Dover counts the cost

Emotions are running high in the port where 58 illegal immigrants were found dead in a lorry last week

Not for the first time, the ancient town of Dover finds itself in a condition approaching disequilibrium.

Not for the first time, the ancient town of Dover finds itself in a condition approaching disequilibrium.

Following last Sunday's discovery of 58 dead Chinese in a Dutch lorry that had arrived on one of the cross-Channel ferries, its people are touchy, avoiding wherever possible the scrutiny of outsiders, and desperate for distraction from their unique woes. Two events catch my eye.

The first is the unusual entertainment Dovorians (as they insist on spelling it) allowed them- selves yesterday. They celebrated midsummer by having Father Christmas hand out Easter eggs from a pink Cadillac Eldorado of 1959 manufacture, while a man called Jack Hewitt MBE, sang a revolting song about eating worms.

The second is a confrontation with one of the port's sorely beleaguered customs officers five days after his colleagues were traumatised by the Dutch truck's grisly contents.

On seeing a photographer colleague, he approaches from the customs shed on the eastern docks, his eyes bloodshot with fatigue, and says: "You cannot begin to know what it's like here or the amount of crap we take.

"I have been followed home and I have been assaulted [by racketeers bootlegging cheap tobacco and alcohol from Calais]. My colleagues have been assaulted. Our families have been identified and assaulted, or threatened with assault.

"We cannot afford to be photographed. If our faces appear on television or in the press, we're marked men. Even if we avert our faces to let you photograph us at work, that means a reduction in our concentration, so we're not doing our job properly.

"Accordingly, if you try to take a picture of customs officials at work, I'll have to ask the police to escort you away from here."

Animus jostles with angst. In the office of Mike Webb, Dover's town-centre manager, he and his Folkestone opposite number, Ian Parker, discuss last Tuesday's church service for the Chinese dead.

Mr Parker: "Hardly anyone went to it."

Mr Webb: "Because it wasn't advertised."

Mr Parker: "And because people have become hardened."

A hard-pressed immigration officer on his way home engages my arm in a grip of steel on Cannon Street.

"There's too much sensationalism about Dover," he says, "but I won't deny it can be a bit daunting. Here we see law-breaking hooligans exiting for the Continent and Euro 2000, and illegal immigrants coming in by the coachload; often the same ferry taking the first bunch out and bringing the second bunch in. Meanwhile we're worked off our feet, with hardly time to draw breath."

He relaxes his grasp and pats my elbow apologetically. "We have two major problems here," he says. "One, the local reaction to the refugees, who seem on the whole to be good, decent people who've got a rotten deal from life; two, the Government doesn't have the will to tackle the thing properly."

All around this, the busiest passenger port in the world, whose soaring white cliffs are an enduring symbol of island Britain, are powerful reminders of two millennia of incomers: a lighthouse bequeathed by the Romans; the Saxon Church of St Mary-in-Castro; the 13th-century Maison Dieu founded by Hubert de Burgh as a hospice for pilgrims from all lands; an air-raid warning bell from Antwerp presented to Dover by the Belgians.

On a High Street corner, two newly arrived African men with baggage address passers-by: "Excuse me, where is the London Road?" About 20 local shoppers bustle past, ignoring them. When I give them directions, they regard me suspiciously.

On Old Folkestone Road, streams of refugees from eastern Europe, north Africa and beyond make their way to Dover's hostels and dingy bed-and-breakfasts, lugging blue plastic bags of groceries.

A young Dovorian who runs Hall's newsagents observes them and says approvingly: "They help me make a living, though I don't take vouchers - more trouble than they're worth."

Inside the shop, copies of the Dover Express lament the presence of incoming chroniclers, declares itself "fed up" with people thinking the town is a "black hole" for "illegal immigrants, bootleg booze and fags, cheap B&Bs and dispersal programmes".

It complains about the fact that the 58 Chinese who suffocated in an unrefrigerated truck are now being "stored in refrigerators set aside for meat shipments" at the dockside.

But it is impossible to stroll here without reminders of Dover's hospitality to past writers. In 1852, at 10 Camden Crescent, Dickens read Bleak House to Wilkie Collins and Augustus Egg. In 1884 Henry James lodged on Marine Parade where he wrote the first part of The Bostonians. Waiting here for a favourable wind to remove him from his creditors, Byron remained for two days, his last in England.

It may take some time before we shall again appreciate on Dover Beach, as Matthew Arnold did from the window of his honeymoon lodgings, "the sweet night air". Without doubt, however, "the eternal note of sadness" he detected rings specially in our ears today.

Some locals, such as a cobbler on High Street, decline to discuss Dover's problems. Others do so informatively, if anonymously. "Many people here feel the Government isn't doing enough," says a person with immigration and legal connections. "There's a desperate shortage of immigration and customs officers on the ground. They need 50 per cent more to cope."

It seems that when coaches carrying refugees come off the ferries every available officer is so "overwhelmed" by asylum claimants that they often "just nod some people through". Customs officers are being hampered in their job of catching drug-dealers.

A Dover bookseller who comes from Cliftonville (currently nicknamed "Kosoville") up the coast says one of his favourite customers is a Sierra Leonean refugee.

"But he is upset because most of the 20 other people in his accommodation are not genuine asylum claimants like him." And on High Street, Pamela Christie, knitting on a sofa outside her furniture shop, complains: "The town has gone down. You have all sorts of nationalities here taking over the shops.

"If I had my way, I'd have left years ago. My husband and I were going to live in Spain because it's cheaper. But he died on me."

In the absence of any clear and urgent international direction on immigration, Dover's civic conscience seems, at times, fatally embarrassed. It doesn't take long chatting to some Kentish citizens before one begins to marvel at how many ardent patriots have a sudden desire to weed "the Garden of England".

Yet the true voice of Dover may be that of two elderly men, Lynn Sangster (67) and Alfred Willson (72), defending their birthplace on Market Square. "We are tolerant here," the former says.

"We welcome genuine refugees. Our hearts go out to people in need. Dover is no black hole." The latter adds: "The media want to turn us into a hard-hearted people. We're absolutely not."

Near by, the sun picks out words engraved on a granite trough. "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy."

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice