crime capital

It seems every morning I open the Age newspaper website, at least two of the main headlines refer to another murder, stabbing, shooting somewhere in Melbourne. The other thing that is beginning raise alarm bells is the number of serious injuries or deaths on the roads, so often by young people still on their P plates acting like idiots.

I wondered if my concerns were just down to me getting older and more easily alarmed, or whether I was simply not used to this level of violent deaths. Coming from several years in London, surely this was all in my head?

So, sitting here on a Sunday morning with a coffee in hand, I decided to do a quick comparison of murder levels in London and Melbourne. I used to live in the Borough of Brent, which was reputed to be a tough place to live. Harlesden, my first address in this part of the city, was known at the time as the murder capital of London.

So how does Melbourne – and my new borough of Maribyrnong – compare?

I looked up crime stats for each city and each borough for the last two years, and the numbers were shocking. Since we moved here, so many people have told us how much safer it is living here than in London, and that they appreciate the feeling of security of living in such a safe city compared to London.

Turns out it’s all a myth.

Take the city comparisons first. London, a city of 7.6 million people, has had a yearly average of 142 homicides in the past two years. That is 1.9 homicides per 100,000 of population.

Melbourne on the other hand, a city of 5.2 million people, experienced a yearly average of  173 homicides in the same time period. That is 3.3 homicides per 100,000 people.

Looking at these figures, you are almost twice as likely to get murdered in Melbourne as in London.

The local government figures are even more interesting. The Borough of Brent has just over 260,000 inhabitants and has had a yearly average of 7.5 homicides per year in the past two years. That’s about 2.8 homicides per 100,000 people.

Maribyrnong, a borough of about 68,500 people, has had a yearly average of  6 homicides in the past two years. That comes out as 8.75 homicides per 100,000 people.

So, in my local government area compared to a borough once known as the murder capital of London, I am almost three times more likely to get murdered.

I was going to continue on to analyse road traffic injuries and deaths, and sex crimes, once I’d finished with murders, but my comfort levels are already so compromised I think I’ll stop there.

And people wonder why Orlando and I are so security conscious?

  Average Murders 2007-09 Average per 100k pop. Population of Area
Melbourne 173.5 3.3 5,257,576
Maribyrnong 6 8.75 68,571
London 142.5 1.9 7,500,000
Brent 7.5 2.8 263,500
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Roy Webb MBE 1945 – 2006

A great friend, a trusted mentor, a bon vivant and a sharply-dressed gent
It is a year, almost to the day, since I last saw Roy. It was my last day at London Ambulance Service. Not trusting even our CEO do to the job, Roy delayed one of his early chemo sessions to give the official farewell speech at my leaving do in the boardroom.
As usual, he held the audience in the palm of his hand while he spoke off the cuff, regaling us with tall tales, most of which had Roy in the starring role. He loved the limelight and he was a natural showman.
At work Roy was no less of a superstar. When Roy said he was passionate about patients, you believed him. He broke all the rules over the years, in the name of better patient care.
He often exasperated the rest of us who followed along behind, tidying up after him, and doing the necessary paperwork. But you could never question his motives.He knew more about excellent patient care than anyone, and was known all over London for it. Once we did a survey of hospitals whose contracts we had lost, and asked what they missed about the LAS. One hospital simply replied “Roy Webb”. To many in south-west London, Roy Webb was the LAS.
Last July, we had a managers’ away day which conveniently coincided with Roy’s 60th birthday. Roy turned up in his new Porsche, baseball cap at a rakish angle, grinning from ear to ear. He looked every inch the man who had decided to grow old disgracefully. Roy continued to be the star of the show that evening at a formal dinner in his honour, complete with champagne and birthday cake. Naturally, he lapped up all the attention, and was one of the last to bed.

Two days later was the 7th of July, the London bombings. Roy was the lynchpin of the PTS response. He spent all day running up and down to Gold Control in the boardroom, offering PTS up for anything he thought we could do, then relaying it to us for execution. He was personally responsible for the broad role PTS played on the day, volunteering our ambulances to rescue stranded schoolchildren and elderly people, to get HQ staff home at night and to ferry equipment all over London. He was the one who suggested putting PTS ambulances alongside A&E in the response cells we set up.
He worked over 14 hours straight that day, finally leaving for home at almost eleven o’clock at night.
It was for these actions, and many more like them, that Roy was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
Here he is with Sue on the day.
Outside work, he was a great friend. Most of all I will remember Roy’s tremendous support when my own father died: Roy was in constant contact, sending me daily, sometimes hourly, text messages, helping to get me through the tough days.
I will always remember Roy’s infectious laugh – he somehow managed to sound roguish and sheepish at the same time.
I will also remember Roy Webb, the Michael Caine impersonator – recently Roy chose a Mini as his new car just so he could pretend he was starring in a remake of The Italian Job. His favourite line was “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” and he worked it into every conversation. He even took a photo of it at Buckingham Palace the day he got his MBE.
I will remember Roy as the ultimate sharp-dressed gentleman, his taste in clothing getting more and more expensive and exquisite as the years progressed. He wasn’t above doing what it took to hide the baldness, though.
But most of all I will remember Roy’s resolutely upbeat and optimistic take on life. He wrote to me a few months ago telling me how he was getting on. He quoted his doctor who had said “Roy, you know I can’t make you better” to which Roy’s response was “But you can make me better than today”.
The Roy Webb Appreciation Society has a worldwide membership. Sue’s daughter Jo, who also lives here in Melbourne, will be lighting a candle for Roy round about now, to commemorate his life. As for the rest of us here who knew and loved Roy, we will be marking the occasion exactly as Roy would have wished. We have booked a table at an expensive restaurant. We will get all dressed up in our designer gear. We will order a ridiculously expensive bottle of red wine. And as the sun sets across the bay, we will raise our glasses and toast the most wonderful bloke in the world.
Goodbye, mate – we will miss you.

Sad News

We learned this week of the sad loss of my friend Keith’s wife Jan to cancer. Keith was our Director of PTS at the London Ambulance Service for a number of years, and he is a great guy. We have kept in touch since both moving on, and he dropped me a note yesterday to tell of his very sad news. Many of you who read this website will have known and respected Keith – if you wish to drop me a note I will make sure that any messages of sympathy are passed on.

Thursday 14 July 2005

Noon on Thursday 14 July 2005. It is difficult to believe that a week has passed already since the bombings last week.

The entire staff of London Ambulance Service HQ stand together outside the building while our chaplain says a few words. Twelve o’clock arrives and it seems like the whole city has come to a complete stand-still.  I can see people congregated outside other buildings alongside us. One woman, a passer-by, has literally stopped where she was in the middle of the street to observe the national two minutes’ silence. It was an extremely sombre and very moving moment.

When the two minutes are over, our chaplain starts reading out a prayer he has written for the occasion. Suddenly, from across the road, we hear somebody from the crowd outside a neighbouring building shouting “Three cheers for the Ambulance Service!” and the people cheered. We stood with our heads still bowed, humbled by the strength of feeling and the good wishes coming towards us from these ordinary Londoners. A moment later, one of their number walked across the street and broke into our circle. “I am from across the road”, he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “We just wanted to say thank you. Thanks for everything.”

I wept.

Click here to see why London is not afraid!

Friday 8 July 2005

Yesterday was tough. The incident started when the top 100 managers at LAS were congregated at a nearby football ground (Millwall) so at least the response was quick.

I was on gold control at HQ (sounds infinitely more exciting than it was) which involved running up and down from gold control in our conference room to my office to the Chief Executive’s office, and scribbling lots on my white board and on my incident log.

We deployed lots of non-emergency patient transport vehicles to support the A&E staff, and we were still working at 11.30pm last night. A lot of the time it was a bit boring and tedious, but it felt good to be doing something useful in the face of such terrible events.

We lived on strong coffee, Lucozade, badly-heated-up sausage rolls and fish and chips later in the evening. Not exactly healthy, but we didn’t care!

Today we have had the clean-up and the hand-shaking. This photo is of one of my PTS staff greeting the Duchess of Cornwall at St. Mary’s Hospital this morning. And I got to meet Tony and Cherie Blair this evening!

I was so proud to be working for this organisation yesterday. I was proud to be living in London yesterday.

Traffic and Culture

The State Opening of Parliament may look good on the Six O’Clock News, with snippets of the Queen in her carriage, and Black Rod banging on the door of the Commons, but if you happen to work nearby it is a real nightmare. I got caught in the traffic that morning – I counted more than 10 ambassadors en route in their diplomatic Mercedes – and it took me almost three hours to do the 13 mile trip to work. Remind me next year to take the day off…

The rest of the day really made up for it though. Sue and I met after work on a crowded Shaftesbury Avenue, and went to see famous Latin American novelist Carlos Fuentes being interviewed in the Gielgud Theatre. It was part of the Orange Word festival, which brings famous writers to London each year for discussion and interview. Check out www.orangeword.co.uk.

He was fascinating to listen to – an erudite, philosopical, charming old-world gentleman who had interesting opinions on everything from world literature to world politics, from Mexican history to the art of writing.

Afterwards we had a drink in a great over-the-top cocktail bar on the edge of Soho which was all pink glitter and gothic art. Dinner was eaten in Chinatown, at the Wong Kei where the waiters are all rude to you (they only smile at me!). Then we wandered past Piccadilly Circus and spent an hour or two browsing the books in the big Waterstones which is open till 10pm.

When we got kicked out at closing time we headed back towards Green Park tube at a leisurely pace, passing the Ritz with all its Tinseltown lighting, and Fortum and Mason’s Christmas window display. I know it is supposed to be worth a visit every year to see their windows, but this year I thought the baroque-looking smiling and grimacing faces framing the tableaux were a bit scary really!

Home through the (thankfully light) night-time traffic, with Tony Blackburn on Jazz FM playing the Stylistics, Dionne Warwick and other great classic soul. After such an inauspicious start it turned out to be a great day to live in London!