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.
Ed: Anyone wishing to share their memories of Phil or good wishes for Diana, please visit the King’s Cross Community site where an online book of commemoration will begin this Sunday.