29 September 2012

We Are Walsall

It has been a number of years since I've attended a demonstration, static or otherwise. One of the reasons for this was the political fire in my belly had virtually burnt out through disillusionment, betrayal and being kept busy in other ways. Recently though events have transpired to re-kindle and the political flame has been re-lit alongside the flames on the fire licking away at injustice and inequality. I blame the government!

Today the thoroughly nauseating and vile EDL held a static demonstration in Walsall. I'm not quite sure why they chose Walsall. Walsall may be a lot of things but it's never had a problem in welcoming people from all over the world to live and work in the borough. It has, by and large existed as a peaceful multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural town since I was a small child holding my Mother's hand as I walked around town, mesmerised by the exotic looking ladies in their sari's back in the 60s. There have been no race riots here, no big news stories that may have divided a community. Perhaps that's why the bigots chose Walsall; because as a community it tends to get on.

The EDL were confined to Leicester Street. We headed up to Gallery Square where the counter demonstration was being held. The first thing that struck me as we walked into town from Lower Rushall Street was how quiet it was. One didn't need to dodge cars ignoring red lights at pedestrian crossings and there was only one market stall set up. My heart went out to the market traders who through no fault of their own, were losing a days takings because the racist EDL had come to town for the day. There were a large number of police officers around the town. I silently wished them a non-eventful shift. We passed the end of Leicester Street. There appeared to be about 20 EDL supporters there at that time. Up in Gallery Square there were far larger numbers that increased as the day went on.

I had forgotten just how many leaflets you can accumulate on demonstrations and also how many people will approach you about attending other demonstrations. My bag is stuffed with every kind of leaflet.  The live music was good and we chatted with various folks and enjoyed the friendly ambiance, speakers and coffee from Costa Ratheralota. A group of about 50 young people marched into the square and for a little while the atmosphere was a little less relaxed but a couple of speakers spoke of peace and non-violent protest and of removing scarves from faces. That did the trick and normal service was resumed. The police were noticeable by their sheer numbers however everyone seemed to be on good terms and even the guys with EGT (evidence gathering team...apparently) emblazoned on their backs were up for a chat.

By 1.30pm we were cold and needed to run a few errands and so began a long trek around Crown Wharf, the Fire Station, Stafford Street in order to get back towards Lower Rushall Street. Many roads by that time had been closed, as was the bus station. The Police were incredibly apologetic and helpful. We passed by the end of Leicester Street again. By now their numbers had swollen to about 200 but it was a nasty atmosphere. Lots of football type chanting and as we walked away they had turned around to chant in the faces of the police officers. Reaching half way up Bridge Street we heard a loud firework type bang, the chanting and shouting became frenzied and before your could say SPG, the riot helmets were on and a rather loud police officer was telling us and others to go away. Any questions directed towards him resulted in the same message being relayed in ever increasing decibels.

We left Walsall but not before being held up at the Arboretum whilst the police escorted in three coaches which we later discovered were for the EDL to get them out of town. Pity they came in the first place. They didn't achieve anything, just massive inconvenience for the people and traders of Walsall, an awful lot of costs for the policing of the day oh and one massive positive; the people of Walsall of all races, creeds and colour coming together peacefully to say EDL, you're not welcome in Walsall. We are Walsall.

12 September 2012

For Claire

I've known Claire since she started primary school with my sister many years ago! She will not mind me saying that the last few years have been traumatic for her and not least because she has suffered from breast cancer. Claire is back running now and this weekend will be participating in The Great North Run, attempting a half marathon.

She is raising money for Breast Cancer Care. You can read Claire's story here and also make a donation. I urge to spare a little cash on behalf of Claire for this charity that helped her through some pretty dark days. She's an Aldridge girl through and through and an inspiration to all that know her.

11 September 2012

Lessons, learning and sunshine

Despite the fact that Aiden had been ill enough to be admitted to hospital in late January, February was in my memory a sunny month. In terms of weather it didn’t actually get sunny until towards the end of the month but in my minds eye, the sun shone and hope was eternal. Aiden bought his new crossbow and returned from two competitions smiling and pain free. Most of you will remember March as incredibly sunny month and weatherwise it was but apart from the 1st day of that month, when I went out for a ride and began to realise how the potential of cycling in warm weather would be a wonder to experience, March was an an incredibly dark month because just before 6pm that day, Aiden encountered the nemesis that was his accident.

It wasn’t just his injuries and the pain he endured that made March and April so dark, it was the fact that WM Police didn’t attend the accident, didn’t listen to me when I tried to explain the extent of his injuries and didn’t understand that the justice we sought was about acknowledging how wrong they were in not attending, admitting they were wrong and was nothing whatsoever about prosecution or an insurance claim.

We were both grateful that so many wonderful people rallied to Aiden’s cause. It’s worth mentioning once again that people such as Brownhills Bob and The Plastic Hippo penned powerful and far reaching blogs, various cycling forums, magazines, writers became interested in what had happened and BBC Radio WM in the form of Adrian Goldberg’s programme got interested and stayed interested enough to follow Aiden’s story plus there was Councillor Imran Azam and so many other individuals that I’m not sure would want the publicity!

All the help and support was a wonderful thing to behold and it helped us so very much but I cannot pretend that the period was anything but awful and the strain of constantly having to chase up the Police and then when a final result to the lacklustre investigation was imparted to feel so sickened and let down and wondering if justice was unobtainable, did take it’s toll. I’m sure that had everything been handled correctly from the word go, Aiden’s mental recovery would have kicked in a lot earlier than it did.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve worried and maybe even intimidated a few coppers along this journey. I’m not sorry for that because the uppermost thought in my mind was justice for Aiden.

Once the complaint, made in two forms; firstly on the policy of attendance at RTCs and secondly regarding the incompetence we had encountered from moment the 999 call was made, had been submitted to the Chief Constable we were fortunate that Inspector Paul Dutton, took ownership of events and ensured that justice did indeed finally prevail. It’s been quite humbling to be in his company and to witness his energy, enthusiasm, dedication and sheer love of his job. He investigated what had happened from start to finish (including his own less than helpful role two days after the accident) and made strenuous efforts to research the policy that WM Police work under and to understand that it was not fit for purpose and to contact other officers that could possibly influence a change and he visited Aiden and me in our home a couple of times, arranged for us to visit the Operations Room where the call concerning Aiden was routed, explained the set up, the roles and allowed us to observe a complex and incredibly stressful environment and then led a session on a training day for his team about the lessons that could be learned from our experiences and invited us to attend so that we could observe and witness just how seriously we had been taken.

The whole experience with WM Police was a little like going from the ridiculous to the sublime. True, if events had been dealt with properly from the start then there would have been no need for a complaint and for all the angst that went with it but I have to applaud them for recognising their shortcomings both in terms of policy and service and having the guts to hold their hands up and admit they were wrong, apologise and to then take affirmative action not to put things right because it was far too late for that but to attempt to ensure that this sort of incident doesn’t happen again and to take a serious look at the policy in question.

When we attended the training session at Aston the contrasts of police work were brought home to me. We sat and watched and listened (unidentified until quite late on in the session) to a group of officers discuss what had gone wrong with Aiden’s case (plus one other case) and we saw their facial expressions and heard the gasps when they saw a photograph of his injuries. Their reactions were genuine and it was clear that there was regret that a member of the public had suffered such bad service on their watch. I realised that I was in the company of a group of people who did take pride in their job and did want to provide a good service to ordinary people like me and Aiden. At the same time I was very aware that right next door to us was the practice theatre for firearms and in front of us on the floor were piles of protective clothing. What came to me was that sometimes these officers I was sitting amongst, put their lives on the line for the safety and protection of everyone. Another humbling moment.

I am not so naive as to believe that every cop is a good cop and that the Police will not continue to make mistakes however, if lessons are learned and they are willing to learn from those mistakes as was our experience, then my faith that the vast majority of coppers are hard working decent men and women who enjoy their job, want to serve well and do their personal best, is restored.

We are led to understand that the policy regarding attendance at RTCs involving cyclists and pedestrians is to change for the better although we have no final word on that at present but at least the wheels are grinding away in the background and our experience will have had a very positive outcome.

Aiden returned to work last week. It's been a long road to a recovery that will never be a full one in terms of having full use of his arm and rather amazingly the sun came out to play again once he returned! There's a message there somewhere....