How “independent” is Croydon’s inquiry into the 8/8 riots (yes, David “Fawlty” Fitze, they were riots), and have they been given adequate time to find out about ordinary people’s experiences on that terrible night?
Given that senior figures on Croydon’s ruling Tory group maintained almost from August 9 that they knew exactly what had happened and that there really would be no need for any inquiry (ahhh, the bliss of ignorance), there has been some scepticism about the review panel’s terms of reference. Is it all just a sop? Will it simply be a whitewash? After all, many of the criticisms of the handling of 8/8 revolve around the preventative measures – or lack of them – taken on the day by the police and the very council that has established this inquiry.
So while welcoming the decision of council leader Mike Fisher to hold an inquiry, Inside Croydon has questioned the format chosen from the beginning, suggesting that it will be far from being our own version of the reforming Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton riots of 30 years ago.
And so, last week, nearly two months after the night of the riots, Croydon Council finally announced the members of its panel.
“Were you affected by the riots in Croydon?” the council asked. “Tell us what happened.”
Fisher was quoted by the council’s press office as saying, “Now, through this independent local inquiry, we want to do everything we can to make sure that the sickening events we witnessed in the borough and across England will never be repeated again.”
One major snag is that they have given everyone affected barely two weeks to submit their evidence, with the deadline of October 10 – that’s next Monday. It is almost as if they want to limit the amount of information that they receive.
The council email states: “Croydon Council has set up an independent review panel to establish what happened in the run up to the riots, on the night itself and in the aftermath, and whether there are any lessons to be learnt.
“The findings and recommendations will be made public and submitted to the national panel set up by the government.
“The panel would like to hear the views of anyone who witnessed, or was affected in any way by the riots. Please be assured that your views are important, no matter how small you may feel the detail may be.
“If you would like to contribute to the review you can submit a statement via letter, email or telephone until Monday 10 October 2011.”
By any measure, that is hardly a prolonged period of evidence-gathering. The panel’s terms of reference gives it five months in which to deliver its report, following the fortnight of collecting preliminary evidence.
The full terms of reference are:
- To contribute local evidence to the National Communities and Victims Panel.
- To examine why the civil disturbances/riots took place in Croydon, to record and place on the record what happened and how the various regional and local agencies responded.
- To assemble written and oral information, review and sift relevant data.
- To provide a summary of lessons to be learnt for the avoidance of a recurrence.
- To make public the findings of the review and any recommendations.
- The time frame for completion of the work of the Panel is up to five months.
The make-up of the panel also brings in to question the “independence” of the inquiry.
The chairman is William Barnett QC, described as “is a retired judge with close links to Croydon”.
Barnett has a decade’s experience as a circuit judge in Croydon, presiding over civil and family cases at county court level, so he will have encountered Croydon’s “social issues” over a period of time. He also has had experience of some major inquiries, as a panel member and as counsel.
Perhaps more of an indicator of Barnett’s overview of Croydon is that he sits as a governor at the Whitgift Foundation, and is a governor at Whitgift, Trinity and Old Palace of John Whitgift Schools. Among the other governors at Trinity School are Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell (who went in to full “hang ’em and flog ’em” mode in the week after the riots), and Councillor Dudley Mead, Mike Fisher’s deputy on the council’s ruling Tory group.
And were any of the Whitgift Foundation’s many properties in Croydon damaged in the riots of 8/8?
“I am delighted to be appointed to this role,” Barnett said when Croydon Council announced his appointment. “It is an advantage to know the area well and to have close connections with Croydon for more than 35 years.”
Other panellists are Jan Buttinger, the Conservative councillor for Kenley. She is known at the Town Hall as a Fisher loyalist. Kenley, to the south of the borough, is not thought to have been the epi-centre of any 8/8 rioting.
“Political balance” is offered by Sean Fitzsimons, the generally respected Labour councillor for Addiscombe, which was hit by the rioting.
The “non-political” appointees also have some links to the council administration. Damian Luke is the pastor of Praise House and chair of Black Churches in Croydon, who in the past has been open in seeking links with the local Conservatives.
Stella Okeahialam MBE is another Croydon resident who since July this year has been the programme director at Institute for Sustainability. Before that, she had worked for two years at the London Development Agency under Mayor Boris Johnson, having previously been a director of Croydon Enterprise and before that spent five years working at the council as head of regeneration.
Maybe we are being a tad cynical, but with a panel like that, we do not expect to read any serious criticisms of the council, or even the police, in its final report.
If you were affected by the rioting on 8/8, here’s how you can submit your testimony to the panel:
Post: The Secretary, Croydon Independent Local Review Panel, 5th floor, Taberner House, Park Lane, Croydon CR9 3BT
For more on the local review panel, click here.
- Inside Croydon: brought to you free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
- All together now: with the non-public, non-inquiry panel (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon burns as looters storm the Whitgift Centre (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Police admit only 100 officers in thin blue line (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon police chief says her force was overstretched (insidecroydon.com)
- MP Wicks renews demand for urgent inquiry into Croydon riots (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Council chief admits mistakes were made (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon riots judge issues plea (bbc.co.uk)
- London Road stories: Homeless and helpless (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Borough’s top cop was called away before riots (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon was vulnerable after being short-changed for decades (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Local Tamils say “We have been doubly let down” (insidecroydon.com)