47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


“HEAPS of stinking corpses, grey hungry faces torn apart by fear, an air ripped by the constant screams of tortured children, gang-raped women and mutilated men.

That’s what I expected to find when I travelled down to remotest Sussex to visit one of this country’s 20 major Detention Centres.

Looking back, I guess that is also what I wanted to find.

Sounds pretty sick, but that’s what spending a day in the company of Britain’s self-styled “civil liberties” campaigners can do for you.

Don’t get me wrong - you don’t get to be the star reporter [this is presumably intended as humour - ed] for a left-leaning radical chic kinda mag like this without caring deeply - too deeply, on occasions - about other people’s rights and freedoms.

But is it just me or do those special individuals who devote their lives to expressing their views on the matter somehow always manage to ruin it for everyone?

Overegging the pudding, would be one way of putting it.

Crying wolf once too often, would be another.

But enough of my complex liberal psyche.

Let me just tell you what Kate thought about the Detention Centre when I spoke to her after the spectacularly pointless “Free the Future!” festival in Hackney in May.

Pointless because the aim of this much-heralded anarcho-extravangaza was ostensibly to ‘raise awareness’ of the issues surrounding Detention Centres and other government anti-terrorist initiatives among the general public in London and beyond.

But, so far as I could tell, there was not a single individual present - and that includes the various B-list rock celebrities, the vegan caterers, the multitude of spaced-out vaguely supportive hangers-on probably attracted to the event by the word “Free” and without the attention span (“concentration is such a, like, fascist-patriarchal concept you know, man!”) to reach the word “the”, let alone work out that “Future” was an abstract concept and not something they were going to be given in a plastic bag at the end and be able to flog off down the car boot sale...

Where was I? Oh yes, none of those present, including your sell-out corporate media representative here, left the event any more aware of the issue than when they arrived at it.

Either you were very aware indeed of all the conspiracies the government is involved in - and very aware also of your personal duty to tell every other person you meet all about them, in as much detail and at as great a length as you can manage - or you were less aware to a degree that was not going to be altered in one way or another by all the ear-bashing, poster-displaying and leaflet-thrusting that you encountered at this fun, fun festival.

Personally speaking, the only thing I became aware of was the fact that I will never willingly attend a happening of this kind again, no matter how much I may feel I sympathise with the organisers’ concerns - or some of them, at least.

I certainly hope I don’t bump into Kate again in a hurry. She won’t be pleased with this article. In fact, she’ll probably put it down as some sinister intelligence service psy-ops propaganda operation to discredit The Resistance and further the Exploitation visited upon the People by The System.

She’s that kind of person, is Kate. The kind that talks in words starting with capital letters.

Our Detention Centres are, in her words, “an Abomination, an intolerable Throwback to the darkest days of Nazism or Stalinism”.

According to Kate, it’s all about “Power running out of Control” and “a Brutal System Crushing Human Flesh Underfoot in its Quest for Profit and Growth”.

Funny that, I told her, maybe I’m completely on the wrong track here, but I thought the anti-terrorist laws were something to do with, you know, stopping terrorism.

Kate snorted and if her snort could have begun with a capital ‘S’, it would have.

“What terrorists?” she asked.

It was frankly difficult to know where to start. With the ones who killed 2,400 with poison gas on the tube five years ago, perhaps? Or the ones who blew 300 holidaymakers to hell just off the runway at Gatwick some 18 months back?

Kate was not comfortable with my response - though with the slightest talent for advance planning (“another bloody Industrial-Patriarchal Concept”) she would surely have seen it coming.

After a little bit of gentle journalistic prodding, she ventured the opinion, if you can dignify it as such, that the terrorists in question may well have been working for the British government.

Hmmm... I said. I don’t want to be rude, but I think that I may have detected a slight flaw in your analysis.

Why exactly would our government want to blow up thousands of its own citizens and carry out attacks that are estimated to have cost our economy in the region of £60 billion?

“So they could do all this, of course!” said Kate with the air of a nursery school teacher trying to explain to a particularly unintelligent three-year-old why the square block should be inserted into the box via the square hole.

“OK Kate,” I say, and take out my handkerchief to wipe the sweat from my furrowed liberal brow.

“So you are saying that the government hired a bunch of terrorists to launch a hugely expensive series of attacks on this country and its people, just to give it the excuse to build a hugely expensive network of detention centres in which to imprison these same terrorists?

“Kate,” I ask her when she’d finished babbling about “Human Rights”, “Criminalising Dissent” and “Real Democracy” (as opposed to the False Democracy of voting for governments which promise to protect your family from being murdered by terrorists), “Kate, do you think that if the general public had real ‘awareness’ of the, ummm, unconventional views you and your colleagues hold, they would be happy to see you camped out here for the weekend on public land with your wind-powered direct action video screenings and organic creches? Do you think, if they were aware of what you just told me, that they would trust you to tell them the difference between what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, about law enforcement and public security in Britain today?”

“FUCK OFF!” says Kate, most definitely using capital letters throughout.

Despite my disappointing encounter with the self-appointed prophets of totalitarian doom in Hackney, I decided to pursue the investigation of the Detention Centres issue as demanded by my soft liberal conscience.

After all, as any student of logic could tell you (and I fancy that Kate was never enrolled on that particular course), just because you don’t care much for the opposition, that doesn’t mean the thing they’re opposing is necessarily worthy of your approval.

The thought of human beings - men, women and children - caged up and tormented in giant prison camps in the countryside was not something I was finding it easy to reconcile with my trust in Britain’s attachment to justice and civilisation.

The only way to resolve this was to see for myself.

This was easier said than done, of course, and many a reporter attempting to gain access to the centres has been sent packing with a flea in the ear and a warning that they were lucky it was not a bullet, such are the sensitivities of the security sector in this time of unprecedented terrorist threat (sorry Kate, I know that’s a terribly Politically Incorrect thing to say).

Luckily, though, I was able to pull a few strings with a trusty contact at the Home Office and, following a rather in-depth personal vetting procedure (which obviously failed to unearth my prominent role in the Basingstoke Sixth Form College Anti-Capitalist Society), I found myself on the way to Titnore Detention Centre near Worthing in West Sussex.

Built in just six months at the start of last year, the centre cost just over £6 million to put together and can hold 1,500 suspects.

As our military vehicle swung off the M27 and approached the outer perimeter checkpoint, I braced myself for the worst.

Was I going to be able to cope, emotionally, with the trauma of witnessing at close hand the most inhuman of all human predicaments? Would I be able to meet any of the prisoners in the eye and ever sleep again? Would the horrors ahead destroy forever my faith in my own country and its institutions?

The photos smuggled out of various centres that had been featured prominently in Capital Kate’s Festival of Fear were still imprinted on the retina of my mind’s eye.

As we waited in what was clearly some kind of civilian staff recreation area for access to the Horror of all Horrors, I found myself, for all my usual hard-boiled cynicism, filled with a rather unpleasant sensation that I guess must have been trepidation.

So it was an anti-climax of the first order to find that we were, in fact, already in the Detention Centre itself!

A small crowd of spectators was gathered around a table tennis table as two healthy-looking young men pinged and ponged with alarming ferocity.

An ad-hoc game of football was going on behind the nearest building - though sports fans will be disappointed to learn I failed to make a note of the score.

Elsewhere, people of all ages, races and sizes were sitting or standing or leaning in the sunshine, chatting, resting or just being.

Obviously, I smelled a rat. That’s what I’m trained to do, after all.

“I wonder,” I asked cautiously of Captain X, my tour guide for the day. “Would it be possible for me to have a word with one or two of these people?”

I was mentally prepared to memorise the exact phrasing of the reply he was about to deliver - the reply that would suggest that speaking to anyone would not be entirely appropriate, or which would, more subtly, steer me towards the specific two or three so-called detainees that the government wanted me to meet, rather than random unreliables from the crowd.

I’ve read “They Must Think We’re Fucking Stupid!” as well. I’m aware of how these things work. But that reply never came.

Instead I got an “Of course, be my guest. They’re not all native English speakers, but even those that couldn’t get by when they arrived are pretty much au fait by now.”

I was so taken aback by this opportunity that I virtually leapt upon the first person that came to hand, before the Captain came to his senses and changed his mind.

She certainly was an English speaker. She even came from my old home town - Basingstoke. I think her mum may have sold me Danish pastries from the shop down the road from where I was supposed to be having my piano lessons.

“So why are you here?” was the first to-the-point question I asked Trish, after a couple of minutes of Basingstoke chat.

She got a bit embarrassed about this. Told me she’d been campaigning against voting - arguing that the whole electoral system was somehow a fraud designed to hoodwink people, rather than represent their views.

“People did mention to us that it was probably illegal now, under the new Democracy Laws, but we just didn’t take any notice. We thought we could just carry on like we always had. We didn’t realise how much everything had been changed by all this terrorism.”

When I asked Trish whether the Detention Centres were really as bad as Hitler’s concentration camps or Stalin’s gulags, I have to report that she laughed and asked who had said they were.

I told her about Kate and her festival and Trish just shrugged.

“I can understand why they’d think that,” she admitted. “I mean, I would have probably been doing something similar myself, not so long ago. And there are certainly issues around us being in here in the first place...”

I nod in sympathy and suggest it’s all a matter of finding the correct balance, in a civilised country, between individual liberties and collective well-being.

“Exactly,” says Trish. “And although we might disagree with the powers-that-be over where exactly to draw the line, we can grasp the thinking behind it. As for the conditions here, well...”

She simply looked around her, implicitly inviting me to do the same. No further comment was necessary. “But don’t you get bored?” I ask.

As if on cue, a siren sounds and everybody starts to shift themselves.

“What, in ten minutes?” smiles Trish and starts to move towards the nearest block of buildings, obviously keen to return to her work.

I walk with her, so as to prolong our conversation for another few seconds.

“I know this sounds stupid,” she adds, “and I know a lot of the people who were my friends out there will hate me for saying this, but I really feel I’m doing something useful in here. I really am contributing something tangible to the world in a way that I honestly never felt I was before.” As she disappeared, with a cheery wave, into the production block with the last of her colleagues, I was left in the deserted exercise area reflecting that this was one aspect of the scheme most cruelly twisted by the poisonous propaganda pumped out by the likes of Kate and the other wide-eyed gangsters whose real aims seem less to “free” the future than spoil it for all of us.

While they may try to frighten us with images of poor souls locked away for no good reason, to no good effect, the opposite is in fact the case.

Security issues aside, the great thing about our Detention Centres is that people aren’t wasting their time there.

They are putting in a full working week - more, in fact, as the average travel-to-work time is deducted from the calculation of their hours - to bolster the British economy.

It would clearly be outrageous to allow criminals to grow rich during their period of detention, so the cost to the employer of their ‘wages’ amounts to little more than a contribution towards keeping them alive and in a fit enough state to turn up for their shifts.

And this attractive proposition has already reaped its rewards by persuading important corporations like Globartis plc, x-3 and Lam to return to these shores a decade after they were driven away by the red-tape and unrealistic demands of a traditionally inflexible British workforce.

When I mentioned this promising development to an old leftie friend of mine, he was distinctly unimpressed.

“Slave labour,” was the phrase that kept cropping up, as he rapidly worked his way through a £35 bottle of Claret at our local brasserie.

Look, I told him. If those computer components weren’t being assembled at the Detention Centre, would they simply not be assembled at all?

No, he conceded. They would still be assembled somewhere.

And was it not likely - indeed inevitable - that they would instead be assembled by 13 year olds girls in Thailand, Indonesia or Free China?

He nodded.

And so, I asked, where did that leave his bleeding heart ethical objection to “slave labour”? Would he rather the victims of such exploitation were innocent children from the Far East or suspected terrorists from our own land?

If the answer was the former, I suggested, he was a racist and I would find it very difficult to believe that he, of all people, deserved that label. My friend could provide no reply with the coherence to merit it being recorded on these pages.

I should add that my absolute certainty on this point should not give the impression that my view of the Detention Centres lacks complexity.

For instance, after my brief conversation with Trish, I did wander further into the centre, unescorted, and discovered areas in a state of filth that surely should not be tolerated in a civilised society.

And there is, I feel, a strong argument that the concept of “indefinite” detention should be softened, with an allowance for genuine changes of heart and acceptance of democratic norms - except, of course in those cases where actual acts of violence or damage have been carried out.

Reform is, and always will be, a necessary and positive process with which to silence the critics, reassure the majority and, indeed, improve the efficiency of any system of organising human activity - for no such structure can ever be perfect outside of the text book.

As far as the overall rights and wrongs of the Detention Centre method itself is concerned, I would like to think that if any journalist was to cast the spotlight on them and expose them to the most fundamental of moral reassessments, then that journalist would be me.

Sometimes, I must confess, I do still harbour doubts and wonder if that is exactly what I should be doing.

But then I mentally compare the number of smiling faces I saw at the Titnore Detention Centre with the number I saw at Kate’s “Wreck the Future!” bonanza in Hackney, and I know that my judgement is sound.”

Miller glowed as he put down the plastic folder that had protected the magazine pages for so many years.

As time went by, he had realised that this had probably been the most significant of all his many journalistic interventions.

Everyone had been happy with it.

He himself had been highly satisfied with the way he had married polemic intent with raw material that was drawn from real-life reportage - well, partly anyway, but the fact that nobody could tell which bits he had made up was further evidence of his achievement.

The editor had been pleased, too. It was quite a coup - Inside a Detention Centre.

And, most importantly, Granville had been pleased. Miller had come up with just what he wanted, at the time he most needed it.

These things never appear to have much of an immediate effect. No real critic of the detention centres had been swayed by his carefully composed piece. That would never have been a realistic ambition, anyway.

And most of the general public never read the article, never saw the magazine.

Maybe even the target audience - the opinion-forming, liberal-leaning professionals who thought it their duty to care about such things - were not completely convinced by Miller’s account and many may well have come away with a few question marks in their heads over where exactly he was coming from.

But there was nothing conclusive enough to put them off completely. The article had proved sufficiently plausible to sow the seeds of doubt, blur the edges, transform the dangerous unease that had been growing with regard to the detention centres into something more like a controversy, in which the point of contention was whether there was anything wrong with this unprecedented project at all.

It had been with some satisfaction that Miller had seen the essentials of his article gain a life of their own, reappearing in print, on the internet and even in overheard conversations.

Some of this must also have been down to Granville. He was always very firm on the necessity of following through a campaign in a thorough and merciless fashion, and Miller suspected there were a lot more of Granville’s specials at large in the media world than he had been led to believe.

Be that as it may, it had been Miller’s original article, his own skill and subtlety, that had allowed a crucial weakness to open up in the opposition ranks.

Once the detention centres were accepted as part of life - albeit a “controversial” one - there was nothing to stop the next phase of consolidation from going ahead.

Miller gazed out over the city from his balcony, lost in the heady intrigues of half a century ago. It was there, in the past, that his spirit had been residing for some decades now.

That was when he had been someone, that was when he was doing something. Now he was just a tired old man, sitting back and enjoying the not inconsiderable fruits of his labour.

A surveillance drone emerged out of the blue smog and hovered close to a window in the block over the street.

A column of anti-terror police was also making its way in this direction, he noticed, and he leaned forward in anticipation of some excitement.

But it was a coincidence. They were going somewhere else. And the drone soon gave up and flew away into the haze.

Miller sighed. That was the trouble these days. The war had been won long ago and well-established security was simply not as thrilling.

He’d often been tempted to come back from retirement and try his hand again for one last time, just for nostalgia’s sake.

But who would know him now? Granville was long gone, of course. And even his successor, the young chap with the Italian-sounding name he could never remember - had apparently retired.

The only contact Miller now had with the department was automatic - the credits that had been dropping reassuringly into his bank account every month for the last god-knows-how-many years.

In any case, he mused, what exactly could he contribute to a society in which terrorism and subversion had, frankly, been defeated.

There was no need now to combat the distortions and incitements of those old-style shit-stirrers and rabble-rousers.

There was no need now for his finely honed ability to undermine the efforts of malcontents and misfits because, thanks partly to him, they simply didn’t exist.

Which in a way, Miller thought, was a bit of a...

And, before the word could fully form itself in his mind, he grabbed a Blissax from the small table at his side, downed it with a gulp of water and turned his full attention to the e-crossword.