The case of the exploding ULEZ camera
A major escalation in anti-ULEZ vigilantism this week
Morning — just how far are anti-ULEZ vigilantes willing to go for their cause? This week a camera used to enforce London’s clean air scheme was deliberately blown up. It marks a major escalation in the tactics of vigilantes, who until now have used saws, paint and even dinosaur costumes in their battle to stop TfL from regulating polluting vehicles on London roads. Vigilantes have so far been treated as criminal — but whoever was behind this week’s explosion is being investigated by counter-terrorism police. The case of the exploding ULEZ camera — and the wider anti-ULEZ moment it arrives in — is after your Sunday round-up below.
Plus: Lizzy Line nightmare, the murder of Lianne Gordon, and sky pool woes.
👀 Coming up: is the London houseboat dream dead? Keep your eyes peeled over the next week or so for our upcoming big read on the current state of life on London’s waters. Many see a houseboat as an escape from the capital’s astronomical living costs — but a community of itinerant boaters now say their way of life is now under threat. All that in your inbox soon.
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What we’ve spied
😱 An absolute nightmare on the Elizabeth Line, when thousands of passengers were trapped for hours on trains in the dark, with no toilets and even reports of a sex predator on the loose. On Thursday evening, amid a national train strike, damage to overhead cables in the Ladbroke Grove area brought services to a halt around Paddington. Passengers documented the horror online in real time — a lack of information, rising anxiety levels and then darkness when backup batteries ran out of juice. The only toilet option for the desperate was the tracks outside. Things took a surreal turn when it became clear celebs were trapped on the trains too — Countdown’s Rachel Riley and singer James Blunt. Evacuation teams eventually reached the trains, but by then some had been stuck for more than three hours. There’s also been one particularly grim follow-up story from the Mail, which reports that someone was arrested during the evacuation on suspicion of sexual touching amid the darkness. The boss of Network Rail has issued an apology to passengers for the disruption, saying it was “not one of our finest moments”.
🚨 A 16-year-old boy has been charged with the murder of a woman who was shot in Hackney. Lianne Gordon, 42, died after being shot outside her home in Lower Clapton on Tuesday evening. A 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were also wounded in the shooting and were later discharged from hospital. In the run-up to the boy’s arrest on Friday, officers had said they were investigating possible gang links to the triple shooting, as well as a possible connection to earlier reports of gunshots in the area. Police had also indicated they believed Gordon was not the intended target. Others have pointed out Gordon’s home in Vine Close is near Upper and Lower Clapton Road, which gained the nickname ‘Murder Mile’ between 2000 and 2002 when eight men living around the road were shot dead. Crime rates have fallen significantly in the area since 2002 though. Family and friends have been paying tribute to Gordon since her death, describing her as “very community-spirited”. One neighbour recalled: "I never saw her upset, she's always smiling — even from far away she's always smiling and waves her hand. I am feeling very sorry for the children and the family."
🎭 The English National Opera is definitely leaving London, with the announcement Manchester has been picked as its new location. The historic company had been told last year to leave the capital or risk losing its Arts Council funding. While the move is being welcomed with open arms by Macunians, others aren’t so happy — Zoe Strimpel in the Telegraph writes: “Moving the ENO marks Levelling Up’s descent into outright farce”.
🏘️ London risks going the way of San Francisco — a spike in homelessness and an exodus of residents — without action to tackle the housing crisis, a think tank has warned in a new report. The Centre for London has called for building on the Green Belt surrounding the capital, arguing that unlocking even a small bit of the protected land could double housebuilding to 74,000 a year in London. It suggests development corporations — special bodies that operate outside the existing planning system — could oversee the building, while also ensuring any loss of nature is compensated for elsewhere.
👨⚖️ Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy has detailed the sustained campaign of harassment she’s faced from an online troll. Last week 52-year-old Philip Stacey pleaded guilty to harassment against Creasy, which included bombarding the Labour MP’s office with emails and even complaining to social services that her “anti-men” views could damage her family. The judge handed Stacey a 14-week prison sentence and a three-year restraining order and described his behaviour as the worst case of harassment against a public official that he’d ever seen. Creasy has now written about her experience in the Times, with the north London MP hitting out at both the lack of support she received from her own Labour Party and the police.
🚙 Tower Hamlets council is facing a crowdfunded legal challenge over its decision to scrap low-traffic neighbourhoods in the borough. The east London council had decided to remove the traffic calming measures in September, but campaign group Save Our Safer Streets is arguing the council failed to comply with the law “in several ways”.
🔍 And finally, we leave you with:
News that the borough of Richmond is the happiest place in the UK
The new walking & cycling ferry planned for Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf
Google Street View cameras spotted on the Underground
A sneak peek at the new Brent Cross West station
Protestors interrupting a council meeting over plans to ‘gentrify’ a west London market
A huge new office block that’s been approved in Elephant and Castle
A South Woodford cafe in hot water for painting over a ghost sign
More details on London’s first HIV/AIDS permanent memorial
The horror of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
The restoration of a Victorian building at Denmark Hill station
One onlooker described the aftermath best: “[It’s] blown the geezer’s van in half. Shrapnel everywhere. Broke the geezer’s fence. Like a World War Two explosion just went off. This is all over a ULEZ camera.”
If or when someone writes the history of anti-ULEZ vigilantism, this week will surely get its own chapter. On Wednesday evening in Bexley, south London, a roadside camera used to enforce the capital’s ultra-low emission zone exploded. Nearby CCTV captured the moment — two dog-walkers stopped in their tracks by a loud bang, then sparks and debris raining down from the sky, then a car alarm wailing in the distance. By 6.45pm police and firefighters had arrived on the scene. Neighbours were shaken, but no one was injured.
Police believe the camera was deliberately blown up — by a “low-sophistication improvised explosive device”, or IED. The scene of the explosion — a residential road in Sidcup — had been cordoned off by police for around 24 hours from Wednesday as forensic teams did their work, recovering the remains of the IED and searching for fingerprints. Meanwhile, officers went door-to-door to gather up footage from neighbours and witness statements. By Thursday afternoon, the Met had confirmed it believed the bombing was intentional, and that the force was launching a criminal investigation. “Thankfully, nobody was injured as a result of this incident, but it is extremely concerning that an explosive device seems to have been deliberately placed in a public place,” said detective chief superintendent Trevor Lawry, commander for the Bexley area, in a statement. “This could have very easily resulted in members of the public being very seriously injured.”
There’s one strange twist in the case already: the camera had already been vandalised before it was blown up. Designed to sit by the roadside and detect ULEZ-compliance via number plates, the camera had only been installed in Sidcup that day, at around lunchtime. By around 5pm, neighbours say they had already seen the camera’s pole sliced at its base and laying on the grass — so effectively taken out of operation. But then, 90 minutes later, the camera exploded. Aside from the chunks taken out of a nearby van and fence, debris tore through the window of a neighbouring house into a three-year-old’s room. The child’s mother says they’ve been left “traumatised”.
The use of an explosive device represents a major escalation in the anti-ULEZ vigilantism that’s become commonplace in outer London since the clean air scheme expanded over the summer. Figures released by the Met show that between April 1 and October 31 of this year, there have been 767 reports of cameras being damaged, and 220 of cameras being stolen. Maps have emerged to document the elaborate — and illegal — game of whack-a-mole. None had been blown up though. Instead, the tactic of choice has been to cut the cameras down, pursued by a group of vigilantes who call themselves the ‘Blade Runners’. Infamous incidents over the past few months include a Blade Runner chopping down a camera right in front of diners outside a restaurant. One masked Blade Runner boasted to GB News in September that he can disable a camera ‘within 10 seconds’. Another told TalkTV in October he’d personally destroyed 150 cameras and vowed to continue until the ULEZ expansion was reversed. There’s also been other, non-explosive tactics deployed — like covering lenses with paint, or even boxing in vans that are attached with cameras to foil TfL’s attempts at mobile enforcement.
Police were already coming down hard on vigilantes before this week. In November, 60-year-old Stephen Nunn, a carpenter from West Wickham, became the first person to ever be found guilty in court of anti-ULEZ vigilantism. Nunn had spray-painted a camera in Bromley after feeling ‘penalised’ by the £12.50 daily charge he faced under the scheme whenever he left the house to go shopping or to care for his brother with bipolar disorder. He is set to be sentenced on December 13. Aside from Nunn, at least four other arrests have been made by the Met in connection to anti-ULEZ vandalism. That includes Joseph Nicolls, 42, of Sidcup, who’s been charged with criminal damage, malicious communications and handling stolen goods, as well as aiding or abetting the destruction of, or damage to, property valued over £5,000. He’s been bailed ahead of trial at Woolwich Crown Court in June 2024.
Those investigations had been strictly criminal. But now, the Met says it has brought on counter-terrorism specialists to investigate the Sidcup explosion. While falling short of opening a full terrorism investigation, DCS Lawry said: “Because of the seriousness of this incident, we are making urgent enquiries to try and identify anyone involved, and officers with specialist expertise and capability from our Counter Terrorism Command are leading the investigation”. The Met also said it was keeping an “open mind as to whether or not there is a connection between the camera being cut down and the planting of the explosive device”.
The Sidcup camera explosion comes exactly 99 days since mayor Sadiq Khan expanded ULEZ to all of Greater London, on August 29. While opposition was fierce in the run-up — at one point culminating in a legal challenge from several London councils — things have simmered down now, relatively speaking. Research from TfL’s social media team claims that conversations about ULEZ online have halved since the rollout. There are still murmurings of plots, though. This week, the Telegraph reported that several Conservative backbench MPs are planning to give the government the power to overrule Khan through a private members’ bill in Parliament. Opposition to ULEZ is still a major campaign plank of Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate for mayor at next year’s election in May. She’s pledged to scrap ULEZ expansion on day one if elected. The Spy approached Ms Hall for comment on the camera explosion, but did not hear back. For his part, Khan described the explosion as “grotesquely irresponsible”.
It’s important to stress that police are treating the Sidcup explosion as an “isolated” incident for now — not part of a wider bombing campaign. They’ve asked anyone with information that could assist with the investigation to call 101 quoting CAD 5819/06DEC. But as ULEZ opposition fades from the mainstream, one does wonder what the most hardcore may resort to next.
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