Thursday, September 13, 2012

The unfree streets of London

A shocking new Google Map shows the bits of London where you can become a criminal without even realising it

The streets of London may look the same as they did a few years back, but in terms of liberty, they are very different.

UK councils and the police now have powers to demark areas of public space within which everyday freedoms are restricted. There is a new cartography of ‘unfree zones’: areas within which you cannot hand out leaflets, or walk your dog, or drink alcohol. Zones are not generally marked with signs, but when you cross these invisible lines your normal freedoms are suspended; you can be punished for things which are not, outside of the zone, an offence.

Today, the Manifesto Club is launching a Google map, titled Banned in London, which reveals the 435 special zones that now cover half the area of the British capital.

In these areas, people can be fined or prosecuted for activities that would otherwise be perfectly legal - including leafleting, protesting, dog walking, gathering in groups, or drinking. Similar zones have been enacted by local authorities across the UK. In London and most other UK urban areas, there are four different kinds of zone: no-dog zones; no-leafleting zones; alcohol-confiscation zones; and dispersal zones. London also has the distinction of a fifth zone – a restricted protest zone, in the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament.

Within a dog-exclusion zone, you can be fined or prosecuted just for walking your dog. There are currently 219 dog-exclusion zones in London. (These are all parks or open spaces: we didn’t include children’s playgrounds or sports fields, which have long-standing and accepted restrictions on dogs.) In 2011–12, there were 56 fines for the offence of walking dogs in a no-dog zone in London – 24 in Greenwich, 31 in Islington, and one in Camden.

Within a no-leafleting zone, you can be fined or prosecuted for handing out leaflets without a licence. There are 110 leafleting zones in London, within seven different local authorities (and three further local authorities are planning to enact leafleting zones in the near future). Leafleting licence fees are often prohibitively expensive, out of reach for everyone but big businesses: £175.40 in Kensington and Chelsea, £49 a day in Haringey, and £2,000 for the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. In 2011–12 there were 37 fines issued for the offence of ‘unlicensed leafleting’.

In an alcohol-confiscation zone, officials can confiscate your alcohol without justification, and arrest or fine you if you refuse. It is not required that you are behaving in a disorderly manner to have your alcohol confiscated, only that the police officer ‘reasonably believes that a person is, or has been, consuming alcohol [within the designated area] or intends to do so’. Unopened containers can be confiscated. The refusal to surrender alcohol is an offence, punishable with an on-the-spot fine or prosecution.

There are 74 alcohol-confiscation zones in London, throughout 32 London boroughs (14 boroughs have designated the whole of their territory an alcohol-confiscation zone). In 2010, London police issued 663 on-the-spot fines for the offence of ‘drinking in a designated public space’. Alcohol is often disposed of on the spot and such disposal is not even recorded; but Haringey recorded 1,027 alcohol seizures in 2010, and Hackney recorded 220 seizures in June 2011, suggesting that across London there are thousands of confiscation incidents each year.

In a dispersal zone, a police officer can order you to leave the area for 24 hours, and it is an offence to return within that period. The officer can use this power if he has ‘reasonable grounds for believing that [the group’s] presence or behaviour has resulted, or is likely to result, in a member of the public being harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed’. In addition, the dispersal zone is a de facto curfew zone for young people, who cannot be out unaccompanied between the hours of 9pm and 6am. Dispersal orders tend to be particularly used against young people and homeless people. There are 32 active dispersal zones in London, within which there have been 547 recent orders to disperse.

Rights to protest are limited in the restricted protest zone around parliament. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 made it an offence to take part in a demonstration in this area without prior authorisation (a demonstration could involve a single person). The law was repealed by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, but this new act introduced new controls, prohibiting the use of ‘amplified noise equipment’ and the possession of ‘sleeping equipment’ in Parliament Square. In addition, Greater London Authority bylaws make it an offence to make a speech or hold a demonstration in Parliament Square without having obtained written permission; and new Westminster Council bylaws enable the seizure of ‘sleeping equipment’ and ‘sound equipment’ in a larger area in the vicinity of parliament.

In short, these five zones criminalise perfectly normal and otherwise legal activities – walking a dog, handing out leaflets, protesting, or just hanging around. Because the areas are often unmarked, members of the public do not know when they are entering them and can therefore commit an offence unwittingly. There have been several recent cases of pensioners caught out by no-dog zones they did not know about.

Open-ended powers give officials a broad degree of discretion to decide who should and should not be punished, which amounts to an ability to make up the law as they see fit. Powers tend to be used disproportionately against certain groups who are seen as ‘up to no good’. Homeless people in some parts of London have their alcohol confiscated on an almost daily basis; some groups of young people are constantly dispersed or moved on. Discretionary powers violate the fundamental principle that criminal law should be specific and predictable and should apply equally to everyone.

Worryingly, these banned zones are being enforced not only by police, but also by a growing force of unaccountable officials. There are now hundreds of council officials with powers to fine people for unlicensed leafleting or walking dogs in the wrong area. Several London councils also contract private security companies to patrol the streets and issue fines. Under the Accredited Persons Scheme, the Metropolitan Police has given police powers to 221 civilians, including private security guards, transport employees, and hospital staff. These ‘accredited’ officials can demand people’s name and address, confiscate their alcohol, and issue fines.

Banned in London reveals how ordinary freedoms and legal protections have been suspended in large parts of our towns and cities. This is the first step in a campaign that will challenge such open-ended powers, with the aim of restoring civil rights in public spaces.


Screening of controversial Channel 4 documentary on history of Islam cancelled after presenter is threatened

Channel 4 has been forced to cancel a screening of the controversial documentary Islam: The Untold Story, after the presenter was threatened with physical violence.

Historian Tom Holland received abusive messages on Twitter and warnings he would come to harm because of the film, in which he suggests that Islam is a 'made-up' religion.

The programme has already been aired on Channel 4, sparking more than 1,200 complaints, but the broadcaster was planning a screening for 'opinion formers' at its London headquarters later this month.

It had hoped to organise a debate around the screening but the whole event has had to be axed because of fears it would be targeted.

Critics have accused Holland of distorting the history of the religion in Islam: The Untold Story.

His investigation into its origins claimed that there is little written contemporary evidence about the prophet Mohammed.

He also suggests the Koran makes little or no reference to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, and argues there is no evidence for the general assertion that Islam began 'fully formed' in the 7th century.

Instead Holland says it has developed over the centuries into the religion we know today.

The Islamic Education and Research Academy accused him of making 'baseless assumptions' and engaging in 'selective scholarship'.

Holland received abusive tweets questioning his views on the religion. Some posted physical threats to the Cambridge-educated historian via Twitter, while one called him a ‘fool’ for suggesting Islam is a ‘made-up religion’.

Ofcom – which received 150 of the complaints regarding the programme’s inaccuracy, alleged bias and offence to Muslims – said it was considering launching an investigation.

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: 'Having taken security advice, we have reluctantly cancelled a planned screening of the programme Islam: The Untold Story. We remain extremely proud of the film which is still available to view on 4oD.'

Holland, the author of best-sellers Rubicon and Persian Fire, said that Islam is 'a legitimate subject of historical inquiry'.

Writing on the Channel 4 website after complaints to both the channel and watchdog Ofcom, he said: 'We were of course aware when making the programme that we were touching deeply held sensitivities and went to every effort to ensure that the moral and civilizational power of Islam was acknowledged in our film, and the perspective of Muslim faith represented, both in the persons of ordinary Bedouin in the desert, and one of the greatest modern scholars of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.'

Holland was defended by Dr Jenny Taylor who runs the charity Lapido Media, which encourages better understanding and reporting of religion in the media.

'He’s shown all of us that Islam is interesting enough to be taken seriously. He’s refused to stick his head in the sand and play blind about the problems or internal tensions that all thinking Muslims know are there,' she said.

'He’s not trammelled the sacred heart of an ancient mystery but found hints of an even greater and more awesome reality that is tantalisingly beyond our grasp at the moment, but could just be the key to a shared past and shared future.'


Why British happiness survey will probably make us all a little bit glummer

It has already been ridiculed as a waste of money – and patronising to boot.  Now David Cameron’s national happiness index may have another charge to answer.  The mission might, by its very nature, make us all a little bit less happy.

In research that will no doubt delight critics of the £2million-a-year wellbeing survey, psychologists have suggested that a constant emphasis on positive emotions in society tends to make people miserable.

Mr Cameron introduced the index as an alternative to GDP.

Its first results, published in July, showed the average adult scored 7.4 out of ten for life satisfaction. But that may already have fallen if the latest findings, from psychologists at the University of Queensland in Australia, are anything to go by.

Dr Brock Bastian, who led the study, said: ‘There is plenty of work showing that pursuing happiness as a goal is counter-productive because when we fail to achieve our goals we feel disappointed and this serves to push the goal further away.

‘In short, when people perceive that others think they should feel happy, and not sad, this leads them to feel sad more frequently and intensely.

Government campaigns focusing on happiness need to acknowledge that true happiness is actually found in a mixture of positive and negative emotion.’

The team carried out a series of studies designed to test the idea that high social expectations of happiness have a negative impact on emotional states.

In one study, 122 Australian students and 100 Japanese students were asked how often and how intensely they had felt a range of negative emotions in the past month.

They were also asked to what extent they felt society expected them to be happy. For both sets of students, feeling greater pressure to be happy was linked to ‘reduced satisfaction with life and increased depression’.

The findings were published in the journal Emotion.


Australia:  Conservative Archbishop pulls no punches about homosexual health

But some truths should not be uttered, apparently

A LABOR senator and marriage equality advocates have taken aim at Sydney's Anglican archbishop, describing as offensive his comments about the health risks of homosexuality.

As a guest of the ABC's Q&A program last night, Dr Jensen told viewers he supported the Australian Christian Lobby's view first expressed by its leader Jim Wallace.  Dr Jensen said: "I am generally supportive of ACL."

But while he did not agree with everything the Lobby stood for he said that the comments made by Mr Wallace gave "us an opportunity to talk about something significant, namely the question of health risk".

Mr Wallace made the comments in a debate last week where he compared smoking to same-sex marriage.

His insensitive comments forced Prime Minster Julia Gillard to pull out of an appearance she was due to make at a function for the ACL.

"It's very hard to get to the facts here because we don't want to talk about it and in this country censorship is alive and well," he said.  "As far as I can see … the lifespan of practising gays is significantly shorter than the ordinary so-called heterosexual man … what we need to do is to look at why this may be the case and we need to do it in a compassionate and objective way."

Federal Labor backbencher Trish Crossin told reporters in Canberra today the remarks were offensive.  "Particularly for people who have smoked, who have developed cancer as a result of that, and (for) loved ones who have lost families," she said.

Senator Crossin is the co-sponsor of a private bill to legalise same-sex marriage, which could be voted on next week.  "What we want to do is force the coalition to have a conscience vote on this, like they do with every other piece of legislation," she said.

Marriage equality advocates called on Dr Jensen to apologise for his "cruel" comments on homosexuality.

Australian Marriage Equality national convener, Alex Greenwich, said he would write to Dr Jensen highlighting the damage his comments will cause and seeking an apology.

"Although we have come to expect extreme anti-gay statement from the Australian Christian Lobby, for a religious leader like Archbishop Jensen to make such cruel claims is a betrayal of his duty of care to his parishioners, especially those who are gay or have gay friends and family members," Mr Greenwich said in a statement.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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