The Guardian

Anti-drones protesters’ lenient sentence is ‘invitation’ to activists

First published  by The Guardian, 11th October 2013

The lenient sentence handed to six anti-drones protesters convicted of criminal damage to RAF Waddington this week is “an invitation” for others to do the same, according to one of the activists.

On 3 June this year Susan Clarkson, Christopher Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Keith Hebden, Martin Newell and Penelope Walker cut a hole in the perimeter fence of the Lincolnshire airbase and walked around inside for 45-60 minutes, handing out leaflets and planting a peace garden consisting of a fig tree and a vine. On Monday Lincoln magistrates ordered the activists to pay £10 to the RAF in compensation, £75 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Judge John Stobart said he was handing down his sentence “with a very heavy heart” and told the protesters they were “dutiful people”.

Keith Hebden, an Anglican pastor at St Mark’s in Mansfield, sees the sentence as encouragement from Stobart for other activists and pressure-groups to become involved in similar anti-drone activity. “The £10 fine to the RAF is invitation from the judge for like-minded people to do the same”, he said in an interview with the Guardian this week. The six activists believe RAF Waddington is a “conflict zone on our shores”, said Hebden. He claims that during the trial, the judge interrupted the prosecution to confirm that the base met the criteria for a conflict zone.

The vicar says he is inspired by Jesus’s example of non-violent resistance. “As a Christian I cannot prefer the life of one human being over another on the basis of where they were born. If drones were killing civilians in the UK we’d rise up against that, I don’t see national borders as a barrier to outrage for fellow human beings,” he said. RAF Waddington is the first unmanned drones base in the UK and it is from this base that Reaper aircrafts stationed in Afghanistan are operated. UK Reapers carry GBU-12 bombs and Hellfire missiles, both laser-guided.

Hebden describes the reaction of his congregation to the news of his direct action as mixed, with some pleased members and others who were shocked by the events. During Monday’s court hearing, Hebden’s congregation held a prayer vigil attended by 75 churchgoers. One of the leaders of the vigil has a son in the RAF, currently serving in Afghanistan. Hebden sees the church’s involvement as evidence of a widespread readiness for peace and reconciliation. He says the group are currently taking legal advice on whether to follow the judge’s invitation to appeal the decision but they “certainly are encouraged to keep the pressure on the government to start telling the truth about drones”.

Hebden is committed to activism and has written a book on peaceful means of direct action, that is “written primarily for people of faith, but in a way that includes those who aren’t”. The six activists are made up of members of the Stop the War Coalition, CND, the Drone Campaign Network and War on Want, and all have previously campaigned against drone activity in different locations. They include two pensioners, a partially blind researcher and a Catholic priest from the Passion order. Hebden is hopeful that change will come, stating that at Monday’s hearing “the drones were on trial, and found guilty”.

Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out in Manchester: plenty of bling – but where was the fun?

First published in The Guardian 11th October 2013

For a week, Manchester‘s Deansgate has been decked with banners advertising Fashion‘s Night Out, presaging the descent of Vogue’s fash-pack in the frozen wastes of the North on Wednesday night.
As a Vogue devotee and fashion lover, I decided to drop by and see what all the fuss was about. The event was billed as a ‘fashion extravaganza’ that would involve the city’s chicest shops staying open til 10pm, hosting designers including Matthew Williamson, Sarah Burton and Jonathan Saunders, and featuring celebrity DJ sets from Pixie Geldoff, Jameela Jamil and the Maccabees.

I got to Hugo Boss early, where Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman was tipped to begin her evening, and proceeded to be glared at by a bunch of unfriendly bouncers. I didn’t blame them too much, the southern softies were clearly feeling the cold. As a freelancer, I didn’t have any card or tag that identified me as representing the Guardian’s Northerner blog and for a while, it didn’t look like I was getting anywhere near the door of what seemed to be a private party.

However, I was finally taken pity on by a kind Vogue-related woman and allowed into the hallowed (and very warm) interior of the Hugo Boss. There were lots of cocktails and stretched, lipsticky smiles and people who generally seemed very ill-at-ease, drinking champers in a brightly-lit shop while a crowd of people gathered in the cold outside, trying to see in.

Shulman was soberly dressed and didn’t look as aggressively ‘fashion’ as most of the women present (ie 6ft with eye-wateringly small waistlines). I asked her about whether she thought style was different in the north of England. “I don’t think it’s as simple as a north/south divide,” she said.
“All big cities have their own style. Manchester seems to have a two-pronged approach: one is very glamourous, feminine, out there, partying style. Then you’ve got a very gritty, urban, club music style … In fact, it’s not that different to London in that way.” Shulman added that “Northern designers have a kind of conviction about them, but I suppose all designers have to have that anyway”.

I headed over to Flannels where Matthew Williamson was expected to make a guest appearance. He was fashionably late and told the Guardian: “I think Northern style is very cool, although I don’t like using that word”. Come now, Matthew. You’re a Manchester boy, surely you have more than ‘cool’ in your descriptive arsenal? Before I could press the matter, his bother stepped in to warn me off with a snarl: that’s your one question.

Undeterred, I wandered among the girls having free manicures and picking at canapés and toting hideously expensive handbags. What struck me was that no one really seemed to be having much fun. The whole ‘joy of shopping’ thing that the event was supposed to inspire wasn’t happening. Bored-looking people with deep pockets and seriously uncomfortable shoes browsed rails and when a few of them got to talk to Williamson, they became instantly animated and laughed like wind-up toys.

The proceeds from the Fashion’s Night Out T-shirts, created by GAP, went to Save the Children and the charity chosen by Shulman. Claire Filler, regional fundraising manager for Save the Children said the event was “fantastic for the north-west, fantastic for us, and fantastic for students from the University of Manchester, who have started a Save the Children society and are selling the t-shirts”.
The charitable element of the evening was largely overlooked and none of the browsers I spoke to had any idea that Save the Children were involved, although the sales of their Hermes bags could’ve saved quite a few children.

The free cocktails and sushi looked exquisite, but the whole evening felt empty and lacking point. It seemed to be an opportunity for designer shops to stay open a bit later and for people with large disposable incomes to buy things and have their pictures snapped in the same vicinity as a couple of fashion names. I came out feeling like some kind of poverty-stricken street urchin, and very disappointed that the whole thing seemed to be about spending money, rather than a celebration of style or creativity.

Word on the street: how is Northern style different?

Annie & Lisa, Manchester: “Up North we have a more diverse look, we’ve not got a point to prove and we’re not always on show”
Sabriyah, Manchester: “I think London style is more eclectic, they put more thought into their outfits despite seeming effortless. Northern style is more to do with following trends”
Katie, Leeds: “Northern style is more grungy and urban, we’re not as posh as those girls in London!”
Nicky, Manchester: “Northern girls are more eclectic in what they choose, they’re not afraid to go wild and really dress up”
Danni, Glasgow: “In the North we’re still a wee bit glam… we like our big nights out!”

English Defence League to meet in Bradford for first rally since leader quit

First published by The Guardian, 11th October 2013

Bradford is bracing itself for a demonstration by the English Defence League on Saturday despite the event being thrown into confusion after the shock resignation of the group’s leader.
The “national rally” was planned long before Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – announced this week he was leaving with the help of the Muslim-run counter-extremism thinktank Quilliam Foundation, saying the EDL had become too extreme and ineffectual.Various groups from the north of England are expected to attend, including the fascist National Front, Casuals United, March for England and the North-West Infidels – the latter greatly diminished after six of the group’s key members were sent to prison last month after being found guilty ofviolent disorder at an anti-fascist benefit gig in Liverpool.
According to the official EDL website, the static demonstration aims to draw attention to issues including child sexual exploitation among the Muslim community.Police said the vast majority of Bradfordians were deeply unhappy about the EDL coming to town. “We know that local people do not want their city to be used by the EDL and counter-protest groups as a venue for demonstrations,” said a spokesman for West Yorkshire police.

Bradford MPs George Galloway and Gerry Sutcliffe last month called on the chief constable of West Yorkshire police to “see sense and move to stop these scum polluting our streets”.
A ban was impossible,the police said: “We understand that some people may have an expectation that the police or council should ban the demonstrations. We don’t have any legal powers to do this. We therefore have to plan for them in order to ensure public safety for everyone.”.

“We are a united city and the EDL are not welcome in Bradford,” said Ratna Lachman, part of a group called Bradford Women for Peace, which held a vigil in the city’s Centenary Square on Friday along with the Muslim Women’s Council, Bradford Council for Mosques, anti -fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate and local trade union groups. The 200-strong group sang a specially written peace song and tied 7.5km of green ribbon around the city as they made their opposition to the EDL clear.

“The green is a symbol of spring, of new beginnings, of the earth, of women coming together… green is associated with Islam and we chose green to stand behind Muslims in Bradford,” said Lachman.
On Friday Simon Atkin, chief superintendent at West Yorkshire police, answered questions from congregations at mosques in the city as part of what the force dubbed “continuous reassurance and engagement”.

Police said they did not know how many EDL supporters were likely to attend but hundreds of officers were available to police the event.
The EDL are due to arrive on coaches and buses in Bradford’s Interchange station from about 11am and will be kettled in an area on adjacent Bridge Street.

A large counter protest around the corner at Bradford Urban Gardens is expected from Unite Against Fascism and other groups.The agenda for the EDL’s rally was unclear, said Matthew Collins from Hope Not Hate. He claimed some EDL supporters had suggested BNP leader Nick Griffin might speak in Robinson’s place.Liz Firth, one of the founders of Bradford Women For Peace, said many people in the city accepted the democratic right to protest but resented the cost of policing any EDL action. “Bradford is really struggling with the cuts and we really don’t have the money to spend on this sort of thing,” she said at Friday’s peace vigil.

The cost of policing the event will not be known until after the event, but similar rallies have left police with a bill for up to £800,000.
He predicted the EDL would leave a “trial of violence and destruction” and behave like the thugs even Robinson seems to think they have now become.
“Saturday will be a measure of whether the EDL is still a viable organisation post-Tommy Robinson,” said Lachman.

Gary Hastings, also known as Gary Moon (though neither are his real name) runs the anti-EDL website EDL News. He said he expected a relatively strong turnout in Bradford – if only because so many EDL activists had already paid for their coach and train tickets before they learned Robinson had quit.

Aesthetica short film festival to turn York’s historic spaces into cinemas

First published in The Guardian 9th October 2013

Film festivals may take place all over the UK, but not many are able to engage quite so seamlessly with the natural surroundings as the Aesthetica short film festival in York.

The festival’s 15 unexpected screening sites have been chosen to allow filmgoers to experience the rich, medieval history of York while taking in the best of contemporary short film.
Cherie Federico, Aestheica’s director, says the festival is a chance to “turn a city into a cinema”. Locations include the medieval King’s Manor buildings, which was the seat of government for Tudors and Stuarts and is now home to the University of York’s archaeology department.
Thirteen Thirty One, a quirky gastro-pub in York’s Latin Quarter, has its own cinema, complete with reclining seats and table service, and is also one of the venues.
Aesthetica is tapping into the market of film buffs who want more than the standard Cineworld or Odeon experience. Innovative new ways to screen films are becoming increasingly popular, demonstrated by Secret Cinema events and the pop-up Hot Tub Cinema projects.
Federico says the decision to allow screenings to cover all corners of York “gives festival-goers the opportunity to experience some of the best independent film while discovering the distinct and rich setting”.
There are 300 short films from 30 different countries, all of which are being shown on each day of the festival, so ticket holders have the chance to see as much as they can. Weekend tickets are priced at £30, but there are other options available from
There will also be a wealth of networking opportunities, with representatives from Channel 4, Film 4 and Bafta. Networking events are priced at £7 and masterclasses with industry talents including Alice Lowe, Cowboy Films and Raindance’s Chris Thomas are £8.50.

Harriet’s film picks

Victor Orozco Ramirez’s Reality 2.0, an animated documentary about drug-related violence in Mexico.
Jassim Al Nofaly’s Panda, a drama from Kuwait following a young man on the eve of his wedding.
Muriel d’Ansemboug’s Good Night, a coming-of-age short featuring two 14-year-old girls who want to explore their newly discovered sexuality while out on the town.
Eamonn O’Neill’s I’m Fine Thanks, an animated tale of a young man struggling with the inadequacies present in his daily life.


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