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Archive for August 15th, 2012

Oh dear. What should have been a straightforward farewell ceremony to the troops who had been stationed at Tobacco Dock in Wapping for the Olympics has turned into sour political row.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman, alongside Dame Helen Mirren, was given the honour of inspecting the military on Sunday in Wapping Rose Gardens.

Here they all are together.

Thanks to Wapping-based Baynes Media, we have a video of the event in which Lutfur’s young political adviser Axel Landin can be seen trying to scare the hell out of the soldiers by jumping up and down behind them with a camera at 1minute or so in.

After making a gracious speech thanking the Armed Forces for their efforts and then inviting them all to eat a curry that someone in Brick Lane had laid on for them all (who, I wonder..), Lutfur retired home, rested overnight and wrote an account about his experience for his blog on Monday. The full blog post is here.

Again, the bulk of it strikes the right tone, but then this:

There was unfortunately one sour note. As this was a civic occasion for all of our borough, I naturally invited the leaders of the other groups on Council, Joshua Peck (Labour Group) and Peter Golds (Conservative Group) to join me at the event in paying tribute to the efforts of our servicemen. They did not turn up.

I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans.

Well, this is pretty rum. Someone I know who is an officer in one of the regiments who served at the Olympic Park believes these comments to be disrespectful to the soldiers. A gracious farewell event should be apolitical. Trying to make political capital out of this is fairly low grade.

Josh Peck tells me the invite to the event was only sent ou by Communications head Takki Sulaiman at 6pm on Friday, and even then only as a round-robin to all councillors. He says he had a long-standing family commitment that he just could not alter. I’m sure our soldiers, of all people, would appreciate the importance of family events.

Peter Golds, who has an OBE and from what I have seen takes more pride in such civic duties than most, has gone further. He was unable to attend because every Sunday he travels to look after his severely disabled brother. Again, I’m sure the troops, more than most, would understand the value of this.

Peter said:

It is a slur to suggest that Iwould show anything but utmost respect to our armed forces and had I been given notice about this event I would have attended. In fact notice was sent out at 18.14 on Friday evening. I have written to [Royal Navy Regional Commander] Commodore Atherton and also to Lutfur Rahman requesting that his blog be amended. I have also asked questions as to the timing of the arrangements via members enquiry and freedom of information. 

This is his letter to Commodore Atherton:

Dear Commodore Atherton

On behalf of my group colleagues and local residents I am writing to express our thanks for the work that our service personnel put into the Olympics. Always cheerful, never failing to respond to requests for directions they were a credit to our city and country.

As reported in the East London Advertiser, your reception at the parade in Wapping on Sunday showed how much locals appreciated the work put in by our Forces.

I would like to apologise personally for not being present to pay my personal thanks. Sadly, Tower Hamlets Council notified members late on Friday afternoon and like many council colleagues I did not see the email until too late.

I know from residents who did attend, that you were given a rousing reception and I hope that this short letter adds to the cheers.

And this is the letter to Lutfur:

Dear Mr Rahman

Re: Your “Blog” – Thanking our armed forces for their Olympics Service

I have today written to Commodore Martin  Atherton regarding the Parade on Sunday in light of your blog, which is accessed via the Council website and therefore can be construed as official and certainly more than the ramblings of a politician.

The blog makes an untrue and dishonest statement regarding me which I quote directly:

“I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans”.

Notification of this event was sent to me by your Head of Communications at 18.14 on Friday 10th August using my normal council email address. I did not open this until late on Saturday – far too late to make arrangements to attend.

It stands to reason that arrangements for this would have taken some time and therefore members could have been given an indication of the time and venue before all details were finalised. I find it difficult to accept that the very late notification was anything other than intentional.    

I will be raising questions with regard to this blog but expect that you will alter this untrue story and provide me with a right of reply in case anyone should be misled. 

Unfortunately, Lutfur does not allow comments on his blog. If he did, I’m sure someone would have raised another civic occasion at which respects are paid to the military when another senior member of the council failed to show turn up…one which is marked in the calendar every year…

Remember the Remembrance Sunday Service in November 2010? Yes, the missing man on that occasion was a certain Mayor Rahman. His surprise absence apparently even baffled then council chief executive Kevan Collins. He warned no one he would be missing, I’m told.

Perhaps he was just out for revenge when he wrote his blog. Very silly, very student politics. He can do better than that.

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Strictly speaking, this post is off the politics beat but it’s a topic that needs the energy of a brave, campaigning politician to take forward. They, and anyone else who has information about the following police investigation, including former or serving Tower Hamlets police officers, can contact me anonymously/confidentially, via the contact details on this blog.

Of all the brilliant front pages produced by my former editor at the East London Advertiser, Malcolm Starbrook, these two are among the ones of which I am most proud.

The first was published on the first anniversary of the death of 30-year-old Mark Blanco, who fell in highly dubious circumstances from a first floor balcony in Romford Street, Whitechapel, in December 2006.

The second was published in October 2007, the day after a coroner halted an inquest into Mark’s death and dismissed out of hand the conclusions of a shockingly shoddy police investigation conducted in Tower Hamlets that suggested Mark had either killed himself or died as a result of an unexplained accident. At that inquest, Johnny Jeannevol – better known to his friends on Exmouth Estate in Stepney as Johnny Headlock, the diminutive hard-nut “minder” to Libertines frontman Peter Doherty – admitted he had confessed to murdering Mark by single-handedly throwing the bulky 6ft 4ins Cambridge graduate over the first floor railings…only later to retract his words.

Mark had been at a small gathering of people at a top floor flat in Romford Street hosted by slippery Paul Roundhill, who styles himself as a “literary agent”, but who is better known as a drugs agent for  Doherty (and who has been linked to Kate Moss in that regard). A post-mortem revealed Mark had been drinking but there were no traces of drugs in his body. The post-mortem also revealed injuries to his head that were consistent with being punched, something Roundhill confessed to doing at the inquest. The suspicion is that Mark was thrown over the balcony by more than one person, possibly not with murderous intent (the drop was 11ft and there was a parked car directly below), but certainly recklessly and with murderous consequences.

Here’s the balcony:

I’ve been investigating this for several years, but the expert is Mark’s wonderful mother, Sheila, who lives in Guildford, Surrey. If it hadn’t been for her tenacity or for the brilliance of her pro bono barrister, Michael Wolkind QC, there would not have been a second police investigation by the Met, something ordered by the coroner in 2007.

Not that the second police investigation achieved anything. Like the first, some of Britain’s supposedly finest detectives were unable to exact anything from Doherty’s conveniently blurry memory, or produce anything the CPS could use for a prosecution.

I will not go into the exact details of the case and circumstances here, but anyone wanting to get a flavour of them can do so from this 2009 Sunday Express article in which we showed for the first time the CCTV footage of Mark’s death, with a falls expert later concluding it was probable he had been deliberately pushed.

There are lots more details on the Justice for Mark Blanco website here and the fascinating Sky News interview with Headlock can be seen here:

Doherty always did have a close relationship with Tower Hamlets police, having been arrested by them several times for relatively minor drug offences while driving through Bethnal Green (and, as an aside, I was always curious how The Sun and the Daily Mirror always managed to report those arrests first and ahead of the Advertiser when they never attended any police press briefings in Bethnal Green: maybe they had useful unpaid contacts in the custody suite at Bethnal Green…). Surely, our police weren’t star-struck?

Earlier this year, Doherty said he felt “ashamed” about having run over Mark’s dying body to flee the scene that night, but he insists it was all an accident and that he is hiding nothing. Perhaps, then, he would like to give permission for the transcript of his interview with the police to be made public?

And there are also questions about Roundhill’s relationship with the police. At the time of Mark’s death, it was rumoured in the area that he was a very useful police informer (something he always refuses to discuss with me). And at the time, cracking down on crack houses and drug dealers was the number one priority for Tower Hamlets police, as directed by the council’s then lead member for community safety, Abdal Ullah. Join those two facts up, Mark’s friends and family suggest, and you have a possible but unproved explanation for the way in which the police seemed to make up their minds so quickly on what happened. Cock-up or conspiracy. I nearly always tend towards the latter when that question arises.

The detective in charge of the investigation was DI Mark Dunne. Despite the failings of his investigation, he has since been promoted to Detective Chief Inspector and appears on the BBC Crimewatch programme.

So Sheila’s anger is understandable, on many levels. She has just lodged a petition on the Change.org website here which calls for justice for her son and for reform of the “institutionally incompetent and corrupt Met Police”. I hope some of our councillors, particularly those who represent Whitechapel (Lutfur Independents Shahed Ali, whose cabinet responsibility includes policing, Abdul Asad and Aminur Khan) will be brave enough to sign it –  that would make a powerful statement. The media focus on this issue is about to intensify.

Here are Sheila’s remarks on the Change website:

JUSTICE FOR MARK BLANCO

I, Mark’s mother, Mark’s family and friends urge the Met Police to ‘discover’ Justice: to answer the many outstanding questions about the death of Mark Blanco, to conduct a transparent, robust investigation and uncover the facts. WHAT CAUSED MARK TO FALL TO HIS DEATH JUST MINUTES AFTER AN ALTERCATION WITH PETE DOHERTY AND HIS ASSOCIATES?

We are fighting for Justice for Mark Blanco who has not yet received a fair, open-minded and thorough police investigation, though he was unlawfully killed nearly six years ago. Mark, the victim, no longer has a voice,BUT we have. Much of the investigation into Mark’s death I have had to carry out myself. Should Justice in this country have to depend on the tenacity of a mother?

PLEASE SUPPORT THIS CAMPAIGN AND HELP TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE IN THE INSTITUTIONALLY INCOMPETENT AND CORRUPT MET POLICE. PLEASE JOIN US IN DEMANDING JUSTICE FOR MARK.We are convinced that Mark, a 30-year-old Cambridge philosophy graduate was killed – bundled or thrown over a 4′ high railing of a first floor balcony to his death.

On 3rd December 2006, my son, Mark, fell to his death from a balcony just minutes after an altercation with Pete Doherty and his associates, Paul Roundhill, Doherty’s drug supplier, and Johnny Jeannevol, better known as ‘Headlock’, Doherty’s minder. Mark had been punched, his clothing torn and his cap set on fire before he was evicted from Roundhill’s flat. Doherty, Kate Russell-Pavier and Headlock came down, almost stepped over Mark as he lay dying in the gutter and ran off to a party. Three weeks later, Headlock walked into Bethnal Green Police Station and confessed to Mark’s murder. Later, he retracted that confession and the Met Police investigating officer, DI Mark Dunne, did not think it worthy of a SINGLE mention in his report to the coroner. Dunne told family and friends that Mark had committed suicide (as his own brother had done), that Mark was blind drunk, that he had jumped, none of which were true. Why did he make blunder after blunder? Was it just negligence? (Dunne now promoted to DCI Dunne)

Michael Wolkind QC offered his services and it was his brilliance at the Inquest in October 2007 that turned the case round. An open verdict was declared and a police re-investigation into Mark’s death ordered.

From the outset, the first Met Police investigation was shoddy, incompetent, pre-judged and incomplete: the scene was never cordoned off and the scene was closed at 04.19 as ‘there is no indication that this is suspicious.’ Witnesses were questioned haphazardly and no forensic examinations were carried out on Mark’s clothes, nor was any DNA taken. I found the lens from Mark’s glasses in the gutter more than 24 hours after the incident happened and after Mark had died from his injuries.

The version of events given by Roundhill, the one-time literary agent to Doherty and his drug supplier, were those accepted by the police. It is also well chronicled in the area that Roundhill is an informant. In the words of Michael Wolkind, “Common sense tells us this is an unlawful killing yet the police allergy to crime in this case is extraordinary.” The second police investigation by the Homicide and Serious Crime Command showed further reluctance to interview the three men, Doherty, Roundhill and Headlock as witnesses and/or suspects. Hours of police time have been spent in trying to exonerate these individuals. Is this more than celebrity privilege? For them it is business as usual, bragging about what happened on that night at Roundhill’s flat.

Mark died from multiple skull fractures, with no injuries to his limbs .He used no protective reflexes to protect his head, which is normal in a fall. In 2008, I commissioned Injury Biomechanics experts to examine the way in which he fell. Richard Wassersug, Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology concluded that: “Given Mark’s injuries, the two most likely explanations are that he was backed into the railing and pushed over, or that he was not conscious, and was dropped over the railing.” The Met response to the experts’ findings; “We do not consider biomechanics to be of assistance in this particular investigation.”(DS V Rae)  I was told that I would never know how my son was killed.

December 2009, I put Mark’s case before Anne Milton MP for Guildford, who passed it to the Home Secretary, Commissioner of the Met and the Attorney General’s Office. In July 2010 I submitted ‘Flaws in the Met Police investigation into Mark Blanco’s Death’ to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service). May 2011: “CPS London has decided there is insufficient evidence to charge any individual with either murder or manslaughter in relation to the tragic death of Mark Blanco in December 2006.” Given the quality of the initial police investigation, crucial evidence was lost or not taken into account. Was this a case of incompetence, celebrity privilege and/or corruption?

Following consultation with the legal team, I compiled a further dossier, submitted to the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) in July 2011. I understand that work on this is in progress.

PLEASE SIGN OUR PETITION AND MAKE OUR VOICE HEARD

Thank you

Sheila Blanco

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