Recent events in London shone a light on a truly desperate situation facing communities in our capital and UK society more widely. The knife crime statistics alone reflect a deep concern about how we help young people to reach their potential and avoid the traps that lead to a more negative, and potentially dangerous, life. It is a sad fact that gangs are recruiting some children as young as 10.
We cannot allow our young people to think that gangs and crime are the best, or only, choices available to them. And we cannot afford for them to become disenfranchised and lost to society.
To me, the starting point is obvious. These young people need a safe place to go where there are plenty of things to do and be excited by, to try things out and learn new skills, and get mentoring and guidance.
But providing those places has been a challenge. A rapid decline in provision of youth facilities in the capital, with over £39 million of funding withdrawn and 81 youth clubs and projects closed since 2011, is removing safe and inspiring places for young people.
Our organisation, OnSide Youth Zones, is trying to reverse this. Over the past decade we have built a network of 10 youth centres across the country by using an innovative funding model that harnesses private-sector support to remove over-reliance on cash-strapped local authorities.
OnSide Youth Zones have more than 20 activities per night, ranging from sports, music, arts and drama to employability opportunities — which all help to raise aspirations, confidence and self-esteem. They are also platforms around which other youth organisations can coalesce and deliver their services — since last year 30 other young people’s organisations have started to operate from our Wirral facility.
Our ability to grow youth service provision is possible only because local authorities, businesses, donors and community leaders have chosen to work together. With three Youth Zones set to open in 2019 in Barking and Dagenham, Barnet and Croydon, and two more being planned for White City and Haringey, these communities in London believe them to be essential, not a “nice to have”.
Independent research into our impact has shown that 89 per cent of members feel more self-confident and 86 per cent are happier. Ninety per cent say they get on better with others while 72 per cent are getting better school grades. Anti-social behaviour drops significantly, with an average reduction of 50 per cent in the surrounding areas of our Youth Zones.
Our young people deserve the best we can give them, and we all have a responsibility to ensure they have the opportunity to make the right choices. What they do with those opportunities is up to them.
CLICK HERE: https://bit.ly/2iIcjOM
The false accusation was damning: Acquitted ex-officer speaks out
After retiring from police after 30 years of service, Gurpal Virdi thought he could move into politics, and was trained for office by the Labour Party.
But in the run up to his first election campaign he was arrested over accusations dating back 28 years – and which were amended months later before falling apart completely at his trial.
There are calls for a public inquiry into his treatment.
The former detective sergeant had earlier won a racial discrimination case against the Metropolitan Police after being dismissed in 2000 over accusations he sent racist hate mail to himself and others. He was completely exonerated.
Mr Virdi received a public apology and returned to the force in 2002 because he didn’t want to let himself be driven out of the job he loved by “a few bad apples”.
In 2014, some two years after he retired, another nightmare began out of the blue.
He was accused of indecent assault of a boy under 16 in custody and misconduct in a public office. The offences were alleged to have taken place in 1986.
And they were put into the public domain by the Met in a press release on the day he received a court summons.
Yet months later it emerged that the accuser was not even under 16 on the date of the claimed incident.
The charge was changed before trial, but much damage had been done.
“To be accused of indecent assault on a child under the age of 16 is very damning. I was going for local election then I’ve been called a rapist, I’ve been called a paedophile, it’s a horrible label to have, it’s not something you can counter.
“Because of the negative press I can’t even get a job now,” Mr Virdi told Police Oracle.
He was disowned by the Labour Party, in spite of which he was elected to Hounslow Council. But he is soon standing down after one term, his former political ambitions in tatters.
“As a councillor there’s a lot of work and I’ve found it very difficult as an independent to fight for my residents,” he said, and the taint of the accusations against him haven’t gone away.
His accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Mr Virdi through his trousers with a retractable ASP in the back of a police van.
This was around a decade before the devices were introduced to English policing.
He also claimed to have been driven around at other times in a police car by the officer. But Gurpal Virdi did not have the requisite training to drive a vehicle.
There were a number of other inconsistencies in the accuser’s evidence and the jury returned a not guilty verdict in less than an hour.
He and supporters, including MP Sir Peter Bottomley, are calling for a public inquiry into what happened.
Sir Peter raised the issue in parliament last week with Prime Minister Theresa May, who said she will meet him over the case.
Mr Virdi said: “There should be an inquiry. I’m not too confident it will happen but the findings would be damning for the whole of the criminal justice system.
“It was 28 years [after the alleged incident took place], 29 years by the time it came to trial, no other policeman has ever been put through what I was put through. And the paperwork showed that I wasn’t even the arresting officer,” he said.
“I feared being found guilty quite a lot,” he recalled. “It’s a scary thing with an accuser and witness against you. Thank God the jury saw through it.
“I wasn’t confident till I heard the verdict. I had supporters waiting for me outside and we rushed over to the pub - but it was still difficult because I shouldn’t have ever been there.
“I’d been through the mill, you do suffer mentally, physically, though the adrenaline keeps you going to that point.”
The former officer has written a book about his ordeal called Behind the Blue Line. He said it is his way of putting his side of the story into the public domain.
Sir Peter Bottomley says in its foreword that the book “details the obstacles, the prejudice and the official carelessness that can get in the way of a dedicated officer’s career”.
“We can learn from it. We must learn from it. These events should never be able to happen again.
“The best way forward would be for the government and the Met to conduct an official inquiry now.”
The Met insists it was important the case was investigated.
A force spokesman said: “Once allegations such as these were raised by the victim it was only right that we investigated them thoroughly and impartially.
“That investigation was entirely focused on securing what evidence was available, with respect to what were undeniably very serious allegations. It would not have been proper to proceed in any other way.
“We presented the evidence to the CPS who decided the allegations and evidence should be heard by a jury. During the progression of the case through the courts, the judge rejected an application for dismissal."
CLICK HERE: Behind The Blue Line
It may have taken my 15 years, but I always get my man in the end. Back in 2003 I asked Chris Rennard to write a book about the art of political campaigning. If my memory is correct, he liked the idea but didn’t feel he could do it while still working actively for the LibDems. He’s now written the first volume of his memoirs covering his life up until 2006, and I published the book in January.
To understand the success of the Liberal Democrats in the period 1988-2006 you absolutely have to read this book. Rennard has an encyclopeadic memory for details of each and every by-election and doesn’t hold back in his assessment of all the various personalities involved in the LibDem politics of the period. His insights into the leaderships of Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy shed a lot of new light on the politics of the period. He is especially good on Kennedy, analysing in detail the trials and tribulations the party went through on deciding to oppose the Iraq war, and also the events which led to Kennedy’s fall from power. He also gives fresh insights into how he and the party handled the Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes media scandals.
Some of the best bits of the book concern the concept of LibDem pavement politics. Rennard may not have been the inventor of pavement politics, but he will forever be associated with its developement and implementation. His skill in developing strategies to win both local and national by-elections leaves the reader awestruck. When he was in charge of by-elections the LibDems would invariably win them. Nowadays they rarely do. There’s a reason for that. Rennard isn’t in charge any longer, and people who think they know better than him aren’t fit to lick his electoral boots.
Some LibDems who aren’t fans of Rennard may think he overclaims the successes he contributed to – or overplays his role in them, but they would be mistaken. I know from personal experience his ability to stick his finger into the electoral wind and see which way it is blowing. Back in the summer of 2003 I told him I was thinking of applying to stand against Norman Lamb in the 2005 election. Lamb had a majority of 483 at the time, and I thought I could easily overturn it. Rennard told me I should look elswhere, but I thought I knew better. He said: “Dont go for it, Norman will increase his majority to more than 10,000”. I laughed. I wasn’t laughing on election night when the majority was announced as 10,606. I’ve often wondered how different my life might have been had I taken Chris Rennard’s advice…
But the real beauty of this book is found in the first few chapters detailing Rennard’s childhood in Liverpool. I often skip reading about people’s childhoods in books of this nature, but that would be a great mistake in this case. I won’t give too much detail but suffice to say there wasn’t a lot of money around and following his mother’s untimely death Chris and his younger brother were left to their own devices. His ability to come through that and finish his schooling is something to behold, given the circumstances. Like a lot of people, Chris Rennard then found a new family in the Liberal Party. It embraced him, encouraged him, but it also used him, and then, when he became an inconvenience they spat him out.
Just an accusation of wrongdoing can render you a non person in the political world, whatever the truth turns out to be. A forty year history of sacrificing your personal life and your health counts for little when you become the centre of sexual harassment allegations. Five years on, everyone remembers the allegations, but I wonder how many people remember that both the party inquiry and the police inquiry found there was no evidence and therefore delivered a verdict of ‘no further action’.
I’ve had various people tell me I shouldn’t have published this book, given those allegations. I stand by the age-old principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. What a pity so many people in the so-called ‘liberal’ Democrats find that such a difficult concept. Chris Rennard has a fascinating story to tell, and he has every right to be heard. Those who think the LibDems have nothing to learn from him illustrate why they remain at 7% in the polls, have lost most of their MPs and have their lowest number of councillors for decades.
Reducing inequality requires higher pay as well as higher taxes.
Owen Jones (23 March 2018) is right to say that wealth should be taxed to address inequality but does not go far enough. As a member of the top 1% by income and assets, I believe I should pay more tax but the reality is that everyone will have to pay more tax at Scandinavian levels to sustain the NHS and a social democratic society. That ought to include taxing gifts and inheritance as income and capital gains tax on all property sales including homes.
Higher taxes, however, will not be enough to counter increasing inequality. The wage share and capital share of wealth need to change. I favour capitalism but the current model is regressive. Socially responsible capitalism requires more regulation and policies designed to encourage companies to spend less on dividends and more on pay.
'Our Common Good' by John Nickson
Sir Peter Bottomley MP has submitted an Early day motion calling for an inquiry into events covered in Behind the Blue Line: My fight against racism and discrimination in the Police by former Metropolitan Police Sergeant Gurpal Virdi.
Early day motion 1093
COUNCILLOR GURPAL VIRDI, THE POLICE AND THE CPS
Date tabled: 20.03.2018
Primary sponsor: Bottomley, Peter
Total number of signatures: 1
That this House calls for an inquiry into the investigations and prosecution decisions that preceded the acquittal of retired Metropolitan Police Sergeant Councillor Gurpal Virdi, to establish how there could be a trial without evidence from PC Markwick and PC Mady, how PC Makins could be a prosecution witness when his statement contradicted specific claims by the complainant, how the Crown Prosecution Service could have believed the false allegation of indecent assault with a collapsible baton a decade before they were introduced, and to establish why the Independent Police Complaints Commission referred Mr Virdi's complaint to the Metropolitan Police Department of Professional Standards whose peculiar original investigation led to the false statements about Mr Virdi and to the unjustified prosecution.