Tagged: Birmingham

Benefits Street viewing figures down by more than a million for first Stockton episode

The opening episode of Benefits Street attracted almost three million viewers – but was down on last year’s first instalment.

Last night’s episode of the new Channel 4 series featured residents getting to grips with the media interest in their street.

The goings-on in Kingston Road in Tilery, Stockton, attracted 2.95 million viewers (13.5%) on Monday night.

The documentary beat New Tricks on BBC1, which attracted 2.2 million, and came second to Safe House on ITV, which was watched by 4.8 million.

The audience was 75% above the slot average, but the total was down on the 4.3 million viewers who saw the opening episode of the controversial first series last year.

Channel 4 said that it was the most popular programme in the slot for 16 to 34-year-olds

The first series was made in Birmingham and attacked by some critics as “poverty porn”.

The broadcaster’s head of documentaries Nick Mirsky has said the “increasing divide between rich and poor” is an important subject and has not ruled out making a third series.

He said:

There isn’t a third series of Benefits Street in production but what I would say though is that the gap between rich and poor and the subject of welfare and benefits is an important subject.

“Channel 4 have to keep looking at that and finding ways of telling stories.”

> How about a fly-on-the-wall series showing how Jobcentre staff treat claimants ?

Or do the poor always have to be the villains ?

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 12 May 2015

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TV’s Benefits Street in Stockton condemned for showing criminal activity

Community leaders have condemned controversial TV programme Benefits Street for openly shows drug dealing and substance abuse in Stockton.

The show, which was filmed in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate follows on from the first series which made stars of some of the inhabitants of Birmingham‘s James Turner Street but was described by some critics as “poverty porn“.

Among the residents introduced in the first Stockton episode is Neil Maxwell who is shown bagging up cannabis, smoking the drug and taking pills before a court appearance.

The Northern Echo reported in March that Maxwell and his brother Robert were jailed for a double stabbing after one of them was accused of stealing money and tobacco from a neighbour. Both admitted unlawful wounding and Neil Maxwell was locked up for two years and three months.

The 36-year-old, who told the film crew he has taken “early retirement” from a life of crime after a string of convictions, said he claimed benefits because he suffers from memory loss.

In one scene, he is seen spending his benefits money to top up his tan at a local sunbed salon.

Kieran Smith, from Love Productions which makes the show, said they had followed “strict guidelines” about filming illegal activity.

 He said: “We are never suggesting to Maxwell that he does this on camera, we don’t encourage him in any way shape or form.

“We filmed with Maxwell for quite a long period of time and he was very clear about the potential repercussions about his behaviour and what might happen to him.”

Mr Smith said the show was “not glorying in his behaviour” and was “quite an honest account of what his life is like.

But Cllr Bob Cook, the leader of Stockton Borough Council, Labour, condemned the programme makers. He said:

“Why wasn’t this reported to the police? If there’s a crime the police should be told, that would responsible.”

> I suspect the police will know about it all by now ! I dont think they are dealing with a criminal mastermind here.

Cllr Cook accepted that there was poverty in Stockton but argued the programme was unlikely to give a fair portrayal of the town. He said:

“There is deprivation in Stockton but we also have some of the most affluent areas in the country and it is one of the best areas of the country to start a business.”

 Cllr Cook’s political rival, Cllr Ken Lupton, recent leader of the Conservative Group, agreed. He said:
“As far as I’m concerned, if the programme identifies criminal activity they should be making the police aware. It’s just showing the town in a bad light and is not giving a balanced view.”
> But its worse than that of course – the programme sends out the message that this is what all people on benefits are like.  Mail and Express readers will lap it up.
Source – Northern Echo, 29 Apr 2015

Benefit Street protest in Stockton creates The Loudest Whisper

The word on the street was “This is Stockton-on-Tees” as thousands of residents attempted the world’s biggest game of Chinese Whispers to bolster the town’s image before a controversial Channel 4 documentary is broadcast.

Over two days ‘The Loudest Whisper’ will spread the message at some of the borough’s beauty spots including Infinity Bridge, Preston Park Museum and Grounds, and Wynyard Hall.

The ‘Psst…’ (Positively Stockton-on-Tees) Campaign was launched after filming for the Benefits Street series started last year which, it is feared, will negatively portray residents living in Kingston Road in the deprived Tilery area.

The first series, based in Birmingham, was branded ‘poverty porn’, however the hit show’s producers insisted it was about ‘giving a voice’ to a little known section of society.

World champion Stockton sprinter Richard Kilty demonstrated his pride for his home town by starting the “This is Stockton-on-Tees” whisper with more than 200 pupils at North Shore Academy, near Kingston Street, before 800 people passed it on over Infinity Bridge.

The message was then spread around 300 teenagers on their lunch break at Stockton Sixth Form College before it was put on ice at the Billingham Forum skating rink.

 Today (Saturday) will see youngsters taking part in a swim relay at Splash from 8.15am followed by a ‘Keep Calm and Curry On’ event at Ropner Park where the whisper will continue to be circulated around the community while they tuck into Indian cuisine cooked by Parkfield and Oxbridge residents and local chef Matty Brown.

The makers of Benefit Street, Love Productions, said on its website about the documentary:

“It’s a place where residents face challenges such as bringing up children in poverty, low levels of education and training, drug and alcohol dependency, and crime. But it also has a strong sense of community, where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way.”

Mike McGrother, frontman of the Wildcats of Kilkenny who masterminded the ambitious Psst…event with Stockton Borough Council, said:

“The nature of a Chinese Whisper reminds us that a message can be manipulated, but we are choosing to remind people of how a positive message can bring a community together.

 “The words of the message aren’t overly important – it’s more about the message of positivity we are putting out there.”

Phil Mulhaire who produced the spectacle, added:

“This is a light-hearted response to the Benefit Street programme because people feel it will not a true reflection, that its people are not feckless, this is to show the other side.”

Source – Northern Echo, 14 Mar 2015

Newcastle could see first demo of European racist group Pegida

A notorious European ‘anti-Islam’ movement says it will hold its first British demo in Newcastle.

Pegida has sparked huge controversy in Germany.

Under the banner of ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’, it claims it is trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants.

It brought 25,000 to the streets of Dresden in demos backing its cause.

But it also sparked huge counter demos, with 100,000 protesting against its stance.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described it as racist, and Pegida’s leadership was said to be in crisis with “massive hostility, threats and career disadvantages” causing five of its senior members to step down after its founder was pictured dressed as Adolf Hitler.

It is advertising its first ever UK demo for Newcastle on February 28, the Mirror has reported.

It is the first of a series of demos planned for the UK, with others due to take place in Manchester, Birmingham and London.

Northumbria Police has yet to be notified about the event.

 

Pegida’s UK spokesman told the Mirror:

“We do not want to attract extremists to this rally.

“We are against radical Islam, hate preachers and believe Muslims need to adapt to our way of life in the West instead of us adapting to them.

“We do not want to do anything illegal and we will liaise with the police over this even if it means delaying the march by a week or two.

“We expect anywhere from 500 to 3,000 people for our first rally, and could then move on to London, Manchester and Birmingham.

“We chose Newcastle as neutral ground. This is a new and peaceful movement, and we do not want to get into any racist, right wing stuff.

> Well that’ll confuse the home-grown right wing loonies… are they supposed to support it or not ?

“This is against extremism. If we can get 300 terrorists out of the UK, then as far as we are concerned that is a step in the right direction.”

Northumbria Police said they had not been contacted by the organisers of the February 28 event.

The group has also held its first march in Austria, where it attracted a few hundred supporters.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Feb 2015

Muslim Newcastle councillor vows to support jailed far-right protestor

> Well, this is a move that should sow confusion in the ranks of the stormtroopers !

While they shared the same city streets, their political ideologies were worlds apart.

But now a Muslim councillor has become the unlikely supporter of a rioting thug jailed after a violent far-right protest.

Anthony Webster, from Newcastle’s West End, is beginning a 21-month jail sentence after he and scores of other far-right supporters ran riot on the streets of Birmingham following a march through the city.

But today Coun Dipu Ahad, a passionate antifascism campaigner who has regularly publicly condemned such views, has revealed how he tried to help the yob turn his life around after meeting him and seeing his remorse.

And the Elswick councillor now feels he may have missed his chance to save Webster, and reach out to others through him.

He said:

“I was gutted he went to jail. I think he just got swept up in it all and didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

“I hope I can work with him when he gets out and show him what different communities are about. I really think he wants to change.”

Webster, of West Road, was among more than 50 people charged with violent disorder after attending an English Defence League (EDL) march in Birmingham on July 20, 2013.

After yobs ran riot in the city’s Centenary Square, hurling missiles and injuring a number of cops, a police operation stretching across the nation swung into action to trace those responsible.

And by last week 50 rioters had been jailed for a total of more than 75 years.

But as Webster awaited his fate at court he ran into Coun Ahad on the West Road.

“After we got chatting I realised he was genuinely remorseful,” said Coun Ahad.

“He said he wanted to learn more about other cultures and religions. I told him to call me if he ever needed anything.

“He told me no one had ever shown him any support, and about three or four days after he gave me a call and we chatted.

“After speaking to me I think he realised that I’m a human being, like anyone else. I think he began to realise that Muslims are not bad people.

“He also assured me that he will withdraw his membership from any far right groups and will not partake in any demos in the future.”

Coun Ahad was so moved by 38-year-old Webster’s remorse and desire to make amends, he even wrote a letter to the sentencing judge asking him to consider giving Webster a chance – despite the criticisim he knew that might attract.

“I thought I would get a lot of backlash from people that have been fighting racism and fascism for a lot of years,” he said.

“But I was convinced that he wanted to change.

“So I explained why I was doing it and that he was a human being too.

“Some far-right group members might have racist values but that’s because of ignorance. If you can speak to these people a lot of them will change their ways.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015

Sunderland man jailed for EDL violence

A Sunderland man has been jailed for taking part in violence at an English Defence League protest.

Stuart Snowball, 24, was one of dozens of troublemakers who were arrested after trouble flared during a rally of the far right group in Birmingham in 2013.

Fifty men have appeared before Birmingham Crown Court over the past five weeks to be sentenced for violent disorder after ugly scenes were witnessed by police and visitors on July 20, 2013.

The court heard how trouble flared within factions of the 2,000 strong crowd with missiles thrown at police.

A number of officers suffered minor injuries as they tried to restore order amongst the violent minority.

West Midlands Police launched an investigation to trace those responsible by studying CCTV footage and appearing on the BBC’s Crimewatch.

Now the EDL yobs have been jailed for a total of more than 75 years with sentences ranging from community orders to three years and eight months prison.

Snowball, of Howarth Street, Sunderland, has been jailed for 13 months.

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  13 Jan 2015

 

Middlesbrough man one of 50 jailed for part in huge EDL rally in Birmingham

A Middlesbrough man is one of 50 behind bars after violence flared at a huge EDL rally.

Kenneth Graham, aged 20, of Ottawa Road, Longlands, Middlesbrough was ordered to spend 26 months behind bars for violent disorder, after the mass protest in Birmingham City Centre on July 20, 2013.

Over the past five weeks, 50 people have appeared at Birmingham Crown Court – and were sentenced for a combined 75 years on Friday.

Most of the violence took part in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, and sparked a massive inquiry from detectives from West Midlands Police criminal investigation department to track down those who brought violence to the streets.

Operations were conducted across the Midlands and further afield to arrest those believed to be involved in the disorder.

Those sentenced came from across England.

Others from the North East include Thomas Milner, 21, of Herbert Street, Darlington, who was jailed for 16 months for violent disorder.

Sentencing for Michael Wilson, aged 20, of Arkley Crescent in Hartlepool was adjourned until 30 January.

Detective Chief Inspector Simon Wallis, who led the nationwide hunt to bring the rioters to justice, said:

“Many lives have been affected by the actions of the rioters on that day. The people who took part in the riots in Birmingham have had their lives turned upside down and so have their families.

“These men now have to spend a period of time in custody away from their families paying the price for their actions. Some family members never even knew their loved ones had been arrested and were facing time in prison.

“These people travelled to Birmingham on July 20 2013 intent on causing violence in the heart of the city. The sentences given of more than 75 years in total sends out a clear message to people intent on causing trouble.”

Around 20 arrests were made in total on the day, with supporters of both factions detained for public order offences.

An appeal on BBC’s Crimewatch in January 2014 led to people identifying themselves to police, while members of the public also contacted officers to give information on the culprits.

Smoke bombs, cobble stones, bottles and coins were hurled at police as the English Defence League and their opponents descended on Birmingham city centre for simultaneous demonstrations.

One policeman suffered concussion during scuffles with protesters while other demonstrators were left bloodied by missiles and clashes with police.

An estimated 2,000 EDL supporters turned up, chanting hate-filled, anti-Islam slogans.

About 300 people – some wearing balaclavas – from Unite Against Fascism and other groups turned out for their counter-demonstration.

More than 1,000 police officers from the West Midlands and other forces had been drafted in to keep the groups apart.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette,  12 Jan 2015

Benefits Street Stockton likely to hit television screens in March 2015

The new series of Benefits Street being filmed on Teesside is likely to air in March next year.

The second series of the observational documentary series is being filmed in Kingston Road, Tilery, in Stockton.

It comes after the first – based in Birmingham – attracted huge controversy.

Sources close to the show havesaid that the first instalment of the second series of Benefits Street is expected to be shown on Channel 4 in March next year – although the exact date is still undecided.

The decision to film in Stockton caused widespread outrage, with some accusing Channel 4 of using “poverty tourism” to chase ratings.

The first series made stars of some of its cast but was described by some critics as “poverty porn”.

Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, accused the broadcaster of perpetuating a “monstrous travesty of reality”.

And Labour’s Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham wrote to every resident of Kingston Road asking them to “think again” about taking part in the documentary.

He also suggested the makers of the programme, Love Productions, should “get out of the town”.

After the story broke  in August that the show WAS being filmed on Teesside, Boro fans at the Riverside Stadium unveiled a banner reading “Being poor is not entertainment”.

Protest against Benefits Street at the Riverside
Protest against Benefits Street at the Riverside

Boro supporters’ group Red Faction were behind the banners unveiled in the south stand of the Riverside Stadium during Boro’s game against Reading.

Group member Steve Fletcher, 27, said at the time: “Shows like this demonise working class people. They need help, not mocking.”

However, the chief executive of Channel 4 defended its decision to make another series of Benefits Street in Stockton.

Despite the fierce local and national criticism of the show, Ralph Lee, boss of the channel, said that the broadcaster’s output would not be “censored”.

Mr Lee told a national newspaper:

We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes.

“In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that.

“I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette,  24 Nov 2014

Benefits Street: MP accuses Channel 4 of using ‘poverty tourism’ to chase ratings

Channel 4 has been accused of perpetuating a “monstrous travesty of reality” by producing shows such as Benefits Street.

The second series of the show is being filmed in Kingston Road, Tilery, in Stockton, after the first – based in Birmingham – attracted huge controvery.

MP Austin Mitchell accused the broadcaster, which sparked controversy with the notorious show Benefits Street earlier this year, of using “poverty tourism” to chase ratings.

He made the comments as Channel 4 goes ahead with a second series of Skint, due to air next week, which was filmed in his Grimsby constituency despite local opposition.

The first instalment of the observational documentary series, an investigation into poverty in Scunthorpe, followed people living on the Westcliff estate.

The Labour MP told Radio Times magazine:

“Poverty isn’t an entertainment. It’s private, debilitating and alienating.”

Channel 4 has discovered that poverty tourism does more for ratings than celebrity culture, missions to explain or any highfalutin attempts to hold government to account.

“Kicking people when they’re down (and gullible) is so much easier and less expensive than intelligent programming.

“Victims don’t sue, and when do-gooders complain, they can always be accused of wanting to censor serious seekers after truth. So we get a proliferation of misery telly and programmes like Benefits Street, Immigration Street and Skint.”

He claimed that the broadcaster was stirring up antagonism against the poor and failing to show balance by neglecting to put the rich under the same spotlight.“Demonising the poor and turning deprivation into entertainment isn’t just deplorable, it’s dishonest,” he said.

Poverty has become an object of blame, as if scroungers are responsible for the size of the benefits bill, young people enjoy a life of idleness and ‘hard-working families’ are having to work for peanuts while lazy neighbours procreate.

“This is a monstrous travesty of reality and concentrates hatred on the least well-educated, most deprived.

“TV doesn’t even balance it with shows on the scandal of massive tax evasion and avoidance by corporations and the rich, the luxurious lifestyle of the City and Taxhaven on Thames or the excesses of the Wolf of Wall Street.”

> Well of course they don’t – those people own them !

He urged Channel 4 to “think again”, adding: “Why not turn the cameras on the bankers punishing the poor, with Benefits Bankers, Tax-Evading Toffs and Fiddling Financiers? When is television going to do its job and take on all that? All it needs is guts and a sense of fairness.”

> See my previous comment.

The first series of Benefits Street, filmed in Birmingham, made stars of some of its cast but was described by some critics as “poverty porn”.

Programme-makers faced opposition in Stockton, the location for the new series of Benefits Street, and in Southampton, where spin-off series Immigration Street was being filmed.

Channel 4 executive Ralph Lee recently defended the shows, saying: “We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes.

“In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that. I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”

> In a way that perpetuates the stereotypes our tax-evading masters wish us to…

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 Nov 2014

Thousands robbed of right to vote in Sunderland, warns MP

Millions of people could be robbed of the right to vote because of new rules introduced to try to prevent fraud, an MP has warned.

Younger people are particularly like to be hit by the changes, said Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott.

And in Sunderland, the new system had led to more than 6,000 voters falling off the electoral register, the MP said.

Leading a Commons debate, she urged the Government to rethink the introduction of a new system called individual voter registration.

This was introduced in an attempt to tackle growing concern about voting fraud, following a scandal in Birmingham in 2004 where a five Labour councillors used bogus postal votes to try to counter the adverse impact of the Iraq war on the party’s support.

Judge Richard Mawrey QC found there had been “massive, systematic and organised” postal voting fraud “that would disgrace a banana republic”.

The old system in which one person fills in a registration form for the entire household has now been scrapped.

Instead, each voter now has to register individually and provide identifying information such as a date of birth and national insurance number.

But Mrs Elliott warned that some people did not have National Insurance numbers matched to their home address, and could find themselves unable to register.

She told MPs:

I agreed in principle with individual voter registration, but that it had to be implemented in a way that works. The new system, however, is simply being rushed through.

“My fear is that because the changes are being done at speed, and because of the lack of funding available to implement them, they will disfranchise millions of people. That does not improve our democracy at all.”

She added:

The groups being disfranchised that I am most concerned about are: students and young people; people who live in the private rented sector; and adults with no dependent children who are not yet claiming pensions or not on benefits.”

Mrs Elliott told MPs that Sunderland was a university city and became home to thousands of young people in term time.

She added:

Their national insurance number is often registered to the address of their parents’ home, so if they tried to go on the electoral register where they are students the data would not match.”

People who moved home frequently, or had never had any contact with the benefits system, might also have National Insurance numbers registered to the wrong address she said.

Some voters could also be disenfranchised because of mistakes in the National Insurance system, she said.

And she highlighted warnings from officials in Sunderland City Council, which oversees elections in the city, that the number of registered voters had fallen by 6,128 people since the new system came in.

Cabinet Office Minister Sam Gyimah said the changes were designed to ensure details on the electoral reister were correct.

He said

We must be mindful of the pitfalls of introducing a new method of registering to vote, and we should focus on the completeness and accuracy of the register. Much has been said about the need for the register to be complete, and the Government and I agree with everyone on the need for that, but we cannot ignore the importance of accuracy. Without an accurate register, we risk undermining the very elections on which the system is based, so we must not simply sweep away the importance of accuracy.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  23 Oct 2014