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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 14:51 GMT
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: ALI BALI, MIKE RAHMAN, HARRIET HARMAN MP and BISHOP THOMAS BUTLER
ALI BALI, MIKE RAHMAN, HARRIET HARMAN MP and BISHOP THOMAS BUTLER
DECEMBER 3rd, 2000
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: The murder of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor on that South London housing estate has shocked us all here, the fact that he only arrived in London a few months ago when his mother moved from Lagos to give him and his sister a better life makes the brutal killing even more poignant. There's been speculation in the press about the bleak nature of the estate where he lived, the abandoned flats, broken windows, filthy streets, the permanence of drug dealing, violence and other crime, young thugs who roamed the whole estate after being expelled from school. And Damilola, we're told, suffered from racism and bullying. In a moment I'll be speaking to the local MP, Harriet Harman, welcome Harriet, and the Bishop of Southwark, Thomas Butler, Bishop welcome. But first let's hear from a couple of people who live in North Peckham on the estate where Damalola was killed. Ali Bali heads one of the tenants and residents groups, good morning to you Ali, and good morning to you Mike Rahman who's development manager for the estate. Let's begin with you Ali, what is life really like, how bad is it?
ALI BALI: Firstly good morning David. What it's like, well it's living a nightmare, as I've written to Mr Prescott just recently, two months ago, before the murder, I asked him and openly challenged him to come and see Peckham in the raw, I also sent this letter to Jack Straw and to Harriet Harman. To date I haven't even received a response in reply. I asked, I said no security, vandalism damage, burglary, violence to the persons, theft, arson, graffiti. All the above occurs virtually on a weekly basis, the Superintendent just wants to demolish Peckham High Street.
DAVID FROST: Alright and Mike what would you like to see being done about this, what would you like, what would make the life any better?
MIKE RAHMAN: I think what the residents here would like, they would like total control and management of the scheme because it has been badly mismanaged by the local authority and as soon as the powers and control are given to the local residents I think things will change dramatically because the local authority has let the people down here badly and including the elected representative Harriet Harman.
DAVID FROST: And has it got noticeably worse in the last year or two, we read about another murder in the papers yesterday, is it worse than a year or two ago or has it always been like this?
ALI BALI: Absolutely, it's gone tremendously down hill and I have in front of me a number of letters asking the Chief Super to increase our home beat officers within this locality. That hasn't happened, what has resulted is they've actually decreased it to two home beat officers covering a square mile of the North Peckham area which is totally impossible, they're also being used for other duties, we've been asking for, since the beginning of this year for much more self-evident policing of the area but that hasn't happened.
DAVID FROST: Thank you both very much for joining us this morning. Well that's the authentic voice of Peckham this morning and that's your constituency Harriet, what's your response to what they're saying and what they're feeling?
HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think people are feeling a sense of absolutely grief and anger and first and foremost this is a, a terrible tragedy for, for Damilola's parents and his family and people really want the people who did this to be caught and there's a real sense in the community of people pulling together to ensure that whoever did this terrible crime is caught. It's also a terrible blow to the local community because over the years people have been working to make the place better inch by inch with knocking down of the, of the old estate that just didn't work and building little houses with gardens and the, and the tragedy is that Damilola's death came at a time when, I mean I always say about North Peckham that it's a place where despair and hope are neighbours and we, we, there is despair but we have to build on the hope and things have been getting better.
DAVID FROST: Yes there didn't seem to be, well they say, they say very clearly that things are not getting better didn't they, and that, they, they, those were voices of despair and zero hope?
HARRIET HARMAN: But it is true that those, those things go side-by-side, I mean I know Ali Bali very well indeed and like many people they've been putting a great deal of effort into the area, it used to be the case that if people sat down in my surgery and said their address was the North Peckham Estate I knew that the next thing they would say is I want to get out, I can't bring my children up here, I can't bear it. And it, that's not the case anymore, people want to stay, they want it to be better, they want more police on the streets, they want the discipline in the schools to be better but there is now a commitment to, to that community. Of course people are angry and actually John Prescott and Gordon Brown three weeks ago actually came down to the North Peckham estate and were walking around so I think that it, the government is fully backing the area, it's a terrible tragedy and it¿
DAVID FROST: But, but the, this week you were there with Jack Straw after the visit as you said of John Prescott, of Gordon Brown, you were there with Jack Straw, do you, having talked to him are you confident about an increase in policing? HARRIET HARMAN: Yes I am, I mean I have to say that John Prescott and Gordon Brown came down before Damilola was murdered¿part of an ongoing commitment, but people do want to see more police on the beat, I mean they, they absolutely do and you might have heard Rob Jarman, the acting commander of the area saying earlier on in the parts of the estate which have been redeveloped crime has fallen by 20 per cent. When you get rid of those landings and those awful dark stairwells, when you put little houses where people can have their garden in front of them and their doors on the street not up some dark stairwell, crime has fallen and I think that's what people want. There's also been a lot of talk, war zone, drug-ridden, the estate has had terrible problems but I think the allegations that there is gang warfare between West Indians and African communities it, it's not like that. Of course there are distinct cultural differences but it's been written up as, as, like David Mellor said earlier, like New York. It's not, there are many people who, who live in Peckham who love Peckham and who are committed to it and we can't abandon the efforts to improve this community, we've got to continue them.
DAVID FROST: Bishop what do you feel, you've been observing this situation in Peckham, do you agree with the diagnosis of our two friends there or do you agree with Harriet or what?
THOMAS BUTLER: Well I think first of all we have to focus on the fact that a ten-year-old boy has been murdered and until the perpetrators of that murder have been caught I think people are going to be both confused and angry and I'm feeling confused and angry. It just shouldn't happen. My, my first reaction to, to the clip earlier was that the pictures were coming from the edge of the old and the new, I mean the hoardings were all up, if we'd have looked the other side of those hoardings we would have seen the new property that Harriet talks about and if you walk through most of the North Peckham estate it is a very nice developed place now. But of course poor old Damilola was murdered in the last of the old which are coming down at the present time and hopefully it will be the last of the old. But also remember where he'd been before he was murdered, he was coming out of a brand new library and he'd been doing computer classes there after school and that also is Peckham, a lot of investment has gone into Peckham to try to build a better life for the youngsters on the estate and Damilola was actually taking advantage of that and I hope lots of others will as well.
DAVID FROST: But I mean when you look at, when you look at the situation a new building is obviously enormously welcomed but, but then you have the situation where those boarded up houses or areas are obviously great for gangs and all of that and that may be a temporary phenomenon but the whole, this whole atmosphere of racism, of violence, there's too many knives here, people say in all the papers and so on, is that a Peckham issue or is that a national moral issue?
THOMAS BUTLER: If you'd have asked me two or three weeks ago I would have said that, that the situation was, was better in Peckham than it had been, than it was in many London estates and that the, the issue was being tackled by the schools, the community associations etc, this has been a terrible setback. I think the truth is London and inner city London is quite a dangerous place for young teenage boys, they do get into fights, sometimes they do carry knives, sometimes they are into drugs and the people I admire, above all, are the teachers at the schools, particularly comprehensive schools who are trying to civilise as well as educate at the same time and getting little thanks for it.
DAVID FROST: And what would be your words if, today, tomorrow you meet the bereaved parents, what, what, what would be your message to them at this moment?
THOMAS BUTLER: Well I'd, I'd want to apologise first of all on behalf of Britain, I mean they shouldn't be, come to this country, coming for very good reasons to bring health to one of their children to find another of their children murdered, we've got a lot to apologise for and I'd want to say that and I'd want to say that I'm very angry, I, I can't share the depth of their grief but I share some of it and that we will work extremely hard to make sure that the perpetrators are caught and punished and that we'll work together to make a better life for their other children in the future.
DAVID FROST: So who most of all has got to do more at this moment, Harriet, is it the government, is it the local community, is it the police, I mean who do we look at first?
HARRIET HARMAN: We've all got to continue to, to do the work that, that we have been doing and build on the painstaking efforts of the people who live in that local community inch by inch to make that estate better. But it's been amazing, there's been overwhelming offers of help, I mean I, I got a call last week from Lord Harris of Peckham who's an entrepreneur, a very successful entrepreneur, he was born and brought up in Blakes Road in Peckham where Damilola was found and he's offered, recognising what a shattering blow this tragic death has been to the local community, he's extraordinarily generously offered to build a new community centre in amongst all the housing regeneration so that people can feel that people are rallying round and feel a sense that there is a way forward.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very, very much indeed. Thank you both very much indeed.
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