Doing the Shackle Shuffle

IssueOctober 2005
News by Hugh Warwick

Political folk band Seize the Day, comedian Mark Thomas, and human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith descend on Hiatt's in early September to perform the Shackle Shuffle and to give the shackle-making company the message that their continued involvement with Guantanamo Bay must cease.

The factory is tucked away in suburbia. There is nothing to indicate that the nondescript buildings are linked to an international conspiracy of torture and confinement. Not far from the centre of Birmingham, Hiatt's ply their trade in shackles and handcuffs, something they have done since 1780.

Cuffin' hell

While the company's early fortunes might have been made at a time when slavery was rife, they are now embroiled in one of the least savoury enterprises of the present day. They supply Guantanamo Bay with their shackling needs.

This is why they have begun to attract attention - though it is not the first time. They have sold oversized handcuffs - which are easily convertible into leg irons, which are not allowed to be exported. But when asked earlier this year in Parliament whether any export licences had been granted for these oversized handcuffs to the USA, the Government provided a written answer stating, "This is commercially confidential information and as such is exempt from disclosure."

Made in Birmingham

This recent protest came in the form of music, humour and anguish. The phenomenal Seize the Day used the very sharpest gallows humour to capture the Guantanamo situation, forcing a small band of orangeclad "volunteers" to dance the Shackle Shuffle; Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve, gave a desperate insight into the lives of people held at Guantanamo, and then the inimitable Mark Thomas introduced Abu Baker Deghayes.

Abu Baker's brother, Omar, is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He has already been blinded in one eye after being beaten with a rifle butt. And now he was entering the fifth week of a hunger strike. Abu Baker was scared that he would die. Omar is being held in shackles made in Birmingham.

Hiatt's are going to be at the centre of an ongoing protest. I only hope that this company, situated in such a quiet neighbourhood, is prepared for the reaction it will receive when the wider public become aware of what goes on behind their shuttered windows.