Take time to smell the roses: Bulgarians love bomb London to counter British hate media

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Bulgarians after completing the planting of the damascene roses in Golden Square Soho in London Pic credits: Boyko Boev

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The Bulgarians have not had a good press -particularly in the  Sun, Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

The Sun sent a reporter to Sofia to portray them as rushing to  hand out Britain just to claim benefits. The Daily Mail quoted a survey by a gambling company saying Bulgarians were the laziest people in Europe. The Daily Mail and The Telegraph have repeatedly highlighted that Britain is being flooded with them under EU rules.

Yet very little is known about the Bulgarians in Britain..until now. Bulgarian academics at Warwick University and the University of Florida  have carried out a detailed survey of  151 Bulgarians living and working in London for a report which has gone to Sadiq Khan, the London mayor. It is not a representative survey but it is full of insights.

And it coincided with a remarkable gesture by the Bulgarians – who have planted their national floral pride – the Rosa Damascena –  the perfumed rose grown for centuries in Bulgaria -in Golden Square, Soho – re-enacting  a gift to London  from Sofia 95 years ago-in 1923.

The report says: “After 2013, this community was caught unwittingly in the crossfire of an especially heated immigration debate around Brexit, feeding off of public discontent and strong activity of the opposition. Bulgarians and Romanians have been collectively sneered with reference to perceived combination of cultural and social traits. This form of bias is still highly discriminatory, even if not directly versed in common understandings of racism (of quasi-biological labels and insult).”

Bulgarians planting roses

Bulgarians planting the roses

What the survey did was examine groups of Bulgarians living in London from their 20s to their 50s and 60s. One fact that shows the media coverage suggesting Bulgarians are here to claim benefits is completely refuted. Just four were out of work.

The second suggestion that Bulgarians are lazy gets equal short shift – it turns out one of the favourite pastimes of Bulgarians in the capital – whether 20 or 50 – is going to the gym. Hardly couch potatoes then.

And a lot are highly educated with university degrees or high school diplomas – they are not always able to get jobs suitable to their qualifications.

Highly educated women were most affected  “Many work as housekeepers, babysitters, care providers and “personal assistants”, says the report.

But younger Bulgarians were getting jobs suitable for their qualifications. These included marketing or public relations coordinator, accountant, sales representative, teacher, programmer, as well as jobs requiring manual labour, such as a cook, car-mechanic, construction worker, barman, and stage worker in the theatre.

Living in London also changed the attitude of some Bulgarians Those in their 30s said  that their new life in London has changed them for the better, and that they have become more ‘tolerant towards diversity,’ ‘patient,’ ‘more open’, ‘exposed to more travel,’ ‘walking more often than earlier in Bulgaria’ and visiting more cultural events,

The report added: “there are also statements indicative of closing socially, due to extremely busy schedules: ‘I am becoming more productive due to the quick pace of life, but also more mindful of my private time, which is a limited resource.’

The report does pick up damage done by right wing media coverage which meant that many were reluctant to work outside London because they thought the rest of Britain would be more intolerant about them being there.

The report also says the majority were happy living London despite it being more stressful than their native country.  One recommendation  to the London  mayor is that London helps ,particularly older Bulgarians, to become more fluent in English by laying on language courses. This would help the older generation of Bulgarians here become more integrated than they are.

There is a 11 minute video from Warwick University academic Maria Koinova which gives the background to the study.

 

 

 

Revealed: Dishonest Eurostar’s disabled unfriendly direct service to Amsterdam

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The new Eurostar Amsterdam Service : Not fit for the disabled Pic Credit: Eurostar Jo on Twitter

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It should have been a synch. A brand new train service direct from London to Amsterdam to a hotel opposite the city’s Central Station. An ideal break for myself and my disabled wife with passenger assistance.

The technology works – the superfast new Eurostar trains make the journey there on time- a cool three hours 41 minutes door to door- and could probably do it quicker as the train slowed through Antwerp and leaving Brussels.

But the rest was the stuff of nightmares and the return direct journey is  a fake  forcing everyone to change at Brussels onto other trains – due to the British obsession of  ” taking control of our borders”. And this is before Brexit takes effect.

But the real scandal is the way Eurostar treat disabled people by making false promises and leaving people in the lurch – made worse by poor internal communications and different national systems.

I made sure we had disabled help by contacting Eurostar in mid March and was promised help in London, Amsterdam and Brussels. So it should have been no worries.

The help at London St Pancras worked both on the way there and the way back and the train left on time.

It was only on the journey that things started to go wrong. The service is packed to Brussels – which is the first stop – but then most people get off including the entire train crew. The service then  takes on Dutch crew and becomes a bit of ghost train with few passengers yet going on to Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

We were a bit puzzled by first the Belgian crew and then the Dutch crew asking what disabled assistance we wanted – which was some wheelchair assistance at Amsterdam from the platform to the exit. A few minutes before arrival we were told that there would no wheelchair assistance only someone to help get my wife off the train.

The person did arrive and was more concerned that my wife didn’t fall down the gap between the train and platform – as they wanted to lock the train up. We were then left entirely in the lurch by both the Eurostar staff and the station staff to find our own way out.

I tweeted my complaint to Eurostar and they responded with this:

Thank you for your details. We can see that the Eurostar Assistance Team sent a request to assist you on 14th March to our counterparts. We are sorry to hear this did not happen and have forwarded your feedback. For your return please go to the Information Desk in Amsterdam Centraal Station on arrival and they can arrange for your assistance to Thalys train. At Brussels Midi you need to go to Eurostar Assist Desk by ticket gates . Each terminal has been advised of request of assistance.

On the way back the real drama began. At Amsterdam Centraal yes they knew we had assistance but we were suddenly told they do not provide wheelchairs except for emergencies. If my wife had fallen over or fell off the train they would help. The information office is on Platform 1 and the train departs from Platform 15 and you only get 20 minutes notice of which platform.

Luckily the woman took pity on us – since no way could my wife get to the train on time – because she walks slowly and was suffering as well from an arthritic knee to add to our problems.

The member of staff  broke the rules and despite being reprimanded by another staff member en route took my wife on a wheelchair to the station platform allowing us to get the train.

Then there was Brussels. There was no one to meet us off the Thalys train and although it came into Brussels Midi at platform 3 and Eurostar is on platform 1 there is a long walk through a shopping mall to get there. So given Eurostar allowed less than 50 minutes for the change, it took us nearly 30 minutes to hobble along in pain. I did go ahead to Eurostar to get assistance but there was a huge queue which spilled  onto the concourse for the train. When I tried to reach the assistance office inside the entrance I was blocked by other passengers ( there were no staff at the entrance) for queue jumping and they wouldn’t let me pass.

When we did get there – Eurostar had to act fast and the wheelchair man was almost running to get the train. Only to be delayed by British immigration  who were quizzing two dark skinned people in front of us about their right to come to the UK. The woman immigration official  reading as though from the UKIP handbook told them ” We don’t just  allow anyone to come into our country” . I suspect she was personally recruited by Theresa May to create ” a hostile environment” for people of colour.

We got there just in time but the train left late because of ” boarding problems” caused I suspect by the immigration jam. I suspect all Eurostar trains will leave late after Brexit.

Back in England West Midlands trains provided an excellent service at Euston and on the train back to Berkhamsted with the guard personally making sure my wife could get off the train there. Ironically West Midlands trains is mainly owned by Dutch railways.

Frankly if you are disabled do NOT go by Eurostar to Amsterdam, fly instead. Their service is not fit for purpose and the Brussels interchange is likely to continue until the end of 2019 because there are no customs facilities at Amsterdam. I am doing a separate investigation into why this has happened and the news will not be good for British  people wanting to travel to Europe by rail.

Eurostar responded:

 “We can see that you and your wife did not receive the right support during your recent journey. As part of the booking process, our teams did not correctly request the assistance services at each point of the journey and for this we sincerely apologise. I would like to respond to your specific questions as follows:

 We offer assistance services (for wheelchair users and other passengers with reduced mobility) in Amsterdam which are provided by NS, the Dutch railway operator. These services are available for passengers booked in the dedicated wheelchair space, and also for other passengers traveling in standard seating. These assistance services are available by contacting Eurostar at least 48 hours in advance of travel. The special assistance service provided by NS at Amsterdam is an escort from the meeting point to the platform. Unfortunately, NS does not provide wheelchairs as part of this assistance service. ( my emphasis)

–          On arrival into Brussels on a Thalys service, the special assistance services are provided by SNCB, the Belgian railway operator.  SNCB will meet the passenger at platform level and escort the passenger to the Eurostar Assist welcome point at the Channel Tunnel Terminal. From this point, Eurostar team members will escort the passenger through Eurostar check-in and up to the platform to board the train bound for London.

–          At Eurostar stations the Eurostar Assist welcome points are located on the main concourse with all check-in facilities. There are Eurostar Assist welcome points when departing from London, Ashford, Ebbsfleet, Lille, Paris and Brussels.  In Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marne-la-Vallee, Lyon, Avignon, Marseilles and ski destinations – there are Special Assistance points in these stations usually provided by, or on behalf of, the station manager. We will pass your feedback on regarding your experience and your inability to access the Eurostar Assist welcome point due to congestion.

 “We do strive to make Eurostar journeys as seamless as possible for all of our travellers, and will be sharing your comments with our partners. In addition, we will be updating our website with more information about the Special Assistance services, and specifically about the connecting return journey from Amsterdam, in direct response to your feedback. (my emphasis) We thank you for your feedback which has helped us to continue to improve our services to passengers with assistance needs.

Postponed by Brexit: Vital investigations into the effectiveness of Britain’s border controls

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David Bolt, chief inspector of borders and immigration Pic Credit: gov.uk

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While the mantra of every enthusiastic Brexiteer has been ” we are taking back control” of our borders the irony is quietly over Easter the Whitehall body responsible  for checking it postponed vital investigations to ensure it happens.

David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of Borders and Immigration, announced changes to the planned schedule of investigations – entirely because of the failure of ministers to sort out the Brexit negotiations.

The chief inspector’s job is to make sure that the UK has an efficient and fair system of immigration and customs controls – precisely because once we are out of the EU it will become even more important that they work properly. It also identifies risks of smuggling and illegal immigration.

However ministerial failure to sort this out – notably by Theresa May and David Davis the Brexit Secretary, now means that planned inspections cannot take place this year and have been postponed for at least 12 months if not longer.

The biggest casualty has been a big  350 day long investigation and inspection of West Coast ports – notably  Swansea, Fishguard, Holyhead,Liverpool and Stranraer among others – due to begin now and postponed until next year.

The reason is starkly included in the revised timetable. ” Deferred from 2018-19; timing subject to agreement on the CTA arrangements after the UK exits the EU.

These sparse words basically mean ” Can no do because Britain and the EU cannot agree on the future of the Irish border and how the common travel area will work and it will be a waste of time to do it now because it could all change”.

It also means that we may not know whether the new arrangements are working until well after we have left the EU.

Nor is it the only investigation deferred. A similar investigation this year was going to look at customs control over freight operation scheduled for 2019-20. The timetable now says : Inspection scope and timing subject to agreement on the handling of freight after the UK’s exit from the EU.

Again failure to decide exactly whether there will be tariffs on goods means could well be delayed and we won’t know how this is working either.

Meanwhile this year an inspection into the ” points” system for immigration has had to be significantly widened to include rules for  Inspection of “Brexit preparedness”, focusing on resourcing and processes for the registration and settlement of
EU nationals.

There also has been a knock on effect on other investigations including  delays to a further in country investigation into modern slavery and a one year delay in investigating NHS charging because of insufficient resources. They could also be a delay to an investigation into illegal working in the UK.

David Bolt adds: “I have therefore created space within the Plan for various ‘Brexit’-related pieces of work, the precise shape and timing of which are not yet fixed. I will announce specific inspections in the normal way via the website as soon as I am able.”

The organisation is one of the few not to suffer Whitehall austerity cuts but as people leave it is finding it difficult to recruit new people which could be a new worry.

His statement ends with a plea for people to join the service. “If you believe that you have the necessary qualities and are interested in joining the inspectorate, please keep an eye on the website, where any vacancies will be advertised.”

This seems yet another example of  how the failure to sort out an early timetable for Brexit is leaving a trail of unfinished business across Whitehall – and a fresh danger of chaos at our borders after we have left.

 

 

 

 

 

Shambolic Stansted: How you can grab duty free booze without leaving the country unchecked by short staffed customs and immigration

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stansted airport pic credit:London Stansted Airport

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Just before Stansted  was  hit by a bus fire which wrecked people’s Easter holiday flights Parliament received a damning report on the state of border controls at the airport by David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders  and Immigration.

Rushed out with four other reports from the inspectorate at the close of Parliament it went unnoticed by mainstream media.

What it disclosed is that the airport has been at the centre of a duty free scam  under the noses of the border force enabling  UK residents to get cheap duty free fags, perfume and booze without leaving the country.

It worked like this. Buy the cheapest  air ticket from say Ryanair or Jet 2.com, get through customs and immigration control, go to duty free. Once there stock up with booze, fags, perfume. designer goods and then walk out of another exit to the baggage hall pretending you are on an incoming flight. Then leave the airport.

The scam first discovered in an earlier report in 2013 has been claimed by Stansted Airport’s management to have been stopped though inspectors are sceptical.

The report says: “Border Force and Manchester Airport Group (MAG)  (owners of Stansted) told inspectors that they had addressed this issue, and the number of such incidents had been greatly reduced. Border Force reported that “the newly created Stansted Crime Team had prioritised working with Duty Free Retail Partners as part of its routine to combat fraud and engagement with partners in this area had had demonstrable results with a number of cigarette seizures that were illicitly obtained.”

However inspectors checking arrangements last year had a different view.

It says they didn’t see any fraud but “they did witness individuals who had not travelled exiting the restricted zone via a channel marked “Returning Passengers”. A MAG employee was tasked with verifying that individuals using this channel
had not arrived from abroad (by asking to check their ticket) before allowing them to enter the baggage hall.
“There were no Border Force staff in the “Returning Passengers” channel, and the MAG employee did not appear to notify Border Force of individuals entering the baggage hall via this route. Inspectors did not observe any customs checking of these individuals as they exited.”

The report also finds a whole series of discrepancies between the management of the airport and the staff views of what is really happening. Management say staff are content while staff say they have low morale.

For a start it has never had a full complement of borders force staff and over a  third of its 199 full time equivalent staff is on stand by – so called seasonal workforce (SWF)- mainly retired ex policeman- called in during peak periods which now extended to most of the time  who can only monitor e-gates and sit on the immigration desk.

“Inspectors were told that levels of experience at Stansted were “dwindling” with fewer and fewer staff with the skills required to carry out a range of duties. As a result, managers were finding rostering increasingly difficult and time-consuming. Inspectors were also told that rosters were dependent on the availability of SWF, because there were not enough permanent staff. ”
“The main complaint from frontline staff was that they were not able to access skills training,especially the nationally-managed “Core Skills” training required for different Border Force roles.

“As well as impacting morale, particularly where staff believe that Border Force has failed to deliver on promises made to them about developing them as “multi-functional officers” and providing job variety, the failure to provide skills training has created inflexibilities in terms of how staff can be deployed.

“This is inefficient and damaging to Border Force’s operational effectiveness. It therefore needs to be dealt with as a priority.”

The inspectors found safeguarding issues – particularly in checking whether 12 to 17 year olds who could use e-gates  by themselves with hardly any monitoring.

And a disastrous re-organisation and centralisation of parcels checks meant that seizures of illegal drugs  collapsed at one stage and only just recovering. “This function was centralised to the fast-parcel hub at East Midlands Airport, which now generates alerts and targets for itself and for Stansted. Staff at Stansted told inspectors that, initially, this change had resulted in a “collapse” in seizures.”

Added to that :The customs teams working with freight and fast parcels told inspectors that they were hampered by a lack of suitable detection equipment, for example to test and identify controlled substances.”

And inspectors suspect that border force people may miss people being trafficked into the UK due to shortages of skilled staff.

The report concluded that management has just ” a tick box mentality” which did not correspond with the reality on the ground.

Stansted is the nation’s fourth busiest airport. Half the people using it are British and all but 10 per cent are from the European Union. One wonders what will happen post Brexit and post a plan to double the size of the airport if it cannot cope at the moment. This is not a pretty picture of British competence.

A psychiatrist’s damning indictment of 500 years of racism – now revived by Trump and 9/11

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Suman Fernando. Pic credit: http://www.sumanfernando.com

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Suman Fernando is a gentle soft spoken  consultant psychiatrist, lecturer and honorary professor at the London Metropolitan University.    The 85 year old is not the sort of person at first sight to produce such a searing critique of racism in the UK and the US and the baleful role psychiatrists have had in treating ethnic minorities in both countries.

His book released at  the end of last year and launched by ROTA – Race on the Agenda – looks at both the history of racism which he dates from 1492 when the Spanish finally  removed the Moors from Europe and the role of psychiatry in treating ” mentally ill”  black and brown patients over a very long period.

The book is particularly relevant as Theresa May has  quietly decided to review the UK’s mental health laws  which cover some of these issues – signalling her intent by  holding a meeting of psychiatrists at Number Ten Downing Street.

It also comes at a time when the election of Donald Trump, the rise of Islamophobia in the wake of 9/11 and to an extent, the worst excesses of some people supporting Brexit, has seen a revival of popular nationalism and in the US, white supremacists.

He traces racism from the bloody Inquisition in Spain through the development of the slave trade, the rise of eugenics leading to Nazism,  the Imperialist destruction of other cultures by colonisation to the ” rivers of blood” speech of Enoch Powell as Britain faced an immigration wave in the 1960s and 1970s.

His  thesis is that – mainly because of the 1970s race relations legislation in Britain – overt racism has until recently been replaced with a form of institutional racism and psychiatry is no exception to the rule.

Indeed some of the worse psychiatric theories to treat people as seen by superior whites as ” the other” came from this profession. This was the profession that applied the concept of  ‘Drapetomania’  to slaves in the USA, the primary symptom being a persistent urge to run away.  The implication was Black Afro-Caribbeans were supposed to be happy and content as slaves  and had mental problems if they wanted their freedom.

In Britain the book provides numerous examples of how different ways of dealing what is an obvious imbalance in the number of Afro-Caribbeans being sectioned compared to white Britons. Attempts to change treatment or properly research the issue by black psychiatrists were undermined in a typical British way – their work was subsumed by more conventional psychiatrists or their findings were ignored.

He also reveals  how attempts to change matters politically were undermined. Tony Blair  appointed Paul Boateng – now Lord Boateng- as the first minister for mental health in 1997. At the time he was known to be  strident in wanting to change the treatment of black Afro Caribbeans like himself- but within months he was squashed.

Since 9/11 the danger is that racism is on the rise with Muslims rather than Afro Caribbeans as the main target. That is why the timing of this book is relevant in the context that the mental health legislation is being revised. Already psychological research is being used as a basis in the Prevent programme to decide whether teachers or NHS staff, their pupils and their patients, should be reported to the authorities if they show signs of radicalism.

The next slippery step would be to decide that these people are insane – and should be sectioned rather than prosecuted. This is not as fanciful as it sounds. Under  Labour there was a move to classify stalkers of VIPs as a mental illness and Jack Straw when he was home secretary is said to have considered whether paedophiles should be classified as insane rather than criminals.

That is why this book is so interesting because it tells how deep seated racism is among white Europeans  and how insidious the present system is in dealing with the ” other” – from stop and search to sectioning.

The one sad thing is that the book itself has been “Ghettoised” – it has been pigeon holed by the publisher  as part of ” contemporary black history ” when it is much more of an account of how contemporary British and US society has reached such a view on black and brown people.

The German publisher has created another ghetto by price – Palgrave Macmillan have priced it at a ridiculous £67.99 or £53.99 as an e-book. Amazon have a Kindle version at £45.19. So I suggest you try and get it in a public library or if you are a student make sure your university library has got one.

Institutional Racism in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology. Suman Fernando

 

 

 

Will Indian Immigration to the United States Increase? A blog that debunks the Donald Trump view of immigrants

This is the other side to the Donald Trump view of America. It shows the big contribution being made by immigration to the United States by often highly educated Indians and debunks with lots of facts the idea that immigrants are scroungers or even necessarily poor. Some of those people condemning immigration to the UK could learn from this analysis of the facts.

TalesAlongTheWay

Indian Immigrants in the United States
Indian college student applying henna.

A college student applies henna, the Indian tradition of painting elaborate designs on the skin. (Photo: University of Illinois Springfield)

Immigrants from India first arrived in the United States in small numbers during the early 19th century, primarily as low-skilled farm laborers. In recent decades the population has grown substantially, with 2.4 million Indian immigrants resident in the United States as of 2015. This makes the foreign born from India the second-largest immigrant group after Mexicans, accounting for almost 6 percent of the 43.3 million foreign-born population.

In 1960, just 12,000 Indian immigrants lived in the United States, representing less than 0.5 percent of the 9.7 million overall immigrant population. Migration from India swelled between 1965 and 1990 as a series of legislative changes removed national-origin quotas, introduced temporary skilled worker programs, and…

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The 60 year old shame of Home Office treatment of sexually and physically abused child migrants

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The list of homes the Home Office is said to have known abused children; Photo credit: ABC News

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Next month the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will hold a hearing into how British children were shipped abroad to  Australia, Canada and Southern Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe) where they were subject to appalling physical and sexual abuse.

One of the people who has submitted evidence to the British inquiry has already raised issues about his treatment at one of these homes, Fairbridge Farm School,New South Wales in Australia.

David Hill  was interviewed by  the Guardian last year in Australia and tells a horrific story of a place where people were poorly educated and fed,brutally treated and some sexually abused. He went out with his brother in 1959 from Eastbourne in Sussex.

He has been one of the people who eventually prospered becoming chairman and managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC carried a report on his decision to send evidence here.

But his most damaging evidence is that he might not have gone there if the Home Office had acted on information they  received three years earlier after a visit of UK MPs to Australia. In 1956 they came on a fact finding mission to find out about conditions in those schools.

The result, according to evidence submitted to the inquiry. is that the Home Office were given the names ( see above in a memo) of ten schools that should have been put on a blacklist and no British children should have been sent there.

But the Home Office appeared to  do nothing even though they decided that  the schools would need a ”  complete metamorphosis ” to be fit to accept children. So they appear to have ignored the findings so they could keep the migrant programme going – where British children from poor backgrounds were offered a new chance in life. Their decision was no better than when a whistleblower, Lucy Cole Hamilton, alerted the Home Office over a decade earlier about conditions at Fairbridge Farm and warned them not to send British children there. As a report by Sanchia Berg for the Today programme revealed in 2009 the decision was to “lay by ” and do nothing.

I am hoping that this callous attitude – which seems extended today by the Home Office and Theresa May’s view that we should all but ignore the plight of immigrant children seeking asylum in the UK – is thoroughly examined by the inquiry.

The inquiry’s own research report points out the whole area is remarkably under investigated.As it states no inquiry has ever undertaken a proper  and sustained  analysis of the failings of this huge programme and properly investigated whether some of the children were sexually abused by people in institutions before they were sent abroad.

Gordon Brown has apologised in 2009 about the way the children were treated. But it was enormous programme – some 150,000 children participated and it began in the early 17C when children were sent to Virginia – though some of the largest programmes were after the second world war. It did not stop until the 1970s.

A lot of questions need to be answered – not least from the one posed by David Hill about the role of the Home Office in the late 1950s.