7 August 1973.....

Bureaucratic sabotage

in  protest against a proposed new airport

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Maplin, off the Essex coast of the Thames Estuary, was the proposed site of a 3rd London Airport.

The Department of the Environment in a sham public consultation had sent out questionnaires to local residents in Essex asking them which of 3 motorway routes to the new airport they favoured.

The majority of people wrote back saying that they didn't want any motorway routes & they certainly didn't want a new airport in Essex, thank you very much...

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Now, at the time, I was a student & got a summer holiday job at said DoE in London. My appointed task was to sign standard replies to those who had been kind enough to express their opinions on the matter.

The text of the standard letter was: "Thank you for your reply. Your views will taken into consideration in reaching a decision."

I had to scrawl a signature, put the letter in an envelope, address it & seal it ready for posting.

It was a cushy number. There was just me & another temporary student employee in a large office with big desks, comfy chairs & a plush carpet. The work was easy & relatively well-paid (compared to a paltry student grant).

True, it began to get somewhat repetitive as I signed those pre-printed letters over & over. My task seemed as mindless & boring as any on a factory assembly line.

But something else was bothering me. I had learnt that only those answers which chose one of the offered motorway routes would actually be considered. The responses hostile to the very idea of an airport in the first place (ie the vast majority) would be totally disregarded & dumped ignominiously in the waste paper basket.

My conscience troubled me. How could I be party to such deceit?

So, I decided to tell the truth & damn the consequences. I added a handwritten PS to the printed text:

"The above is an official LIE. Your views will NOT be taken into consideration. Organise locally to fight the governments plans."

These modified letters were put in addressed envelopes & sent out...

Then, one morning, shortly after arriving for work, my colleague & I were summoned to the manager's office & each asked to address an envelope. It seemed an odd request but, of course, we had to comply. A little while later, I was again told to report to the manager, alone this time.

"Aha", & he cou0000pressSabot.gif (20519 bytes)ld have added, "gotcha", as he brandished my recently addressed envelope in one hand & a copy of the Daily Mirror in the other. My handwriting sample had caught me out. I was identified as the culprit of a dastardly act of bureaucratic sabotage.

It turned out that one of the recipients of my little PS had seen fit to forward it to the well-known tabloid newspaper, who had printed the story with a photographic facsimile of my 'offending' words.

I admitted my responsibility at once. They could simply have asked me. I wouldn't have denied it. After all I had merely been honest.

Later I was hauled before the Under-secretary of State for the Environment, or some such panjandrum, ensconced on one of the higher floors of the tall office block. The journey up to him in the lift felt like going to my execution.

"Aren't you ashamed of what you've done? Don't you think it's dishonourable?", he asked.

Well, no, actually, I was merely telling the truth...

But he would brook no argument. He issued a dire warning about my having broken the Official Secrets Act & I was summarily dismissed from my post with a never-darken-our doors-again sort of farewell, no redunancy money, no golden handshake, nothing but contempt. No job for life in the civil (sic) service then.

The irony is that They had been found out, named & shamed, even more so than I had. After all, they were the ones guilty of lying to the credulous public. I had merely done my duty as a well-intentioned whistle-blower.

0000presspage3.gif (35281 bytes)Later that day, I phoned the Daily Mirror & revealed my identity. They sent round a reporter who interviewed me & took a mugshot of the notorious 'Maplin Saboteur', looking suitably menacing in shadow. Amusingly, my face & torso were splashed across Page 3, a space usually reserved for unreserved, well-endowed female nude models.

Na´ve & idealistic as I then was, I neglected to ask for remuneration (or compensation for the loss of my job). Instead,  I  accepted a lift across London to the Young Vic Theatre, where I had a ticket to see a performance of Beckett's "Waiting for Godot". Appreciated but hardly adequate recompense for losing my job as a result of the Mirror's disclosure.

My little act of bureaucratic sabotage in  protest against a proposed new airport had cost me a lucrative holiday job. Yours truly got sacked & broke the Official Secrets Act. All in a day's work for yer average subversive.

The plan to build it was subsequently abandoned, less because of me than the oil crisis of 1973-4.

The caption to the photo, printed in the following day's 'Daily Mirror', quotes me as saying: 'I only wish I could have done more', which would make a good epitaph really...(monumental stone-masons take note!)

The Maplin Sands remain an important wildlife reserve, but are still (2006) used as a military testing ground, officially owned by the Ministry of so-called 'Defence' (though the indigenous wildlife probably staked a prior claim).


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