Testimonial

An account of the abuse of people living on boats on the waterways by the Canal and River Trust, previously British Waterways.   Then a Public Authority, now part Public Body, part Charity.   In receipt of public funds and public donations.  The account is based around the story of me and my boat Pearl, a converted Thomas Clayton tar boat built 1935.  It's not about me it's about them and their deliberate persecution of people, particularly 'vulnerable' people, who live on boats, and those who collude with them for their own selfish interests, and those authorities that allow them to get away with it.     

You don't have to live on a boat to find it alarming.    

BACKSTORY (3) Continuous Cruising. Sally Ash's plan to rid the waterways of 'liveaboard' boaters.

Continuous Cruising. The creation of Sally Ash, in conjunction with her 'friends', in boat clubs and the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators, and the, then, Legal Director, Nigel Johnson.         

I'll spare you, and myself, too much detail - there's plenty elsewhere on the internet. Interminable argument, going nowhere, about something that should never have been introduced in the first place.    

Continuous Cruising is about the movement required by boats that have no home mooring. It is based on the 1995 Waterways Act that states that a boat must not stay in the same place for more than 14 days. The boat must 'navigate'. Obviously meaning that as opposed to 'remaining in one place' it must move about a bit. It should not be defined, as becomes central to the defence of the concept, in isolation, it relates to the previous statement about 'remaining in one place' i.e. being moored. The alternative to 'being moored' is 'navigating'. 

So, the first definition of the concept required a movement of a certain minimum distance between times spent moored up. It defined and prescribed your movements in a way that was confusing, impractical and unenforceable without constant surveillance of all boaters in all their movements.   It was intrusive and pointless as it was applied in situations where there was no problem caused by a boater, moored or otherwise, and no-one, including patrol officers and 'mooring' and 'enforcement' managers, understood it, or could quote it correctly,  so it led to endless dispute and argument and ill feeling and division. Most BW staff, on the ground, who, initially, were the ones supposed to apply it, thought it was as stupid as we did and ignored it.  The 'rules' came in gradually and were enforced more in one area than another. In my experience, the most rigorous enforcement was at the Cheshire end of the Shropshire Union canal, particularly around Nantwich.      

As I recall, the first written statement of the 'rules' stated that the movement required was of so many miles and 'lock miles' and it was suggested we keep a daily log to prove where we were.  How, exactly, could you  prove where you were on the towpath of a canal?  This was the Draft Guidance which, it was assured, would be administered with a light touch. The full Guidance was published in 2004 with some changes, such as, the movement required was from 'place' to 'place' - leading to argument about what is a place - with no return to the 'first place' for 4 weeks but, also, the movement to be in the context of a 'continuous journey around the system' travelling in the same direction and not turning round/going back on yourself (so not able to return to the 'first place' as stated.)

Ambiguous and intrusive and not a reasonable, or lawful, interpretation of the 1995 Act. A ridiculous imposition on anyone trying to live a life on a boat.  You can not live your life on a continuous journey travelling to places, not from your reasonable choice as a licence paying boat owner, but because you have been instructed to do so with threat of enforcement action.  

Quite obviously, if you live on a boat you are should be free to travel wherever you want to with no arbitrary, and unnecessary, restrictions on that travel. We are not 'tagged' offenders or subject to 'bail restrictions' requiring recording of our movements, and we are not vagrants moving between parishes and being a charge on that parish. That's how we were being treated because that was, essentially, the attitude of the boat club police and those who did their bidding, Sally Ash, and some British Waterways offices, notably, the Chester office, later to become the Northwich office. Hence the over zealous 'enforcement'/harassment in the Cheshire area.       

To impose such rules and restrictions on movement is to destroy the whole idea of living on a boat and , as a consequence, many people - those who have other choices - have left the waterways.   Any problem with lots of people living on boats, as will, obviously, happen in a place such as the London area, is not solved or, even, addressed, by such a half witted idea.   It does nothing but cause unnecessary aggravation and waste of money in pointless enforcement action. But, then, the intention was not to solve a 'problem'. It was harassment intended as harassment to make life so difficult, and unpleasant, that people would give up and leave the waterways.    

And many people thought this reasonable, people with boats but never having lived on a boat, because they regarded it as 'unfair' that they paid a mooring fee and others didn't.  And that is the, stated, basis of their argument. We pay for a mooring ( which you have and you require as you don't live on your boat) and they don't (because they don't have one, don't need one, don't want one  - and there aren't any legitimate, or suitable, moorings for residential use anyway - some people would like one if they were available.). 

Stupid and unworkable and beyond anyone's understanding. Deliberately ambiguous and open to interpretation and abuse. Abuse, that is, by enforcement staff and managers. Discriminatory, divisive and a tool for persecution and harassment.           

So this was the origin of Sally Ash's bright idea that has caused so much trouble on the waterways and ruined the idea of living on a boat and cost millions in enforcement and court action that has led to people being made homeless and their boats being destroyed. As well as many people leaving the canals as we became 'pariahs', merely by living on a boat and not sitting on a mooring. A situation that is intolerable to a decent person who has no intent to do wrong and led to depression and anxiety in many people causing them, if they were able, to leave the waterways.   

And, then, in 2007 this programme of harassment was stepped up to become a 'persecution policy' where 'overstaying' was to be treated as equivalent to licence evasion.. Patrol Officers were renamed Enforcement Officers and the 'enforcement' was to be directed at those without a home mooring who 'overstayed' in one place or in an area.  No excuses were to be allowed. The proviso of 'reasonable in the circumstances' for being moored longer than 14 days, or whatever the restriction was, was to be ignored. Ill health was to be ignored. The attitude was, and I (and others) were told this, that if you have a health problem you shouldn't be on a boat. In breach of the 1995 Waterways Act and 'common decency'. An attack on people who, in the past few years, were encouraged by television programmes and a boom in the building of boats advertised as 'ideal liveaboard' and with Robin Evans stating that 'We need more boats on the waterways'.  

The 'true colours' of British Waterways exposed in their arrogance, and confidence, that no 'authority' would stop them. The 'rules' were to be rigorously, and unfairly, applied with a new objective. To drive people into marinas or off the canal - their boat would then be sold to someone else who would be pressured to 'comply' as soon as they bought the boat. This was confirmed to me by the manager of Border Counties Waterways in one of several meetings I, subsequently, arranged to complain about the harassment and intimidation of people on boats. She also stated that people not paying a mooring fee were not making a 'contribution' to the Waterways. Ignoring the, admitted, fact that there were hardly any moorings available and they had no intention of creating any - and, of course, people don't buy a boat so that they can sit in a marina.     

This is the nonsense we've had to deal with for years and that has blighted everyone's lives because of the stubborn stupidity of a few ignorant people wrongly given authority over something they know nothing about -  the waterways -, which they are destroying, and people living on boats, an activity and lifestyle they have sought to criminalise. As a victim of their abuse - because I was aware of it and tried to stop it - I have to tell the story of the damage that can be done by stupid people being given authority for dubious reasons and being allowed to do it through lack of regulation and refusal to respond to complaints. It's a management strategy that exists in many organisations and we are all victims of it in one way or another. I am, essentially, a 'whistleblower' who had to be 'got rid of'. Although not an employee BW/CRT have the right to revoke my licence for some trumped up reason or unreasonably issued enforcement notice. They can then seek an injunction to remove your boat from the waterways which they do using, as has been shown, every dirty trick in the book. Thus the 'nuisance' is 'got rid of'. Or so they think.   

Complaints are not allowed, there is a veil of secrecy, 'persistent complainants' must be eliminated (BW had a file labelled 'persistent complainants'). Reducing cost i.e. cutting corners and increasing revenue were the priorities - by any means. All this target related, and with bonuses, and applied in the public sector to give employees/managers the same incentives as sales targets in the private sector. Hence the creation of pointless rules and regulations to provide opportunity for charges, penalties and fines. Encouraged by 'government' allowing public authorities to act as private corporations (BW was classed as a 'public corporation') with no regard to their legal obligations or the Human Rights Act.).     

Becoming a 'Charitable Trust' was to take this a step further to becoming, effectively, a private corporation.  They, thereby, have less accountability, and don't have to answer some FOI requests (they said they would answer most but, actually, don't even answer ones they are obliged to).                

There were meetings, on the same day, at every Waterways office in the spring of 2007 where this new 'regime' was introduced. They have denied this in a Freedom of Information Request but I spoke to several BW employees on the day of the meetings at Anderton.  A manager said to me ''That's the end of the 'friendly face' of British Waterways''.

As this abuse manifested itself in the area where I was moored I arranged a meeting with Julie Sharman, Manager of Border Counties Waterways, to discuss this latest 'pogrom' against people living on boats. This was in 2007. Initial discussions changed to we're not listening 'continue your journey' leading to the commencement of the Complaints Procedure in January 2009.

More about this in articles on Complaint Procedure submission.