De-Ranged!

The summer is here and here at TAG we are taking advantage of the great weather to enjoy the wild open spaces of the military lands.

The recent focus on standards in public life has finally delivered a result. Locally and on a similar theme TAG have few updates worth sharing and – surprise surprise – DIO’s latest antics just might trigger a WTH shake of the head.

Summer Reading

We often struggle to articulate why access to the training estate is so important. Why are the rambling nature and informality of the tracks and trails so vital to mental and physical health?

For words and inspiration we need look no further than Nick Hayes‘ excellent work The Book of Trespass.

We would urge everyone to read this book, for it explains why the urge to be in nature, what makes a fence such and affront and offensive, how the powerful manipulate and seek to suppress and remove access…but above all what makes access to the military lands part of us and us very much part of the space.

We humans have been part of the landscape for thousands of years. Neolithic flints at Caesars Camp attest to this and exclusion is a very recent and unwelcome intrusion.

Neolithic flint found at Caesars Camp carrying the unmistakable mark of human presence between 4000 and 6000 years ago

At its basic level, with no gym fees or expensive equipment, recreational access really should be open and available to all. No matter the colour, creed or disposable income everyone can take part. The wider win delivered by casual access is reduced costs for physical and mental health intervention – a healthy society. We have yet to see any evidence DIO take these factors – our welfare – into consideration.

All good booksellers should have a copy of Nick’s book – such as this one.

No, its not a sponsored link or commission based plug to read Nick’s book…just a good idea if you have ever wondered why DIO are so obsessed with control and why the local community places a high value on casual access.

TAG & Private Eye

Known for its cutting journalism and exposing the corrupt, Private Eye have cast their critical gaze over DIO South East and their behaviour towards recreational access.

The article entitled De-ranged* can be found on page 48 in issue 1574 and covers a wide ranging (no pun intended) set of issues triggered by DIO, and points out this isn’t the first time the Eye has covered their antics. Issue 1555 of the Eye featured the efforts of Save our Spaces to reinstate access at Ash Ranges.

The latest article is worth a read, but only if your blood pressure can tolerate tales of empty threats, deletion of records to hide the truth, and the simple fact Long Valley really isn’t as busy as the signs claim.

The article mentions a email TAG received from an unnamed DIO email account, asking that we cease naming DIO staff, such as the commanding officer Lt Col Dickie Bishop, and only use generic titles claiming GDPR rules as good reason.

We checked with the ICO.

Junior officials can expect not to be named. However, senior staff – and those who set and make policy decisions – should expect to be held accountable. Which is exactly the principle we adhere to.

Until DIO can point to the legislation that backs up their claim the email can sit in the “crude attempt at censorship” bucket. DIO have repeatedly claimed the ICO are looking into a complaint against TAG…but at time of writing they have refused to provide the case reference number, in spite of being asked for it multiple times.

No doubt DIO would prefer to see everything working their way and trying to suppress dissent would help greatly. TAG are in good company. Private Eye have shared the name of who sits at the top of the mess DIO SE. We wonder if Private Eye will be subject to a similar complaints?

There is every chance more material will be heading to Private Eye very soon…we hope to make DIO and staff a regular feature.

*TAG adored the title…so we shamelessly copied it.

Uncomfortable Truth? Delete It!

For a long time the DANGER signs at Long Valley have been telling lies. TAG have proved this by obtaining the booking on/off records and comparing them to the number of hours the gates were locked.

You can read the full story here.

The October 2020 records are…outstanding. From 498 hours of lockout the area was in use for a mere 7.6 hours. This qualifies as a WTH head shake moment…but that is exactly what DIO’s own records said.

Before we go on its important to remind everyone there is such a thing as Standards in Public Life. There are seven of them (see Seven Principles of Public Life) and one is objectivity. We repeat it here:

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

From our latest FOI request we now know booking on/off records are deleted within 48 hours of their creation.

Yes, thats right…DIO are deleting records to prevent anyone from using them… to either inform objective policy (little chance of that happening in DIO) or permit objective and very reasonable criticism of their behaviour (every chance of TAG doing just that).

DIO records prove there is little chance of this sign telling the truth and conveying relevant information. The risks of a warning sign “crying wolf” are recognised but without political accountability DIO remain free to carry on ignoring a direct instruction to keep the area open when not in use

Another WTH head shake moment? We think so.

MoD’s own policy document (JSP375) indicates records should be kept for 3 years. Clearly DIO seem to think it doesn’t apply to them.

However, there is an extensive set of records that we can rely on.

TAG have been amassing a photographic record and there are nearly 400 images that capture the lack of use within Long Valley.

On their own the images simply record changes in the land and vehicle movements, or lack thereof. Collectively the date/time/location data highlight a pattern of inactivity and empty unused space.

With DIO deleting their own records we are confident TAG hold the sole example of a decent set of evidence, but we would always welcome any and all contributions.

From the bike tyre marks and dog walker footprints we know the local community are ignoring the signs – perfectly reasonable considering they lie more often than not – and the walk/ride could be put to wider benefit if a few photos were taken.

We will treat all contributions anonymously, so if you can help please get in touch via our Facebook Page.

Finally, should a TSM (Training Area Safety Marshall) attempt to prevent photography do ask for their name, and even better record the encounter…any attempt to restrict photography or recording by a TSM would be a very interesting discussion and hearing their reasons would be important.

Political Inaction

The local MPs have been generous in their support and kind words regarding recreational access to the lands. The MP for North East Hampshire – Ranil Jayawardena – took the lack of gates at Long Valley seriously (see Where Are The Gates) and wrote to constituents assuring more access was planned.

That was in April 2021. Its now June 2022 and no new gates have been installed.

TAG followed this up with a FOI to see the gate plans and DIO confirmed no such plans exist.

This is hardly surprising given DIO’s track record on ignoring political direction.

We know of several local constituents who have gone back to Mr Jayawardena, asking for an update on the gates. Regrettably at time of writing there has been no reply forthcoming. No wonder the community is resorting to informal access restoration.

When deciding what gets their attention politicians will undoubtedly factor in what wins votes and contrary to the kind words access to the military lands seems to not feature highly enough.

However, this exposes an issue concerning the entire estate – all 13,500 acres of it and the parts close to you dear reader – and if DIO are permitted to ignore politicians and fail to accommodate recreation when the lands are not in use in one area we can rest assured they will apply the same lessons across the rest of the estate.

What happens at Long Valley could impact every area and all of us and TAG prefers to measure outcomes rather than kind words. We will continue to press for more gates and everyone is welcome to add their voice.

Please take a moment and use the Write To Them website to drop your local MP an email, asking where are the gates and seek protection for casual access when not in use.

Summary

DIO remain free of political accountability and at liberty to carry on as they like. The gates at Long Valley remain unfulfilled in spite of a commitment – in writing from the local MP – that work was underway.

In that regard nothing much changes.

It is looking increasingly likely the Parliamentary Ombudsman can find no fault in DIO behaviour either;

  • Threatening arrest using revoked laws
  • Soliciting information then ignoring volunteer efforts
  • Generating legal uncertainty
  • Ignoring political instruction

The written evidence, carefully prepared and presented, has counted for nothing. DIO collective memory failure and denial have been deemed admissible. We have now submitted legal counsel written statement and further evidence – sourced from DIO themselves – to support the case. We await the judgement.

Quite how the above is deemed perfectly acceptable and fits within the Seven Principles of Public Life is beyond us. Another WTH shake head moment.

We will publish a full analysis of their findings once complete but it might be a good idea to practice the WTH head shake in the meantime.

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