Saturday, March 31, 2007

Third email to the founder of The Big Issue

I am afraid that this morning Declan and I must have got out of our sleeping bags with the wrong foot because things have been going from bad to worse.

First in the women’s washroom of the Whitechapel Mission I am told to f*** off by a friend of the homeless woman that a few days back threw a ball of wet toilet paper at me in the same washroom after I wouldn’t get into conversation with her. This time her friend claimed that I had pushed her on my way into a toilet cubicle. (These verbal assaults don’t bother me much. I am in and out of these sorts of places really; it is not like I am living with them in a hostel.)

This bad luck followed us into Covent Garden (where we sell The Big Issue on weekends). We have been going for a few weeks now into this little coffee shop on a Saturday morning. So, here we are drinking our coffees peacefully, as we are talking quietly about how we will present our case against the UK to the European Court of Human Rights, when this worker decides she wants to mop the floor beneath us. She actually had us moved along chairs half the length of the coffee shop when we decided it was best to just exit by the back door. Next Saturday we are going to a bigger place, like a Pret a Manger: see how easy it will be to move us out from there.

However, the bombshell was delivered by the Big Issue's head co-ordinator at Covent Garden: she had been instructed to take our pitch at the Noël Coward Theatre (formally Albery) off us because an outreach worker had found that neither Declan nor I had been there for the past two and a half weeks.

Such a finding could not have come at a worse time for us: we are under financial pressure because for the past two days it has been raining and we were unable to sell The Big Issue (Thursday and Friday also happen to be the best two days for us to sell the magazine), coupled with the fact that on Thursday Declan spent £85.00 on the definitive book available in London on taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The finding is also very worrying. For the past two and a half weeks either Declan or I have been working this particular pitch, as agreed with head office, on Tuesdays pm, Thursdays pm and weekends, bar last Tuesday pm (as Declan had informed head office) and last Thursday pm (the rain).

This is the email that Declan sent this evening to the founder of the Big Issue, Dr John Bird, his third email to Bird to date (see titles):

Subject: Covent Garden pitch

Dear Dr Bird

I refer to the removal this afternoon of the Albery Theatre pitch from the pitch slip of my wife (badge no. 1170) and I (badge no. 1163) by your head co-ordinator at Covent Garden (Sam) and, given that this removal was based on the allegation that neither my wife nor I had worked the pitch for the past two and a half weeks, which we refute, would be grateful if we could be issued a pitch protected by both pitch slip and pitch listings to sell The Big Issue in Covent Garden before 6.00pm on Tuesdays pm, Thursdays pm and weekends.

I beg to point out that not only has either my wife or I been working the Albery Theatre pitch for the past two and a half weeks on Tuesdays pm, Thursdays pm and weekends bar last Tuesday pm (as I had informed head office) and last Thursday pm (it was raining), but last Tuesday morning in your head office a member of staff (Sanjiv) stamped our pitch slip for the Albery Theatre pitch for the week ending next Tuesday, 3 April and registered the pitch in pitch listings for the same period.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

A copy of this email will also be sent to Bird to Monday by registered post.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lord Justice Scott Baker's order and transcript of judgment

This morning Declan received the news that his application of 17 January for permission to appeal Judge Walker’s decision of 11 December to dismiss our claim for judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been refused by the Court of Appeal “as being totally without merit”. The order by Lord Justice Scott Baker, who was Conservative education secretary from 1986 to 1989, was made on 22 March; permission for the decision to be reconsidered at an oral hearing denied.

When it comes to coincidence, 22 March is an interesting date: that night two police community support officers visited us at the porch we sleep in and informed us that all rough sleepers are to be moved out of the City of London, that we are going to be “harassed” by the police over the next two weeks, and that we may be asked to move beyond city boundaries. As I wrote in the previous blog, I didn’t find anything on this police policy on the internet.

Lord Justice Scott Baker’s order reads:

ORDER made by the Rt. Hon Lord/Lady Justice SCOTT BAKER
On consideration of the appellant’s notice and accompanying documents, but without an oral hearing, in respect of an application for permission to appeal
Decision: Refused, as being totally without merit.
Reasons: The reasons are clearly explained in the judgment of Walker J.
Information for the parties: This decision is final. Where the Court of Appeal refuses permission to appeal without a hearing, it may, if it considers that application is totally without merit, make an order that the person seeking permission may not request the decision to be reconsidered at a hearing (see CPR 52.3(4A)). Such an order has been made in this case. The appellant is therefore unable to request that an oral hearing be arranged.

Under Civil Procedure Rule 54.12.3 ("Appeals to the House of Lords"), there can be no appeal to the House of Lords against a decision of the Court of Appeal refusing permission to apply for judicial review. This morning, therefore, Declan spent £85.00 on the book “Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights” by Philip Leach.

The content of the transcript of Judge Walker’s judgment referred to in this order from the Court of Appeal is presented below. Paragraph 32 refers to a secret document from the DWP that we have never seen, a letter from the DWP that says there is a good reason for the termination of our benefits other than the one Declan is complaining about, namely that he did not “sign on” on 27 September last when he was not due to do so until two days later, on 29 September. Judge Walker doesn't specify the reason given, we note.

Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about: are there not plenty of people, including some very successful and high profile authors and scientists, already campaigning to take religion out of science and public policy? What is so special about us?

On another subject, there is a new phenomenon occurring in Covent Garden (we sell The Big Issue there on weekends): I am now attracting its beggars! They come to me while I am selling the magazine and demand to know if I am alright. “Speak up,” one of them actually shouted at me. Declan runs into problems there too. Last Saturday the vendor we share our pitch with, who Declan had to threaten with a complaint the second time he ran into him on the pitch, approached Declan while he was eating his lunch in private and started shouting abuse at him after Declan told him that he wished to eat his lunch in peace.

The beggars of Covent Garden are late-comers: homeless frequenting the Whitechapel Mission and the Dellow Centre are bothering us – I should say harassing us – for ages now. For example, a few days back, at 6.05am in the women’s washroom of the Whitechapel Mission, a homeless woman threw a ball of wet toilet paper at me she had just been using to clean her sink (many homeless men and women spit and blow their noses into their sinks) after I wouldn’t get into conversation with her. And today in the Dellow Centre, while I was in the sitting room, a homeless guy just happened to spill a cup of coffee over my coat, which was hanging unobtrusively at the back of my chair. Also women, in both establishments, are now using the toilet with the door open ... I am actually looking forward to what they will come up with next.

Anyway, this is the judgement of Judge Walker, which Mr. Justice Scott Baker finds no fault with (it goes without saying that we will be finding plenty of fault with it in what will be Declan's application to the European Court of Human Rights):

   1.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: On 19th August 2006 the local Jobcentre Plus (“JCP”) in Erdington made a decision to suspend the claimant’s Job Seeker’s Allowance (“JSA”) as from 19th August 2006. The claimant issued an application for permission to apply for judicial review and lodged it with the Administrative Court on 24th August 2006. He said the decision -- which concerned the joint position of himself and his wife -- was irrational. He asked for a mandatory order that the defendants cause his claim for Job Seeker’s Allowance to be reinstated immediately and for payment of the accumulated arrears.
   2.    The matter came before Sullivan J on the papers. In an order dated 25th August 2006, he abridged the defendants’ time for filing and serving its acknowledgement of service and summary grounds from 21 to 14 days. He added, among other things: “I question whether judicial review is an appropriate remedy at this stage. Is there no internal appeal/review process whereby such a decision can be reconsidered?”
   3.    The question Sullivan J asked was answered in summary grounds on behalf of the defendants. These formed part of an acknowledgement of service lodged on 14th September 2006, the reason for the delay being that the solicitor for the Secretary of State had not in fact received the claim until it was forwarded by the Erdington JCP. The summary grounds explained that section 21 of the Social Security Act 1998 dealt with suspension of payments. It enabled regulations to be made in that regard, in particular where it appeared to the Secretary of State that an issue arose whether the conditions for entitlement to a relevant benefit are fulfilled.
   4.    The summary grounds then referred to the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/991). I shall refer to then as “the Regulations”. Regulation 16 dealt with suspension of payment. Prescribed circumstances in which the Secretary of State was empowered to suspend payment included those where an issue arose whether the conditions for entitlement to the relevant benefit were or are fulfilled. Indeed, in those circumstances, in particular, there was not merely a power but a duty on the Secretary of State to suspend payment of JSA.
   5.    The summary grounds went into the reasons why an issue had arisen of that kind in relation to the claimant. I need not set out the detail in that regard at the moment. The summary grounds also added that at that stage a decision had yet to be made regarding the claimant’s entitlement to JSA. If the decision went in his favour, that would result in the suspended JSA monies being paid to him. If it went against him, he would be able to appeal to an Appeal Tribunal or to request reconsideration.
   6.    What then happened was that a decision was taken and, on the face of it, it was a decision in the claimant’s favour. If lifted the suspension and the decision provided for (and as far as I am aware, this was carried out) payment to the claimant to put him in a position that he would have been if there had not been a suspension in August.
   7.    The claimant, however, responded that the defendant had behaved disingenuously. It had made an assertion to the effect that the claimant’s contentions as to what could go into a Job Seeker’s Agreement were not accepted. The result was that when the claimant was asked to come for interview, the claimant responded “I am not going to come unless you tell me in advance that my contentions are accepted”. The upshot was that when the claimant failed to attend the interview on 19th September, his payment of JSA was again suspended.
   8.    On that occasion, the eventual decision was not in his favour. It was communicated by a letter dated 27th September.
   9.    MR HEAVEY: My Lord, there is a major error there which would seriously impact any judgment. You have missed that I was actually reinstated on 25th September, terminated on 27th September for the reasons provided. But I was actually reinstated. You are correct that I was suspended on 19th September, but I was reinstated on 25th September.
   10.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: That correction will be noted in the judgment.
   11.    On 27th September a letter was written to the claimant which said that he could not be paid his JSA from 19th September 2006 because he had not attended to sign his declaration.
   12.    MR HEAVEY: Another factual error, my Lord. What the letter said is that I did not sign my declaration but I was not due to sign until two days later.
   13.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: I am just quoting from the letter, Mr Heavey. The letter says: “You did not attend to sign your declaration.”
   14.    MR HEAVEY: Yes.
   15.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: This must have been a disappointment to Mr Heavey. It told him that he would receive his final payment of JSA ending on 18th September 2006. It added that he might be entitled to other help. If he wished other help he could seek a particular leaflet.
   16.    There was then a heading: “If you want to know more about this decision or if you think it is wrong”. Under that heading the letter asked the claimant to contact the defendant so that they could give an explanation; “Such contact should be within a month of the date of the letter”. There was then a heading: “What happens after the decision is looked at again”. Under that heading the letter said if the decision could be changed then the defendant would send a new decision. If the decision could not be changed, the defendant would say why. It added this: “You will still have the right of appeal against the decision.” That right of appeal was dealt with by the next heading: “How to appeal”. Under that heading it was explained that there was a leaflet to fill in. It should be sent within a month of the date of the letter. The appeal would be heard by an Independent Appeal Tribunal. I need not go into the details.
   17.    The application for permission to apply for judicial review then came before Collins J on the papers. He refused permission. He added some observations. The first point he made was that he appreciated the claimant’s concern that the defendants were not, according to the claimant, properly acknowledging the relevant legal position as regards the Job Seeker’s Agreement. Collins J went on: “But judicial review is not the correct route. The claimant or his wife must exercise any appeal rights to deal with what is said to be a wrong decision which results in detriment to him. Judicial review is a remedy of last resort. I make no order for costs at this stage, but the claimant must realise he may be vulnerable to such an order if the persists and it is held that he has no arguable claim.”
   18.    MR HEAVEY: My Lord, there are two substantive further omissions if I may raise them with the court. Very substantive omissions. The first one, which I hope has been added to the record is that I was reinstated on 25th September. Two major omissions subsequently have been that when I was terminated on 27th I did indeed contact Erdington Job Centre Plus and they provided me with no explanation, nor did they give any indication that they were going to provide me with any explanation which would have allowed me to take matters further. Secondly, Collins J was not aware on 13th October when he made his order that I had in fact been terminated. His order refers to a reinstatement dated 13th September, despite the fact that I had notified the court that I had been subsequently suspended again on the 19th and terminated on the 27th. Collins J made no reference to termination. His order was strictly based on reading the statement and telling me that the matter of an ES 2JP, which is an irrelevant factor in this case, is really not a matter for judicial review which I entirely agree with. He had no idea that the matter had been terminated. He was not informed as such by the court manager who I had briefed. His only briefing came from the Department for Work and Pensions. I entirely agree with his ruling with regard to the form ES 2JP but he failed to deal with, and it would appear that he had no knowledge of, the fact that I was unlawfully terminated on 27th September.
   19.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: That intervention will have been noted.
   20.    MR HEAVEY: Thank you, my Lord.
   21.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: On 17th October 2006, Mr Heavey lodged a notice of renewal of his claim. He referred to his answer to the letter of 27th September. This was that it was disingenuous at that stage to assert that he had not attended to sign his declaration, for his “sign on” day was not until two days later, 29th September. He went on that that irrational termination was no more than an alternative measure to deny his wife her right to have a decision-maker decide the question about the Job Seeker’s Agreement. He repeated that the decision of 18th August to suspend the joint claim from 19th August was irrational.
   22.    At the start of today’s hearing Mr Heavey, who appeared in person before me, handed in a document comprising a statement by him dated today, 11th December 006. Paragraph 1 repeated the point in the notice of renewal that the reason given in the letter of 27th September was unfounded because the sign on day was not in fact until two days later. Paragraph 2 made an application for a mandatory order for the JSA to be reinstated immediately and arrears paid, along with a transfer to a local Job Centre in Tower Hamlets. Paragraph 3 explained that he and his wife had moved to London and had two registered pitches at Liverpool Street station to sell the Big Issue magazine. Paragraph 4 complained that the claimant and his wife found themselves in a position where their employment prospects in the Midlands were seriously compromised by the Department for Work and Pensions. Paragraph 5 said that it had been a question of taking to the street either in Birmingham or London and, given their prospects in Birmingham, they were left with no option other than to come to London. Paragraph 6 addressed Sullivan J’s question as to whether there was no internal appeal or review process. It said that given the unlawful termination of benefit on 27th September following internal review, the application for judicial review was neither premature nor disproportionate.
   23.    During Mr Heavey’s oral submissions I asked him whether Sullivan J had not been right to question whether there was an internal procedure. Mr Heavey acknowledged that the suspension of payments had indeed been reversed by an internal procedure, but added that the reversal was disingenuous as shown by the events in September. In particular, on the one hand the decision-maker had said that the earlier doubt was removed, but on the other the decision maker had added a proviso about the dispute as to how the Job Seeker’s Agreement should be dealt with. The contention that the claimant and his wife had failed to sign on was plainly wrong. That had resulted in the need to move to London and it was only by selling the Big Issue that the claimant and his wife had been able to survive.
   24.    He accepted that the letter of 27th September told him what to do if he disagreed with it and how to appeal. He had sent a number of letters to the Job Centre. They had simply acknowledged them. The letters indeed had been copied to others, including the Secretary of State himself, but that had led to nothing additional on the part of the defendant. In his initial application he was seeking what he described as a remedy of last resort. He said it required a substantive hearing to establish that. He claimed he did not know why his application was being opposed. He added that the arrears since 19th September were now over £1,000.
   25.    MR HEAVEY: My Lord, I am very aware of why it is opposed. I just would require a substantive hearing to establish how erroneous and misleading to the court the grounds of resistance are. A substantive hearing and cross-examination, I believe, will show that the grounds of resistance by the Secretary of State in this case hold no water.
   26.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: Again, Mr Heavey, your intervention will be noted.
   27.    The question that I have to decide is whether permission should now be given for this claim to proceed. I shall examine first the question in relation to the suspension in August. As to that, the suspension was reversed. Sullivan J was shown to have been absolutely right to question whether there was an internal procedure that could assist the claimant. There was and it did. The claim for judicial review was brought at a stage when the internal process was underway. It was, in my view, plainly premature.
   28.    MR HEAVEY: My Lord –
   29.    MR JUSTICE WALKER: Mr Heavey, we have reached a stage now where I have recited my understanding of your contentions and I am dealing with them. We will come on to your rights of appeal in due course. If you just make a note of points to yourself as I go through it, then you will be in a position to identify what concerns you have and whether you wish to seek an appeal. We have now reached a stage where I must set out my reasoning.
   30.    Thus, I conclude that the claim as formulated was not a claim which ought to have been brought at all. As formulated, it plainly should not receive permission to apply for judicial review.
   31.    Is the position any different as a result of subsequent events? I quite understand that the claimant wants the Department to accept a particular contention of his about the Job Seeker’s Agreement. The position is that the Department, having suspended payment on 19th September, then went on to look at the matter internally. Mr Heavey says that they decided to reinstate the claim on 25th September. That may well be. I do not need to go into that, however, because they did not pay any money in consequence of whatever happened on 25th September.
   32.    The defendant went on to formulate a letter sent on 27th September. That letter gave a reason for terminating payment. Mr Heavey says the reason was plainly wrong. It seems almost certain that Mr Heavey is correct. Indeed, there is a letter from the Department which says that in the letter of 27th September the reference to him having failed to sign on was a mistake. The Department says that there is another good reason for terminating payment. Whether he is right or wrong, however, as the letter of 27th September made perfectly clear, he had open to him a right of appeal. As Collins J pointed out, judicial review is a remedy of last resort. There is no reason whatever in the material before me to think that there was any obstacle to Mr Heavey’s complaint about the letter of 27th September being determined by a fair and impartial tribunal on appeal.
   33.    I am concerned that Mr Heavey and his wife have found themselves in a position where they have had to live on the streets and have had to move to London for that purpose. As appears from my recital of the facts, however, the Department had in correspondence drawn attention to other avenues available to those who are in hardship.
   34.    On the primary question, which is the complaint about the suspension from 19th September onwards, it seems to me that the position is absolutely clear. The Department sent a letter of 27th September which claimed to justify that suspension. Mr Heavey disputed that claim. He could and should have sought an appeal. Having failed to follow the internal procedure, it would be quite wrong for this court to give him permission to apply for judicial review. Accordingly, this application for permission to apply for judicial review as renewed orally is refused.
   35.    Mr Heavey, you asked about two other matters. The first is the question of appeal. It is open to you, if you wish, to renew your application before the Court of Appeal. You have to fill in an appeal form and I am sure court staff will help you with that if you wish to do that. The second thing you raised with me was whether you could have a transcript of my judgment, and I shall direct that a transcript should be made available to you at public expense. Thank you very much.

This afternoon Declan was told in the Civil Appeals Office that he has to write to the Deputy Master of Civil Appeals to request access to the case file. He will do so, seeking sight, and copy, of this secret document from the DWP which says that “there is another good reason for terminating payment”.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sixth visit by the police

Last night – I had just got into my sleeping bag – we received our sixth visit from the police. Declan was informed by two police community support officers that all rough sleepers are to be moved out of the City of London, that we can expect to be “harassed” (her word) by the police over the next two weeks, and that we may be asked to move beyond city boundaries.

The question: is this a (ruthless) method by the London Mayor Ken Livingstone to cleanse the city of rough sleepers? Or is this just the latest idea the police have come up with to move us out of our porch and put us at risk? (I should mention here that on 3 November Declan had good foresight when he chose this particular patch for us to sleep in: it has proven relatively safe and quiet, notwithstanding the sleep deprivation techniques that have been used against us, and which I have recorded throughout this blog.)

I already smell a rat. I have spent an hour on the internet in the library Idea Store Whitechapel and my research has yielded no results. There is not one single mention on the internet of an operation by the police to move rough sleepers out of the City of London or that one is going to be undertaken or has ever been undertaken; the Mayor of London website mentions nothing; other homeless organisations are reporting nothing; and the same applies to all the major papers. Even staff at the Dellow Centre told Declan this morning that they have heard of no such policy.

So if the Bishopsgate City of London police think that we are going to voluntarily move out, and put ourselves and our belongings (including legal documentation) at risk, they are mistaken. For a start, Declan is considering writing to Ken Livingstone on this apparent covert police operation.

And then there is the Independent Police Complaints Commission to write to on the manner in which the assault on him (on 17 February a homeless called Ali punched Declan twice in the face in an unprovoked attack in the Whitechapel Mission) is being dealt with by Tower Hamlets police: Declan cannot get the police to take his statement.

In a nutshell, after much trouble on Declan’s part (recorded in this blog), on 1 March PC Richard Bentley (823 HT) left a message on Declan’s mobile stating that as soon as he has arrested Ali, he will contact Declan again for his written statement of 19 February to be formally taken. (Where, for a start, does it say that the alleged assailant has to be arrested before a statement can be taken from the victim?) Needless to say, PC Bentley has never phoned back.

This morning, Bethnal Green Police Station informed Declan that in fact it is not PC Bentley who is investigating the matter at all, but Detective Constable Alexander Head of the Beat Crime Unit in Limehouse Police Station. According to police records, DC Head wrote to Declan c/o Whitechapel Mission on 26 February and 9 March. The mission, however – and this is hilarious – issued Declan a letter this morning stating no mail has arrived there for him since 20 January.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Big Issue Head Office administrative errors

I forgot to mention in my last blog that last Saturday was St Patrick’s Day and that there were stalls in Covent Garden promoting Ireland. Well, let me tell you that Declan and I were living in Dublin from 1993 to 2003 (save 1997/98 when we lived in Northern Ireland, a bit of madness I know) and that Ireland is not that great: the vast majority of hospitals are run by Catholic religious orders, as are the top schools: Declan went to one and taught in another. If you agree that the Catholic church is a bastion of anti-democratic privilege then I don’t see what Ireland has to recommend except of course a nice weekend break, unpolluted air and a good drive: you can cross the country in just three hours.

Also, some of the huge land that was given to the Catholic church by previous governments is now being sold to property developers and the money (running into dozens of millions) is quietly being pocketed by the religious orders, isn’t that nice?

Last Monday morning we arrived as usual at the gates of the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre at 7.30am to do a laundry. The place opens at 9.15am, but if we don’t get there so early the chances are that we will be told that there are no washing machines left.

Anybody who is wondering what on earth we do for an hour and three quarters in the freezing cold (and sometimes rain), the answer is that Declan is reading while I am either reading or writing. We might as well be occupied – we also wear earplugs – because we always have homeless trying it on. Three Mondays ago, a queuer from about 7.45am wanted to know (very pushy) if we were alright; and two Mondays ago, about the same time, another asked me on two different occasions if I was writing poetry. Last Monday two guys arrived at 7.50am and started up some loud conversation – when will whoever sends these homeless realise that we don’t have the slightest interest?

Perhaps, he or she or they should take lessons from the Whitechapel Mission: its homeless are selected to get a rise out of us. Take yesterday morning for example (although there are many examples in this blog). At 6.35am a guy – after insisting that I tell him the obvious, which is that the third chair attached to our table isn’t occupied – sits in front of me and devoutly begins to read the Bible. When Declan returns from the washroom, he informs me that this particular homeless has been on his case in there on and off for the last six weeks or so: what a small eating area!

It is not always the wind up in the Whitechapel Mission, mind you. On 17 February Declan was twice punched in the face by a homeless guy in an unprovoked attack. On 19 February, Declan handed a statement into Bethnal Green Police Station for the attention of PC Richard Bentley, the policeman investigating the assault, just in case other homeless get the impression Declan is some sort of punching bag.

On 1 March, PC Bentley left a message on Declan’s mobile stating that as soon as he has arrested Ali – the homeless guy who punched Declan – he would contact Declan again for his formal statement. Although homeless, Ali must have some good contacts because PC Bentley has yet to phone – and we haven’t seen this Ali either.

Yesterday afternoon, Declan again emailed The Big Issue head office. There have been errors made by office staff in the registration of our pitches, which meant either one or both of us could have had a pitch given to another vendor.

I have blogged Declan’s previous two emails to the founder of The Big Issue, Dr John Bird (see titles), as well as to an outreach worker. For the record, this is the email that Declan sent to outreach manager Paul Joseph:

Subject: Pitch protection

Dear Paul

I refer to our meeting this morning regarding the protection of the pitches of my wife and myself.

I understand that: (1) the co-ordinators have been writing my wife's number (1170) and mine (1163) on the pitch listings, in addition to signing our respective pitch slips; (2) recent "office administrative errors" in the registration of our pitches cannot be rectified retrospectively; (3) to ensure our pitches are protected in the future, I should call into the Big Issue head office every Monday or Tuesday to register the pitches myself.

If I am in any way mistaken on this matter, please call me on 0779 2843167 at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

And this is the reply Declan received: “That's right Declan. Hope you can continue selling without any further problems, and apologies for any errors that have exacerbated the situation. Regards, Paul Joseph.”

Yesterday afternoon, while Declan was on his way to St Martin’s for the first of his two hot meals of the week, I ran into more problems with the staff of the library Idea Store Whitechapel. I was refused access to a computer, not because all the computers were booked, but because I had exhausted my three-hour time limit; library policy a member of staff said. It’s not the first time this library has imposed a time limit on me, although for a few months now I have been booking the computers to my heart's content. This is Declan’s email yesterday evening to manager Mr Zoinul Abidin:

Subject: Computer access

Dear Mr Abidin

Further to my phone call to your office this evening, I confirm that since your email to me of 1 December my wife and I have been booking access to computers in Idea Store Whitechapel without restriction save this afternoon when my wife was told by a member of staff that she could only do so for a maximum of three hours a day. Today we have booked access to computers for a total of seven and a half hours: three hours on my card; three hours on my wife's card; followed by a further one and a half hours on my wife's card after my phone call to your office.

I note the aforementioned email from you of 1 December states the following in relation to booking a computer slot: "... if a computer is available then there is flexibility for staff to override the system and book further slots."

I would greatly appreciate if you could furnish me with a reply to the above that both my wife or I could have to hand in the event of further difficulty.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

Now that I am on the subject, you would think that this library has a particular agenda of its own: a whole floor is dedicated to the Islamic religion; there is not a section, book or magazine that I have been able to find on atheism, secularism or humanism (try finding a book on sex); and it would appear that more than 90% of the staff are Muslim. And when I tried to access an obituary on the Council for Secular Humanism website for Humanist Laureate Vern Bullough, American historian and sexologist (and one of our trustees), who sadly died on 21 June, I was denied access “because it contravenes the company Web Policy.” What will they ban next?

Last, but not least, is the weather: killer cold on Sunday night, Monday night, and Tuesday night, which culminated in snow on Monday morning and Tuesday morning; and this weather is expected to continue. Declan began laughing when I told him when we got up on Monday morning that he nearly found me dead. Funny thing is today is the first day of spring.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fifth visit by the police

On Friday night we had our fifth visit by the police. Imagine the scenario: a policeman goes up the two steps of the porch we sleep in; he wakes Declan, who is sleeping on the inside with our bags, by kicking the end of his sleeping bag; checks that the porch door is closed; and then asks Declan: “Are you OK, mate?”

I think it was just to wind us up because of what happened to me a few hours later in the Whitechapel Mission. When I enter the washroom, this middle-aged homeless woman who is always running into difficulties with other homeless – once, a guy threw two packets of rice over her – is also there. She always splashes water all over the floor, although her bags are nicely aligned against the wall at the other side of wherever she is and protected above and below with newspaper.

Anyway, this time she is splashing water in style: she is having a shower with the door fully open and the floor resembles a baby’s swimming pool, even the floor of the toilet cubicle I go into has been covered in water. So I soak up the water with toilet paper and I change my clothes; and then I go to a sink and soak up the water around my spot; and as soon as I have soaked up the water from the floor underneath the sink (where I put my rucksack and toiletry bag), from behind me she comes out of the shower, naked and dripping water, and passes straight by my dry spot.

Declan had some troubles of his own next door: he had to tell – quite aggressively and three times – a homeless not to use his sink, that he was at it.

The day before, Friday, was more of the same. When I arrived at my pitch outside Liverpool Street Station around 7.30am to sell The Big Issue, I found mushy food had been smeared all around it. After last Friday, when a guy with a placard and fliers tried to put me out of business, I was kind of expecting it and this time had my hair washed in the Whitechapel Mission at 6.05am (oops, I will not get a sink next Friday morning) just in case I would have to miss my shower and breakfast in the Dellow Centre in order to type my blog in the City of London Camomile Street Library – like I had to do the previous Friday. (The two only computers that accept a USB Flash Drive in this library are now back working again but because they only give a meagre free one hour a day, Declan and I have to go to the Bishopsgate Institute Library (£1.00 an hour) to finish the job and upload it. Problem is that since last Monday the eight computers in the library have been either occupied or out of order during our mid-afternoon break. Which means we have to take a bus to the nearest internet café … it just never finishes.)

The reason why there are plays on my pitch on Fridays in particular is because Friday is the working day of the week that vendors make the most money selling The Big Issue – fancy holding down a permanent job!

Anyway, my pitch has now become like the Whitechapel Mission: there is always something happening. I have three (motivated) beggars passing by me all the time: one of them sells The Big Issue – he is not a vendor, so I don’t know why he is so keen to pass by me when I could report him to my co-ordinators across the road; the other two are friends and pass by me like the police are chasing after them and they are desperate to get lost.

These two beggars, they are in their twenties, are quite something else. Every Friday evening, as we eat our dinner outside The Hamilton Hall in Liverpool Street Station, these two are going around stealing glasses of beer from people drinking outside the pub, drinking beer left over by others, and hassling passers-by for money, cigarettes, whatever.

I have other homeless passing by me too, some of whom I recognise from the Whitechapel Mission and the Dellow Centre – what they are doing in the heart of London’s business district, I don’t know. The thing is, I don’t smile at them, as I do at everybody else, in case they think they can start a conversation with me.

There are two events though that stand out in particular: the first involves the police and a nun; and the second, a Big Issue vendor. Ok, the first event. On Monday afternoon – I am at my pitch – a police van pulls up in front of me. And just in case I don’t suspect that it is on my case, this policewoman comes out and gives me a long look. At that very moment who is turning the corner to walk past my pitch but a nun in full dress, which I have never seen, not in the business district, not at a rush hour.

Five minutes later, a Polish guy on a bicycle stops to ask me how many magazines The Big Issue sells, that he is selling them as from the next day ... when he is gone the police van drives off. So what is it? Do I have to be nice to nuns? Or befriend homeless Poles? Or both? Resourceful perhaps, but the police are no slaves to logic.

The next morning at 6.00am in the Methodist-run Whitechapel Mission things become more apparent. There are notes all about informing the homeless that at 9.30am that very morning there is a prayer meeting and also some meditation and we are all invited – a first since we started visiting the mission on 3 November. Who are they kidding? I think at this stage we all know our differences are irreconcilable.

Declan says that the police are getting more desperate because though we have not greatly advanced since coming to London, a Lord Justice can’t just ignore Declan’s amended appellant’s notice of 17 January to seek permission to appeal Judge Walker’s decision of 11 December to dismiss our claim for judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions (which Declan initially filed on 24 August).

The second event. Thursday morning at 8.30am, in the heart of the morning rush hour, a Big Issue vendor approaches me. He wants to buy some magazines and asks me if I know of anybody around who is selling them. No, sorry, I say and go back to selling my magazines to the passing crowd. He doesn’t go away though and asks me again: who is selling in the area. I tell him that I don’t know and ask him if I can get back to my job, to which he retorts in a loud voice that there is no need to be “rude”. He must have repeated that word at least three times before he eventually took off.

Declan had a similar experience on Thursday also: he went to our pitch in Covent Garden only to have the vendor we share it with (and who Declan had to threaten with a complaint the last time he encountered him) going on to a former vendor about how unfriendly Declan was.

Yesterday morning while selling The Big Issue in a pitch in Covent Garden (well, Strand to be specific), I see this guy in the coffee shop I am facing surfing the internet on his laptop; and it got me wondering about my own laptop, which I had to sell when we knew for certain the DWP was making us homeless after terminating our unemployment benefit on 27 September because Declan, as stated in his Grounds of Appeal, did not “sign on” two days before he was due to do so on 29 September.

Friday, March 09, 2007

It’s always something in the Whitechapel Mission

Yesterday morning in the Methodist-run Whitechapel Mission Declan had an encounter with yet another Pole. (Declan and I are having run-ins with homeless Poles of late – a large percentage of the homeless visiting the mission and the Dellow Centre are Poles, which doesn’t help. It was two Poles that laughed me off last week in the laundry room of the Dellow Centre. And it was a Pole who ranted in Polish at Declan in the mission a week ago or so. Declan has also had to deal with Poles in the washroom of both establishments, most recently this morning in the case of the mission.)

Anyway, this time a Pole wanted to use my scarf and Declan's coat as his mattress and if, on his way back from the washroom, Declan hadn't grabbed his coat while it was still in the Pole’s hands – my scarf was already on the floor – that is exactly what he would have done.

It was good that Declan got hold of his coat before the Pole had time to throw it on the floor because after he was punched twice in the face in the mission by a homeless in an unprovoked attack on 17 February – and was informed by the mission manager that staff don't get involved in fights – I can't see how staff would have stepped in on an argument over a coat and scarf.

We, unlike the homeless we encounter every day, cannot get clothes either from the mission or the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre, and have to buy them with money we earn selling The Big Issue. This reminds me that the weather is getting better now and we are going to need to replace all our clothes soon. I am looking forward to that.

It is always something in the Whitechapel Mission. When the women’s shower is not being blocked by a homeless woman who is not even bothering to turn on the water – it happened twice last week, once at 6.10am – some other homeless is insisting that one or other of us talk to him or her. This morning we were one of the first into the mission at 6.00am, only to find that there was a puddle of water beneath the table we usually sit at – there are only three chairs attached, the fourth being broken – which Declan had to soak up with a kitchen cloth. He filled two cups with water which would otherwise have soaked through our bags.

Also this morning, I had company at my pitch outside Liverpool Street Station, where I usually sell The Big Issue. Just in front of me – less than two metres separating us – this guy is propping up a placard under arm, while at the same passing fliers like he is in the military. His instruction was clearly to put me out of business because every time I sold a magazine he would shuffle from one foot to the other, attempting to pass the fliers even more forcefully. He was getting some looks, I can tell you.

I decided right there and then that I would give up my shower and breakfast of a bowl of cereal in the Dellow Centre and go instead to the local City of London Camomile Street Library to type my blog and then save it to my USB Flash Drive for Declan to correct and make the necessary amendments (I am Spanish).

It turned out that the only two computers that accept a flash drive are now out of order – the librarian didn’t know when they would be back working – so I had no choice but to copy and paste the contents of the blog into my webmail. It meant that the police were able to read my blog before Declan. Yes, I am afraid that like many other activists, our email is being monitored by the police. We have even had emails to us sabotaged. But then, what is new?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Isn’t the UK secular?

On Monday night we got back to the porch we sleep in, this time to discover a fire extinguisher blocking the door from the inside – it is a window door, so you can see straight through. It hadn’t occurred to me that the police might use the fire alarm on us – they are already using the burglar alarm – are they going to have to the porch a fire engine and fire-fighters with their hoses as well?

It got better on a rainy night last night (after 9.10pm). No sooner had we laid some cardboard, with the alarm from the medical centre across the road going off, than a worker from our building comes out – there was nothing obstructing his way, so he must have been quite disappointed.

Some 10 minutes later, two handymen come out (the alarm still blasting) only to go back in again almost immediately – leaving wet shoeprints all over the cardboard – which was followed a short time later by four handymen leaving the building.

Who in the police comes up with these things? Or is it brainstorming? Perhaps it is more sinister and the British police are well used to running such schemes against people the Government – or should I say the Establishment, the church being part of it – wants out of the way.

The Irish police sprang things on us not unsimilar, which would indicate to me that these are standard policing practices. You really wouldn’t expect less from Ireland, with its Catholic baggage, but it is an eye opener that it would happen in a secular UK, where most people don’t bother with religion at all. Does it not indicate how necessary is an organisation that brings together individuals and groups from across the globe who work for public policies based on secular principles rather than religious doctrine?

Monday afternoon Declan was quite busy dealing with The Big Issue head office. After taking a trip out there he then faxed Joe Perkins, an outreach worker. This is all in relation to the pitch we were given in February in Covent Garden and which is not only shared by Declan and me, but another vendor who Declan had to threaten with a complaint last Saturday – it gets complicated, I know.

Anyway, Perkins said he would be making a definitive ruling within 24 hours on who – if anyone – has precedence on this crowded pitch … no precedence would mean that whoever steps in first would get the pitch. For the record, this is Declan’s email to Perkins yesterday afternoon:

Subject: Covent Garden pitch

Dear Joe

I refer to my fax to you of 5 March with copy of pitch authorisation slip for my wife (badge no. 1170) and I for the Noël Coward Theatre (formerly Albery) in Covent Garden.

I can confirm that this morning I spoke with your vendor co-ordinator for Covent Garden, Mr Steve Farrell regarding the difficulties my wife and I experienced at our Albery Theatre pitch with vendor Steve Elliott (badge no. 1157) on Saturday last.

I understand that it is your definitive ruling that although the Albery Theatre remains a sharing pitch between three people, my wife, as well as myself, continues to have precedence on this pitch.

If I am in any way mistaken on this matter, please call me on 0779 2843167 at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Badge no. 1163

Sunday, March 04, 2007

We are making advancements

Selling The Big Issue in Covent Garden over the weekend is never boring. Yesterday, while I was relieving Declan from our pitch, the vendor who is sharing it with us came along. First he wanted the pitch for himself on weekends – yeah, he already told Declan last week that he wanted the pitch for himself everyday, all day – and then wanted me to take off so he could step in to sell the magazine for the afternoon.

When Declan pointed out that we had precedence over him, the vendor was adamant that he had precedence over me. The vendor eventually took off – “its game on,” he said – after Declan threatened him with a complaint. If the Big Issue runs more pitches like ours, the sales staff at head office must be inundated with vendor complaints – and a few fights, if you ask me.

Last Thursday night PC Richard Bentley left a message on Declan’s mobile – he must be back from his holidays – informing him that Ali was going to be arrested, after which Declan could make his statement. (Ali is the homeless guy that punched Declan twice in the face in an unprovoked attack on 17 February in the Whitechapel Mission.)

PC Bentley hasn’t phoned Declan since, so I assume Ali is giving him the slip. We haven’t seen this Ali or his girlfriend for a few days either. Last week, we were running into them every day – on one occasion, Ali’s girlfriend ran into me in the toilets of the Whitechapel library.

Yesterday morning, as we were about to leave the porch we sleep in at night, a police car stopped by. After we were asked if we were heading off, and were wished a good day, the car drove on. It’s a small advancement, but one of the threats the Bishopsgate City of London police have held over us – namely that we cannot sleep in the porch – would appear now to have been lifted. Of course, we still have to deal with the porch alarm, people invading the porch before we arrive, workers going into the building to do handiwork, and sleep deprivation techniques. Cold, wind and rain (perhaps even more snow) have also to be dealt with, but fortunately for us the police have no control over them.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Second all night alarm in our porch

Well, last night was a replay of the eventful night of the 26th: alarm in our porch already going off when we arrived at 8.30pm; didn’t stop all night; and still going strong when we left at 5.30am.

You wonder how the police get someone in a building of offices, containing more than one business, to blow a porch alarm all night. Who do they get in contact with? Do they come clean about who the two rough sleepers occupying the porch are – church/state matter - or do they lie? Declan and I are lucky we are not a bit browner than average ... they would manufacture some phoney War On Terror “intelligence” and have us raided and arrested.

Detective Constable Alexander Head of the Beat Crime Unit in Limehouse Police Station has yet to phone Declan to arrange a time to take his statement on the assault on him in the Whitechapel Mission on 17 February, when he was punched twice in the face by a homeless called Ali in an unprovoked attack. (Two days ago, after Declan had just gone through the gate of the Dellow Centre – I try to avoid the place as much as I can, so I wasn’t there – this Ali called Declan a c*** from the queue outside the gate.)