The rancour surrounding Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum has found an echo in London, where some members of a Facebook group called Españoles en Londres (Spaniards in London) proposed launching a “hunt for independence supporters” on Friday night, threatening to remove Catalan flags hung in windows, with the promise of a “night of broken glass” to follow.
A posting on the group’s page credited to Jorge Arias Parra said: “A few friends and I are going to go to Camden tonight to hunt for independence supporters. We’ve noticed several windows where Catalan flags are hanging and we’re going to follow a route to take down secessionist flags …”
The posting was followed by another where it was decided that anyone interested should meet at Camden Lock in north London at 11pm on Friday. “Those who want to join in should wear some sort of Spanish insignia. If there are any independence supporters who want to welcome us, they would be welcome too although I doubt they will as they tend to be cowards and manipulative snakes.”
Prompted by a reply from another member, Enrique García, who wrote “If we hit them I’m up for it”, Arias Parra went on to clarify the intentions of the group. “It’s going to be peaceful in principle, unless some screaming Catalan begs us to smash their face in.
“What we are going to organise for the next gathering is a night of broken glass if they don’t take down the Catalan flags. Today is just to get the maximum information possible about who they are, where they live and where they work.”
The threat provoked this response from a Facebook user identified as Maarc Gonzalez Motlló: “If you come by Hendon Central your head will be made independent of your body.”
Arias Parra went on to write that the intention was to create a database of Catalan independence supporters living in the area, with their addresses and workplaces. “If they don’t take the flags down,” he wrote, “we’re going to suggest to their landlords that they get house insurance and tell them of the risk to their houses if they exhibit Catalan fascist symbols.”
The Metropolitan police said that officers had been made aware of the threats, although there were no reports of any incidents.
The exchange provoked consternation among many users, with several expressing alarm and urging others to share the posting, while some wondered whether it was serious.
A Twitter thread started by a user identified as Arnau speculated whether the posting violated the UK’s hate crime laws, while other users asked if it contradicted Facebook’s own rules.
Facebook’s community standards guidelines state: “We carefully review reports of threatening language to identify serious threats of harm to public and personal safety. We remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals.” The original posting by Arias Parra was removed, although it is not known if this action was taken by Facebook or by the Españoles en Londres group’s administrators.
The Office for National Statistics said that 43,000 Spanish citizens were living in London in 2014. The Spanish consulate said that there are 102,498 living in the United Kingdom.
My father-in-law, José Cupido Tocón, who has died aged 101, was a refugee from the Spanish civil war who settled in Britain and remained there until the death of General Francisco Franco, when he returned to his beloved Andalucia.
José was born in San Roque, near Cádiz, into a poor family. His father, José Cupido, a farm labourer, took his own life when his son was a teenager. His mother, Francesca (nee Tocón), brought up seven children on her own. José worked in farming, but in 1938 he was called up during the Spanish civil war and served in a cavalry unit. In the same year he was captured by the fascist forces and imprisoned in Seville.
One night, he and a fellow prisoner escaped and made the long and tortuous journey to Algeciras, on the Bay of Gibraltar, avoiding roads to prevent recapture. Eventually, through family in the port city, they found a small boat, which they rowed across to Gibraltar. “Papers please,” were the first English words José heard, from a British border official in Gibraltar.
José was held in custody and given the choice of joining the British army or the merchant navy. He chose the latter and joined a ship as a cook. Unfortunately, his lack of culinary skills was quickly discovered. He joined another ship and a kindly Chinese chief cook taught him what he needed to know. He spent the next few years on ships, managing to evade U-boats. Eventually, in 1940, he came to the UK as a refugee and joined the burgeoning Spanish expat community in London.
He had a number of jobs, one of which was digging tunnels for the London underground. He later became a chef at the Grand Palace hotel and Simpson’s department store. In 1966 he moved to Chichester, West Sussex, again working as a chef.
When Franco died in 1975, this was the signal for José to return to Spain. He went back to Algeciras, then lived in Jimena de la Frontera for a few years, returning to Algeciras in 1988. He was, for a number of years, a volunteer for the Banco Alimentario (food bank) and for this he was awarded a long service medal by the Spanish government.
In 1946 José married Marguerita Martinez, from Gibraltar, in the UK. They had three daughters. When they separated in 1958, José was given custody of the children. In the 1960s he married Maya Kimanis, a Polish-German refugee; she died in 1995. In 2013, when José was 97, he married Elena Arias, from Peru; she died in 2015.
He is survived by his daughters, Isabella, Francesca and Joséfina, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The Guardian received reports on Monday about the incident from lawyers, detainees and charities – first that the man had died and then that he was on a life support machine. However, the Home Office repeatedly refused to confirm these accounts.
On Friday, the Home Office issued a statement saying: “We can confirm that a 28-year-old man recently released from Harmondsworth immigration removal centre died in hospital after life support was withdrawn on Thursday September 7.”
The Home Office declined to confirm whether he had been released from detention before or after the incident on Sunday. When asked whether confirmation of the incident had been delayed so as not to be made public at the same time as the Panorama programme, a Home Office spokesman replied: “Absolutely not.”
A letter was circulated to detainees at Harmondsworth on Friday by the centre manager, Paul Morrison, entitled “Serious Incident – Harmondsworth”. The letter states that the detainee was taken to hospital after he tried to kill himself and that some detainees tried to help him immediately after the incident.
“This is clearly a very sad and tragic event,” Morrison wrote.
According to Harmondsworth detainees, the man’s mother travelled by bus from Poland to see her son before the life support machine was turned off. The detainees said the man had been granted bail two weeks before the incident, but the Home Office had failed to release him. The Home Office declined to comment on this claim.
One detainee, who was a friend of the man, said: “He had physical and emotional problems but didn’t get the help he needed from the detention healthcare service. The day before the incident he was crying like a baby and saying about healthcare: ‘Why don’t you help me, why ignore me?’”
Fifty-nine detainees at Harmondsworth signed a protest letter after the death saying: “It’s a disgrace that no one has been held accountable for such poor care. We are human beings not animals.”
Emma Ginn, the coordinator of Medical Justice, a charity that works to improve the healthcare of immigration detainees, said: “Earlier this week we called on the Home Office to close all immigration removal centres before another detainee dies. Another detainee died last night. This death, like all the others, was avoidable as immigration detention is optional.
“Clients have been calling us all week, traumatised by having seen what they say was a dead body, and terrified by their treatment and the conditions in immigration detention … We call again for the immediate closure of all immigration removal centres before yet another detainee dies.”
Forty-one people have died in immigration detention or shortly after release since 2000.
The Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with [the man’s] family at this very sad time. A full independent investigation will be conducted by the prisons and probation ombudsman.”
It’s that time of year when thousands of fashion buyers, press and “digital influencers” decamp to London to take in the catwalk shows that will shape what we wear come spring.
On Wednesday, the Polish brand Reserved put on a show of its own, hiring Kate Moss to draw the fashion crowd to its debut store on London’s Oxford Street, where 120 million shoppers pass by each year.
Billed as Poland’s answer to Topshop, the retailer is ploughing an initial £50m into breaking the UK market, paying a high price for the cavernous former BHS department store it believes will, literally, provide it with a shop window to the world.
“London is a bridge to a new world of very competitive fashion for us,” says Marek Piechocki, who co-founded the fashion brand in the days after communist rule ended in Poland in 1989. “It is a mirror for the whole world and will prove whether we can stand strong alongside our biggest competitors.”
But gaining a foothold in the UK high street is not without risk. High shop rents and intense competition make the big prize of the £36bn that Britons spend each year on clothing elusive. After trumpeting their arrival three years ago the US chain American Eagle threw in the towel this summer. Gap-owned Banana Republic quit the UK last year. Another US brand Forever 21 has also been closing stores after setting up shop in 2010.
The big successes of recent years have been online specialists, such as Boohoo and Asos, which are going from strength to strength.
“I know, I know,” sighs Piechocki, reacting to the list of failures. “But when you look at these American companies they are offering a classic look with a college style that is more or less repeating forever. The European customer is completely different. I believe we are one of the European leaders in fashion forward clothing.”
Reserved has signed a 10-year lease worth £42m to secure its prized spot on London’s most important shopping street. If the retailer is Poland’s Topshop, then Piechocki must be its de facto Philip Green, albeit a tall, slim, uncontroversial version with a degree in civil engineering from the Gdańsk University of Technology.
“During communist times we were having coupons for everything,” Piechocki explains. “There was nothing in the shops. There was big demand for everything, particularly garments.
“In 1989 when we got a container load of 20,000 shirts, customers would be queuing up and paying cash,” he says. “Then we were having a whole table of cash and the next day we could go and buy more.”
Around half of parent company LPP’s 6bn zloty (£1.3bn) annual sales hail from Reserved stores with the rest rung up by its four other brands: Mohito, House, Cropp and Sinsay. Reserved’s pitch is to 20- to 40-year-old British shoppers with “accessible and affordable on-trend pieces” such as the £40 faux leather jackets and £20 skinny jeans among its autumn ranges.
Piechocki describes its women’s fashion – its also offers men’s and childrenswear – as “more feminine” than the likes of H&M with an “eastern European twist” on current trends. Its in-house designers use graphics inspired by Poland’s famous heritage in poster art to give the brand a point of difference.
Against all odds …
It is easy to forget that international retailers such as Sweden’s H&M and Spanish export Zara, which are now a ubiquitous presence on the British high street, also got lost in translation when they opened their first stores.
“The Zara sizing was quite wrong – because we are much bigger than the Spanish or the French,” says Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at consultancy GlobalData. “But because the company takes a lot of feedback from its store managers it was able to adapt.
“American Eagle and Forever 21 were not different enough to what is already here. Zara and H&M are much stronger brands … there’s a lot of competition and you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.”
After touring the Reserved store, another GlobalData analyst reported back that it was a “bit hit and miss” in style terms, with strong casualwear and workwear ranges undermined by what she viewed as the damning presence of “snoods and waterfall cardigans”.
H&M opened its first store in 1976 and now has 280 stores including new brands Arket and Weekday, which opened their first stores in London last month. Inditex-owned Zara now has 110 stores including sister brands Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear.
“Zara doesn’t advertise so when the store opened on Regent Street nobody knew the brand and it struggled to recruit staff,” explains one fashion insider. “Shoppers didn’t understand what it was offering because the stores looked upmarket, which frightened people off. When the next stores opened in Bluewater and Reading the sales figures were shocking.
“I think Reserved will succeed or fail based on quality and price points of product,” the experienced fashion executive added. “I have experience of fashion retailing in eastern Europe and to my mind it’s a very specific taste that doesn’t necessarily work in the UK.”
Reserved has created the 150-piece Redesign specifically tailored to UK shoppers and the Oxford Street store will be receiving new drops of clothing twice a week. Bestsellers can be repeated in its Polish factories within three weeks.
Today LPP is one of Poland’s biggest listed companies with 1,700 shops covering swaths of eastern Europe. Once the retailer has honed its UK formula, Piechocki says more stores will follow – he is still a firm believer in the power of bricks and mortar, even in a digital age.
Despite the odds seemingly stacked against Reserved, Piechocki is quietly determined to conquer the British high street. “We have never withdrawn from any market in 25 years,” he says, before citing the phrase “never, never, never give up”, borrowed from Churchill.
“This is such a crucial step for the company because if we can succeed in London there is no other city in the world where we cannot be successful.”
My uncle Giordano Díaz Lombardero, who was one of the “niños vascos” (“Basque children”) evacuated to Britain during the Spanish civil war, has died aged 93.
He was born near Bilbao, the younger son of Alberto Díaz Chapartegui and his wife, Josefa Lombardero Moreira. His mother died when he was three and he and his elder brother were brought up by their paternal grandparents while their father took a job in a steelworks.
In 1936, the Spanish civil war broke out; schools were closed and 13-year-old Giordano’s main task was to find food for the family. When their house was requisitioned for use as a munitions factory, the family moved to a new apartment by the river. One day, he noticed boats carrying wounded people; he later realised they were victims of the attack on Guernica.
The following year, the Basque government evacuated 4,000 children to Britain. The brothers, together with two cousins, sailed to Southampton, staying under canvas at North Stoneham, Hampshire before going on to a colonia near Huddersfield; the colonias were a network of homes across the country set up by communities sympathetic to the refugees, funded by public subscriptions and trade unions.
When repatriation started, the brothers were unable to return to Bilbao as their father had gone into exile in Venezuela, and they did not see him again until 1950. Giordano went to school in Huddersfield, leaving at 14, then worked in an import/export business. During the second world war he was an apprentice mechanic in Hampshire while studying for his matriculation certificate, which he gained in 1945.
During the war, Giordano would meet other niños vascos at the Hogar Español (Spanish home), a meeting place for Spanish exiles in London. Writing for the Basque children’s newsletter Amistad (Friendship), he always concluded with a tone of enthusiastic rhetoric and youthful optimism.
After the war he was an electrician at the Royal Mint in London until it moved to south Wales in 1967. He then he worked at St Thomas’ hospital until he retired. He had enrolled with the Open University upon its inception in 1969, studying an eclectic range of subjects for his BA.
In 1959 he married Iffat Rafat Siddiqi, a scientific officer at the Royal Free hospital; they had met at the end of the 1940s when she was a student. She died in 2007 and Giordano continued living in Blackheath, south London, where they had settled, until 2016, when he moved into a care home in Lewisham.
In keeping with his altruistic view of life, he left his body for medical research.
Giordano liked living in Britain, though he spoke wistfully of never being considered British by the British, or Spanish in Spain, and found this loss of identity difficult to bear.
He is survived by me and his niece, and four great-nephews.