the Conservative group at Fenland District Council goes about deciding who its new leader will be.

The following piece is nothing more than my personal musing and as such is probably of no interest to anybody.  But I’m putting it down anyway just in case there are other folk out there interested in the ramblings of a local activist with no “skin in the game” as it were.  In other words, the outcome has no political effect on me whatsoever.  My view is therefore completely neutral – well as much as it can be when you are talking about a group of long-time colleagues and friends who you have respect for and know quite well.

So far the candidates that I’ve heard seriously suggested are; John Clark, David Connor, Chris Seaton, Simon King and Jan French.  Maybe there are more that haven’t surfaced yet, but presently that seems to be the possible options.  The Wisbech Standard has John Clark as the favourite, with Chris Seaton and Jan French very close behind.  The odds on David Conner are longer and the odds on Simon King were silly.

In truth, the Wisbech Standard probably isn’t far off on its guesses, though perhaps not for the reasons it suggests.  First we probably need to rule out Simon King and David Connor.  Both thoroughly good eggs and solid Councillors who I have no doubt would be very interesting leaders, but neither likely to be able to command the popular support required from other Councillors to win what is probably going to be a serious battle. At least not right now.

This leaves the players as Jan French, John Clark and Chris Seaton.  It’s unclear if Jan is standing or not – the rumour keeps changing.  One minute she is definitely standing, the next she is supporting Chris Seaton, then she’s standing again.  I don’t know what the truth is.  But I do think Jan French is a very capable, eloquent and intelligent lady and I think Fenland District Council under her leadership would be a dynamic and forthright Council.

But the truth is that most people think this battle is between Seaton & Clark.  They are probably right.  Jan French could potentially be a “kingmaker” here and if her decision to back Chris Seaton is true then that would appear to make him the favourite.  But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Fenland District Council’s Conservative group know one another very well and are a strong team – but as with all teams there are factions, albeit friendly ones.  It’s fair to say that the group splits along the Meltonites and non-Meltonites, if you’ll excuse the term.  Alan Melton has faced a number of crises in his time as Leader and a number of challenges to his Leadership.  This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, by the way.  Leaders often face challenge as newcomers arrive and being able to meet such challenges is part and parcel of the democratic system.  Debate, challenge, scrutiny, competition – these are all healthy indicators in any good Council.

So if the battle is between Chris Seaton and John Clark, then its fair to characterise it as a battle between the Meltonites and the non-Meltonites.  Chris Seaton was Deputy Leader for a long time and very much Alan Melton’s “right hand man.”  He has worked with the current cabinet for a long time and they are a tight-knit and friendly team.   I have no way of knowing what sort of leader Chris Seaton would be – though I have no doubt he’d be a good one.  But I think most would agree that he is considered the “continuity Melton” candidate in that he would keep a lot of the Cabinet the same, not rock too many boats, and strive to be a “safe pair of hands,” a steady guide through a turbulent year.   This means that his support derives from the “steady as she goes” crowd and from the Meltonites, which perhaps includes those existing Cabinet Members who think “If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it.”

John Clark, on the other hand, is definitely the head of the non-Meltonites.  It’s not a secret as John’s bust-up with the Leadership was plastered all over the newspapers last year.  Since then he’s been a quiet but steady rebel voice from the back benches.  This means that most would expect him to make fairly significant changes to the Cabinet and possibly to the structure and goals of the whole Council.  He draws his support from those who think things have gone awry and that significant change is needed, or have joined past challenges to Alan Melton as leader, or who just want to try something completely different.

Frankly – I think this is win win for Fenland.  Both Chris Seaton and John Clark are experienced, intelligent and competent leaders.  They both have track records in senior roles, they are both respected and have strong support.  For that matter, Jan French has all these things also, and is a quiet stalking horse who could still surprise everybody.  I cannot possibly speculate on who the ultimate winner might be.  I think it’s presently too close to call, but a lot will depend on what policies and ideas those two candidates put to the group when they make their pitch to become the new leader.  And a lot depends on what some of the other Fenland District Councillors, particularly those who are influential amongst their peers, are saying to one another.

For most people the whole thing is probably boring and will pass by without interest and everything will continue to tick along nicely much as it always does.  But for political nerds like myself who find the personal dynamics and “small politics” of things like this interesting, this is a time of great anticipation.  I think we have a great raft of candidates and I have every confidence  that my friends and colleagues on the FDC Conservative Group will pick wisely.  But I can’t wait to see who they do pick!

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 2

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 2

When I say “Day 2″ I don’t really mean Day 2, of course.  It’s just the second day I’ve been out with the canvass team.  In fact we’ve been in Campaign Mode for over a week, delivering leaflets, attending functions, knocking on doors, calling people up.  Outside of “Official Campaign Days” the rest of the Campaign is always a frenetic ongoing mass of activity.

Three teams were out today.  My team were in Foul Anchor in the morning while the other two leafleted in Leverington.  Then we all moved to Leverington for canvassing later in the day.  We didn’t have the glorious weather of Day 1, but the rain held off until lunchtime and by then we were inside, drinking tea and eating ham rolls at the day’s HQ in Four Gotes.

Leverington is the largest of the villages in Roman Bank and has a very diverse mix of people who call it home.  I’ve always enjoyed canvassing Leverington because I know a lot of folks there and also because there’s never a dull day – something interesting always happens.

Three things stick out in my mind about today’s Campaign.  The first was that I encountered some UKIP-Con switchers.  This is new for me.  Until their meteoric rise last May UKIP weren’t really “a thing” in most places, but when we did encounter their supporters it was usually because they had switched from the Conservatives over some national issue; gay marriage, our EU membership, spare room subsidy – whatever the angry cause of the day was.  UKIP have enjoyed some electoral success, but that has come with a price – public exposure.  Although the local press are still giving them a mostly easy ride, there has been such a series of gaffs, problems and criminality that even a friendly local media can’t completely protect them.  So it is that we’ve had to create brand new codes for our sheets; the UKIP “waiverer” and the UKIP-CON switcher.  We don’t mind.  We just shake their hands and say: “Welcome home.”

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One of my colleagues encountered that most rare and exciting of creatures; the Campaign Troll.  Most people, even those who don’t support your party, are polite and friendly at the door.  Even the grumpy ones can usually be won around by a polite: “Well thanks for your time, have a great day!”  But there are some who are just perpetually furious with your party and want to tell you – loudly and angrily – about all the things they hate.  The list can include things which have nothing to do with you, things that a different party did, things you have no power over, things that happened decades earlier or even before you were born, and occasionally things that never happened at all and have apparently been invented out of thin air.  I call these people Campaign Trolls, though they do not usually live under a bridge.  Under a cloud, maybe.  We had one of these today.  Initially he told us that he used to vote Conservative, but had switched to Labour and then to UKIP.  After telling us at some great length what he disliked about Margaret Thatcher, Immigration, Tony Blair, Immigration, Young People, North Sea Oil, the NHS and, for some reason, the Royal Jubilee celebrations, he brought his argument to a powerful conclusion:  “I called your candidate six months ago,” he said, “And what did she do?  Nothing.  Useless, she is.  Useless.”  When we pointed out that our candidate is brand new and has never been a District Councillor before he looked a little embarrassed.  We tried to give him an easy out by saying: “I’m sure it was just a mistake, perhaps you meant somebody else,” but he was having none of it.  “She is a Parish Councillor,” he said, hitting triumphantly on the wording in her leaflet.  “That’s why I called her!”
“She’s a Parish Councillor in Newton,” we gently pointed out.  “This is Leverington.  Leverington has its own Parish Council.”
“Well,” He roared, “It doesn’t matter anyway!  You’re all the same.  That’s why I never vote.”
“But you told us you voted Conservative, Labour and UKIP…”

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The final surprise was in a quiet and pleasant little back road in Leverington.  I had just finished a lovely Conservation with an older lady about the new Tesco (she was very keen on it) in Wisbech when a colleague rushed up to me pointing excitedly at his canvass sheets.  “Look, look!” He said.  I stared at the columns and there, amongst the Cs and Us and Ks and Ss (Conservative, Undecided, UKIP, Socialist) there was a single “L”.  My colleague had circled it for emphasis.  “Wow,” I said.  “An L?  What IS that?  How strange.”  So rare now is it to have Ls on our canvass cards that finding one is a little bit like when a trainspotter sees some really obscure engine.  The rest of our team approached muttering “Oohs” and “Ahs” at the strange sigil which adorned the column.  “Who’d have thought?” I said.  “We’ve found the only Liberal Democrat In The Village.”  We considered some sort of protection order.  It’s not that we are particularly big fans of Liberal Democrats, but when something is this rare and endangered we have a duty to protect the last of its kind.  After all, who wants to live in a world where Liberal Democrats are extinct?  Oh.  Wait….   : )

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The Independent Candidate Erbie Murat has chosen to go for the “no frills” approach with his literature and printed a plain piece of white paper on a single side.  That’s cool and kinda “old school”.  I like it.  Colour and design are less important than message, right?  Erbie’s main message is to tell everybody about his “Honesty & Integrity” and also to point out his great and long experience in local government both in Peterborough and Wisbech.  You’d think that with all those years experience he’d know how to write a proper election imprint.   It’s a pretty tiny thing since he did include his name and address and the abbreviation “p&p” which may stand for “printed and promoted by” or may stand for “postage and packing” – but those Election Law folk are sticklers for the rules and his imprint is not formatted correctly.  Clearly he didn’t mean anything by it – and I’m certainly not going to be reporting him to the Electoral Commission for such a small mistake.  But for somebody making their pitch on how experienced they are, it seems a little careless. After all, the correct format is explained in the information pack you get when you become a candidate.

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I found the UKIP leaflets fascinating.  It’s a little scrappy purple thing that has no policy or plan whatsoever and simply says: “We tell the truth” in various ways over and again.  I chuckled at the bit that says: “a trait that is common amongst all UKIP Councillors – the truth” and I wondered – did anybody tell Lagoda?  I mean – he’s Independent now – but he wasn’t over the course of the previous year while he was telling everybody how innocent he was.  Also noticed that Alan Lay seems to think that he is standing for “Roman Bank Wards” – it’s one District ward Alan.  Just one.  Not a whole bunch.  #sigh  God forbid anybody chooses to elect Lay again – can you imagine how many letters to the paper we’d have then?  The Wisbech Standard would need a new section, “Letters From Lay.”  :)

All that aside it was a thoroughly enjoyable day in Leverington talking to local people and just enjoying the the sights and sounds of the village.  Already looking forwards to our return visit next week!

Integrity & Commitment? Don’t Think So.

Integrity & Commitment?  Don’t Think So.

Don’t know who produced this infographic that’s currently doing the rounds, but it’s interesting don’t you think?  Click on it to see it bigger and read it more clearly.

UKIP infographic

The Small Print (necessary at election time):
Promoted by Mrs D N Clark on behalf of Miss S J Clark both of Cromwell House, Wisbech Road, March, Cambs PE15 8EB.

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 1

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 1

Today was a beautiful day to begin the Roman Bank Campaign on behalf of Samantha Clark, who is the Conservative candidate in the by-election to be held on May 8th.  We had two teams out, one in Newton and the other in Tydd St Giles.  Our aim was to get a good start on the canvassing and try to deliver most of both those villages with the first leaflet.

This was the team I was with in Newton.  (With the exception of the photographer, Elliot Johnson.)

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We’ve been so pleased with the offers of help in this campaign.  To have twelve volunteers out during the day and midweek is a great start and it’s only a small portion of the help that has been offered throughout the month.  We expect to knock on every door, put out three pieces of literature and talk to as many local people as we can.

Sam Clark is a great candidate in so many ways.  She is born and bred in the Ward, lives in the Ward and is exceptionally well-known.  While walking around Newton today she seemed to know every person at every door on first-name terms.  People know that she has a track record of working for the villages and actually putting in the elbow grease to get things done.  They also know that she’s genuine, honest and compassionate.  These things go a long way.

One interesting development was when I knocked on the door of a Socialist i’ve encountered before.  Having canvassed this area many times I know this gentleman is a Labour voter, but I believe that every door should get a knock regardless of whether you know they are opposition.  Plus, he’s a nice chap and we always have some good banter.  So I was surprised when he told me that this time he intended to vote Conservative.  In fact, I was gobsmacked.  He explained: “I don’t like your party nationally at all, but I know Sam and I know she does a lot.  Also, I’m voting tactically to get rid of these UKIP kooks.”  Well, I think he said “kooks.”  He might have said: “Crooks.”  I can’t be sure.  Nevertheless, its the first time I’ve ever encountered a Labour supporter planning to cast a tactical vote for the Conservatives.  What a strange new world we live in.

It was, all in all, a delightful first day of campaigning.  There’s a lot to do and a long way to go – but I have every faith that our  strong local candidate can be victorious.  People have had a year of Cllr. Alan Lay at County Council and he doesn’t appear to have wowed anyone.  In fact, the most common responses on the doorstep are “Never seen him, don’t think he’s done anything.”  Obviously, I’m always keen to point out that he does write to the newspaper a lot and there have been petitions and stuff.  Nobody seems massively impressed.  I can’t think why.

Some folk think that proximity doesn’t matter.  But my experience is that it does matter to voters.  It’s only one of many things to be considered, and sometimes for the right candidate they’ll elect somebody who lives outside the area if they are impressed by other things about them.  But people do care that the Lib Dems are fielding a candidate from March, that Alan Lay lives in Wisbech and that the Independent candidate lives in Guyhirn.  A number of times on the doorstep today people said to me: “If they don’t live here, how can they know what our issues are?”  One lady went as far as to say she thought that standing candidates from elsewhere was disrespectful.  I’m not sure I’d go that far – I’ve stood for places I didn’t live in before myself.  But to think it isn’t an issue to people at all is to misunderstand the nature of the electorate.

Looking forward to more campaigning over the next few weeks!

vote sam clark

The Small Print (necessary at election time):
Promoted by Mrs D N Clark on behalf of Miss S J Clark both of Cromwell House, Wisbech Road, March, Cambs PE15 8EB.

The Police Response

The Police Response

I got the call back from Robin Sissons this morning, re: my previous blog post entitled “Police State?.”  So first let’s cover the things that Mr. Sissons says are inaccurate about the witness statements given to me.

Robin agrees with the number of vehicles and Police officers, but says that they were not “all in riot gear” – only the first couple of Officers to enter the building had protective clothing etc.  Fair enough, you can see how a group of people seeing large Police Officers enter in the gear, followed by another twenty or so uniforms, would perceive the arrival and remember the first couple of the group.

Robin says that he was aware of the raid but that it was not carried out by local Officers but by Officers from HQ – and suggests that this was in order to avoid a breakdown of relations between the local Bobbies and the local community.  I’m not sure that really worked as well as intended given what happened, but I can see that the intention was a good one.  I just think that for most people – the Police are the Police.  Regardless of whether the ones you see all the time are smashing down your doors, or some other Police from HQ, people tend to group them all as one.

Robin Sissons assures me that the operation was “intelligence-led” and that adequate information was in hand to merit a raid.   He says he will question those involved to find out if there is any truth to the accusations of rudeness, aggression and heavy-handed behaviour, though he feels the Police have “nothing to apologise for” at this point.  He also feels that for every person who is unhappy about these powers being used for this sort of raid, there would be others who would cheer about it.

He accepts that nobody was arrested or charged and that nothing was found or seized other than the CCTV, but does point out that the CCTV is “still being reviewed.”  The CCTV, he says, will be returned once it has been reviewed.

He says that the people who were searched and their phones confiscated were not “stop and searched” but were dealt with as part of the warrant – which allows anybody on the premises to be searched, including even innocent customers who were sitting having a pint and customers who arrived after the Police had got there.  He says that the warrant allows search of the vehicles – which is correct, but when I asked about the customers whose vehicles were parked in a completely different car park who were searched I didn’t get a response to that.  Surely a warrant does not cover vehicles owned by private individuals, parked in a completely different location to the premises on which the warrant was served?  I’ll wait for clarification on that one.

Robin Sissons also very strongly denies that the people in the pub were dealt with differently because the owner and most of the customers were foreign.  I very much hope he’s right.  But I wonder if the Police would really have tried the same operation in a pub full of English people?  I can imagine them demanding the car keys of a Wisbech man so they can search his vehicle parked elsewhere.  I can imagine them asking a young Wisbech lady: “Are you a prostitute?”  I can imagine them demanding the mobile phones of every innocent customer in, say, The Case or the old Muppet Inn (when it was the Muppet Inn.)  I can only speculate as to the result of them searching a young lady from Wisbech, down to her underwear and beyond – and the consequent response of her Family.  I don’t think any of it would have ended well.  Robin points out the good work the local Police do on behalf of the Eastern European community and to foster good relations with them – and that is absolutely true.  But I think this operation has set that work back a country mile.

So, to sum up, Robin Sissons says that there was enough intelligence for the raid, that it’s perfectly acceptable for the Police to arrive in these numbers and to search everybody in this way, that asking young ladies: “Are you a prostitute?” is fine, that confiscating mobile phones of everybody there is normal procedure – in case they leak to Social Media and affect the search of the crime scene.  That refusing to allow the staff to phone their boss and bring him to the premises to speak to the Police is no problem.  It sounds like, in the strictest sense of the law, he is probably right.  But I think I’d still have to question the manner and style of this operation and the logic of conducting it in this way.

I do not know if charges for something are forthcoming.  I’m not privy to the details of the investigation and perhaps the Police have something they are not yet revealing?  But my discussion with Robin Sissons did not suggest this was the case.  I said that I thought this was easily fixed.  That if there were not going to be any charges and if the Police accept their “intelligence” was wrong, that they could put this matter right by doing three simple things.

(a)  Issue an official apology to The Angel and its customers for their discomfort and inconvenience.
- No need to apologise for the actual operation, since I can see why the Police might be leery of that, but apologising for inconvenience caused doesn’t open any doors to law suits.

(b)  State clearly that raid on The Angel resulted in nothing and that the Police are satisfied that no crimes were committed there and that the establishment and it’s owners reputation are intact.
-  Given the damage done to the business and its reputation by this raid, it is the least the Police can do to clear the owner and premises of wrongdoing in an unequivocal way.

(c)  Repair the damage.
-  Two doors were broken down and some other minor damage caused.  The Police should pay for that to be repaired promptly.

Robin Sissons says he is perfectly happy to take an official complaint forwards, or for it to go through the Police & Crime Commissioner, which is commendable.  But why go through all that and make a big issue about it when a simply apology and recompense would put an end to the issue right now?  I don’t understand this reluctance to admit a mistake has been made.  It doesn’t represent a weakness by the Police – quite the opposite.  If the Police really have such sweeping and draconian powers when a pub is raided – and apparently they do – the best way to offset them is to be prepared to say: “Sorry about that, our intelligence is often right, but in this instance it was wrong.”   I’m sure people would feel better about it.  I know I would.

All of this is on the proviso that there isn’t some ongoing case to answer.  As you might imagine I still don’t know the answer to that.  Perhaps the Police have discovered some evidence pointing to some dark crime and that this will vindicate them entirely.  Except, (a) I doubt it, and (b) Even were that the case I’m still not sure this would merit the way private individuals say they were treated.  But we’ll see.

————————————————————————————

This email was received from Robin Sissons, who would like me to pass it on.  So here it is.

I can confirm that a warrant was executed on Thursday evening by a number of uniform officers. They were not dressed in riot gear but normal uniform. The large numbers involved was proportionate considering the overall size of the premises (including the numbers of rooms upstairs) and the unknown numbers of staff / customers that would be there. I can also confirm that two rooms were locked within the premises which needed to be searched and so the officers had no other option but to force entry. Due to the fact that nothing was found in these rooms then it is normal practice for the Constabulary to make good any damage caused. I would therefore urge the owner to make contact with the Constabulary so that we can progress his claim.

This warrant was obtained after the police had gained several independent pieces of intelligence stating that there were illegal practices taking place (sexual exploitation, prostitution and drugs). The Constabulary makes every effort to ensure that these pieces of intelligence are verified and cross referenced so that we can be sure that there is some substance to the claims made. It is also important that we act on intelligence given to us so that the community knows that we are acting on their behalf. It is for this reason that this warrant was executed. On this occasion there wasn’t anything found.

The purpose of this warrant was not to upset the community or make them fear the police. Its purpose was to reassure the community that we will do all that we can to ensure that Wisbech is a safe place in which to live and socialise in.

Regards Robin

T. Chief Inspector 0359 Robin Sissons
District Commander Fenland
Wisbech Police Station, Nene Parade, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

UKIP – The APRIL Omnibus Edition

UKIP – The APRIL Omnibus Edition

Just in case you’ve missed any of the Monthly Frivolity provided by our ‘Kipper friends, here’s a collection of them.

Ukip Councillor Says Business Owners Should Be Able To Refuse Women And Gays

Benefit fraud UKIP councillor Peter Lagoda quits party

Ukip Cllr Roger Henson Fights ‘Illegal Scrap Yard’ Charge In Court

Independent assessment finds UKIP councillor’s remarks to firefighters “racist, derogatory and discriminatory in nature

Gorleston: UKIP Councillor In Court Over Election Fraud

Ukip candidate defends his anti-gay rant

Councillor labels plan to re-open Wisbech to March rail as ‘madness’

UKIP MEPs vote against tackling tax evasion

Police State?

Police State?

The following events are the result of my discussions with witnesses of an incident that took place last Thursday night in Wisbech.  Although I was not there and cannot verify them directly, multiple different people have related essentially the same story to me.  I have contacted Robin Sissons of The Police – or his answerphone anyway – and asked for a call back but have not had one, so I have not heard the Police side of the story.  But given what I know at the moment, I am extremely concerned about the heavy-handed behaviour of the Police and the nature of this “operation.”

On Thursday night at 7PM in the evening a swarm of police vehicles turned up outside The Angel pub in Wisbech.  An exact number on the cars is uncertain, but most reports have it at between five and ten.  From that procession some two dozen or so Police issued forth, dressed in what is reportedly riot gear.  Masks, stab vests, the works.  The Police stormed into The Angel and confronted the barman and half a dozen customers who were there at that time, mostly having a quiet drink after work or eating dinner at the tables.

The Police flashed their warrant to search the premises.  Every witness describes their manner as “threatening”, “rude” and one described it as “terrifying.”  A young couple were sitting at a table with their child eating dinner and, at some point during this sorry debacle, the child began to cry and then wet himself.  This is not an exaggeration, this is not drama, this is what happened.

The warrant detailed the purposes of the raid, which was to search for evidence of prostitution, drugs and people-trafficking.  The Warrant granted the Police the right to search the premises, including the sub-let bedrooms occupied by tenants upstairs and all the adjacent buildings and vehicles.  The Police set about doing this.

During the course of their search the Police smashed down two doors, including one upstairs that led to the rented room of an older lady who had just returned home from a long shift at work.

The Police also searched all the customers, as well as temporarily confiscating their mobile phones.  The mobile phones were later returned, although no explanation of what had been done to them or why was given to any of the terrified customers.  I am also told that they were given no piece of paper explaining that they had been “stopped and searched.”  There were a couple of young ladies in the pub.  I am told by two witnesses that the Police repeatedly asked them: “Are you a prostitute?”  They were not, of course.

Anybody who has been in The Angel will know its a pub made up of a couple of very small bar areas.  There were so many Police they couldn’t even nearly fit them all in.  The customers were outnumbered more than two-to-one.  Many of the customers spoke limited English, though there were a couple of English folk in there at the time also.  All the ones I’ve spoken to tell the same story.

The Police found nothing at all.  I have seen the paperwork they left behind and initially they have scrawled across the “seized goods” page “Nothing Seized.”  But apparently they later changed their mind and took the CCTV equipment.

There are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start.  The tactics used here might be merited if the Police were raiding the warehouse of a drug baron, or somewhere they expected a violent and dangerous response.  Instead, they’ve used vast Police resources to scare the living crap out of half-a-dozen people having a pint and a little kid eating his chicken bloody nuggets.  They’ve smashed down a few doors, giving the fright of her life to an elderly lady who just wanted a nap after a hard day’s work, and they’ve damaged the reputation and trade of a successful business in a town which really needs all the successful businesses it can get.

I have not managed to get any answers from the Police yet, but I have had several complaints from residents – both English and otherwise – and while I may only be a Town Councillor I will see that we get some answers for this.

We need to know what evidence the Police had which merited this sort of response.  Indeed, what evidence would convince a judge to give them a warrant for this.  We particularly need this because they appear to have found nothing at all.  For an operation of this magnitude. which is this damaging to the business’ reputation and this frightening and intrusive to the customers there had better be a smoking gun, don’t you think?  Except, since the Police went away and there were no arrests or charges, it rather looks like they’ve made a pretty serious mistake.

We also need to know why the Police searched the private customers of the pub and confiscated their phones.  This is what the Government guidance on their search powers says:-

Stop and search: police powers

A police officer has powers to stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying:

  • illegal drugs
  • a weapon
  • stolen property
  • something which could be used to commit a crime, eg a crowbar

You can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This can happen if it is suspected that:

  • serious violence could take place
  • you’re carrying a weapon or have used one
  • you’re in a specific location or area

Before you’re searched

Before you’re searched the police officer must tell you:

  • their name and police station

  • what they expect to find, eg drugs

  • the reason they want to search you, eg it looks like you’re hiding something

  • why they are legally allowed to search you

  • that you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy

So what “reasonable grounds” can the Police have possibly had to suspect that customers in a bar had a weapon, drugs, stolen property etc?  These weren’t staff of the pub or anybody related to the pub, just people who’d come in from the street for a drink.  The Police didn’t know them from Adam, didn’t know they’d be there and so could surely not have had any reasonable grounds to suspect they were committing a crime.  Unless you count just doing it because they looked a bit foreign?  I would be very interested to know whether the Police went through the full series of actions they are required by law to undertake.  Because the reports I have is that they did not tell each customer their name and Police station, or what they expected to find, or any of that.  In fact, the customers were left completely befuddled and confused and frightened by the whole thing.

The confiscation of the CCTV was significant too, since the Police initially signed the form saying they were confiscating nothing.  Then changed their minds and took the CCTV.   Maybe at this point they were thinking – this looks pretty bad, all this activity and we’ve found nothing.  We’d better take the CCTV and hope there’s something on there of note.  Or maybe they just know, as they would of course know, that The Angel’s license precludes it opening to the public without CCTV and that by confiscating it they were therefore preventing the pub doing business on Thursday / Friday / Saturday – the busiest nights of the week?

I am not given to think ill of the Police.  I believe in Law & Order and I value the work our Police do.  But as we’ve seen elsewhere in the country, it’s also entirely possible for the Police to abuse their power and authority, to operate in ways that are questionable and to think – if you’ll excuse the pun – that they are a law unto themselves. Since I have yet to get a response from the Police I have not yet heard their side of all this and maybe, just maybe, they have some valid argument or some piece of evidence that explains it all?  But given that there have been no arrests, no charges and no seizures other than some CCTV I don’t think it’s presently looking good for them.  And whatever the case turns out to be – what justifies scaring a child so badly it wets itself, accusing innocent patrons of prostitution, and smashing down the doors of innocent tenants?

This is not some third world Police State.  This is Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire, in the United Kingdom.  There had better be some darn good answers forthcoming.

All Change at FDC

All Change at FDC

The leader of Fenland District Council, Cllr. Alan Melton, has resigned his post.  His time as leader has been marked by an interesting series of ups and downs and I think he should be proud of his time in the post and of the good things the Council has achieved while he was at the helm.  It is easy to knock your local Council and everybody likes to do it, but it shouldn’t be ignored that in a time when other Councils are being forced to take pretty scary decisions Fenland District Council have maintained quality services effectively.

I think there comes a time when a Leader’s tenure is over.  It needn’t be something they’ve done, in fact they may be doing an excellent job, but different elements align in such a way that it becomes inescapable.  I think Alan Melton’s decision to step down from the post was the right one.  He has been a local political “big beast” for a long, long time and he has always been astute in his timing.  I think, probably, his timing was right this time too.

Just recently there have been some surprising and difficult decision made by Fenland District Council’s Cabinet.  With this change a new leader will be able to start with a clean slate and take the Council forwards without the shadow of those past events hanging over them.

It has been suggested that there will be a lot of change in the FDC Cabinet.  I think this very much depends on who the new leader is, but I would expect that it is broadly true.  Some faces may remain, but a new leader will want to pick the best people for the jobs and I suspect they will have a very different idea of who those people are.

As for who the new leader might be, a whole host of names have been rumoured.  John Clark, Jan French, David Connor, Sam Hoy, Chris Seaton, Michael Humphreys, David Oliver, Martin Curtis and one or two other less likely candidates.  But they would all need proposers and seconders and would need some realistic chance of getting some votes in order to stand.  Some of the rumours are ill-founded.   Some of them just plain aren’t interested in doing the job preferring their work as backbench Councillors.  Some just won’t get the support that is needed.  I expect the competition will condense, as the dust begins to settle, to just three or so candidates.  Whoever takes over the leadership is going to face some hefty challenges and will be swimming in the deep end of quite a tumultuous pool.

Nevertheless, I think if the right leader is picked then we could be moving into a great time for Fenland District Council.  It was overdue some changes and some fresh air.  No offense to Alan Melton or any of his Cabinet who I have the utmost respect for and who I think have served Fenland well for quite some time, but sometimes a change is just what the doctor ordered.