We were right to call police to Islington Town Hall, says Labour council chief
PUBLISHED: 15:03 23 February 2011 | UPDATED: 16:15 23 February 2011
ISLINGTON Council has responded to criticism over calling in the police to eject protesters from last week’s budget meeting.
Officers were brought in to clear the public gallery of the council chamber in Islington Town Hall, Upper Street, on Thursday, after the meeting was repeatedly disrupted by shouting and chanting.
The council’s Labour leadership said it called police because some people had been intent on blocking the democratic process.
Councillor Phil Kelly, chief whip of the Labour group, said in a letter to the Gazette there was a small minority “whose goal was evidently to prevent the meeting taking place at all”.
He added: “The Mayor gave a warning that continued disruption would result in an adjournment and the gallery being cleared, so it is clear that this was the outcome which some of those present wanted.
“They were seeking confrontation, and I have been on enough demonstrations in my time to know that it is a tactic of these small groups to stage a provocation in order to draw in others.
“It was unfortunate that some with genuine concerns also had to be required to leave and their democratic right to observe meetings was regrettably curtailed; our dialogue with them will continue.”
Shirley Franklin, joint chairwoman of the Islington Hands Off Our Public Services campaign group, who was one of those asked to leave, rejected this justification. She said: “The council did not need to call the police to stop the disruption – they went and had their meeting somewhere else anyway.”
Councillors retreated to a private meeting room – where hecklers were unable to disturb them. She added: “Police were pulling people’s hair and being really brutal. It was scary.”
The protesters were objecting to the council’s £52million package of cuts that is threatening 350 jobs and frontline services across the borough. It was duly voted through once they had regrouped.
Labour maintained it had no choice but to make the massive reductions because of huge cutbacks in funding from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Most residents seated on the floor of the chamber did not join in with the chanting from the public gallery. They included John Ackers, of the Islington Cyclists Action Group, who said: “I think it’s understandable that people protesting against the cuts absolutely have to be there and it’s right that they made a lot of noise. It’s democratic.”
Councillor Catherine West, leader of Islington Council, said she shared people’s anger at central government cuts.
She added: “This is a very difficult budget, but Islington would suffer a lot more if we refused to make any cuts and the government stepped in.
“We were absolutely determined for the democratic process not to be stopped, so we moved to a committee room to complete the meeting. When a meeting breaks down in that way the normal procedure is to ask people to leave, and when they don’t the normal procedure is to ask for the police to assist.”
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