Monday, July 25, 2005

Dunwich Dynamo

The Dunwich Dynamo is a 185 km cycle ride from London to a little Suffolk town called Dunwich. The original Dunwich is under the sea. The Suffolk coast is eroding at a phenomenal rate and as the coast crumbles away, occasionally villages go with it. Right, me at the start, thinking about the 120 miles of cycling ahead of me.

I wasn’t sure that I could do it, to be honest. Last time I cycled this sort of distance was in 1988. I was a student, living in Plumstead, quite young, and quite fit. On the other hand I had a shit bike, no water, I was wearing jeans, and not at all prepared for what turned out to be a ride from London, to Brighton, up the road to Beachy Head, then back to Seven Oaks. By Seven Oaks I couldn’t ride any more, and could barely walk. The next day I couldn’t walk, nor could I walk very well for about a week. The bike fared even less well. The next time I took it out the frame snapped. I moved out of Plumstead days later and left the dumped bike at the house we rented. me at the start, right.

This time I managed to finished it in about 12 hours - not bad considering I did no training at all for it. I probably tried to go a bit too fast early on - eager to get out of London and put as many miles behind me while I was still wide awake. S and K saw me off from London Fields. I was surprised how many cyclists were drinking beer just before setting off. I know that if I tried it – I doubt I’d be able to cycle far afterwards. My main battle, I knew, was to prevent dehydration, and prevent myself getting a crippling headache. The other battle was to be against chafing around the inner thigh area.

I set off at 8.40 and immediately lost my way. This was in Hackney. I wasn’t the only one. It turned out that we were supposed to cycle a little way up the wrong way on a one way road, and turn right into a church yard. Not what I expected. But the road out through East London, towards Epping, was pretty clear, and I had no further trouble – not till I got to Suffolk anyway.

The Essex section was interesting - hundreds of cyclists riding through the middle of the Essex Saturday night - dodgy clubs, bouncers, souped up motors - we attracted comments - one being the bloke who stuck his head out of his car window and shouted "WAAAANKERRRS!!". So many cyclists in one place must have made his head hurt.

I’d been told that the ride was “flat as a witches tits” to coin a phrase. This was from someone who enjoyed cycling up mountains as a past-time. It wasn’t quite as flat as that, not that I know any witches. Nor am I quite sure how flat a witches tits are supposed to be. I struggled to keep up with the cyclists ahead of me. Generally catching up on the flat bits, but falling behind on the uphill bits. This due to my bike being extremely heavy. I was laden down with 6 bottles of water at this point too. I could feel the strain on my chest as I struggled to keep my breathing under control. I quickly realised that I’d have to take the uphill sections at my own pace, and not worry about being overtaken by everyone – even tandems.

Epping Forest is much more pleasant looking than I expected (admittedly it was in the dark). And large too. While cycling through there was an unbroken line of cyclists ahead and behind me. It was dark by now, and I could see thousands of flashing red tail-lights ahead. A 24 hour garage provided us with a final chance to buy batteries, sandwiches, drinks etc. A few took the chance for a piss in the bushes opposite.

I continued on, but I got a bit confused around this point. For some reason I thought it was an hour later than it really was, and started to get quite disorientated. This may have been directly related to a dip in my sugar levels that became apparent a little later on. I had to have a quick boost to my sugar levels after this brief wobble. I started tucking into the food I had in my panniers. I had these muesli bars and ate one after the other. Soon felt much better.

By now we had entered what appeared to be countryside. I decided to stop and text S. “No idea where I am but its all fields here.” A few people passed, with one asking if I was ok. I affirmed I was, and then drank a huge amount of water. Think I took a couple of pain killers round this time too – I knew that I needed to avoid getting a headache – and this was one way of doing it.

Little villages, pubs still open, and little groups of cyclists had stopped to have a pint or two before closing time. One of these – I distinctly remember, was called Fyfield, and there were about 30 or 40 cyclists partaking in drinking intoxicating fermented juice, around 10.30. Apparently the DD used to start earlier in the evening and participants used to have a bit of a pub crawl on the way out of Essex.

Another participant joined me for a few miles – he told me that we’d hit the 30 miles point – quarter way. And we had a chat for a few miles– we met again later at the feeding station, though I forgot to ask his name – and again back in London.

After the pubs shut - I cycled for miles in the pitch black, barely another cyclist in sight, hardly a car in ten miles. Pot holes were a constant threat, not many, but completely invisible, and at reasonable high speed coming down the hills, hitting one could send me flying. I saw a tandem come a cropper at some point. By around midnight I'd hit my natural pace, and I was truly enjoying the experience.

This was the hard slog part of the journey. I had to put miles and miles behind me. I went as fast as I could down hill and tried to harness the momentum achieved to get up the next one. None of these hills were particularly big, but the route was never completely flat. Occasionally I could see blinking red LEDs in the distance and knew I was catching up with a group of cyclists. I’d ride with a group for a while – until either I left them behind – usually going on an extended down hill bit, or couldn’t keep up any more – usually going up a hill. Sometimes, though, it was because I’d received a text message, and could hear the sound of my phone alerting me to the fact about every 5 minutes. I began noting the distances on the road signs, counting down to the next village, realising around 1 or 2 am that I must be around the half way point, though not really having a clue where I was.

I continued to text S – “aythorpe roding”; “now I’m in flitch”; “Gt Bardfield 43 miles”; “Tis excellent wine gums a life saver”; “im in Suffolk”; and such-like, receiving suitably encouraging text messages back such as “Yay” and “keep going, you’re doing well”, although my phone seems not to have saved any of them, so I’m guessing at the exact content.

At 3.00 I reached the feeding station. I knew it was the feeding station because the occasional candle in a jar I’d been following so far suddenly became a mass of them, leading up a hill to some sort of hall. Cyclists were leaving as I went up the hill, bikes laying everywhere on the grass around the hall, bright lights on inside the hall, people helping themselves to nosh, tea, etc. The queue was huge – but I wanted hot food. I really wanted hot food. Hot carbohydrate heavy food. So I joined the queue. I texted S while waiting in line.

“im at the catering café thing which is a bit surreal there is a massive queue in middle of tiny village and hundreds of bikes”; “Looking forward to sun coming up. my bum is very sore. hoping I get fresh burst of energy after this”; “still queueing”; “I don’t think many drop out” – I think this was an answer to a query about whether I felt like calling it a day or not. At this point dropping out wasn’t an option.

Once in the hall I saw tables laid out like a café, with people in cycling gear at every table – most eating, some sleeping, lots of chatter, photographs being taken. I got the chance to look at a map of the remaining portion of the journey – and it really didn’t look too bad.
Hot food looked really good. I couldn’t wait.

More texts: “damn they ran out of food”; “im having a cup of tea”; “clock just struck four”; “now tea and flap jack are finished”. seven miles from Dunwich, right

At 4.00 I set off again, reassuringly there were cyclists still arriving. Failing to look at the route, I got lost with another cyclist - called Dave - and we ended up doing a 6 mile detour to get back on the Dynamo route. Instead of seeing the sunrise we were battling with a couple of inadequate maps, trying to find the village we should have been through by now. It didn’t get much easier because the sun had come up. I was worried about the heat – but it never did get particularly warm. But it was back to hard slog again, and for the first time I feel people became competitive. Noone wanted to be the last to arrive. 40 miles to go. 30 miles to go. I knew I was slowing up, but by the time I was around the 100 miles mark, I also knew I was going to finish.

Then I just couldn't believe it - looking back i couldn't see anyone - even though id just passed a load of people. i stopped to take stock, and concerned going back as it seemed i'd taken yet another wrong turn. then a couple of Dutch cyclists passed me and seemed to know where they were going; i followed them. We did find the main route again, but it was another damned detour, and added more milage to the route.

“100 miles”; “you still up?”; “I got about eight miles to go before I get my beer”;

with an unfeesibly sore bum, achey legs, beginnings of a headache, a streaming nose, i limped through the last ten or so miles. the (cruel) rumour that the last 15 miles were all downhill turned out to be complete bollocks. I walked the uphill stretches, passing people who seemed to be in a worse state than me. I reached Dunwich Moor, a bumpy ride, frustratingly long. Cyclists who had finished and were heading back came past us. wonder what they thought of us? I felt like saying - but I would have finished by now if only I hadn't done about 10 miles of unecessary detours.

Signs for Dunwich now. Then Dunwich. Then Dunwich Beach. I went straight for the beach. Parked my bike up, opened up a beer and sat - next to a boat with a couple of cyclists sleeping in it - and drank my bottle of London Porter. Seven miles from Dunwich, right.

“Ive arrived”; “in now on the beach drinking my beer”; “Ta. I’m queuing up for breakfast now”;

Then I had a fried breakfast, found a place on the grass and slept till it was time to load the coaches. It did get extremely chilly though, and I suddenly realised why some cyclists had wrapped themselves up in shiny stuff.

Dunwich Beach cafe, left.

On the way we lost our bikes; we'd been taken to Smithfield Market and the bikes went to Kings Cross. It took an hour or two for bikes and riders to be reunited. No one seemed unduly upset about it though, most were fairly chilled sitting on the pavement.

So my plan for next year is to wear proper shorts - carry more sweet sugary food, about the same amount of water, a decent map – have my route mounted onto the handlebars – get a brighter front light. If I don’t get lost that’ll save me about an hour on its own. I plan to complete the whole thing in 10 hours - leave at 8 - finish at 6. this way I won't have to queue up quite so much, and be at the beach just in time for the cafe opening.

I'm making S come along too - she should have been with me this year, but was clearly too ill on the day.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Innocent man executed

This man was killed by Metropolitan police yesterday in the apparent belief that he was a suicide bomber.

The following is from Wickipedia:

"The son of a bricklayer, Menezes grew up on a farm in Gonzaga in the state of Minas Gerais inland from Rio de Janeiro. After discovering an early aptitude for electronics, he left the farm at age 14 to live with his uncle in São Paulo in order to further his education. At 19 he received a professional diploma from Escola Estadual (State School) São Sebastião. He had originally wanted to go to the United States but could not obtain a work visa.

He then entered the UK on a tourist visa in 2002, and subsequently applied for and obtained a student visa for the period to June 2003. According to a statement by the British Home Office, he did not apply for an extension, and was therefore living illegally in the UK after that time. Within 4 months of arriving in the UK he had a good grasp of the English language, and spent his time earning money to send back to his family in Brazil. Menezes had hoped to eventually return to Minas Gerais to start a cattle ranch with the money he had saved.

He was shot and killed by London police who mistakenly believed him to be a suicide bomber on 22 July 2005. On 27 July 2005, Menezes' body was flown to Brazil for burial. His funeral took place in Gonzaga, Brazil, on July 29.[1] A memorial service presided over by Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was held in Westminster Cathedral, London, at the same time."

"Disputed facts and events
Virtually all of the facts and events regarding the Menezes shooting were initially disputed by various parties. Contradictory witness accounts, off the record statements from police, and press speculation added to the confusion. As a result, initial press reports on the story presented several different views on the chain of events and facts, which differed from the version later revealed by the IPCC investigation.

With regards to his dress on the day of the shooting The Observer reported that he was dressed in "baseball cap, blue fleece and baggy trousers." Mark Whitby, a witness to the shooting, told Reuters that he observed Menezes wearing a large winter coat, which "looked out of place". Vivien Figueiredo, a cousin of Menezes, claimed that she had been told by police that Menezes was wearing a denim jacket on the day of the shooting. Anthony Larkin, another eyewitness, told the BBC that Menezes appeared to be wearing a "bomb belt with wires coming out." No device resembling a bomb belt was reported as found. Menezes was also not carrying a tool bag, since he had left it with his work colleague the previous evening.

According to the report on leaked IPCC documents, Menezes was wearing a pair of jeans and a light denim jacket. These facts were confirmed by a photo of his body on the floor of the carriage after the shooting.

Police challenge
Police intially claimed that they challenged Menezes and ordered him to stop outside Stockwell station. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said in a press conference that a warning was issued prior to the shooting. Lee Ruston, an eyewitness who was waiting on the platform, said the police made no efforts to identify themselves. The Times reported "senior police sources" as saying that police policy would not require a warning to be given to a suspected suicide bomber before lethal action was taken. [16]

The leaked IPCC documents indicated that Menezes was seated on the train carriage when the SO19 armed unit arrived. A shout of 'police' may have been made, but the suspect never really had an opportunity to respond to it in any way before he was shot. The leaked documents also indicated that he was restrained by an unarmed officer prior to being shot.

Ticket barrier
Eyewitnesses claim that up to twenty police officers in plainclothes pursued Menezes into Stockwell station, that he jumped over the ticket barrier, ran down an escalator and tried to jump onto a train.[17] According to Menezes' family, Menezes did not actually jump over the ticket barrier and may have used a standard London Travel Card to pass the turnstile [18].

Police initially refused to release CCTV footage while the IPCC investigation was ongoing, even to the family. It has been suggested that the man reported by eyewitnesses as jumping over the turnstile may actually have been one of the plainclothes officers in pursuit.[19]

According to the leaked IPCC documents, Menezes passed through the barrier normally using his pre-paid oyster card.

Several reasons were initially posited by media sources and family members for why Menezes may have run from police, as indicated by initial reports. A few weeks prior, he had been attacked by a gang and may have relived the situation upon seeing plainclothes officers chasing him. Several sources have speculated that irregularities about his immigration status may have given him reason to be wary of the police[20]. According to some reports, Menezes' student visa had expired, suggesting that he was working illegally, thus fearful of being deported by authorities[21]. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a work colleague believed that Menezes ran simply because he was late for his job[22].

It was later indicated by the leaked IPCC documents that Menezes ran across the platform apparently to get a seat on the train, but did not know at the time that he was being watched or pursued.

It was initially stated by police that Menezes was shot five times in the head. Mark Whitby, a passenger on the train Menezes had run onto, said: "one of [the police officers] was carrying a black handgun—it looked like an automatic—He half tripped… they pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him." Another passenger, Dan Copeland, said: "an officer jumped on the door to my left and screamed, 'Everybody out!' People just froze in their seats cowering for a few seconds and then leapt up. As I turned out the door onto the platform, I heard four dull bangs."[23] Menezes' cousin Alex Pereira, who lived with him, asserted that Menezes had been shot from behind: "I pushed my way into the morgue. They wouldn't let me see him. His mouth was twisted by the wounds and it looked like he had been shot from the back of the neck." Later reports confirmed that Jean Charles de Menezes was shot a total of eight times: seven times in the head and once in the shoulder. [24]

The leaked IPCC documents also indicated that three shots missed, and the spent cartridges were found in the carriage.

Immigration status
According to initial reports from UK government sources Menezes was living in the country illegally on an expired visa at the time he was killed. Menezes' family believed that his visa had been renewed for an additional five years and that he was working in the country legally [25]. On 28 July, the Home Office issued a statement saying that Menezes had arrived in the UK on 13 March 2002 using a six month tourist visa, and had later applied to remain as a student. That application was granted and allowed him to remain until 30 June 2003. This had not been renewed according to their records. [26]

Involvement of special forces
Several commentators suggested that special forces may have been involved in the shooting. Professor Michael Clarke, professor of defence studies at King's College London, went as far as to say that unless there had been a major change in policy it was likely that it was not the police who had carried out the shooting, but special forces:

"To have bullets pumped into him like this suggests quite a lot about him and what the authorities, whoever they are, assumed about him. The fact that he was shot in this way strongly suggests that it was someone the authorities knew and suspected he was carrying explosives on him. […] You don't shoot somebody five times if you think you might have made a mistake and may be able to arrest him. […] Even Special Branch and SO19 are not trained to do this sort of thing. It's plausible that they were special forces or elements of special forces." [27]
Later, on 4 August 2005, The Guardian reported that the newly-created Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), a special forces unit specialising in covert surveillance, were involved in the operation that led to the shooting. The anonymous Whitehall sources who provided the story stressed that the SRR were involved only in intelligence-gathering, and that Menezes was shot by armed police not by members of the SRR or other soldiers. Defence sources would not comment on speculation that SRR soldiers were among the plain-clothes officers who followed Menezes on to the No. 2 bus[28].

"Documents from the independent agency investigation of the shooting later claimed that mistakes in police surveillance procedure led to a failure to properly identify Menezes early on, leading to rushed assumptions and actions later at Stockwell Tube station. The Metropolitan Police and the IPCC refused comment on the allegations while the IPCC investigation was still ongoing, though an anonymous 'senior police source' told the Guardian that the leak was accurate. [4]

The surveillance officer on duty at Scotia Road compared Menezes to the CCTV photographs of the bombing suspects from the previous day, and felt "it would be worth someone else having a look", but "was in the process of relieving [him]self", and was thus unable to immediately turn on a video camera to transmit images to "Gold Command", the Metropolitan Police operational headquarters. On the basis of this officer's suspicion, Gold Command authorized officers to continue pursuit and surveillance.

The street entrance to Stockwell tube station is shown in this photo.The officers followed Menezes for 5 minutes as he walked to the Tulse Hill bus-stop for the Number 2 bus line. As he boarded the bus, several plainclothes policeman boarded, continuing the pursuit. After 10-25 minutes, the bus arrived at Stockwell Tube station, 3.3km (2 miles) away.

At some point during this journey, the pursuing officers contacted Gold Command, and reported that Menezes potentially matched the description of two of the previous day's suspects, including Osman Hussain. Based on this information, Gold Command authorized "code red" tactics, and ordered the surveillance officers to prevent Menezes from boarding a train. Gold Command also transferred control of the operation to SO19, which dispatched firearms officers to Stockwell Tube Station.

At some point Menezes phoned a colleague, Gesio de Avila, saying he would be late due to the disruption of public transport caused by the previous day's attempted bombings.

Menezes entered the Tube station at about 10:00 a.m., stopping to pick up a free Metro newspaper. He used his "Oyster card" to pay the fare and pass the ticketing turnstile, and descended the escalator slowly. He then ran across the platform to board the newly-arrived train. Menezes boarded the train and found one of the first available seats.

Three surveillance officers followed Menezes onto the train. One of the officers identified the squadron of firearms officers on the platform and alerted them to the suspect's location. The firearms officers boarded the train and challenged the suspect. Menezes stood, at which point the surveillance officer grabbed him, pinning his arms against his torso, and pushed him back into the seat. The armed police officers, who had boarded the train, restrained the surveillance officer and shot Menezes. Two officers fired a total of eleven shots. Menezes was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder at close range, and died at the scene.

Immediately after the shooting, the Metropolitan Police claimed that the shooting was "directly linked" to the investigation of the attempted bombings the previous day. It was revealed that police policy toward suspected suicide bombers had been revised, instructing officers to fire directly toward the head, as British authorities claim that shooting at the chest could detonate a concealed bomb.[5]

The officers involved in the shooting (from Scotland Yard’s SO19 firearms branch) were debriefed and drugs and alcohol tests were taken as a standard procedure. The officers were taken off duty pending an investigation into the shooting."