A Nightmare On LWT Street
Jim Carey reports on the vicious verbals and violent aftermath of a recent Richard Little John programme on road protests.
Squall 10, Summer 1995, pp. 12-13.
London Weekend Television’s Richard Little John show prides itself on being ‘Live and Uncut’ but some serious cutting took place the day they invited members of the road protest movement onto the show.
Little John, an ex-Sun journalist and presently a columnist for the Daily Mail, is renowned for trying to rubbish the guests invited onto his programme, particularly if they are opposed to his hysterically right wing opinions.
Roger Geffen, a Reclaim the Streets spokesperson, was elected to face Little-John’s flak, whilst several No M11 road protesters and residents of the Rainbow Centre sat in the studio audience. “If I had my way, the last house in the way of the M11 would be flattened with the protesters still inside it,” frothed the walking Sun editorial as he introduced the first section of the programme.
“It was very evident from his remarks that he had invited me onto the programme to slag me and the other M11ers off,” says Geffen. “Basically, he wanted to set us up as laughing stock for piss artists returning from the pub on a Friday night. We’d got that impression beforehand but hadn’t quite expected him to be so vitriolic.”
“Little John is ignorant,” observes Les, formerly a community outreach worker in Liverpool and now a resident at the Kentish Town Rainbow Centre. “He’s addicted to the power he’s got himself into. He doesn’t realise that the wind up he’s got himself involved in doesn’t stop when the camera stops. Inside he’s really burning up - after the camera stopped he just collapsed.” In fact Roger Geffen stood his ground well, keeping commendably cool in the face of the Little-John’s vitriolic onslaught; answering poison with reason - whenever he could get a word in edgeways that is. The other guest on the programme was Michael Stephen, Conservative MP for Shoreham and member of the Environment Select committee.
“We are a very tolerant society,” opined Stephen. “If some of those protesters went over to France they’d find that they don’t have public enquiries. They invite objections and put them in the waste paper basket and then build the railway. If you go to a demonstration in France and you tangle with the riot police there, then you’ll know about it. We are a very tolerant society in this country.” The bizarre irony of this statement would become an all too apparent nightmare after the show. But for the moment Little John hadn’t finished his own efforts to bin the voices of dissent.
At one stage in the programme, the camera fell on a Camden resident in the audience and Little John asked what he thought of the Kentish Town Rainbow Centre.
“I think you’d rather like to reclaim your street from some of the kind of people we’ve got here tonight,” he coaxed. “No not really,” replied Reg Wright, the Camden resident. “I knew nothing until I went to see it this afternoon. I think it goes unnoticed.”
Little John looked a little deflated but seized on Reg Wright’s postscript comment that sometimes the forecourt was a bit messy outside the Centre, asking Rainbow Centre resident Les, how he could justify the fact that environmentalists are so messy.
“Imagine a messy house,” replied Les. “As you clean it up it looks even messier to start with. Most of the metal and furniture is recycled material. We use the mess that the city throws away. We’re not perfect but we’re working on it.”
Not getting much mileage out of that avenue of vitriolic pursuit, Little John turned his attention back to Roger Geffen. “You are hypocrites aren’t you,” he foamed. By which time Roger Geffen realised it was time to cue the protest.
“Towards the end of the interview I said, ‘Look, I didn’t come on this programme to be trivialised by you, I came to talk about very serious issues of civil liberties and environmental issues’,” recalls Geffen. “At that point a load of people invaded the stage and they cut to some adverts.”
The invasion had in fact been planned all along, with a pre-prepared banner announcing a ‘Live and direct action’; with masked stage invaders spraying Little-John with silly string.
“We figured we’d turn the tables and give him a bit of a taste of direct action,” says Del, a core activist on the No-M11 Campaign and Reclaim the Streets. “They cut quickly to the adverts but the banner was seen and the point was made.” The seemingly omnipresent Group Four security officers then came on to the stage in order to remove the protesters.
“Little John was completely dumbfounded,” recalls Del. “When the programme came back on after the commercial break, we were out in reception and could see him up on screen stumbling with his words.”
After their removal from the stage, the protesters did not put up further resistance, having done what they came to do and even saying good-bye to the studio staff afterwards. “There was a bit of running around in the studio with Group 4 security chasing us around but there wasn’t any particular hassle inside there. In the end we left amicably,” says Del.
However, ‘amicable’ is not the word to describe the reaction of the police who were waiting outside the LWT building.
“We were coming out of the studio at the audience entrance on the LWT forecourt - quite normally leaving in a group with high spirits and then from all sides came police with their truncheons out,” recalls Del. “They were just like thugs, storming in with scowls on their faces and whacking people with truncheons.”
It was an unbelievably heavy-handed attack on a group of avowedly non-violent direct action protesters, well after even verbal confrontation was necessary. There seems to have been no provocation for any police aggression at all as the protesters were actually leaving the building and a threat to no one.
However, several protesters received severe bruising from the onslaught but none more so than Pob. After the police had truncheoned a friend of Pob’s called Danny, she stepped in to try and help him escape the crowd of police that were surrounding him as he lay on the floor. As a result they turned on her.
“It was two policemen that hit me, one of them whacked me on the head,” she recalls. “I was semi-unconscious when he had me against a wall and put his foot on me so that I couldn’t move. Then I was thrown on the floor and a friend told me that I had banged my head on the ground. When I came round from being unconscious I was on my back, not in a recovery position. There were three policemen standing round me saying ‘We’ve got you an ambulance’ - and there’s me lying on the floor covered in puke.”
Eye witnesses say that the police had initially refused to call an ambulance, not believing that Pob was genuinely hurt. During her 15 minutes of unconsciousness she vomited and eventually an ambulance was called.
“The ambulance crew asked the police whether they were coming in the ambulance,” remembers Pob. “They said ‘No, we’ll follow on’ - but they never turned up at the hospital.” Pob was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital near Westminster Bridge, where she spent the night undergoing medical tests.
“Because of all the swelling, the fluid build-up and the fact that my pupil’s weren’t responding, the hospital were sure I had fractured something so I was in X-ray for 2 hours,” recalls Pob. “I had quite a bit of neck jewellery which they had to cut that off because my neck was swelling. It was so scary lying in that hospital bed - I thought I was going to be in a wheel chair because they put this neckbrace and spinal strap on me and I wasn’t allowed to move. I couldn’t feel my legs for three hours - there was just tingles.”
A spokesperson for Kennington Police admitted that there had been a 999 call out to LWT that night but refused to give any information as to the nature of the incident, saying it would be “subjudice” to do so. Upon being asked whether that meant the incident had entailed activities that are likely to be the subject of a court case, he retracted saying he couldn’t give any information whatsoever because of the Data Protection Act.
Statements from eye-witnesses are currently being collated with photographic evidence, with the intention of suing the police.
The personal consequences of the attack are very apparent to Pob, who now needs follow up physiotherapy to restore the mobility of her neck. Two days after the incident, a man attacked by police with truncheons in south London died from the same type of injuries as Pob had received. He had been treated in the same ward of St Thomas’s Hospital as Pob, and truncheons used to inflict his fatal injuries were of the same type, recently introduced by the Metropolitan Police Force.
“I’m just really freaked about it,” winces Pob. “It pretty much humbles you and I’ve gone a bit quiet. When that guy died - it totally blew me away. I got this cold scary feeling - there but for the grace of god - and who is it going to be next?”
Has there ever been a more blatant example of a politician proven instantly wrong? “We are a very tolerant society,” Michael Stephen MP had assured the television audience. “A touch of irony there,” says Del.
And a painfully unfunny one at that.
Towers of Strength - Claremont Road, East London; inside Europe's longest eviction. Report and interviews with protesters against the M11 Link Road - Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995.
Road-House Blues - The largest Road and Housing protest in Europe erupts in Wanstonia, NE London, to fight the M11 Link Rd - Squall 6, Spring 1994.
For a menu of many other Squall articles about the Anti-Roads Movement, including protest camps, Reclaim The Streets and more click here