The brutal truth about the London Olympics
Violence, cover-ups and dirty secrets litter the 2012 Games
(article from Freedom, June 2012)
Mike Wells has been covering the London 2012 Olympics as a photographer and reporter on the Games Monitor website since Stratford was confirmed as the site for Europe’s biggest building project.
In that time he has been harassed, threatened, repeatedly attacked, had his equipment broken up and in the most recent incident was arrested because he dared to try and fill pages in the 2012 story that the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) would rather stayed blank.
While filming working practices at Leyton Marsh on the western edge of the project, Mike was attacked by security personnel who wrestled him to the ground, opening up a gash in his forehead in the process.
Carting him off to Stoke Newington police station, the authorities would eventually throw a laundry list of bizarre charges at him, including the Orwellian-sounding offence of “publishing events about the Olympics” and claiming falsely that he was breaking an injunction by filming.
Now free, he’s been badly shaken by the episode, which was by no means a one-off. “During my work as a photographer I’ve seen a fellow snapper knocked unconscious by security guards. I have myself been assaulted several times and had my camera broken by G4S contractors.
“Normally, I wouldn’t say anything about incidents like these because it’s all part of the rough and tumble of photo-journalism, but the way they’ve been acting has gone too far.
“It has been getting worse as we get closer to the Games and it will be worse still when they’re on. I’ll not be surprised if people end up getting killed like Jean Charles de Menezes was.”
And it’s not just activists who have been getting the bum’s rush. At a recent “public” consultation meeting for a controversial basketball courts project which caused outrage among local residents as they saw their public green space effectively being stolen, the lockdown was very clear indeed.
Just 35 members of the local community were allowed in, where according to attendee reports they found themselves talking to four Olympics spokespeople who refused to say who they were, what arm of the Olympics providing industry they worked for or what jobs they did.
These four had a personal guard of eight police officers, who tried to stop anyone from filming before finally demanding copies of any footage.
Mike believes this is part of an increasing culture of impunity as billions of pounds of public money slosh around for the express purpose of making sure nothing takes the shine off events.
“There’s 900 CCTV cameras around the outside of the Olympic fence, which is electrified. The policing is being overseen by Chris Alison – his usual remit is firearms – who has said outright there will be monitoring of dissidents.
“There’s too much testosterone, posturing and mixed commands. You have elite special forces, the military, police and 23,000 G4S security people – you’d have to be very naïve not to see accidents and brutality as a serious issue.
“Because the streets are saturated with personnel there will be a sense of being untouchable. It’s really not funny, they are militarising our city and it’s a class-based thing, an elite expecting to be protected with this bunker mentality.”
Big questions, threatening replies
The ODA’s actions in Mike’s case and others, such as the anti-social behaviour order levelled at Simon Moore for protesting on Leyton Marsh, would be controversial even if there was nothing going wrong at the Olympics site.
But that part of Stratford, a former industrial zone, has repeatedly been shown to be unsafe, with clean-ups of toxic groundwater from leaking chemical storage costing millions and worse still, the discovery of radioactive contamination.
An investigation from Games Monitor found that 7,300 tonnes of contaminated soil were shifted in the run-up to the big build – soil with a uranium radiation signature which experts said posed a serious inhalation hazard.
“After winning, the big the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) didn’t have enough time to both build and do a full decontamination process,” Mike explains.
“So when they did the original survey they skipped testing for radioactive contamination – which we now know for a fact is present at the site.
“They illegally buried thousands of tonnes of material 200 metres from the main stadium and have of course been excavating and building on it ever since – we simply don’t know what’s happening and whether radioactive dust might be getting kicked up across the area.
“And if people start getting sick, we may not even know then – if you’re from Hackney you might have a mote lodged in you somewhere, it might give you cancer, but who can say?
“They’ve treated local people’s safety and the safety of their workers with utter contempt.”
Such contempt has been manifested in a willingness to throw the full force of the ODA’s legal eagles against local resident bloggers, who have been threatened with injunctions and fines worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Mike, who has been following some of the cases, believes such behaviour is far more representative of the Olympic juggernaut than fluffy images of smiling torchbearers.
“Whenever they find a way to sound nice I’m angered, to be honest, by the way in which they’re misrepresenting themselves. When they have a go at residents like the people on Leyton Marshes it shows what they’re really like.
“When they first set up I had no idea it was going to get this bad, that they’d bring in the full force of the military, police and legal system to make local people shut up.
“There’s grannies and parents – ordinary people who asked questions and got threatened with legal injunctions, bullied with the prospect of being fined hundreds of thousands of pounds for speaking out. They don’t deserve this. They never asked for it.”
But even when questions get answers, such as in the radioactivity case, the mainstream media has been slow to say anything.
“What fascinates me is the way in which they’ve made all the bad things which have been uncovered not stick. The way the mainstream press is manipulated is really interesting.
“We’ve managed to get some stuff in the press – when we first got the story on radioactivity at the site we thought ‘that’s it, this is going to be front page news, it’ll be everywhere’. But the best we’ve ever managed is a lead page in the sports section of the Guardian.
“We got a hint of why this might be when we got onto another topic – bio-remediation. It’s a way of cleaning contamination out of sites by getting micro-organisms to gobble up all the petrochemicals. In recent years people have been experimenting with genetically modified versions, which increases the speed of the process by a factor of 100.
“I found vague references to this in the Olympic context, but went to a newspaper to try and get them to help with the research as it’s not my area. The reporter seemed interested, but the next I heard the news editor had spiked it in return for an ‘exclusive’ from the ODA.
“On our own, we just couldn’t get the information – and that’s been another interesting part of this process. We’ve found that the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) is simply not working. If the authorities don’t want you to find out about something they will bury it – in fact it’s something of a smoke screen, people think there’s this thing guaranteeing openness and there’s just not.”
What can we expect?
Mike has been as close as anyone to the events of the London 2012 over the last two years, and his message is stark – be careful, because things could get very, very dangerous. Pre-crime arrests carried out against recent demonstrations, most notably at the Royal Wedding – and this is a much bigger deal.
“Worst case scenario? Pre-emptive arrests, injunctions and incarcerations with dissenters being kept away through use of the anti-terror laws. I hope that’s not the case, but it’s certainly possible.
“And if there’s actually an attack, we could be looking at some kind of collective hysteria – it’s already hysteria with this 5,000-volt fence, the battleship, etc. I have campaigner friends, who wouldn’t hurt anyone, and I’m frightened for them because this paranoia could get them hurt, and it’s spreading.
“The other question is what else is in place? Monitoring of social networking, phone tapping, surveillance drones etc, will these all be wound down after the Games now they’re in place?
“What is London 2012, a sports event or a security event with sports on the side? I’d argue it’s the latter – security outnumbers athletes by a factor of five to one.”
For more background, check out gamesmonitor.org.uk
This article appeared in Freedom June 2012