I'm very sad to have to tell you that I have just heard from Patricia Bingham that John died on Wednesday evening with family around. Until a few days ago he was still seen around the village but there was a very rapid deterioration during the last few days. Patricia commented that it was a merciful release.
The funeral will be next Thursday 5th October at 2pm All Saints Denmead PO7 6NN.
As a record of his work for Friends Without Borders I attach the script of my speech at his retirement presentation. He will be greatly missed.
Michael Woolley, Chairman Friends Without Borders
Extract from the presentation to John Bingham on 3rd May 2017
"Just last month John Bingham retired from active service helping refugees and asylum seekers in Portsmouth. He is a modest man and we don’t think he will much enjoy being centre of attention. However it is a significant moment when a man like John retires and we should record what has been achieved.
In 1994 he heard from his son, then serving in the Congo, about a Congolese man being held in a local prison near to Portsmouth. The prison was Haslar and John and Patricia (John’s wife) went to visit him. There weren’t any Immigration Removal Centres in those days so immigration officers with someone they wanted to detain would ring round local prisons to find a bed. There were other immigrants held in Haslar and so the idea of organising visitors for them was born. Haslar Visitors Group was formed that year, recruited a number of local visitors and started the regular visiting of men who otherwise would have had no link with the outside world. In due course it grew into a registered charity and I was appointed as a paid coordinator with an office in this building.
Detention was quite arbitrary at that time, indeed one immigration officer wrote a novel called (I think) ‘Asylum Shoes’ the title based on the idea that immigration officers detained people because of the style of their footwear. It might have been an exaggeration, but only just, things really were quite arbitrary.
Bail was possible - though in the 1990s cases were heard not in a specialist immigration court but in front of the local magistrates in Havant. Realising that these hearings normally took place in empty court-rooms without any public scrutiny John and Patricia organised the Havant Court Monitoring Project. The magistrates were rather taken aback to find the public benches in their courts filled with people taking notes
Monitoring the courts is today done by Bail for Immigration Detainees and that’s become a well-known charity - but I wonder how many of you know that it used to have an office in Portsmouth? There was BID London, BID Oxford, and BID South with an office first in Gosport and later in this building. Lots of volunteers were recruited and lots of people got bail, not only from Haslar but also from Dover Immigration Removal Centre. John and Patricia Bingham not only set up the office they also helped run the project. John was a trustee of BID for some years.
He was also still the Chairman of Haslar Visitors Group and in the 2005 I, as paid coordinator, went to the trustees with an urgent request. A drop-in was being run in All Saints by a charity called Portsmouth Area Refugee Support. They had a number of paid staff, offices upstairs, and held the drop-in in this room. Their funding came from the Lottery and when the funding ended it was announced that the drop in would close at the end of the month. This seemed outrageous to me and Laura so our urgent request to the Haslar trustees was to find the money to pay the rent and pay for refreshments while we tried to keep the drop-in going. It was a big ask for a small charity but the Chairman, John, was behind us and Haslar Visitors Group took over the drop-in and ran it for some months until someone from the Red Cross rang up and said they were coming to join us. Frankly my feelings at the time were rather mixed, pleased and relieved on the one hand but frankly a touch put out that the announcement was made so brusquely. It would have been nice to have been asked! John reminded me that we were here to serve the needs of our clients.
Things don’t always go smoothly in the charity world and BID suffered a setback when BID London decided to close the provincial offices and focus on national campaigning. John then came to Haslar Visitors Group with a request of his own: to run an Access to Justice Project, as part of our group. John Bingham not only inspired it he was one of the first volunteers. Shortly afterwards IRC Haslar closed, the Visitors Group changed its name to Friends Without Borders and we became an all-volunteer charity.
John Bingham has quietly played a very large and very honourable part in the serving the asylum seekers and refugees of Portsmouth.
Of course he has not done this entirely alone, Patricia played a significant role in the early years and there have been a host of others – a large part of his skill is in knowing how to delegate. It is a remarkable story John and we thank and salute you at your retirement. There’s a remarkable card left in the office which says it all. I quote: “Thank you so much! I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into helping me with my visa! It will really change my life! You are a very kind man and I wish you all the best”.
We wish you all the best too John. Thank you."
Stephen plans to come back next week to sit in with one of our advisers and learn at the front line how we can help.