Police: Uber deliberately refusing to report sex attacks by drivers

Here’s how today’s story in the Sunday Times starts:

Uber has been accused by police of failing to report sex attacks and other “serious crimes” committed by its drivers, and of obstructing officers trying to investigate them.

The company, which operates in more than 20 British cities and 633 worldwide, faces a licence review in London, its biggest European market.

In a letter obtained by The Sunday Times, Inspector Neil Billany, head of the Metropolitan police’s taxi and private hire unit, said he had “significant concern” that Uber seemed to be “deciding what [crimes] to report”, telling police only about “less serious matters” that would be “less damaging to [its] reputation”.

Read the letter here.

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Haras Ahmed and Prevent Watch: the facts

I wrote in the Sunday Telegraph in January last year about something called Prevent Watch, an organisation of Islamist activists linked to the terror-sympathising group Cage (famously supportive of “Jihadi John”) who promote inflammatory stories about the Government’s anti-terrorism policy, Prevent. I discovered that not only were many of the stories false or exaggerated, but that several of the people presented as ordinary victims in them were in fact activists in Prevent Watch.

Among these activists was a lady called Ifhat Smith, also known as Ifhat Shaheen or Ifhat Shaheen-Smith, who won copious newsprint and airtime with a claim that her schoolboy son had been “interrogated” and “treated as a criminal” because he had used the phrase “eco-terrorism” in class. It was, she told the BBC, the act of a “police state.”

I discovered, and reported, that when Mrs Smith took the school (and the Government) to court over the matter, her claim had been dismissed in scathing terms as “bound to fail” and “totally without merit” and she had even been ordered to pay £1000 for wasting the court’s time. I also found that Mrs Smith managed the London office of the Tunisian Islamist party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennadha.

Prevent Watch took us to Ipso about the story – and lost. Ipso ruled that it was not inaccurate for its and Mrs Smith’s claims to be described as false or exaggerated, or for Prevent Watch’s work to be criticised by somebody quoted in the story as a “campaign of lies.”

Ipso also stated that Prevent Watch had “published comments on their website in defence of a person convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000, [and] it was not significantly misleading to characterise Prevent Watch as having ‘sympathised’ with terrorists.”

Mrs Smith then decided to threaten to sue: much wiser from her point of view. Because last year, as part of its long retreat from journalism, the Telegraph got rid of its former, rather robust lawyers (who successfully fought the Ipso case) and appears now to have taken a policy decision to settle legal threats. The paper did duly capitulate, despite the verdict of a court of law and of Ipso that Mrs Smith’s claim was false.

Now, after the good Mrs Smith, another Prevent Watch activist, Haras Ahmed, has quite understandably decided that he wants a piece of the action. Last week he too trousered a settlement from the paper over the same story.

Here’s the background to his achievement. On 30 November 2015, the BBC reported that a school in Waltham Forest, Greenleaf Primary, had “mistakenly revealed” the names of children deemed at risk of radicalisation “in response to a Freedom of Information request by a parent… Haras Ahmed submitted the FoI request referring to one class at the school, asking if certain children had been targeted.” An indignant Mr Ahmed, presented as an ordinary parent, was duly interviewed outside the school. Prevent Watch used the case to press its narrative of Muslims being picked on.

Alas, a few details were missing from this concerning tale.

(1) Mr Ahmed does not appear to have been a parent at Greenleaf School. At the time he made the FOI request, one of several he made in June and July 2015, he was a parent governor at a different Waltham Forest primary school, Thorpe Hall, which his lawyers, Carter Ruck, described as “the local primary school attended by his children.”

(2) Carter Ruck claimed in its complaint that at the time he made his FOI request Mr Ahmed was not an activist in Prevent Watch, saying he had “never even heard” of the group and had only become involved with it “several months after he had made the FOI requests.” His LinkedIn page says that he was involved with Prevent Watch from January 2015, five months before he made the requests.

(3) Prevent Watch itself accepted to Ipso that Mr Ahmed was “already affiliated” with it “at the time [he] had approached the media” with the Greenleaf story. He has represented Prevent Watch on numerous occasions since.

(4) Mr Ahmed involved a second Islamist front group, Claystone, in the story. (They too campaign against counter-terrorism policy on the basis of exaggerations and lies  and they too lost an Ipso complaint against me when I said as much.) Mr Ahmed passed Claystone the emails and they issued a press release on 22 September 2015. This didn’t state that the school had revealed the children’s names – just that seven pupils “had been identified” as vulnerable to radicalisation – and the story got very little coverage. So perhaps something else was needed for a fresh media push in November.

(5) According to Waltham Forest council, which runs Greenleaf Primary, the children’s names weren’t mistakenly revealed at all. The council said the names had been redacted from the document sent under the FOI request, which had then been “manipulated by a third party to reveal the blocked-out names.”  Who was the third party? We don’t know.

(6) The council also stated that the counter-radicalisation programme at Greenleaf was “not targeted at children of any one faith” and that the seven pupils referred under it were “of different religions.”

Now Mr Ahmed has managed to extract from the Telegraph £20,000 and a statement saying: “The article suggested Mr Ahmed had, in an interview with the BBC, presented himself as an ordinary parent when in fact he was engaged in a campaign to undermine the government’s anti-terrorism policy.

“We accept that Mr Ahmed’s BBC interview was given in good faith. We also accept that, whilst he is critical of the Prevent strategy (elements of which he believes are highly discriminatory), he does not support Islamist extremists and is in no way himself an extremist.”

If the Telegraph wants to advertise itself as a cashpoint for libel lawyers, that, I suppose, is its prerogative and its problem. It could end up costing the paper a lot more than fighting. But the decision to settle with Haras Ahmed has wider consequences: it raises the bar for anyone else who wants to expose the truth about the likes of Prevent Watch and strengthens the hands of those who want to hamper this country’s fight against terror.

Jeremy Corbyn helped IRA chief get a taxpayer subsidy: see the documents

As we report in today’s Sunday Times, Jeremy Corbyn was instrumental in getting thousands of pounds of public money paid to the chief London representative of the IRA.

Files in the London Metropolitan Archives show that Corbyn lobbied the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1980s to fund a new group called the Irish in Islington Project.

In a letter dated August 26, 1983, Corbyn said: “The work of the Irish in Islington Project is both necessary and desirable, and I urge that their application for two project workers should be met.”

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It can be revealed that the two workers concerned were Gerry MacLochlainn, Sinn Fein’s principal representative in Britain, and Michael Maguire, another key republican in London. For a long time they were also the project’s only two staff.

Corbyn knew MacLochlainn (also spelt McLaughlin) was a convicted IRA terrorist who had recently been released after serving part of a six-year sentence for possession of bombmaking equipment and conspiracy to cause explosions.

He hosted MacLochlainn at the Commons the following year, 1984 – a few weeks after the Brighton bombing – triggering the first IRA-related row of his political career.

Here’s Corbyn acting as a referee in the same year, 1984, for one of the Irish in Islington Project’s later grant applications.

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The files show Corbyn’s support was important in getting the grants approved. With his help the project got a total of at least £77,000 in various grants from the GLC and Islington council, the first in 1984. Most of this, the files show, was paid as salaries to MacLochlainn and Maguire. Here are a couple of documents showing MacLochlainn’s role, including one authorising him to pick up the GLC grant cheques.

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There’s not much in the files showing what MacLochlainn and Maguire actually did for their money – though they did hold several events with republican groups in London. The suspicion must be that the grant was paid by the GLC (whose leader, Ken Livingstone, was like Corbyn an IRA sympathiser) at least partly to provide the IRA man with a means of support.

That suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the public cash continued to flow even after the project was raided by the police and Maguire was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act! Here’s a letter in which he explains to a GLC bureaucrat that he can’t send in the requested budget because the project’s paperwork was “severely disrupted” by the Special Branch at the time of his arrest.

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What a great story this would have been for the GLC-hating tabloids at the time. It’s still a pretty good one now.

 

 

Diane Abbott backed victory for the IRA: see the document

As part our ongoing investigation into the Labour leadership’s links with the IRA, The Sunday Times found that Diane Abbott explicitly backed victory for the IRA in an interview with a pro-republican journal.

Abbott, who will become home secretary if Labour wins the election, said in the 1984 interview that Ireland “is our struggle — every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us. A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed.” She said she did not regard herself as British.

She endorsed violence, saying: “I am not saying that women are innately peaceful and non-violent and that we don’t fight back. Of course we do and should.”

She criticised Northern Ireland as an “enclave of white supremacist ideologies.” Asked about Labour’s official policy of seeking Unionist consent, she replied: “Oh God! There are so many analogies if only [Clive] Soley [Labour frontbench spokesman on Ireland at the time] would look at Britain’s colonial past… Should we have waited to win the consent of the white racists in Zimbabwe?”

The interview was published in Labour and Ireland, the journal of the Labour Committee on Ireland (LCI), a small pro-republican support group in the party that operated at the height of the IRA’s armed struggle in the 1980s and early 1990s. Abbott and Corbyn spoke at several LCI meetings.

LCI organised many events with Sinn Fein, including a controversial fringe meeting with party leader Gerry Adams and Corbyn at the 1989 Labour conference in Brighton, near the Grand Hotel, which was bombed by the IRA in 1984, killing five people.

Full story in today’s Sunday Times, but below is the original copy of the interview, which we located in an Irish archive.

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Sadiq Khan cycling performance tracker April 2017

This is the first of a monthly series of posts in which I will track the progress – or not – of London cycling schemes under Sadiq Khan.

Sadiq inherited from us eight major schemes at an advanced stage of implementation, plus one addition to a scheme already open (CS1). All had been designed and traffic-modelled. All had received the support of substantial majorities in formal public consultations. All should have started building – and in some cases finished – last year.

At the date of this post, their status is as follows:

Complete: 0

Under construction: 1

Not under construction: 8

Delays are continuing to increase. In the last month, two already-delayed schemes (Westminster Bridge and the north-south extension) have been delayed further.

A detailed listing is below, ordered by how long it has been since the consultation closed.

Old Street roundabout

Consultation closed: January 2015 (27 months ago).

Public support: 87 per cent said it would improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists; 63 per cent that it would improve conditions for bus and tube users.

Status: Delayed. Construction has not started.

Cycle Superhighway 1 (City- Tottenham) – Ball’s Pond Road segregated track

Consultation closed: March 2015 (25 months ago).

Public support: 65 per cent (for option B on the Ball’s Pond Road section).

Status: Delayed, possibly cancelled. The segregated track was not opened with the rest of the route in April 2016. In May the then Mayor issued a mayoral direction ordering TfL to begin work on it by October 2016. However, nothing has happened.

East-West Superhighway between Westminster and Hyde Park     

Consultation closed: October 2015 (18 months ago).

Public support: 80 per cent.

Status: Delayed but now under construction. Construction of main section, due to start June 2016, began in Feb 2017.

Westminster Bridge roundabout and segregated tracks across bridge

Consultation closed: December 2015 (16 months ago).

Public support: 74 per cent.

Status: Delayed. Construction (due in 2nd half of 2016) has not started. Start further delayed following Westminster terror attack. No new start date given.

North-South Superhighway extension Farringdon St- Kings Cross

Consultation closed: March 2016 (13 months ago).

Public support: 70 per cent.

Status: Delayed. Originally due to start in Oct 2016. Last September, TfL announced scheme approved with start in “spring 2017.” However, it was announced last week that it now “aims” to start constructing “some sections” by “autumn 2017.”

East-West Superhighway extension Paddington- Acton via A40

Consultation closed: March 2016 (13 months ago).

Public support: 71 per cent.

Status: Cancelled.

Cycle Superhighway 11 (Swiss Cottage- Portland Place)

Consultation closed: March 2016 (13 months ago).

Public support: 60 per cent.

Status: No decision. Swiss Cottage gyratory element approved.

Highbury Corner junction scheme

Consultation closed: March 2016 (13 months ago).

Public support: 71 per cent said it would improve conditions for pedestrians and 67 per cent that it would improve conditions for cyclists.

Status: No decision. TfL denied an August 2016 Evening Standard report that the plans had been put “on hold.” However, it appears to be true: a report on next steps promised for autumn 2016  has not yet appeared.

Hammersmith Broadway junction scheme

Consultation closed: March 2016, repeated August 2016 (13/ 8 months ago)

Public support: 79% in first consultation, 73% in second

Status: No decision. TfL website claims that the scheme has been approved and is “set to start” in summer 2017.

However, detailed design of scheme has been handed over to Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who say they have not yet made a decision to to proceed. If approved, construction “could begin in October 2017.”

Reinventing the wheel – without the wheel

The Royal Parks’ new scheme to make one of their key cycle routes deliberately worse for cyclists is not just depressing in itself. Even worse is that it is being funded by the Central London Grid, part of the TfL cycle budget. It shows how the new mayoralty’s “Healthy Streets” policy could come to be used against cycling more widely.

The official version of Healthy Streets, published last month, is one where walking, cycling and indeed going by bus are all one united family of virtuous, green travel modes, with no conflicts of interest between them, safely mixing together in a political (and perhaps indeed physical) shared space.

But it isn’t true. Physically, as any user of (say) Exhibition Road in Kensington or Queen Street in the City knows, shared space in busy, built-up streets is a costly failure. It looks pretty on TfL slides, but it works for neither cyclists nor pedestrians. As the pedestrian group Living Streets points out in this recent demolition of the Queen Street scheme, it is particularly bad where there are large numbers of either.

Politically – though many cycling campaigners may feel uncomfortable admitting this – the interests of pedestrians and cyclists are sometimes different (though by no means always, as the common opposition to shared space shows.) The Royal Parks says it is degrading its bike route on Broad Walk specifically to benefit pedestrians, who it declares are its priority users, “even in areas designated and marked for other purposes” (alas, this stirring principle applies only to its cycle routes, and not to its routes designated and marked for motor traffic.) One objection routinely made by opponents of the superhighways was that they were against pedestrians’ interests.

Of course the Royal Parks and the superhighway nimbies exaggerate the conflict to make their case. On Broad Walk, even by the parks people’s own figures, there are all of two near-misses a week between cyclists and pedestrians – on a path used by about 35,000 cyclists a week, last time we counted.

On the superhighways, there are longer waits for pedestrians at some crossings –usually only by a few seconds – but also massive pedestrian benefits, including 22 new crossings and 35 quicker crossings on the east-west and north-south routes alone, plus thousands of square metres of new pavement.

But not all conflicts of interest are completely imaginary. My concern is that where there are such conflicts, or even claimed conflicts, the decision will go against cycling. The evidence isn’t just Broad Walk (on which Will Norman, the new walking and cycling commissioner, conspicuously refused to comment). There is also the scheme at Lambeth Bridge, rejected by me more than three years ago, to widen the pavements (in a not particularly pedestrian-heavy area) at the expense of space for cycling. There was also Norman’s first interview, in which he said that pedestrians had been “neglected” and “ignored” and that “given the statistics around pedestrian fatalities, that is something that has to change.”

This was factually wrong on all counts. The statistics in fact show that, by distance travelled, the pedestrian fatality rate is about the same as the cycling fatality rate – and the pedestrian serious injury rate is almost two-thirds lower. Both pedestrian and cycling casualties have been coming down. By last year, cycling deaths and serious injuries in London were 10 per cent below the 2005-9 average; pedestrian deaths and serious injuries were 38 per cent below it.

This, no doubt, is in part because pedestrians have not been neglected or ignored. They already and rightly have segregated infrastructure on every street in London, apart from the few shared space ones (see above). In the last eight years, massive further investment has been made in London’s pedestrian space, both within the cycling programme and outside it.

Another piece of evidence came at last month’s talk to cycling campaigners, when Norman and his boss, Val Shawcross, deputy mayor for transport, talked of reinstating the “hierarchy of provision,” which places walking above cycling in the order of transport virtue. Nor may the order of priority in Norman’s own job title be entirely without meaning.

We didn’t have a hierarchy of provision in my time. Just as in the Royal Parks, I found that it often seemed to be applied against cycling, but somehow much less often against cars. We instead tried to balance the interests of pedestrians and cyclists – and succeeded more often than not. Nearly all our schemes were strongly supported by pedestrian groups (some of the others making pedestrian-based objections turned out to be the motor lobby in disguise.)

And if we did focus on cycling more than in the past, it was for two reasons. First, because (unlike pedestrian infrastructure) cycling infrastructure barely existed. For most of the last forty years, it is of course cycling which has been neglected and ignored. A few years of relative focus and attention under the last mayor can’t make up for decades of near-total neglect. Norman’s implication that it can, that cyclists have had their quota of policymakers’ interest, and the light must now shine elsewhere, is worrying.

Second, because if you actually want to improve people’s health, increase active travel, reduce motorised travel and clean up the environment (the Healthy Streets policy’s stated objectives), cycling can do more, more quickly, than any other mode.

Perhaps the key limitation of walking is that it is only feasible for much shorter distances than most Londoners want to travel. The average passenger trip length across all modes in London is about 6 miles. The average bus trip is about 4 miles, and the average Tube trip about 9 miles. But for time-pressed Londoners, walking more than a mile or two simply takes too long. The average walking trip is currently 0.3 miles, and there is a “virtual absence of trips above 3km [1.9 miles],” according to TfL.

Cycling is feasible for much longer trips, and therefore for a greater proportion of trips which are currently taken by motorised modes. It is also feasible for some freight or delivery trips as well as passenger trips.

Of course, many more people walk than cycle, so perhaps if they all walked just a bit more, maybe as part of a longer journey involving public transport, the effect could be the same. But you’d have to change the behaviour of a very large number of people indeed – and how do you do that?

In cycling there exists a policy instrument – the segregated track – with a proven record, here and abroad, of swiftly and massively increasing the number and length of journeys made by bike and bringing about substantial shift from motorised modes.

I can think of no equivalent for walking which could have the same effect, so quickly. The policy instruments available – wider pavements, easier pedestrian crossings, lower-traffic streets – are smaller and more incremental. They don’t represent the same game-changing improvement as a superhighway represents for a cyclist.

Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps the fact that walking infrastructure doesn’t represent so big a change to the status quo is precisely why it appeals to a mayor who wants to avoid “confrontation” with the motor lobby.

One of the reasons for the audience’s slight restiveness at Norman and Shawcross’s meeting with cycle campaigners last month was, as David Arditti put it, that “they were talking as if they were starting from nothing, as if the last administration had not also had strategy on these things, and had not done quite a bit of good…They were talking as if an active travel agenda had to be created for the first time ever, and not as if the main issues had been gone into already.”

I am worried that Norman and Shawcross are indeed trying to reinvent the wheel. That quite a lot of Sadiq’s “record budget for cycling” looks like being spent on measures with no practical benefit for cycling at all – or, as in the Royal Parks, on actually making matters worse. I am worried that this may a reinvention without the wheel – the bicycle wheel, that is.

Superhighways, congestion, and selective statistics

The transport correspondent of the Financial Times, Robert Wright, has done an interesting post on his blog, challenging what he calls “the now-conventional wisdom among London cyclists that the 12 miles of new cycle superhighways in central London…have had no significant effect on congestion.” As he puts it:

Traffic volumes entering Central London fell 3.4 per cent between the June to September quarter in 2015 and the same quarter in 2016, part of a long-term decline that’s seen the volume of motor traffic entering central London decline by more than 20 per cent since 2000. Instead of increasing with declining traffic volumes, however, average traffic speeds in central London – the easiest available proxy for congestion – fell 3.5 per cent, to 7.8mph.

The figures (from the latest TfL streets performance report) are accurate, but they are also selective. The key indicator of congestion is in fact a quite different measure (also given in the same report) called journey time reliability. It’s the key indicator because it’s not merely a “proxy” for congestion: it measures actual congestion, tracking thousands of vehicles on ANPR cameras and comparing how long they take to make their journeys against how long they should take if the route were not congested.

And guess what? In the same quarter-on-quarter comparison, congestion in central London in fact fell and journey time reliability improved – by 2.1 percentage points in the evening peak and 0.1 percentage points in the morning peak.

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That’s actually better than the performance of several roads which are wholly outside central London and nowhere near any segregated superhighway – such as the Blackwall Tunnel approach, where JTR over the same period either improved by less than in central London, or indeed worsened.

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Which points to a second difficulty in blaming the superhighways for congestion – the difficulty in ascribing effects to particular causes. It does, though, seem unlikely that segregated cycle tracks totalling 12 miles can be causing more than a small portion of the congestion on a London main road network which totals around 1500 miles.

It seems much more likely that a rise in traffic bears more of the blame. For it is also true – but also selective – to say that central London traffic fell over these particular twelve months. Over the last three to four years as a whole, however, motor traffic in central London has increased quite sharply – by 4.5 per cent between 2013 and 2015 alone, for instance. The “long-term decline… since 2000” in motors entering central London stopped in about 2013/14.

Finally, it is not quite true to say, as Wright also does, that “private cars now account for only 18 per cent of motor traffic during weekdays in the central London congestion charging zone.” They account for 18 per cent of all traffic, but 21 per cent of motor traffic. If you add taxis (20% of all traffic; 23% of motor traffic) and private hire vehicles (12% of all traffic; 14% of motor traffic) the total comes to a rather trickier 50 per cent of all traffic, and 57% of motor traffic.

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It’s tricky because taxis and PHVs are even more inefficient users of roadspace than cars. A car, at least, is always taking somebody somewhere. Taxis and PHVs are often coming back empty from dropping someone off. Taxis are often cruising around empty looking for passengers.

The stupidity of all this really comes into focus with figures last month showing that though cars, taxis and PHVs comprise 50 per cent of the traffic (across the day) in central London, they now account for just five per cent of commuter journeys into central London.

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(The above two tables are from the latest TfL Travel in London stats, published in December.)

What this adds up to is not to indulge the silly argument that some (such as Vincent Stops, or his representative on earth, the Guardian’s Dave Hill) are trying to start between bike infrastructure and buses, but an urgent need to go much further in reducing what really clogs the central roads, inefficient motorised traffic. My old boss, Boris Johnson, asked TfL to look at making PHVs – the huge growth area of recent years – pay the congestion charge, and asked the government for powers to cap their numbers. Both these things appear to have been dropped by Sadiq Khan; certainly, there was no mention of them in his recent taxi and private hire action plan.

More broadly, as Wright says and as Johnson wrote in March, the recent rise in traffic badly demands a wider rethink of the congestion charge – the one policy instrument with a proven record of reducing congestion. It needs to be sharply increased, or made smarter. Sadiq ruled out increasing the charge in his manifesto, apart from a “toxicity” supplement on the most polluting vehicles (about 10 per cent of the total).

Khan hasn’t shown much sign so far of being able to take difficult decisions. But maybe, with his “most ambitious plan in the world” to tackle air pollution now outflanked in ambition by the plans of many other cities, he will find the will.