Monday, 5 January 2009

Phil Jeffries

The Reaper claimed a rich crop of lefties at the end of 2008, Adrian Mitchell, Harold Pinter and Aubrey Morris among them. One of those who died was an old friend of mine, Phil Jeffries, with whom I participated in many housing and other struggles in the 1970s and 1980s.

Phil died, aged 55, on 14 December of a particularly virulent form of lung cancer – killed no doubt by the trademark roll-ups he crafted with the same meticulous care that he brought to his speciality legal work in the service of various community-based campaigns. Latterly he’d been most active around the King’s Cross railway lands development, but I knew him best from his time as an unpaid campaigner with a forensic legal eye on behalf of squatters, short-life housing residents and other badly-housed or homeless people. Literally thousands of people over the years have owed the roofs over their heads to the unsung work carried out by Phil and others around him. A long-time peace activist, he also helped found the Peace Movement Legal Support Group and establish the legal framework within which nonviolent direct action could flourish.

Last year, as the London Fire Brigade’s statistician, he and two colleagues brought the same attention to detail to bear in tracking down a hoaxer who had made 885 false 999 calls from public phone boxes in 45 days. Phil’s analysis of the pattern of calls predicted where the culprit would strike next, leading to his arrest.

Diana Shelley, Phil’s partner for 32 years, has written a tribute about him on the website. ‘His final act, as a scientist dedicated to improving life for everyone,’ she writes, ‘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.’

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