Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Letter to Rupert Murdoch

After being treated to a whole weekend of sleep deprivation, with a couple of threats thrown in, we could hardly expect to start the week with flying colours. Declan also caught a bad cold on Saturday morning and although he took it as easy as he could in the circumstances, events yesterday evening, culminating in our late arrival back at the porch we sleep in at night, had him sick as a dog.

At about 3.00am he woke me up to tell me I might have to call an ambulance – he was crippled with a stomach pain and was almost at the point of fainting. “Oh, yes of course” I stuttered, thinking: What ambulance? (Declan has such a will he actually got up, walked along the high street, got sick, came back to the porch white as a sheet to lie down for a half an hour and recovered enough to walk all the way to Liverpool Street Station to wash. By the time he had washed, the pain was gone and he was almost back to his normal self.)

Of course, this is a race for time between the Bishopsgate City of London police and us. The police, in their usual style, are seeking to reduce us to a minimal state for a kill – as the police in Birmingham did: our benefits, which we were forced to go onto after struggling for two years to get NAC off the ground, were suspended a total of three times and then terminated when we had almost no money left because Declan did not sign on two days before he was scheduled to do so (in fact, we left so rushed for London all I was able to sell was my laptop and a digital camera). For us it is a race to get our application against the UK lodged with the European Court of Human Rights before we end up begging in the street (it is illegal, by the way).

The week finished at a very low point: on Friday, and for a second week in a row, we didn’t have enough money to buy two weekly bus tickets – Declan had to walk off his pitch in Liverpool Street, where he sells The Big Issue, while I was graced, before I walked off mine, by a homeless drunk who lay down almost beside me before throwing abuse at passers-by while praising the IRA. (Anyone interested in reading a litany of the difficulties we experience on our pitches is welcome to read the blog quite prophetically titled “We are being reduced to begging” here.)

What can I say of the weekend? On Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night we slept under a blue flashing light from the porch alarm (first time all weekend). Also on Friday at 12.00pm, while we were sleeping, some guy threw two unopened plastic bottles of mustard at the unused door Declan props his pillow rest against, each one narrowly missing his head on its fall; another guy carrying a pint of beer woke me at 2.00am to ask if I wanted it; an employee came out of the office building by the porch door about 10 minutes later, almost taking Declan’s feet off; and finally what welcomed us after we got up? An ambulance – parked just a few metres from the porch, despite the road being totally deserted.

Understandably, on Saturday we were full on and had intended working like demons to get our application in on Monday (before we are sent to hospital). But Declan being the worst person in the world for timing a cold – last December he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia three hours after lodging his appellant’s notice with the Court of Appeal – got, well, a cold which left him incapable of doing anything whatsoever for the whole weekend and left me with a huge workload.

I should have known things were going to get worse. Yesterday afternoon Declan walked into a London Paper distributor on his pitch – about two and a half feet away from where he puts down to protect his bags as best he can, facing him and going at it big style – who told him he intended staying put. To avoid being debadged for arguing or fighting with another street trader, Declan yet again walked off the pitch and left a message for the Big Issue outreach manager, to which he received the following email:

I've just picked up your voice message. I am sorry to hear there are problems with The London Paper. I've looked up some numbers that may help you direct your query to the appropriate person at the paper. The London Paper's number is 020 7782 4848. They are published by News International. There may be more contacts in the paper itself. The paper's distributors are, I believe recruited by an agency called The J & D Organisation - Their telephone number is 020 8939 0160. I hope this helps and that The London Paper will be able to resolve the problem.

So Declan decided to phone, but a bit higher up the ladder, and ended up talking yesterday evening with the PA to Les Hinton, chairman of News International (which owns not only The London Paper, but also The Times, The Sun and News of the World). News International is owned by the New York-based News Corporation, whose chairman is arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch. This, then, is the letter that Declan sent this morning by fax and registered post to The London Paper editor-in-chief, Stefano Hatfield, copied by fax and registered post to Rupert Murdoch and Les Hinton:

Dear Mr Hatfield

The London Paper

I refer to the enclosed copy of my letter and enclosure of 30 July 2007 to The Big Issue editor-in chief, Dr John Bird, together with email of reply of 30 July 2007 from The Big Issue regarding the above.

I also enclose copy of my letter and enclosure of 1 June 2007 to Dr Bird together with emails of reply of 1 and 5 June 2007 from The Big Issue regarding same.

I am the director of Network of those Abused by Church (NAC), a London-based international secular humanist organisation. NAC works for the separation of church and state and public policies that are based on secular principles, not religious doctrine. Our aim is to facilitate activists and groups in one part of the world to make common cause with those in other parts on issues such as reproductive freedom, voluntary euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, to form a broader opposition movement.

NAC trustees:

Peter Atkins, Oxford University, UK
Vern Bullough, University of Southern California, deceased, USA *
Joseph Chuman, Columbia University, USA
Arthur Dobrin, Hofstra University, USA
R Joseph Hoffmann, Center for Inquiry, USA
Michael Irwin, Friends at the End, UK
Elton Kessel, Oregon Health & Science University, USA
Gerald A Larue, University of Southern California, USA *
Stephen D Mumford, CRPS, USA, Chair
Jack Parsons, Writer, deceased, UK
Howard B Radest, University of South Carolina, USA
Herb Silverman, College of Charleston, USA
Lewis Wolpert CBE, University College London, UK

And honorary associates:

Phillip Adams AO, Writer/Broadcaster, Australia
Philip W Anderson, Princeton University, USA ^
John P Anton, University of South Florida, USA
Louis J Appignani, The Louis J Appignani Foundation, USA
Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation, USA
Joseph E Barnhart, University of North Texas, USA
Frederick Crews, University of California, USA
Daniel C Dennett, Tufts University, USA *
Theodore Drange, West Virginia University, USA
Evan M Fales, University of Iowa, USA
James H Fetzer, University of Minnesota, USA
Johan Galtung, Transcend, Norway *
Donald C Johanson, Arizona State University, USA *
George Klein, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden *
Wesley Morriston, University of Colorado, USA
Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Università di Torino, Italy
Steven Pinker, Harvard University, USA *
James Randi, The James Randi Educational Foundation, USA
Andreas Rosenberg, University of Minnesota, USA
Nathan Salmon, University of California, USA
Theodore W Schick Jr, Muhlenberg College, USA
David M Seaborg, World Rainforest Fund, USA
Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, USA
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Dartmouth College, USA
Victor J Stenger, University of Hawaii, USA
Herman Suit, Harvard Medical School, USA
Alan Trounson AO, Monash University, Australia
Michael Tye, University of Texas, USA

* denotes Humanist Laureate
^ denotes Nobel Laureate

The NAC website can be found at http://www.nac1.bravehost.com. I understand that The Big Issue does not have exclusive rights over the public highways where their pitches work, but hopes that other sellers and distributors would be sensitive to their vendors’ requirements. Given the unprecedented takeover of my pitch outside McDonalds, Liverpool Street by one of your distributors yesterday evening, I would greatly appreciate if you could facilitate me in my efforts to get off the street by taking this matter up on my behalf.

Yours sincerely

Declan Heavey

cc  Mr Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corporation
      Mr Les Hinton, Executive Chairman, News International

With all the evidence we have accumulated, we think we have a very good shot at being granted urgent consideration by the European Court. With this in mind, we have put together an argument and of course the above letter together with its enclosures is a significant part of it – I bet this is not what the Met had in mind yesterday afternoon.

More evidence in respect of our case for urgent consideration is a letter and enclosures Declan sent on 27 July to the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso regarding his complaint against the Methodist Church-run Whitechapel Mission (the wife of the minister barred us on 18 June due to concerns about our safety after I was assaulted that morning by a homeless woman – crime reference no. 4217341/07).

As evidence of violation of Article 3 (the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, we are enclosing a letter and enclosures Declan sent by registered post to the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Charlie McCreevy on 25 July regarding his Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998 made on 21 May to the Metropolitan Police Services (MPS) for a copy of the statement that was written by Detective Constable Alexander Head on his behalf in Bethnal Green Police Station on 27 April (in relation to the assault on him in the, er, Whitechapel Mission on 17 February).

Prior to writing to McCreevy, Declan had written on 6 July to the Information Commissioner for a decision on whether his request for information has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the 1998 Act. The MPS sent Declan a receipt dated 24 May for his £10 subject access fee. Although they had up to 40 days from then (expiring on 2 July) to provide him with the statement, not surprisingly they haven’t done so.

Certainly the Metropolitan Police seem to think they are above the law – and so would I if I was given the instruction by the Government to harass and intimidate and overall neutralize some wretched dissident. Still, one of the enclosures contained in this letter to McCreevy is the typed statement Declan presented to DC Head on 27 April. He might not be able to present the actual statement that Head wrote on his behalf, but he sure can prove he has done his utmost – at great personal expense – to get it for the Court.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tenth visit by the police … and walking everywhere

There is so much material for this blog I’m afraid I have to cherrypick. OK, first thing: the tenth visit by the Bishopsgate City of London police on Thursday to the porch we sleep in at night – I was almost asleep while Declan had just tied our bags, which naturally had to be untied once we were asked for identification.

And unlike the Met’s ninth visit on 1 July, which saw us being questioned by two police officers on horses, this time round it was two police community support officers on foot – in fact, one of them was so at ease, she sat at the end of my sleeping bag. I will spare the details of this half-an-hour exchange since their questions seldom vary, except that this time the sitting officer was quite keen to know what chances we thought we had of getting off the street.

I lay back in my sleeping bag thinking about a quotation I read in a blog by literature Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka – the next morning I went looking for it so I could write it here: about the world being better off without religion … “I think so. It would be less beautiful perhaps, because some religions have created really beautiful architecture, incredible music, some of the most moving dances stem from religion – this idea or acknowledgement of something that stems from something larger than yourself. But I have a feeling that the world would have found a way of substituting it, or creating the same thing from a different source of inspiration”.

Apart from this visit, there has been plenty of action in the porch. Every day this week (Monday to Friday), a cleaner has been putting in a short appearance: he goes into the office building by the porch at about 5.10am – while we are packing our bags to leave – grabs a mop and starts mopping (the carpet) inside the glass porch door, leaving by the porch at about 5.25am, a few minutes before we ourselves pull out.

Maybe he should mop the porch – not while we are there, as he is threatening – although given that we are not paying rent, I suppose the least we can do is keep cleaning the porch floor every night (my job) and tie up the rubbish bags left by another cleaner for collection, sometimes inside the porch (Declan’s job).

And to keep me busy with this blog, yesterday morning at 4.00am I woke up to find an almost full pint of beer beside my head. I hid it away in a corner of the porch just in case I knocked it over or worse, somebody emptied it over me.

This cleaning job is really a very small inconvenience compared to that of having to now walk everywhere carrying all our bags (one of mine contains a thick European law book and notebook): this morning we walked from the porch to Liverpool Street Station to wash in the public toilets, and then all the way to Idea Store Whitechapel library – a tidy hour and forty minutes.

In a nutshell, this new tribulation (a first since we started selling The Big Issue back in December) comes as result of not being able to sell enough Big Issues this week to buy two weekly bus passes. I will also spare the reader a repetition of the problems we have been facing on our two pitches in Liverpool Street and our weekend pitch in Covent Garden and direct anyone interested in reading a litany of difficulties to the previous blog quite prophetically titled “We are being reduced to begging”.

In an attempt to scrap the money together to buy the two tickets (£28), Declan actually went all the way to the Big Issue head office in the hope they would buy back 42 magazines (£29.40 to us), which we bought on Tuesday and Wednesday, but head office said no. Worse to come is if we cannot afford food next week – without transport we can’t even travel to where free food is handed out. Already I only eat once a day for about £2.50, while Declan hardly eats anything in the evening.

You would reckon that whoever is orchestrating (or manipulating) events around us would take a well-earned break – but no, there doesn’t appear to be any signs of it. Not with the problems I have been running into with both the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre and the Tower Hamlets Council-run Idea Store Whitechapel library.

In the Dellow Centre I don’t seem able to grab a shower: in addition to the usual homeless woman (a resident of the local Salvation Army women’s hostel) that keeps snatching it from me – it doesn’t matter if it is a Monday at 10.00am or a Thursday at 10.30am – a new homeless woman has now let me know that she too is on my case. Oh well, it sure looks like I am going to do all my washing in a toilet cubicle with a wet towel and some shower gel – advice which Declan gave me some time ago: what does that say about the problems he has in grabbing a shower?

Which brings me to the issue of my hair. I am in desperate need of a hair cut and although the Dellow Centre has previously had a volunteer in on Wednesdays to cut homeless’ hair, that (short-lived) practice hasn’t taken place for, er, about three months. It means I must cover my hair with a cap at all times.

As for the Idea Store Whitechapel library, we are talking about the deletion on Friday of my computer booking. Because this is the second time it has happened in little over a week, Declan emailed the manager of the library, Zoinul Abidin:

Subject: Computer access

Dear Mr Abidin,

I refer to my registered letter to you of 19 July with which I enclosed, in the absence of acknowledgement, copy of my email to you of 8 July regarding the above.

In my email of 8 July I stated the following:

I wish to confirm that this evening I advised your supervisors Ms Mita Dutta and Ms Bhavia Parikh that my wife discovered that her final computer booking (which she had booked through one of your booking computers as usual) for the period 4.05pm to 4.45pm had been allocated to somebody else. Said supervisors were also advised that earlier this afternoon my wife was automatically logged out in the middle of a one-hour session and had to find a member of staff to be booked in again before she lost the computer to someone else. It was further submitted that the same logging out and re-booking occurred on two other occasions earlier in the week.

I can confirm that this afternoon my wife advised your supervisor Ms Yvonne Rowe that she discovered that her final computer booking (which she had booked through one of your booking computers as usual) for the period 4.30pm to 5.30pm had been allocated to somebody else.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

Specially fitting for the end of this blog is a sentence from Sir (despite Muslim opposition) Salman Rushdie – it is from an article he wrote for The Guardian on 14 March 2005 in relation to the law Tony Blair tried to pass in Parliament against incitement to religious hatred:

I never thought of myself as a writer about religion until a religion came after me. Religion was a part of my subject, of course; for a novelist from the Indian subcontinent, how could it not have been? But in my opinion I also had many other, larger, tastier fish to fry. Nevertheless, when the attack came, I had to confront what was confronting me, and to decide what I wanted to stand up for in the face of what so vociferously, repressively and violently stood against me. Now, 16 years later, religion is coming after us all, and even though most of us probably feel, as I once did, that we have other, more important concerns, we are all going to have to confront the challenge. If we fail, this particular fish may end up frying us.

“Religion may end up frying us all.” A fine motto, suitable for embroiding on any teacloth.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

We are being reduced to begging

Although I have been given enough attitude – while selling The Big Issue on my pitch in Liverpool Street – to last me a lifetime, I am about to sink to lower depths: I mean we are getting close to being reduced to begging, which is illegal.

Declan has told me that if things continue the way they are, we can hold out for two weeks because he is going to stop buying our weekly bus tickets – charming, now I get to walk everywhere. However, I am not holding my breath: when we were living in Birmingham, ooh, a little while ago, Declan also told me we had two weeks before going homeless in London and yet early a few mornings later he more or less told me to get dressed and go and buy two one-way bus tickets.

Why are we being reduced to such a pitiful state? Well, the simple reason is that we don’t seem able to sell enough Big Issues anymore – in fact of late we have been dumping them: 19 magazines last Sunday and 25 today (incidently, these 25 magazines were bought on Thursday morning; the vendor pays 70p for a magazine, which sells for £1.50).

Take this morning at our weekend pitch in Covent Garden. While Declan was watching a re-run of today’s rugby game between New Zealand and South Africa, I stood in on the pitch. I had only been there for about fifteen minutes when a Big Issue vendor came along, situated himself directly across the road from me – taking the crowds that come down New Row and past me on their way towards Leicester Square – and began shouting “Big Issue”, “Big Issue”. He had just rendered me being there so utterly pointless that when I see that he has just taken a little break and is sitting a few feet away from me, I ask him if he is going to stay long across the road. Oh yes, he told me, that is his pitch. Well that is big news for me: Declan has been working our Convent Garden pitch for months now, and never has there been a Big Issue vendor opposite. So there, for all our troubles, we now have a near worthless weekend pitch – isn’t that nice?

Then there are our respective pitches on Liverpool Street, which we are now frequently forced to walk off. Take Thursday evening for example. Declan had to walk away because on one side he had some guy harassing passers-by to take flyers, while on the other side there was the regular London Lite girl, with whom he has had so many problems – vendors can be suspended from selling the Big Issue if they argue with other street traders on their pitches so there was really not much point in being there. The day before, I myself was forced to walk off after two Chinese girls stood directly opposite me, almost within touching distance, and started tossing their flyers to everyone passing. (I was also treated to their presence on another occasion the previous week.)

The Bishopsgate City of London police too seem to be quite aware we are heading towards begging because for the last week, while standing in my pitch, I have seen homeless asking people for money. Of course, I can always find a cash machine and sit there for the day in the hope somebody will toss me some coins. Oh, I forgot, one of the local pimps is also passing by my pitch quite regularly now. So I am really spoiled for choices …

To be a successful beggar, it is primordial your clothes look not only like they are walking off you but that they have been picked out of a bin. A crutch is a very good idea, and so is a dog – apparently some people give money to homeless with dogs so the dogs get fed. But I think that a crutch and a dog are too over the top and so we have settled for the crutch on its own. I must remember to ask the beggar on a crutch that passes by my pitch seven or eight times a day – but who nonetheless can walk very fast when he wants to – where he got his. He also carries a couple of up-to-date Big Issue magazines which he sells to unlucky people that happen to be waiting for a train, a taxi, or simply drinking a beer outside one of the pubs about the station. Anyway, I assume that since the police turn a blind eye to him, and others who harangue people in and about Liverpool Street Station, so will they turn a blind eye to us. Or maybe not, given that we seem to always be singled out for special treatment.

My clothes are indeed starting to look like I picked them out of a bin because I simply don’t have the money to replace them … in one way I am happy the summer hasn’t arrived in Britain yet. I am also running quite low on toiletries. I had been going to Boots in Liverpool Street Station to take advantage of the skincare stalls there, where potential customers can try products by among others Clarins and Clinique – products which I owned before I had to dump them on my first day as a homeless person (because I couldn’t carry them). Almost two weeks ago, while I was at the Clinique’s stall, two police officers passed very slowly by me so I knew my days in Boots were numbered. Sadly, I wasn’t mistaken: yesterday, while at the Elizabeth Arden stall, one of the assistants came along and the way she asked me “Can I help you, Madam?” I knew instructions in relation to me had at last been given – needless to say I am now out.

It also seems impossible to shake the homeless off. On Tuesday at 8.15am, Declan had been at his pitch for forty-five minutes when a homeless told him that he was looking very clean, clapping him hard on the shoulder. When Declan asked him to take his hands off him, this homeless aggressively threatened to do his face in – later the same day a homeless woman shouted at Declan as he was coming out of the local post office that she was going to kill me.

Gordon Brown is turning out to be rather like his predecessor and already we are getting a lot of stick: the church can raise a glass of something expensive to the Brown year(s) to come. As Andrew Copson has pointed out, the UK is moving at a menacingly creeping pace towards a government that is in thrall to religion. Declan jokes that we may have to apply for asylum to the US. Wait – the US?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ninth visit by the police

The fact that Declan and I are very much in an end game – as I reported in my previous blog on Saturday – was affirmed last night when we received our ninth visit from the police – this time by two police officers on horses. Police officers on horses – always in pairs – frequently pass by the porch we sleep in at night, but not until last night had they taken any interest in us. (Incidentally, the questioning took place from the pavement, with the two police officers on their horses and us standing in the porch.)

We should have a written page of prepared answers that Declan can just pull out and read because the questions seldom vary: where do we come from, how long have we been sleeping in the porch, has anything happened to us while sleeping, have we been visited by St Mungo’s, what about a job, what are our plans for the future.

The latter question is probably the most important one, since no doubt the police want to know if all the intimidation and harassment has us reconsidering our obstinate desire to make NAC happen – talk of the European Court of Human Rights and the submission of our application against the UK is not an answer they seem ready to accept. (Throughout the questioning – so long that one of the horses began moving impatiently – Declan kept his arms folded, which I thought rather appropriate.)

I like to think that Declan did extremely well in this question and answer session. I particularly liked the answer he gave as to why we can’t get a job: first, there are nights we only get two or three hours sleep and second, since we have been barred from the (Methodist-run) Whitechapel Mission by the minister’s wife due to concerns about our safety, we have no choice but to wash in the street and in toilets. How can anybody get a job (let alone keep one) in such circumstances?

The only time that Declan and I (involuntarily) laughed was when one of the police officers let it slip that he hoped we would get what we deserved – police are no paragon of civil liberties so we shouldn’t hold it against him.

When the police officers left, Declan told me he wouldn’t be surprised if one of these nights we find upon arriving back at the porch that a homeless has taken it over, despite that we have been sleeping in it since 3 November and now have five tickets issued to us by police with the porch address on each one – when that happens, the first thing we will do is take a trip to the local police station; see what they have to say about it.

Although by comparison it’s a little dull, yesterday also we were woken – a few minutes before we get up at 4.50am – by some well-dressed guy that lent over me and hit Declan in the thigh. And oh, this morning at 5.20am a (highly motivated) employee came into the office building through the porch door, only to leave ten minutes later as we were pulling out.