Grenfell and the Social Housing Crisis: How Kensington and Chelsea Council Behaved Like “A Property Developer Masquerading as a Local Authority”

Justice for Grenfell: banner on a march in central London on June 16, 2018, just two days after the first anniversary of the fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

In a meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on June 20 to discuss ‘Local Authority Support for Grenfell Tower Survivors’, Ed Daffarn, one of the survivors of last June’s entirely preventable tower block fire, in which 72 people died, reported an exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Chief Executive, Barry Quirk, who took on that role a week after the fire, which cuts to the heart of the problems facing those living in social housing in Britain today.

Daffarn told MPs that, at a meeting wth survivors’ organisation Grenfell United, Barry Quirk “said that RBKC [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] were a property developer masquerading as a local authority.”

Daffarn added, “Think about that. They were property developers masquerading as a local authority. They failed to keep us safe because they had higher priorities – getting their hands on the land, this massive goldmine they had.”

The confession by Quirk, who was formerly the Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, is significant because, when every aspect of social housing is made subservient to the money-making opportunities offered by housing development, residents of social housing are no longer actually safe in their homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Basketcase Britain: Two Years After the EU Referendum, the Tories Are Still Clueless and Racism Is Still Rampant

An apocalyptic view of London (image via Reddit).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Exactly two years ago, Britain went to the polls for what turned out to be one of the most depressing days, politically, in my entire life, as a small majority (51.89%) of the 72.21% of the population who could be bothered to vote expressed their desire to leave the EU.

The referendum was merely advisory; in other words, it was not legally binding, but the government never acknowledged this. In fact, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority, but the Tories ignored that as well.

David Cameron, who had called the referendum to placate UKIP and the far right of his own party, and had mistakenly thought it would be an easy win, walked off unscathed into the sunset, and after a short bloodbath the hapless Theresa May — who had spent six years as a horribly racist Home Secretary — was apparently the only senior minister left standing who could take over.

And because “the will of the people” apparently had to be respected, May has, ever since, been at the head of a cabinet that, essentially, represents the success of the kind of isolationist lunatics that even Margaret Thatcher recognized as needing to be kept firmly locked in a box throughout her premiership.

Out of his depth, David Davis heads the government’s Brexiteers, along with the vile Liam Fox, and the totally unprincipled Boris Johnson, whose cheerleading for leaving the EU played a major part in the Leave campaign’s success, even though Boris didn’t mean it, and was only going along with it as he jockeyed for position.

Weirdo Michael Gove is back too, and bizarrely even medieval throwbacks like arch-Leaver Jacob Rees-Mogg are getting serious media coverage the days — as part of the mainstream media’s extraordinary failure to question the Brexit narrative properly. Back in 2015-16, they behaved as though Nigel Farage was the King of England, or the Prime Minister, when he was the head of a party with, at most, one MP, and now the media fawn over the ridiculous figure of Rees-Mogg.

After the result, like so many liberal Remainers, I was actually quite depressed, as my articles from the time show; from the day after, UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, and, from June 26, 2016, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends.

I then followed the twists and turns as Parliament, generally in a depressingly feeble manner, made noises about needing the right to meaningfully participate in the Brexit process — which Brexiteers hated, even though the whole point of Brexit was to wrest back the illusory control that the EU had to restore British sovereignty, which, in the UK, resides with Parliament, and not with whichever clown is installed in 10 Downing Street.

But this is all just part of the Brexit madness that has existed for the last two years. When a legal challenge was mounted, the pro-Brexit tabloids — in particular, the Daily Mail under the execrable Paul Dacre, and the Sun under non-Brit Rupert Murdoch — accused High Court and Supreme Court judges of being traitors, and they continue to do the same every time MPs or the House of Lords do anything to rock their ludicrous fantasies about Brexit.

Leaving the EU, contrary to the Brexiteers’ blunt obsession with pretending that it’s as simple as shutting a door, is to undo 45 years of laws and treaties that have created an incredibly complex system tying us to our European neighbours — facilitating the seamless trade with the EU that constitutes 60% of our business, a fact that ought to provide a compelling reason for not allowing Brexit to proceed.

My analogy is that Brexit is like chopping a body in half, but then having only a few minutes for the surgery required to prevent the body from dying — an impossible task, but in our new fantasy Britain, the Brexiteers will be denying that we’re bleeding to death until they draw their final breath.

Brexiteers, meanwhile, have no answers to Remainers’ thoroughly valid sense of alarm, relying on simple-minded platitudes that fail to bear up under even the most minimal scrutiny. To be honest, I have found the whole topic so depressing that I have largely given up on it over the last year, although I always keep an eye out for the crucial analysis of Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, whose book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? is required reading — and also includes some serious analysis of the elephant in the room that the Tories simply don’t want to properly acknowledge: that there is an intractable Irish border problem that can’t be wished away, and that may either cause a resurgence of war in Ireland (generally referred to quaintly as ‘the Troubles’) or the break-up of the Union (which is supposed to be absolutely central to the Tories’ political philosophy), with, no doubt, Scotland following if Brexit goes ahead. Such is the Brexit madness, however, that last week, when polled on this, a majority of die-hard Brexiteers said they’d be happy to lose Northern Ireland to preserve their Brexit fantasy.

Another baleful effect of the Brexit vote, which I must note, before I reflect on where we are now and what the future might bring, is that racism is noticeably on the rise in Brexit Britain. Whenever I have met an EU national in the last two years, I have apologised for the change in their treatment over the last two years, asking about, and always receiving confirmation that, since the referendum, they have been subjected to abuse, and being told to “go home”, that simply didn’t happen before. The cat is out of the bag, and what vicious, mangy creature it is.

So where are we now? Today, I’m glad to note, an estimated 100,000 people marched in central London to demand a second referendum. I wasn’t able to make it, as I had an important housing campaign meeting in Lewisham, but I also couldn’t quite face yet another incredibly polite pro-EU march, as I’ve been on many in the last two years, and I don’t think politeness is really working. I was, however, pleased to note that the Observer reported the following:

With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”.

A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.

Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Observer added:

Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving.

More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.

The only real way for that to happen, of course, is for Brexit to be scrapped, but despite today’s protest, it remains unclear how that can happen. Personally, I’m not sure I trust the electorate to deliver a second referendum result different from the first, given that the country is still, on balance, or for less balanced between Leave and Remain, with, still, millions of people who refuse to make any kind of commitment one way or another.

I actually think MPs should derail it, but I don’t hold out much hope for that either, as they have generally been so craven when it comes to rocking the Brexit boat. Resistance by the Lords has been more robust, but they lack the power to genuinely stop the government in an meaningful manner.

Do we really have to crash out of the EU, and destroy our economy, before we wake up, kick out the Tories, and ask the EU to forgive our episode of madness and let us back in?

I fear that the answer is yes, as I remember why it is that I’ve been so studiously avoiding engaging with Brexit for most of the last year. It’s simply too depressing …

Note: Anyone who’s seen my band The Four Fathers recently will know that we perform a storming song I wrote about Brexit, ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, which we’ll be recording in about three weeks’ time, and then intend to release. Do get in touch if you want to be informed about its release.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Photos: The Powerful Grenfell Protest Outside Parliament, May 14, 2018, and Updates About Safety Concerns

Four of my photos from the Grenfell protest outside Parliament on May 14, 2018. Clockwise from top left: Natasha Alcock of Grenfell United, Moyra Samuels of Justice4Grenfell, Diane Abbott MP and Grenfell community organiser Niles Hailstones.See my photos on Flickr here! And please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Please also check out ‘Grenfell’ by my band The Four Fathers, and please mark the following date in your diary: Saturday June 16, ‘One year on: Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March’, organised by Justice4Grenfell, starting outside 10 Downing St at noon.

Monday May 14, 2018 marked eleven months since the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower, in north Kensington, killing over 70 people in an inferno that should never have occurred, and, to mark the occasion, survivors, members of the local community and supporters from across London converged on Parliament as MPs were preparing to debate the government’s response to the disaster, as I discussed in my previous article, Grenfell Campaigners Mark Eleven Months Since the Disaster That Killed 71, As MPs Debate the Government’s Response, written after I had attended the rally in Parliament Square

I also took photos, featuring representatives of survivors’ groups and the local community (including Justice4Grenfell and Grenfell United), which I have just posted to Flickr, so the purpose of this article is to provide a link to the photos, but also to provide some important updates on the Grenfell story that have emerged over the last few days.

The Parliamentary debate was taking place because, after the fire, Theresa May had announced the launch of an official inquiry, but campaigners wanted representatives from the local community to be involved, and launched a petition demanding this from the government, which secured the 100,000 signatures that made it eligible for a Parliamentary debate after grime star Stormzy promoted it to his many followers in February. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell Campaigners Mark Eleven Months Since the Disaster That Killed 71, As MPs Debate the Government’s Response

Moyra Samuels of Justice4Grenfell speaking at the rally in Parliament Square on May 14, 2018, marking eleven month since the entirely preventable fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, killing 71 people (Photo: Andy Worthington). Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist, and check out ‘Grenfell’ by my band The Four Fathers.

 

Please also mark the following date in your diary: Saturday June 16,
One year on: Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March’, organised by Justice4Grenfell, starting outside 10 Downing St at noon.

Yesterday marked eleven months since the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower, in north Kensington, killing over 70 people in an inferno that should never have taken place. Flats in tower blocks are designed to resist the onslaught of even a serious fire until the emergency services can arrive, but the cladding which had been applied to the tower, to make it look more attractive, was flammable, and in the process of installing it the structural integrity of the tower had been fatally compromised.

We know this from the warnings published by tenants, the Grenfell Action Group, on their website, but shamefully ignored by Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, as I made clear immediately after the fire, in an article entitled, Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents.

We have also had it confirmed, just last week, in a leaked report prepared as part of the Metropolitan Police investigation into the fire, by fire investigation experts BRE Global Ltd., which concluded that “the original concrete building was transformed from a safe structure into a tinderbox by the refurbishment between 2014 and 2016.” Read the rest of this entry »

British MPs Urge Donald Trump and Senate Committees to Close Guantánamo

Andy Worthington of Close Guantánamo with Mitch Robinson, international law expert for Mustafa al-Hawsawi, one of five "high-value detainees" at Guantánamo accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International USA call on Donald Trump to close Guantánamo at the annual rally outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. They were supporting the new Close Guantánamo initiative, counting how many days Guantánamo has been open — a shocking total of 5,845 days on the anniversary.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

For the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a cross-party group of British MPs have written to Donald Trump, and to Republican Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, the chairs of two influential Senate Committees (the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations), to urge action on Guantánamo after a year in which no prisoner has been released, despite five of the 41 men still held being approved for release, between 2010 and 2016, by high-level government processes established under President Obama. Throughout 2017, Donald Trump also made it clear that he has no interest in closing the prison, and would like to expand its use.

Almost as soon as Trump took office last January, a leaked draft executive order revealed that he wanted to keep Guantánamo open, wanted to send new prisoners there, and wanted to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” He also wanted to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”

Trump’s enthusiasm for torture was immediately rebuffed by a wide range of critics, including many in his own administration and his eagerness to send new prisoners to Guantánamo has also not led to any new arrivals at the prison, for sound reasons that we hope remain flagged up throughout the rest of his presidency. Set up to be beyond the reach of the US courts, Guantánamo was never about justice or due process, but about using torture and abuse and then hiding it, and as the troubled history of the military commissions reveals, once prisoners have been tortured, it is difficult, if not impossible to bring them to justice. Trump’s advisers have undoubtedly also told him that US courts have a strong track record of successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally! Theresa May and the Tories Suffer a Major Defeat on Brexit as MPs Secure a Meaningful Vote on the Final Deal

The Theresa May Brexit float, set up by campaigners for the UK to remain in the EU.

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Congratulations to MPs, who, yesterday evening (December 13), voted by 309 votes to 305 to give themselves a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal that Theresa May and her small clique of dangerous and deluded Brexit fantasists were planning to pass without including MPs at all.

In the end, the Labour leadership persuaded all but two of its MPs (Frank Field and Kate Hoey) to vote for the amendment, in a move that was obviously difficult for those from constituencies that voted Leave. The amendment was tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and its supporters in the Labour Party, and all the smaller parties except the DUP, were joined by eleven Tory rebels — as well as Dominic Grieve, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Stephen Hammond, Sir Oliver Heald, Nicky Morgan, Robert Neill, Antointette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Hammond, a vice chairman of the party, was almost immediately sacked, and the Daily Mail proceeded to damn the rebels on its front page, causing Keir Starmer to comment, in a tweet, “When judges uphold the law, they are branded enemies of the people. When MPs uphold democracy, they are branded traitors. Never has it been more important to reassert our values.”

In a day of passionate debating in Parliament, which often saw the Tory right attacking their colleagues, as tends to be the way with Brexiteers, who are prone to threats and hysteria, Dominic Grieve gave a passionate half-hour speech regarding his amendment. He “warned that the bill as it stood would unleash ‘a form of constitutional chaos’”, as the Guardian described it. He “said he had sought to engage with ministers to find a compromise, but without success: ‘The blunt reality is, and I’m sorry to have to say this to the house, I’ve been left in the lurch, as a backbench member trying to improve this legislation.'” Labour’s Yvette Cooper said, “This is an important moment. The House of Commons has tonight voted against the government’s attempt to concentrate power and against letting a small group of ministers take crucial decisions on the details of Brexit without Parliament having a meaningful vote.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Huge Turnout for Unite For Europe March in London, to Tell Theresa May and Isolationist Tories that 16 Million of US Say No to Brexit

See my photos on Flickr here!A photo from the Unite for Europe rally outside the Houses of Parliament on March 25, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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On Saturday March 25, 2017, I joined tens of thousands of supporters of the UK remaining in the EU in Parliament Square, at the rally at the end of the Unite for Europe march that began at Park Lane, and I hope you have time to look at my photos, and to share them if you like them.

The march had been called to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957 by the six founder member states of what became the EU, but it took on an added poignancy because, this Wednesday, Theresa May will trigger Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, officially beginning the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU.

As I have thought ever since the Leave camp secured a small majority in last June’s referendum, the 16.1m of us who voted to stay in the EU need to work relentlessly over the next two years to try and make sure that, if we do leave the EU, we do so in a way that isn’t as economically suicidal as the “hard Brexit” favoured by Theresa May and her chief advisers — David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox — although my favoured end result, and one I will not waver from seeking relentlessly, is for the Brexit process to be halted when it becomes clear that there is no way for it to take place without destroying our economy. Read the rest of this entry »

Worthless MPs Refuse to Challenge Tyrannical Theresa May on Their Own Right to Vote on Final Brexit Deal or on the Rights of EU Nationals in the UK

Stop Brexit: a composite image produced last June by Marketwatch.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Another day, another thoroughly depressing example of why, in the post-EU referendum era, the House of Commons seems intent on proving that it no longer has any worth.

In the last two weeks, peers in the House of Lords have voted for two important amendments to the government’s brief bill to allow Theresa May to trigger Article 50, beginning the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU — the first defending the right of the 3.3m EU nationals living and working in the UK to stay here, as I wrote about in my article, House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment, and the second guaranteeing MPs a final vote on the final Brexit deal in 2019, as I wrote about in my article, On Brexit, the House of Lords Do What MPs Wouldn’t Do, and Pass An Amendment Guaranteeing Them A Final, Meaningful Vote on Any Deal to Leave the EU.

Last night, however, MPs voted to drop those amendments, and the House of Lords then complied, paving the way for Theresa May to trigger Article 50 by the end of the month. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, the House of Lords Do What MPs Wouldn’t Do, and Pass An Amendment Guaranteeing Them A Final, Meaningful Vote on Any Deal to Leave the EU

A protest outside the Houses of Parliament on February 20, 2017 (Photo: Andy Rain/EPA).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Congratulations to the House of Lords, where peers, by 366 votes to 268, have voted to give Parliament a veto over the final outcome of Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, while voting against another amendment to allow a second referendum.

This is the second amendment to the government’s derisorily short Brexit bill, authorising Theresa May to trigger Article 50 and start the two years of negotiating time that is provided for the UK to leave the EU.

Last week, the Lords backed an amendment telling the government to respect the rights of the 3.3m EU citizens living and working in the UK to stay here, and not to treat them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU, a principled move that I wrote about in my article, House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment. Read the rest of this entry »

House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment

Campaigners for a new initiative, Stop the Silence, launch a new nationwide poster campaign urging the Lords to vote for amendments to the Article 50 bill, and for the public to resist the "hard Brexit" aggressively promoted by Theresa May (Photo: EPA).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

The image above is of campaigners for a new initiative, Stop the Silence (also on Twitter), launching a nationwide poster campaign outside Parliament calling for the Lords to make amendments to the Article 50 bill and for the public to speak out over the government’s “hard Brexit” policy. Check out the video here, and see here for ‘I’m voting against Theresa May’s hard Brexit in the House of Lords this week – go ahead and call me an enemy of the people’, an article by Liberal Democrat peer William Wallace.

Congratulations to the House of Lords for doing what MPs in the House of Commons so dismally failed to do three weeks ago — guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK to stay in the country as Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50, beginning two years of negotiations that will, apparently, end up with us no longer a member of the EU.

For May, the would-be tyrant who inherited Brexit as the unelected leader of the Tories after every other senior Tory resigned or was discredited after the EU referendum last June, the 3.3m EU citizens living and working in the UK are to be treated as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU, allegedly to protect the rights of the 1.2m UK citizens living and working in other EU countries, but in reality because of the tendencies of May and her advisers towards xenophobia and unprovoked belligerence towards our fellow citizens in Europe.

A decent leader would, immediately after the referendum, have guaranteed EU nationals’ right to stay here, taking the moral high ground and exerting pressure on the EU to do the same for UK nationals in other EU countries, but decency no longer exists, I am ashamed to say, and is one of many reasons that the Britain I live in today is turning into a blinkered, inward-looking, self-pitying, isolationist little nation, hopelessly deluded about Britain’s significance in the world, aggressive towards everyone that disagrees with the alleged “will of the people” expressed last June in what was legally nothing more than an advisory referendum, and ruthlessly dedicated to cutting all ties with the EU, even though that will be the single most insane act of economic suicide in the lifetimes of anyone born after the end of the Second World War. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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