went to the community meeting in Yarnton Way, Thamesmead yesterday
evening, only because political friends asked me to I must confess. The meeting was a reaction to
the murder of Olamide Fasina in nearby Wolvercote Road on 14th October.
Bexley police must be congratulated on arranging it and the Baptist Minister Vic Lambert for providing his church accommodation free of charge. Vic has an amazing array of facilities down there, he hosts various pre-schools and his sound system puts Bexley council’s to shame.
Thamesmead, for the uninitiated, is not a welcoming place at night and while the Baptist church is, for me, only ten minutes away on foot I took the car. There is no way I would ever venture into Thamesmead on foot at night especially with £1,500’s worth of camera around my neck.
Last night I managed to mistakenly drive past the church and used the next roundabout to return. It being Thamesmead I had to brake hard to avoid someone driving round it the wrong way taking a short cut. I am fortunate in that my home is separated from Thamesmead by a railway line and south of it, it is an entirely different world.
Around 120 people were present including the mother of the murdered man. That number includes police officers from both boroughs (the Greenwich boundary is but a quarter of a mile away) and all the ward councillors for that area and the adjacent wards to the east and west - which means Greenwich.
Teresa Pearce MP was present as was James Cleverly, Bexley’s GLA member who told Elwyn Bryant and me that this blog was “well out of order”. Not Bexley council note, he is fully supportive of them.
On the top table was Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling, Bexley’s cabinet member for Community Safety, Alex Sawyer, and the Chief Executive of Trust Thamesmead, Mick Hayes. The Fire Service Commander Richard Welch was the able chairman.
I took no notes and this will be by no means a comprehensive account of proceedings but a few things were indelibly etched into my memory.
I felt sorry for Alex Sawyer. He was in a foreign land where the residents are only too well aware that all the old promises have been broken - and Alex has no money.
Five times Alex said “if I had a magic wand” and the problem is that he hasn’t. When away from council leader Teresa O’Neill’s icy stare he acts the decent well meaning bloke, and he probably is. It’s hard not to like him and when he promises to meet his opposite number in Greenwich you can be sure he will but Bexley council’s record in Thamesmead is not good.
When a resident took the floor and made the usual complaint that there is little for the youngsters to do Mr. Hayes (speaking for Peabody Trust) said that his organisation had provided The Link as a huge community facility costing millions and let it out at a very low price and often free but Bexley council had failed to deliver the promised activities. Mr. Hayes hoped they might do better next year.
When councillor Sawyer said that Bexley’s responsibility in Thamesmead did not go much beyond street lighting and refuse collection Teresa Pearce reminded him that 90% of Thamesmead East is owner occupier and residents there pay the same council tax as in Sidcup and deserve the same consideration.
Councillor Danny Hackett (if memory serves correctly) asked why there was no CCTV in Thamesmead (apart from what Peabody have in a few stairwells) and Alex Sawyer who was fond of telling us that he is the new boy said that there had been no discussions on the matter, at least not in the past four years. Danny might have asked why Bexley council could find money for CCTV in those well known crime hotspots, Bexley village and Crayford (Craske’s decision) but as it wasn’t a political meeting he didn’t.
Most questions were addressed to CS Ayling. Why is there money for high profile policing after a murder but once memories fade patrols go back to normal and you cannot get hold of anyone after five o’clock?
The Borough Commander laid it on the line. He had no more money than Alex Sawyer but he aimed to keep meetings such as this one going. He didn’t actually say that “Lessons have been learned” but he seemed to be well aware that things had gone badly wrong in the past. The extra patrols may carry on until next March at best.
When a lady said she was scared to go out at night because there is always a gang on a nearby corner high on drugs and the morning light would reveal used syringes and pools of blood, CS Ayling was unaware of the location. He is now. Within the lifetime of BiB one of Ayling’s predecessors was Stringing us along with the line that Thamesmead didn’t have a drug problem.
The general mood of the meeting was we’ve heard it all before but if you help us we will help you. On the other hand it was obvious that by the end of the meeting there were a lot more empty seats than at the beginning. Some of the most vocal residents sneaked out long before the end, perhaps disillusioned, but they missed some impressive young speakers who Alex and others wanted to see afterwards to offer practical help and to benefit from their ideas.
It was undoubtedly a good meeting with the best of intentions but on past performance momentum will be lost unless there are more murders. Sorry, harsh I know. It is a little like Bexley council refusing pedestrian crossings in Manor Road, Erith because not enough people have been injured or killed. One must fervently hope the Thamesmead/Greenwich thugs do not oblige.
There were two other good things that came out of the meeting. Mick Hayes (Peabody) said that Tavy Bridge had been a heap of rubble all year because Peabody had decided that the Gallions scheme was not good enough. This should please councillor Val Clark who said she was “gobsmacked” by its awfulness and then went on to vote for the scheme at the planning meeting. The only councillor to vote according to his convictions was former councillor Michael Slaughter and look what happened to him. No longer a councillor.
After the meeting Mr. Hayes told me that Peabody cancelled the Gallions scheme because it was “cheap” with the implication that it was nasty too. It didn’t meet Peabody’s standards but it was good enough for Bexley council, after all, it was only Thamesmead. Why would they care?
The other nice thing was Vic the Vicar of the Baptist church sat next to me for much of the meeting and I have an invitation to his house for dinner. Maybe he will let me know how he has managed to do such a spectacularly good job of equipping his church. Probably Thamesmead is not a heathen land after all.