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A shameful incident at the Chinese consulate
'I didn't expect that China would do this in front of UK and Hong Kong people. I'm really worried about it. I'm really scared of Chinese officials watching me'
Dear Millers — yesterday afternoon, videos began to emerge of an alarming incident at the Chinese consulate in Rusholme. The videos show a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester being beaten by staff from the consulate, who appear to drag him inside the property’s gates before he is rescued by a police officer. Police are investigating what happened and say they “understand the shock and concern that this incident will have caused”. We’ve spoken to two-eye witnesses about what they saw.
Our weekend read about the growing crisis in A&E departments, a gripping read by Sophie Atkinson, provoked dozens of comments from readers about their own experiences in local hospitals. One wrote: “I knew the A&E crisis was bad but I'm shocked at the callousness displayed towards patients on top of this. I guess it's a coping mechanism in a dire situation, but still.”
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We got a lovely email from a reader called Hannah in Altrincham last week which we wanted to share. “I have just finished Dani's piece 'A Death Unseen' and WOW... I thought it was totally brilliant. I REALLY love what you are all doing at The Mill and I've been telling everyone who will listen that they need to have a read! Quality, solid journalism — and the perfect balance between serious and interesting (not that something cant be both but you get my drift..) You're also doing a massive service to Manchester and the communities here by telling so many important stories.”
Correction: In Thursday’s newsletter we referred to life expectancy in Oldham, but we made a mistake. 56.63 is the healthy life expectancy in Oldham (the number of years the average person lives in good health) not the life expectancy (the number of years you would expect to live full stop). Thanks to the readers who pointed it out.
This week’s weather
Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says we can expect sunny weather on Tuesday and Wednesday, and spells of rain and wind towards the weekend.
Tuesday ☀️ Dry and quite warm with long spells of autumn sunshine. Max 16°c.
Wednesday 🌥 Dry to start with some bright or sunny spells. Turning cloudy with a risk of rain in the southwest before dark. Windy. Max 14°c.
Thursday 🌧 A wet day with periods of heavy rain. Drier towards evening. Max 14°c.
Friday 🌦 Breezy with sunny spells and heavy showers. Mild winds from the south/south west. Max 16°c.
Weekend Mild and changeable with low pressure weather fronts in from the south west/west.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
Big story: Shameful scenes at the Chinese consulate
Top line: Chinese government officials in Manchester are facing calls for their expulsion from the country after videos emerged yesterday that show consular staff beating a protester and dragging him inside the grounds of the consulate.
What happened: The incident occurred during a peaceful protest outside the consulate in Rusholme by pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong. Around 30 minutes after the protest began, staff from the consulate appear to rush out of the gates and grab signs and placards made by the protesters. Videos taken at the event then show:
A protester being pulled inside the gates by his hair, while a Greater Manchester Police officer attempts to pull him back.
A group of men, some wearing protective vests and helmets, beating the protester inside the consulate grounds, before police manage to get him out.
According to police, the man “suffered several physical injuries and remained in hospital overnight for treatment”.
Police say they are investigating “the assault of a man following a protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester yesterday”. They say that shortly before 4pm, “a small group of men came out of the building and a man was dragged into the Consulate grounds and assaulted. Due to our fears for the safety of the man, officers intervened and removed the victim from the Consulate grounds.” The statement goes on: “Detectives from our Major Incident Team are investigating the incident and we are liaising with national policing and diplomatic partners. No arrests have been made and our ongoing and complex enquiries continue.”
‘Shock and concern’: In a statement released at lunchtime today, Assistant Chief Constable Rob Potts said:
We understand the shock and concern that this incident will have caused not just locally, but for those much further afield who may have connections with our communities here in Greater Manchester. A full and comprehensive investigation is underway by our experienced Major Incident Team detectives, and I can assure the public that all viable avenues will be explored to bring to justice anyone we believe is culpable for the scenes we saw outside the Chinese Consulate on Sunday.
The response: Last night, we asked both Andy Burnham and Manchester’s council leader Bev Craig for a comment on the incident and continued to push them for a statement all morning. Manchester City Council eventually said it “would always condemn violence of any kind during a planned demonstration,” but that it would be “inappropriate to comment further at this stage." Andy Burnham released the following statement just before we sent this briefing:
What took place yesterday outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester was deeply worrying and has no place in a city region like ours that prides itself on peoples’ right to protest peacefully. Greater Manchester Police immediately started a full investigation and are in close touch with the Home Office and Foreign Office. It is important that the full facts surrounding this incident are established and for that we will need to wait for the investigation to conclude. However, on the basis of what I have seen, I want to make clear that it is never acceptable for peaceful protestors to be assaulted and those responsible need to be held to account for their actions.
National politicians, in contrast to their counterparts in Greater Manchester, reacted swiftly to the videos yesterday. Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has tweeted that the Chinese ambassador should be summoned and “if any official has beaten protesters, they must be expelled or prosecuted”.
Kearns also said: “The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] will not import their beating of protestors and denial of free speech to British streets.”
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith tweeted: “The UK government must demand a full apology from the Chinese ambassador to the UK and demand those responsible are sent home to China”.
Eyewitnesses: This morning The Mill has spoken to two people who witnessed the incident first-hand. One of them, a 30-year-old man who goes by the name Luci, says he saw a group of men coming out of the consulate to grab the protest signs, one of which satirises Xi Jingping by suggesting he is trying to rule Hong Kong, Taiwan and Ukraine. Luci told us:
Two of them were wearing riot gear — some kind of bullet proof vest and helmets. The others were plain clothed. They managed to get it [the Xi sign] inside the territory of the consulate and destroyed it.
They tried to grab one of us inside the consulate, but the police managed to get everyone out. So none of us were grabbed inside before the gates closed. But the painting was already inside the territory.
Luci was taking photos when the incident took place. When the violence began, his first thought was: “I can't sit by and watch some of my friends and people get dragged into the Chinese territory. Once the gate is closed, they are within the Chinese territory and that's it.”
The protesters: According to people we’ve spoken to, most of the people at the protest were from Hong Kong and came to Manchester in the past year or two via the BNO visa scheme. Earlier in the protest, they were told by a police officer that they were allowed to protest on the pavement as long as their banners didn’t touch the consulate walls or block prams and wheelchairs from passing.
Consul general: It’s been suggested by various Twitter users — including a reporter from the US news organisation Axios — that the smartly-dressed man seen in the videos with grey hair and a blue and red scarf (on the left of the first photo above) is Zheng Xiyuan, the consul general and the most senior Chinese official in Greater Manchester, a man who has met Andy Burnham on multiple occasions. The videos and photos show him dragging a protester by the hair. We put this claim to the consulate this morning but have not heard back yet.
A consulate spokesperson told the BBC that protesters “hung an insulting portrait of the Chinese president at the main entrance”.
They went on: “This would be intolerable and unacceptable for any diplomatic and consular missions of any country. Therefore, we condemn this deplorable act with strong indignation and firm opposition.”
Fear and anger: “I am very angry,” Luci told us. “This strengthens our resolve to do this [protest] further. I'm quite shocked. How can they do that?”
Another eye-witness, who is still going through the asylum process from Hong Kong, told us the actions of the consulate’s officials have left him feeling scared: “I didn't expect that China would do this in front of UK and Hong Kong people. I'm really worried about it. I don’t want to go out. I'm really scared of Chinese officials watching me.”
The backstory: As we reported in a detailed long read last year, Greater Manchester’s leaders and universities have become deeply enmeshed with China — working hard to attract Chinese students and businesses. “We’ve always had very good relationships with the Chinese consulate,” a senior source at Manchester City Council was quoted saying in that piece, which reported that top council officials attend regular dinners and meetings at the magnificent Denison House in Rusholme.
A key question: It was at the gates of Denison House that yesterday’s shameful incident took place, in which the officials of a foreign power are seen destroying protest signs and assaulting a demonstrator in plain view. What would have happened if the police officer hadn’t intervened and the protester had been trapped inside the consulate’s grounds? The key line from GMP today — “Due to our fears for the safety of the man, officers intervened and removed the victim from the Consulate grounds” — is a shocking line to read in a police statement in this country.
Bottom line: The thuggish behaviour of Chinese diplomatic officials yesterday is a major scandal that demands an urgent response. Local politicians and business leaders, both of whom have regular dealings with the consulate, should be urgently raising it with the consul general today, even if that comes at a commercial cost.
Home of the week
This interesting Grade II listed four-bedroom house near Rochdale was designed by Edgar Wood (1860-1935), who was considered the “most advanced English architect of his generation”. It’s on the market for £600,000.
Your Mill news briefing
"I think the Conservative party needs to look itself in the mirror today," says Andy Burnham. Speaking from the Greater Manchester Green Summit, the mayor says MPs need to be honest about the current situation in government and work towards stability. "We can't carry on like this," he says, "it's a real mess." Liz Truss sacked her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday, after the fallout from last month's mini-budget, which The Times says the pair went through "line-by-line" before it was delivered. Jeremy Hunt, Kwarteng’s replacement and the government's fourth chancellor this year, gave a snap statement on the mini-budget this morning; he’s reversing almost all of its policies.
"The Gay Village is more than just Canal Street" Sam Wheeler, Labour councillor for Piccadilly ward, tells The Mill. The council have just commissioned a feasibility study to look at pedestrianising more of the area around Canal Street, which became traffic-free in 2011. The plan would be to pedestrianise Bloom Street and Richmond Street, which each run parallel to Canal Street. They were both closed to traffic during the pandemic to make space for outdoor seating and, as with many other areas like Thomas St and Stevenson Sq, the council are looking to make that permanent. Want to talk to us about pedestrianisation? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bolton Royal Hospital currently has 130 beds taken up by patients who have "no criteria to reside", meaning they no longer require hospital services. Often referred to as "bed-blocking", the hospital's leaders have enlisted consultants to help discharge these patients, who they believe are causing nearly 1,000 extra days of delay for the 35,000 people on the hospital's waiting list.
Mason Greenwood, a 21-year-old footballer for Manchester United, has appeared in court charged with attempted rape. He is also charged with assault and controlling and coercive behaviour. Proceedings have been adjourned, with bail arrangements to be decided later.
A seascape painting by L.S Lowry has sold for £1m. The North Sea shows a view from the coast of Seaburn near Sunderland and is "far removed from the bustling industrial streets scenes for which he is better known," according to Tennants Auctioneers, who auctioned the painting.
The judicial review of the coroner's decision on the death of Yousef Makki will be held on 7 November. The Makki family have been calling for a review into the narrative conclusion delivered last November — which couldn't say whether Makki's death was unlawful or accidental.
A new documentary about the Haçienda — a local nightclub which has received scant media coverage since its heyday and deserves this rare moment in the spotlight — will have an exclusive screening in Manchester before it premieres on BBC Two next month. The Haçienda: The Club That Shook Britain will show at HOME on the 2nd of November and will be followed by a Q&A.
Our favourite reads
The extreme economic pain of running a restaurant in the UK — The New Yorker
Ed Caesar laments the closure of one of his favourite eateries in Manchester, whilst taking stock of the hospitality industry after the pandemic. “On September 22nd, District’s owners sent an e-mail, whose subject line was ‘THE END.’ ‘Recent events have taken their toll,’ the message read, ‘and we are facing extreme economical pain.’”
If you enjoyed our piece on the chaos of Piccadilly Gardens last year, then we think you will also enjoy this equally chaotic and tragic story of the “people’s band” The Piccadilly Rats, who will be featured at the Doc’n Roll film festival later this month. They were a fixture of the gardens but later were blighted by bad luck and the death of one of their crew. Their highlights included opening the 2018 Parklife festival. “If somebody straight was singing Wonderwall, people wouldn’t join in — but we were all mad. It was more like street theatre.”
Notes from the underground — Astra Magazine
Manchester gets a fleeting mention in this great piece, but since there’s a new documentary about the Hacienda, we thought this would get you in the mood. Zack Graham ventured into the world of underground warehouse raves and something called Freetekno. “He walked me into a space I soon realized was an abandoned train station. There was no one at the door taking money for a cover charge, no stamps, no wristbands. The DJ played extravagant, spooky music so fast it confused me.”
Our to do list
🍷 Isca Wines in Levenshulme is running a workshop in sustainability and fermentation. Bring your old cabbages, tired-looking carrots and other veggies. Please bring your own knife and chopping board. Starts 6.30pm. Book here.
🎨 There’s a late life drawing session at Salford Museum and Gallery. Perfect if you’re looking to improve your technique and have some fun too. Starts 6pm. Book here.
☘ Sustainable Supper Club at The Alchemist in Spinningfields consists of a tasting menu and three cocktails for each person. Starts 7pm. Book here.
📚 For Black History Month, Lemn Sissay will be doing an evening of readings followed by a Q&A at the union at MMU. It’s free. Starts 4pm. Book here.
🔬 Manchester Science Festival kicks off for its 2022 season. Want to get involved with rhythmic robots, a walk in the sky park at night, or ponder about the future of sex? Book here.
🎨 The Whitworth is holding the first major retrospective of Caribbean designer Althea McNish (1924 – 2020), who became one of the “most influential” textile designers in the UK. Highlights include items from Althea’s personal archive. Info here.