Questions about Croydon council’s leadership’s role in protecting the borough from riots last August are left unanswered after a Town Hall debate, says ANDREW PELLING
Mike Fisher, the leader of the ruling Conservative group on Croydon Council, has washed his hands of any responsibility for the breakdown of law and order, and the exposure of hundreds of residents and businesses to injury, loss and mayhem in the borough during the 8/8 riots.
At a council meeting at the Town Hall last night to discuss the council-commissioned Barnett Report into the social disorder last August, our brave leader Fisher contended that the lack of police officers on the night of the riots was an operational matter for the police service, and not an issue that should have been the concern of local politicians.
This is in marked contrast to Fisher’s stated position on the morning after the night of rioting, looting and destruction, when he publicly advocated putting troops on the streets of Croydon. Presumably, Fisher did not consider this to be an “operational matter”.
Now, though, Fisher is of a completely different view. Last night he said that he opposes any “politicisation” of the police on principle, and so felt it was not for politicians to challenge the police on their tactics and coverage of Croydon at the height of the crisis.
Earlier in the meeting, in a lengthy opening speech, Fisher had been very critical of the police, condemning them for leaving Croydon “horribly exposed”, with officers away on holiday and riot-trained officers from the Croydon command sent elsewhere.
Kenley councillor Steve O’Connell also decried “poor leadership at the Met”, apparently overlooking the fact that at the time, as London Assembly Member for Sutton and Croydon, he was himself a member of the Met’s leadership on the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Tony Newman, the leader of the opposition Labour group, thanked the police for their bravery against the odds. Both Newman and Louisa Woodley, Labour’s Assembly candidate for Croydon & Sutton, asked what the council’s leadership had done to argue for better protection for Croydon as information came in during the 36 hours before the outbreak of disorder.
Newman wanted the Barnett Inquiry to sit again to secure evidence under oath to investigate this question. The Met’s own report 4 days in August, published last week, revealed that the police had already judged Croydon to be a target for riots by early Sunday morning, August 7, much earlier than had previously been reported.
Woodley pointed to the command meeting that took place at 9am on Monday August 8, when the previous day’s disturbances would have been raised with council and political leaders by the police. After that meeting, warnings of trouble were sent to town centre traders.
Woodley asked whether O’Connell, as the MPA liaison member for Croydon, had lacked the relevant intelligence briefing or had been indolent. Was O’Connell, she asked, “asleep on the job”?
The reaction to these questions about politicians’ performance was met with a barrage of heckling from senior Conservative councillors, who seemed to dismiss all calls for the need for accountability.
Tim Pollard, one of Fisher’s deputy leaders, spoke of “rants and drivel” from Labour. Simon Hoar, one of the councillors from Waddon, called Newman’s speech “poisonous” and “a disgrace”. Tony Pearson, the sometime football steward from New Addington, felt that “it’s not the time for Tony to play politics” and that “it is questionable whether it is morally right” for questions to be posed about politicians’ performance in the context of such an unfortunate event in the town’s history. Fisher even went as far to claim that Labour backed criminals and did not thank the police.
O’Connell said that it was not for him to respond to “petty” complaints and so declined to answer any questions put to him during the debate about his actions. He said that he had recently written to Kit Malthouse, a fellow London Assembly member, and that he had written to the Mayor of London and that he would arrange a meeting between the new Mayor, himself and Croydon’s council leader after the elections in May. O’Connell did not explain how this might move matters forward.
The small number of residents in the public gallery left the meeting non-plussed that councillors did not feel themselves to be accountable in a political forum and even apparently offended that they should have been asked to hold themselves to account for their actions, or lack of them, on that fateful long weekend.
Inside Croydon has reported previously that O’Connell picked up the telephone to a fellow London Assembly member, seeking help for Croydon, 38 hours after the first reports of disorder in the borough. By that time, Reeves Corner and London Road were ablaze.
Gavin Barwell, the local MP, left a message with the Home Secretary’s office.
It is against such a background that Croydon’s Conservative leadership may find it convenient to distance themselves from “operational matters”, allowing them to unload all their criticism on to the police, who as a public service cannot respond. No wonder the new, but wise and experienced, Borough Commander David Musker is known for keeping a healthy distance from politicians.
- 4 Days in August: Steve O’Connell’s lasting shame? (insidecroydon.com)
- Accountability? Not from Kenley’s £115,000pa councillor (insidecroydon.com)
- South Norwood police station under threat of closure (insidecroydon.com)
- Steve O’Connell took gift from cricket fixer Majeed (insidecroydon.com)