Phil Jeffries – Well Known Local Campaigner Passes Away

Phil_jeffries

In Memoriam

Phil Jeffries
1953-2008

The Community Bulletin Board is saddened to announce the passing of another well-known and respected local campaigner Phil Jeffries.  The following was received from his long time partner Diana Shelley.

I am very sad to announce that my partner of 32 years, Phil Jeffries, died of cancer on 14 December.

Many local people will know Phil as a committed campaigner for the King’s Cross community. He was a founder member of the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group in 1987 and served as chair on three separate occasions during its 21 years. His particular skill was for parliamentary and paralegal work, leading the case against the original Channel Tunnel Rail Link which would have demolished large swathes of King’s Cross.

Later, when the route changed to St Pancras in 1993, he helped found the Cally Rail Group, not to campaign against the rail link but to ensure it disrupted the local community in West Islington as little as possible. He led preparation of our case to Parliament to adopt a scheme which would avoid digging up the Cally Road for several years, and in 1995 the House of Commons agreed the current route to avoid that disruption.

In 2001, when the CTRL was about to start on site and the engineers had ‘forgotten’ Parliament’s aim not to disrupt the Cally, it was Phil who wrote our referral to the Secretary of State and led negotiations with the Department of Transport when we finally got them to take us seriously. It was too late to avoid disruptive work to the utilities in 2002, but Phil gained what the Council had not thought to demand—a special compensation scheme for traders who lost passing trade (vital for our small traders who operate on such tight margins)—and the Government paid out some £100,000.

Phil’s knowledge of construction impacts was put to good use when CTRL wanted round the clock noisy working at St Pancras. He worked with local people to convince Camden council to oppose the application and then helped prepare evidence for the resulting planning inquiry. The Planning Inspector rejected CTRL’s appeal in February 2004 and, when regular meetings were set up between CTRL, Camden officers and residents to agree construction methods, Phil continued to advise.

In 2004 Cally Rail Group widened its brief to campaign for a better development on the King’s Cross Railway Lands. We had welcomed CTRL in principle because we hoped for real regeneration which would benefit local people. As part of the King’s Cross Think Again campaign, Phil was at the forefront in preparing the unsuccessful case for judicial review against Camden’s acceptance of the inadequate Argent scheme. Earlier this year, after Islington rejected the scheme for the Triangle site and Argent appealed, Phil acted at the planning inquiry as advocate for Cally Rail and KX Railway Lands groups, arguing unsuccessfully to have environmental problems on the site taken seriously and for more affordable housing.

He helped set up King’s Cross Voices, our local oral history project. When its parent organisation, King’s Cross Community Development Project, went bankrupt because of mismanagement, Phil worked tirelessly to rescue the project, support the staff and secure its future with Camden council.

Phil was born in Darlington in 1953 and came to London to study physiology. He did not finish his degree but became involved in the squatting movement, which is how I met him in 1976. He was for many years active in the peace movement, helping to found the Peace Movement Legal Support Group which advised activists on the law and supported people arrested on demos. Together we edited A Legal Advice Pack for Nuclear Disarmers (published by CND in 1984), which explained the law affecting non-violent actions.

Phil held various jobs until, in 1985, as a result of his work in the Nuclear-Free Zones Movement, he went to work for the Greater London Council. After abolition he became PA to the Labour leader of the Fire and Civil Defence Authority, and in recent years he was the London Fire Brigade’s statistician. This year he and two colleagues won a special award for their work tracking down someone who made 885 hoax calls in 45 days: by analysing the pattern of calls from various public call boxes Phil predicted which the hoaxer would use next, leading to his arrest.

Phil was a trade unionist and (sometimes critical) Labour Party member. Alongside other political and community campaigns too numerous to list, he loved cooking, music, birdwatching and history. Until the illness overtook him he struggled to continue research on a history project which engaged him for many years.

On a personal note, Phil and I were in a relationship for 15 years before we took the plunge in 1991 and went to live together. We wondered immediately why we had missed out for so long on the delights of living as well as campaigning together.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer, with brain secondaries, on August Bank Holiday this year, exactly 17 years after we moved into Gifford Street. Phil faced the knowledge that he would die with courage and grace: ‘don’t talk statistics to a statistician’, he said, ‘I may live another twenty years’. Despite palliative treatment in UCH, the disease progressed shockingly fast. Staff in St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, where he went on 5 December, managed to control his pain and did everything they could for us both. I was with him when he died, supported by his brother, Steve.

His final act, as a scientist dedicated to improving life for everyone, was to leave his body to the London teaching hospitals. This means there will be no funeral, but details of an event to celebrate his life will be posted here when available. Thank you to all our wonderful friends and neighbours, as well as Phil’s brother, sister in law Val, and niece Anna, for all the support we both had, and I continue to have now.

The struggle for a just and peaceful world continues, but without one of its most dedicated campaigners.

Diana Shelley
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Will Perrin previously interviewed Phil during the one of the battles relating to the Islington Triangle Site – you can watch that interview here – Click to view the interview

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We hope that those of you who knew Phil will use the comment section below to record your thoughts about his life and work in the area.

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19 Responses to Phil Jeffries – Well Known Local Campaigner Passes Away

  1. Paul Convery says:

    Phil was a good friend, a great neighbour and a fine comrade. Phil and Diana together have been a formidable force in our neighbourhood and his loss will be felt widely and we all share in Diana’s grief. I last saw Phil the afternoon before he died and I was stunned at how rapidly illness had progressed. It felt like we’ve been robbed of someone with a formidable intellect, wonderfully eclectic interests and a passion for social justice. That latter phrase has become rather over-used in recent times but the driving force behind Phil’s life really was a determination to fight against powerful people who throw their weight around and rich people getting richer … usually be wrecking the place in which everyone else lives.

    That made Phil one of the least self-interested people I have ever known helping groups with the special skills that Diana has described – a forensic understanding of the law, public policy and the often arcane procedures which institutions try and use to obfuscate and confuse (in one of Diana’s fine phrases) “us peasants”. Phil could cut through all of that and he provided this skill repeatedly to whoever needed it. Not surprisingly for a good chess player, Phil was always thinking many steps ahead. I would often have conversations with him where it suddenly became obvious that he was calculating options and eventualities that I hadn’t thought about and he would then patiently explain these to me.

    Phil was a longstanding member of the Labour Party in Islington South and one who was pretty irate about some things done by the Government in the last decade. But he was determined to get Labour representation in Caledonian ward and eager to see Labour members get control of the local planning committee. On election day in May 2006, Phil organised the “Reading pads” and GOTV system in the Labour Committee Room for Caledonian Ward. That’s a task which requires methodical and sometimes ruthless attention to detail which was a real speciality of Phil’s. It worked … but only just – as Rupert, Lisa and I were elected with majorities ranging from between 100 and just 30 votes.

    My wife, Balbir, said yesterday she just cannot imagine our street without seeing Phil walking down it. We have this image fixed in our heads of Phil most days walking the pavement at a snail’s pace, plugged into his music, engrossed with a crossword or the inside pages of the paper and often (sadly it now seems, rolling one of his trademark handmade cigarettes).

    We shall miss him desperately.

  2. Phil was a remarkable man and with Diana made an outstanding team – I am very sad that he has gone. It was inspiring to watch Phil tackle a campaign and occasionally to work with him on one. Not everyone will have agreed with Phil’s points of view but it is people like Phil, prepared to take on massive vested interests, working the democratic and campaigning machinery that show we still have a vibrant democracy in Britain.

    Phil showed that it is possible to take on the national government from a back street in Islington and win – that should inspire us all to get stuck in and stand up for our neighbourhood.

    The world is a sadder, quieter, less contentious place without Phil, my heart goes out to Diana and the many who were fortunate to know Phil longer than I.

    For those who can bear it there is a short video of Phil here after a (temporary) victory in a local planning battle http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=CXCtRCXSf_Q&feature=channel_page

  3. This messsage just received brom Jamie Beagent, the solicitor at Leigh Day and Co who advised us throughout the Judicial Review process:
    I am very saddened to hear [ that ]. Phil was a great character and I very much enjoyed the time we spent working together. My condolences to Diana and all his friends and family.

    Kind regards,

    Jamie

  4. Paul Efstathiou says:

    I was fortunate to have known Phil for over 20 years as a fellow member of the G.L.C. Chess Club. We’d both joined around the same time and were of similar standard, and found ourselves almost always sitting together on consecutive boards for whichever of the teams we were in. We also had many enjoyable games over the years in internal competitions and both won the coveted Ashelford Trophy on several occasions including one year in which we shared the prize.

    I will greatly miss him as he was a real character, he’d often sit at the table during league matches listening to something on his earphones and sometimes reading a newspaper as well, which must have been disconcerting for his opponents, especially when he beat them! Who said men can’t multi-task?! A far better player than his grade suggested his loss to the team this season has been significant not just in results but in a true absence in the team.

    As a fellow trade unionist I was aware of how he devoted so much of his time to helping others and he can be rightly proud of all he achieved over the years.

    As Secretary of the Greater London Chess Club I pass our club’s deepest sympathy to Diana and the rest of Phil’s family.

    Sleep peacefully old friend.

  5. Sara McGrail says:

    All I would add to what everyone else has said is how it always seemed to me that Phil expressed his political beliefs not only through campaigning and lobbying but in all his transactions with people. A peace campaigner sure, but also in the everyday, a peace maker and one of the gentlest and most generous men I have ever met. I shall miss him very much.

  6. Rupert Perry says:

    Ann and I met Phil in the late eighties. He was active in the Labour Party both in the Ward and on the Local Government Committee. This besides his considerable campaigning activies in the community.

    Whenever there is an election, we will always be reminded of Phil at the Count. Whilst I would soon lose interest in the votes piling up, Phil would be watching with a hawk eye; which Polling Station was being counted, what the proportions of the votes cast were, how many mixed votes were cast, and how it all tallied with his impression from the committee room. In the aftermath he would be able to present a convincing analysis of where our votes came from to help in future campaigning.

    This attention to detail was typical, as was his ability to think of ways of looking at situations from a perspective not immediately obvious at first sight. On planning matters I found this way he had, most useful as a member of a planning committee, and over the years he has helped shape the Kings Cross area for the better.

    I imagine that when the Kings Cross Station was finally abandoned as the destination for the CTRL, the railway developers may have thought that Phil and Diana, living so close to Kings Cross, would not have had so much of an interest in the new link to St Pancras. I imagine too their horror to find that with their move to Gifford St, they were well placed to campaign in relation to the new route.

    I shall miss Phil’s expertise, which could match anything Council, Government or Consultants came up with. but more, I shall miss a genuine character who cared much for his community, and whom I was always pleased to bump into, and with whom there was always an interesting conversation or angle on life.

    Our thoughts are with you Diana.

  7. Suffice to say I was shocked to hear the news. Phil was a source of continual education, surprise, and advice to me throughout the 15 years I had as the Planning Worker with the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group. I know for sure that the Group would never have obtained the high reputation it achieved not just in London but throughout western Europe, if it had not been for the steeliness of Phil’s intellect and character. It was this that I most admired.

    My deepest sympathies to Diana .

  8. Keith & Sylvi Rapson-Miles says:

    We only known Phil for for a few years, having met Phil & Diana on Crete,but the time that we spent with them was always great and full of laughter. He will be sadly missed.

    Keith & Sylvi Rapson-Miles

  9. Vijya Patel says:

    Phil was a friendly caring and compassionate person amongst many of his attributes, and would engage in conversation about almost anything with anyone. Phil and I shared in discussing the issues of our local environment, whilst he would come in to buy a paper and milk on his way to work or when he and Diana came in together. With Govinda, it would be sports banter, cricket or football. Over the 15 years or so, since moving into Gifford Street, Phil and Diana have been regular loyal customers of our Newsagents, and other shops on the Cally. They have also been a great source of strength and support both through all our campaigning work and on a personal level.

    Both Phil and Diana have shown great compassion for the Community and the area by their commitment in helping to resolve the many issues we have been faced with. In particular their tremendous support to Cally Traders during the whole CTRL proposals and construction phase. Phil’s knowledge and expertise in technical matters, recognising potential detrimental effects of the plans, was instrumental to the achievements gained by Cally Rail Group, in securing the preferred tunnelled option. This prevented the destruction of many homes, and businesses. Cally Traders were also fortunate in gaining a scheme of compensation for businesses who were most affected by the construction works, this would not have been possible without Phil’s intervention and action. With his knowledge and unique abilities of reasoning he was able to produce relevant evidence to support our plight, thus setting a precedent for such a scheme. This was indeed a major victory, and it is due to his efforts through the support of Cally Rail Group that the shops and businesses on the Cally survived, during the whole construction phase. Many of the new businesses coming into the area may not know of Cally Traders, but for those that were members of this traders’ group will remember those campaigning years, and share in this special tribute to Phil.

    Phil was not only a dear friend but also my ‘brother’. He used to call me Vijyabhen – bhen meaning sister. He was my Phil ‘bhai’ – I officially made him my ‘hindu’ brother and would have tied a ‘Rakhi’ on him this year, in August when it was Raksha Bhandan ( a special brother, sister occasion), only he was very poorly and I could not visit him at the time. I was actually going to tie a Rakhi on him on Monday when I had hoped to visit him at the hospice. I just hadn’t realised the short time he had. Even though I did not get to tie my Rakhi – I know that my brother has always been there for his sister – and I shall never forget the love and support he has given to all my family. We will all miss him terribly.

    Our deepest condolences to Diana and all his family and friends – We will continue to strive for world peace in his memory.

    Vijya Patel

  10. Sarah Newton says:

    I knew Phil primarily as a committee member of the Kings Cross Railway Lands Group from 1987 to about 2001 when I left the area. The single quality about him as a campaigner that I most admired was his dedication. He was focussed and determined, like the proverbial dog with the bone, he didn’t let go. He could be relied on get to the bottom of something, to work out what needed to be done and make sure it was, to keeping things going, and support other people, even to the detriment of his personal life and health.

    As others have said, his intellect was formidable. And he cared deeply about people as well as social justice; he didn’t get involved in petty squabbles; he assessed things fairly, on their merits.

    These qualities made him a corner stone of the community movement in Kings Cross; without him we are all more likely to founder. He will be sorely missed.

    Sarah Newton

  11. Ian Bond says:

    I have only just received the news and am deeply saddened.
    As the Planning and Consents Manager on CTRL I was the ‘opposition’ for eight years and I greatly admired Phils commitment to his community, knowledge of the project and its legislation and above all his energy. I think the relationship was based on trust and openess and we respected each others views and position. Certainly the beer was welcome after the Islington Planning Commitee meetings!

    Phil had incisive ideas that improved many aspects of the works at St Pancras and Kings Cross and I am grateful for having the opportunity to work with him.

    My condolences to Diana and the community that has lost a true champion.

  12. Mark Hammill says:

    In 2000 I was fortunate to become a town planner working for Kings Cross – and for the next 6 years it was, and still is, the most satisfying part of my career. I met Diana and Phil on many, many occassions, being involved on numerous projects from streetscape works along the Cally,to the P&O development for the ‘Regents Quarter’ to the long and winding road that lead to ‘Kings Cross Central’ to ‘Kings Place’ and Bingfield Park.

    Over the years I learned a lot from Diana and Phil, and am truly grateful. We didn’t always agree on everything but what we did have in common was a desire for a better, more equitable and safer Kings Cross but one which didnt lose its soul and I learnt the importance community, in other words those it truly belongs too.

    Phil had a forensic eye for detail (as I would frequently discover at Committee meetings)! However I was also appreciative of their support and understanding and good humour (an the offer of a pint or two!).

    Ironically, shortly before I left Islington in 2006, I moved into my first flat and Phil worked about 60yards away, so we would often bump into each other on our way home and have a catch up and damn good gossip, near Vauxhall tube. And to be honest its still hard to let go on a community I have so much respect and feeling for.

    There is a programme on Kings Cross and the effects of development on residents as part of the KX Voices project on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 17th January (and is repeated later in week).
    This is just a small part of his legacy.
    Phil helped clear away many of the administrative and legislative obstacles to make a better place and clear the path for those that will come after him to secure a Kings Cross worthy of his toil and the aspirations of his neighbours, partner and compatriates, near and far, and fashion a Kings Cross that they so richly deserve. There are parks, beautiful buildings saved, safer streets (and one or two better planners) out there because of him, and this is something to celebrate. Well done Phil, and thank you.

  13. Sarah Webb says:

    I met Phil on my first day working at the London Fire Brigade in 2004. I moved up from Hampshire not knowing anyone and was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. I was late on my first day and Phil was the first person I met and a complete hero for me. The first thing he did was gave me his treasured National Archives mug and made me a cup of coffee. We became great friends and enjoyed countless cigarette breaks together mulling over life and sudoko. I will never forget the kindness Phil showed me and his amazing ability to empathise with your situation and things going on in your life. I will miss you old friend, especially your hugs….Sarah xxxx

  14. Paul Anderson says:

    I’ve only just learnt of Phil’s death via the Guardian. What a great bloke: I have fond memories from a long time ago when we thought libertarian socialism was not just an ideal but achievable. Condolences to Diana and all who knew and loved him.

  15. Andy Littlewood says:

    I was saddened to hear of Phil’s passing in the Guardian. I knew Phil during my time working at Camley Street Natural Park which owes him a huge debt of gratitude for being instrument in defeating the original BR plans which would have destroyed this prescious wildlife & community resource. His hallmark quick thinking and way-over-my-head interlect are memorable enough, but for me it was his utter dedication in defence of the defenceless in the path of destructive development which will I will always remember.

    With the plans changed to build the CTRL at St Pancras, there were further challenges for Camley Street. Phil worked tirelessly behind the scenes to interpret some of the dullest and interlectually challenging reams of paperwork ever issued by a developer or council in order that we at Camley Street might actually understand what’s going on. Thinking streets ahead, he could then spot potential ways forward and leave us with hope and confidence to carry on the fight. A good man, a very sad loss.

    Andy Littlewood

  16. Paul Seed says:

    I knew Diana Shelley before I knew Phil. We were both involved in the British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign (BWNIC). We knew that some British servicemen were discontented with what they were expected to do in Northern Ireland, and wanted a different life. We produced a leaflet “Some Information for Discontented Soldiers” which lead to the arrest of fourteen of us (including me) on a charge of Incitement to Disaffection.

    Astonishingly, the maximum sentence for giving out a leaflet largely about employment rights was (under the conspiracy laws) life imprisonment. Diana was a stalwart of the defence group during those crazy times, and was present in court at the Old Bailey in December 1975 when all defendants were triumphantly acquitted.

    Shortly afterwards Diana & Phil came together, and I got to know Phil. All I can say is that Diana had excellent taste, and I appreciated the occasional meetings, and cups of strong black coffee shared in Phil’s flat in Caledonian Road above Housman¹s Bookshop and the Campaign Against Arms Trade office.

    More than once I met them behind the banner they had made for the CND demonstrations of that period: “Historians for the right to work: We demand a continuing supply of history.”

    Since then, life has been quieter, or at least less melodramatic. Phil and I drifted apart over the years, but stayed in touch, with occasional exchanges of Christmas cards and chance meetings at various actions and other events. When we realised that we both worked in statistics – he with the fire service, me in medical research – there were always things to talk about, and we promised each other to make the time to get together properly. Sadly time ran out too soon and those promises cannot now be fulfilled.

  17. Richard Wolff says:

    I was very sad and shocked to read the news on one of my sporadic visits to the kxrlg website. Phil was the most helpful man in my phd research about the alternative plans for the railway lands, a work I did in collaboration with Michael Edwards of UCL. Phil knew everything and everyone and was very patient and clear in explaining the many political, tactical, personal facets of the struggle. It was always very enrichening and fascinating (and delightful) to talk to him. Without him my research would not have been so successful. Thanks again and all the best to Diana!
    Richard Wolff, Zurich, Switzerland

  18. Bill Bowring says:

    I was also very sad to hear, only today, of Phil’s untimely death. I first got to know Phil through the Campaign Against a Criminal Trespass Law (CACTL), right back in the late 1970s, and stayed in touch with him ever since. He was always brilliant, persistent and good-humoured. And he introduced me to unaccompanied Bach – a vivid memory to this day.

  19. Chris Gidden says:

    I noted Diana’s in In Memorandum on the 14 December 2013 for Phil. It has surely given time to reflect on the immense amount of work he and Diana put in the Cally in its many facets of life. Yes it was a loss but their great work that has been reflected in the Cally and CTRL. CTRL’s legacy of damage is shown in 400 Caledonian still in a mournful state and the CTRL not called to account why after so long it has not restored the building as it was required to by law. I hope that those in Camden reread the campaign by the Cally Rail Group and KCRLG learn and not be duped yet again by the Camden Counsellors. Our thoughts are with all those who miss Phil especially Diana

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