Saturday 6 November 2010

Westfield heavies bundle librarians into street

What I saw today was farcical – but sinister. Responding to a reader who’d suggested I might want to come down to cover a protest outside the new Shepherd’s Bush library I was anticipating a quick 10 minute job after the gym and to be on my way. I didn’t really know the details of what the librarians were protesting about but assumed I’d find out and that it probably had something to do with pay.

Arriving at the library I saw no more than about 5 people, 4 of whom were women, handing out the odd leaflet. Having introduced myself I was in the process of interviewing one of the women, an assistant librarian who works at the library and was taking part in the protest on her break. All was calm and I began to understand the issues - essentially they are having their pay reduced and being told to accept new terms and conditions about which I will post again later because what happened next was the thing that dominated the rest of the proceedings.

For five large men in black bomber jackets and suits had by now turned up and were angrily insisting that the two women they’d cornered by a lamppost leave at once. Catching sight of me interviewing said assistant librarian one of them marched towards me, demanded I stop recording the interview and actually rested his hands menacingly on my chest as he purposefully leaned forward into my face to tell me that if I didn’t leave right away the next step would be to call the police. I’d had my one and final warning he informed me, eyes narrowed. When I asked him what the warning was for, Nathan – according to his name badge and the guy in the video above – told me I was on private property and was very much not welcome. This was the message being put forcefully to the other protestors, who pointed out that most of them worked inside the public library they were stood outside. No matter, said the heavies, they didn’t have Westfield’s permission and had to leave. Now.

It took three requests for young Nathan to take his hands off me before he did, and this may have had something to do with my explanation that I wasn’t part of the protest or, more likely, the police constable who’d by now appeared on the scene.

At this point the whole demeanour of the heavies changed as if by magic. The policeman would have had a glittering career in the diplomatic service if he’d taken another path, patiently pointing out that yes, this was private property but that the heavies themselves, to use his words, had to “find a compromise”. The protestors wanted to follow their instructions and leave what was clearly Westfield land but continue their protest on the pavement. Westfield’s henchmen were having none of it – Westfield owned the pavement too, they said. At this point the policeman looked incredulous and repeated his request for a calm compromise, and even radioed the dialogue he’d just had back to the station, presumably to be recorded.

At this point, realising they were unable to push the protestors completely out of sight, the heavies eventually just drifted off leaving everyone, including the policeman I suspect, bemused.

As the gaggle of protestors now congregated on the pavement sharing their experiences with Westfield’s finest, we heard tell of one woman who’d actually been chased down the street because one of the henchmen had wanted to seize her camcorder. Funny how they didn’t try that one on me; can’t imagine why. These were big men so long as they could pick on women, and do so without the police watching.

Perhaps predictably Labour Leader Stephen Cowan also put in an appearance to support the librarians. He hadn’t arrived in time to see the heavies at work but said "it raises big questions" about people's right to protest about a public service.

And what does this say about our new “public” library? That there is an industrial dispute is something I’ll return to later and there will be two valid sides to the argument, but for the time being it seems that what was described by Westfield as a “goodwill gesture” in building the new library – comes with strings attached. Don’t hang around outside and certainly don’t protest about anything. Or else.

On the other hand if you're the Council and filming a good news video about the library - you're very welcome indeed. Here's some more footage from the reader who is commenter number three in the comments section to this article:


  1. This is issue has been slowly building for years. Public spaces are handed over to developers for regeneration on the cheap. They can then operate the spaces as they choose. The rule of thumb is; If your spending money you are welcome, anything else, get lost.

  2. however the fun thing about private land is that it takes a court order before you legally have to leave.
    That little nugget has spared protests in manchester for years.

  3. Here's some of the shots I got Chris:

    That first guy is the one who chased me out. I was worried he was going to grab the camera so hightailed it round the corner and did the second lot of shooting across the street so that people could see how many of those guys were there. The whole thing was just so dumb. All of that and that incredibly aggressive attitude for three librarians handing out leaflets - talking into mikes on collars like the CIA? Wtf?

  4. Anonymous@6 November 2010 20:29

    Not true, the landowner (or their agents, e.g. security) can use reasonable force to eject trespassers, they don't need a court order.

  5. Anonymous @6 November 2010 20:29 and Jason Sands are both right.

    The landowner, or their agents, which can be security or sometimes the police can use reasonable force to eject trespassers, but that doesn't mean you have to eject yourself. Trespassing is not generally a crime, so in theory you can just let the security carry you off the land and then come straight back.

    There criminal offences of trespass in some special types of places, such as railways, embassies and a few others, and there's also a criminal offence of "aggravate trespass", which is essentially disrupting lawful activity while trespassing.

  6. Yeah, but guys - librarians? Come on. They should have just said 'hand out your leaflets quietly for half an hour, then on yr bikes, girls.' The copper was laughing.

  7. Most pathways outside Libraries are a public right of way.

  8. Does this mean that there is no public right of way to the library? Can Westfield arbitrarily decide who can and can not access the library?

    There's actually a similar issue at Canary Wharf with the tube station there - incredibly there's no public right of way.

  9. Fuck Westfield security.

    "You need to put that away" What a little jobswoth. I see this all too often - plastic little security men with pumped up little hitler attitudes attempting to assert their authority by picking on innocent protesters.

    If he laid a finger on me he would've ended up in a hospital for his troubles. Peace.

  10. agree with the sentiment but lets keep it clean shall we? no need to sink to their level.

  11. They were only doing their job. We should be asking whether faceless companies should be able to dictate who does what in our public spaces.

    Mark, you're right about Canary Wharf. I suspect it also has the largest private security force in the country, and yet none of the 'officers' can gain entry to where the majority of the crimes are being committed - behind glass doors.

  12. Westfield security are tossers.

  13. if it's on the street, then that's a public highway. if the cops says different, then correct him. you might be best off informing him that he's failing to adequately provide for your right to peaceful assembly under the human rights act.

    i had a similar experience with london coalition against poverty outside the housing office in lewisham not long ago. we got attacked by 2 security guards, one of whom deliberately smashed a digital camera and threw the contents of a trestle table into the path of an oncoming bus, causing it to swerve. a passer by - NOTHING to do with us - stopped and was so shocked that he called the cops. while they were on their way, said security guards went round the corner, extracted a pocket knife and cut a miniscule hole in his shirt, in order to tell the rozz that "4 or 5" of us "had jumped on his back". unfortunately, the emotionally charged nature of the situation led to me losing my calm a little bit as i remonstrated with a cop who'd already extracted his cuffs to nick me for this imagined assault charge. i swore and he considered that sufficient cause with which to nick me and fine me for a public order offence.

    unperturbed, we went back a couple of weeks later. this time, the cops arrived instantly (!!) and thus the security stayed well away.

  14. As I understand it the Southern Terrace is a public right of way.

  15. Chris, well done on making this piece to BBC news. I did post soon after your post but it got lost in the ether. Libraries in LBHF are under yet another restructuring, cost cutting, removing qualified Librarians and heading for the Waterstones model. When they close the Carnegie Library in Hammersmith they will relocate to a corner of WHSmiths.....

  16. Hi...I'm a member of the Voices for the Library campaign ( were all really shocked by what happened whilst people were campaigning for their local library. We publish stories on our site from library users as well as library staff and would really like to hear from someone who witnessed this first hand and is willing to share their experience. Contact details are on our website.

  17. coming soon..this is the clip without the sound....but wait and you wioll be heard soon!!! & woodstock crew

  18. The problem is that we do not realize how the public realm is being depleted through Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) and Business Improvement District (BIDs) with their own agendas.

    Check out this map:

    a crowd-sourced project were people identify the POPS and BIDs they know about. Only when we'll see how we are completely surrounded by them, we will understand how little 'public' the public space is.