24 hours in Clitheroe

Yesterday afternoon things were starting to wind down for Easter. In the sleepy market town of Clitheroe it had been the most exciting week in ages due to the demolition of the chimney at the local cement works, and the fact that our first ever Homebase DIY store was set to open the next day.

In my role as leader of the opposition on Ribble Valley Borough Council I had two meetings that afternoon, one with the council leader where much of the discussion centred on how the media covered local events and one with the IT Manager about various technological advances.

The irony of these two meetings was not lost on me by the end of the day and as events unfolded during the evening I made a conscious decision not to blog but to try and stick to putting the facts on twitter.

I first became aware that something was up when I was on the phone to my ward colleague Cllr. Mary Robinson, who informed me that there had been a robbery at Homebase and there was a large police presence around the soon to open store.

I was sceptical about this knowing how Chinese whispers are in the town and I could not get my head around who would rob a Homebase store the day before it was to open for the first time.

As the conversation was finishing my mobile went, with my mother phoning from Glasgow saying: “Who were those terrorists in Clitheroe and what was I doing about it?”

Immediately I was watching 24 hour rolling news and had opened up my Clitheroe search filter on my twitter app – Tweetdeck.

Two pieces of information sprang to mind. The news ticker said the police had raided a guest house in Clitheroe and on Twitter a Mr Adam Howard who tweeted that:

“Two men have been arrested at the guest house opposite my house in Clitheroe on suspicion of committing offences under Terrorism Act 2006”

Checking on my copy of the electoral register I became immediately aware that Mr Howard lived on Pimlico Rd and therefore the guesthouse was the Brooklyn guesthouse, a popular guesthouse where many of my family and friends have stayed when they visited Clitheroe.

I then phoned Mary back to update her on what was really happening, whilst simultaneously tweeting what I knew.

“not robbery at homebase but terrorist arrests at a guest house”

Again the phone call was interrupted by my mobile. This time it was the chief executive of Ribble Valley BC. He briefed me on what happened: that an operation was ongoing throughout the North-West that two security guards had been arrested at their place of work – Homebase and that the Brooklyn Guest House where they were staying was also being searched.

The Chief Exec also indicated that he would like me to contact all my group to inform them of the situation and that he was concerned how local hot-heads would react.

From then on I made the conscious decision that all the comments I would make would be about emphasising that the suspects were not locals, so as to discourage anyone from extracting revenge on our small local Moslem community

I then tweeted in a very serious way:

Informing local councillors of facts behind terror arrests in Clitheroe. Suspects arrested were not local.

My wife had suddenly noticed that phones seemed to be ringing constantly and was wondering what on earth was going on – I explained.

The phone rang again: “Hi Allan, this Charlotte from ITN…” Now for all those metropolitan types that live inside the Westminster village or the Beltway getting a call from a national news organisation is probably an every day occurrence.

However this is Clitheroe in the Ribble Valley, we are a sleepy market town of 13,000. Put it another way, some villages in the Ribble Valley do not yet have Channel 4, while other residents are still waiting for the advent of Broadband. We don’t believe in revolution here – we believe in slow gentle evolution.

We discussed what I knew off the record and I acceded to their request to go and see if I could get a picture of the dramatic events at Homebase.

However when I got there things were dull. Yes there was one police van but it seemed the rest of staff were getting ready for the grand opening.

I got out my blackberry and posted:

Amazing Homebase now is just going about its business – 1 police van there that’s all

A few minutes later Charlotte phoned again obviously disappointed that I had been unable to get a picture of members of Al Qaida writhing on the ground as special forces trained automatic weapons on them.

By the time I got back, both Mrs Knox and myself were very hungry she went to get a Chinese takeaway and went via the Guest house. When she got back I reported her observations:

“Police are all out the back of the guest house, but press are out the front…”

At about this point the Lancashire Telegraph phoned and I gave a similar update to ITN and my only “on the record” quote of the day: “It  is shocking that something like this could happen in Clitheroe – the only thing that is reassuring is  that those arrested are not from the town.”

By 10pm the juggernaut that is Sky news had managed to pick up on the Clitheroe dimension of the arrests and were not just solely focussing on Manchester and Liverpool.

Sky News have woken up to arrests in Clitheroe – they obviously don’t tweet ITN were on the phone to me 3 hours ago.

Similar thoughts were in my mind this morning and I do wonder if the BBC and SKY are quite up with twitter yet? There story was stalled for 3 hours when there was a lot of factual information to be gathered from many tweets not just mine, but it seemed they only wanted either official sources or students from John Moores University.

(A cynic may argue that students make for better eye candy than Homebase staff)

As for Clitheroe today, well we will take some time to recover, but I think we will.

The town rumour mill is in overdrive – the Homebase store was the target the claims go. I tend to think that a Homebase store sells a lot of stuff a terrorist could use from nails to gas for patio heaters.

Our small Asian population is feeling incredibly vulnerable despite our best efforts and those of the police. Those efforts will not just take 24 hours, but months, if not years and will be a priority for all of us in the politcal mainstream.

And a new community is developing in the town – those of us who twitter.

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