Police called out for “racist” incident with Barwell’s gang

Local Tory party activist Mario Creatura (checked shirt) was at the centre of events when several police cars arrived on London Road todefuse a tense situation and investigate allegations of racist abuse and threats of violence

Police had to be called to a potentially inflammatory incident on London Road yesterday afternoon, when members of a youth work gang organised by Croydon Central Conservative MP Gavin Barwell were accused of racially abusing a local resident and threatening to stab him.

The incident occurred close to Lidl at West Croydon, near the scene of one of Croydon’s more notorious, recent knife-crime murders.

Eye-witnesses say that yesterday’s incident was attended by several police cars and officers. After searching a group of youths involved with the Barwell-organised Change: Croydon project, no weapons were found and no arrests were made.

Last night, Barwell claimed that he had placated the “gentleman from the mosque” after a long conversation.

At the time of publication of this report, both Barwell and one of the other leaders of the Change: Croydon project, Selsdon Tory councillor Sara Bashford, had failed to reply to Inside Croydon’s questions about the incident and their organisation.

Earlier yesterday, Barwell had worked hard on the hype around his latest scheme, happily doing photo calls as well as being interviewed by local television and reporters from national newspapers, most of whom had left before the racial abuse incident occurred.

He has been somewhat less frank and forthcoming, though, about the project’s funding or how it is being organised, beyond denying that it is a front for the local Conservative party. Barwell maintains that Change: Croydon is “apolitical”.

This is despite the project’s website stating clearly that it is organised by “Gavin Barwell MP”; despite the project being run from Barwell’s state-funded constituency office; that address has only been used recently, because the scheme’s original address had been 36 Brighton Road, the Croydon Conservatives’ HQ; it was despite applicants receiving emails from Barwell’s parliamentary email account; despite two state-funded parliamentary assistants, including Bashford, being prominent in yesterday’s activities; and all this was “apolitical” despite a well-known local Conservative party cheerleader also being among the few adults present to supervise the work gang.

Barwell, the man who believes that a loaf of bread costs just nine bob, appears to be having more problems with numbers this week.

Behind bars? Conservative councillor Sara “Book Token” Bashford, working on the old Croydon General Hospital site with the “apolitical” Change Croydon group yesterday

At a public event on Friday, Barwell had claimed that 140 young people were to attend Saturday’s work gang. By yesterday, his public pronouncements had been scaled back to say “100+”.

But eye-witness and photographic evidence suggests fewer than 50 youngsters showed up, all on the offer of a free T-shirt. The group’s own Facebook page for the event had fewer than 30 confirmed attendees, from a total of just 143 invitees. Actual figures may be difficult to define, unless the organisers conducted some form of registration process – none was seen to be done.

The event page on Facebook, which is believed to be run by a local Tory party activist, even made the extravagant promise that, “The MP for the area is also offering to write references for people who take part, great for when you look for jobs”.

Before the event, applicants commented on a lack of detail and information about the planned work gang. Children as young as 11 were among those to respond to Barwell’s recruitment drive, but there was little, or no, information to their parents about any Criminal Record Bureau checks on the adults co-ordinating the activities.

People aged over 21 years old who enquired about helping were politely refused, on the grounds that the only adults involved in the activities would be parents, guardians or teachers. Or Tory councillors and local Conservative party activists, and any pliant media who had received Barwell’s press invite.

Some adults did attend Barwell’s press photo-op on London Road, including the Croydon North Labour MP, Malcolm Wicks.

Yet even with the smaller than predicted turn-out, eye-witnesses suggest that the day’s activities were poorly organised and ill-equipped.

While the charity group UnderCroydon oversaw the painting of hoardings along the old Croydon General Hospital site, there were no overalls for the youngsters (organisers say that they had been advised to wear “old clothes”), there too few paint brushes to go round, and those clearing litter on the old hospital site had to make do with “half” a pair of industrial gloves each, wearing a thin surgical glove on the other hand as protection against any health hazards such as broken glass, syringes or needles that they might have the misfortune to encounter.

Such work in the past might have been expected normally to be conducted under strict conditions by professional council employees and contractors, but some degree of the run-down nature of the long-abandoned site could be ascribed to council spending cuts imposed by Bashford’s Town Hall administration, as a result of funding cuts from Barwell’s ConDem government.

With too few tasks organised and without responsible supervision, some of the youngsters at the Change: Croydon event yesterday took to loitering nearby

The lack of available, appropriate equipment for yesterday’s young volunteers, and the absence of adequate supervision and tasks, meant that some youngsters began to hang around aimlessly on the opposite side of the road from the work site.

Some wandered off, others became bored, and it was then that a resident, wearing Arabic clothing, was subjected to abuse from some in the group about his attire. Threats were made against him, with some youths aggressively making stabbing gestures towards him.

When the man called the police, one of the adult helpers with the work gang, wearing a hi-vis jacket, was seen to remonstrate with him, complaining that he had reported the threat of a serious crime.

Croydon police today confirmed that an incident took place on London Road early yesterday afternoon. No arrests were made.

Change: Croydon says that it wants to meet once a month, and on its to-do list is to put youngsters in touch with some of the borough’s elderly residents, to provide regular meetings or to do shopping trips.

One local councillor whose ward borders the area where Change: Croydon worked yesterday, is worried by such a prospect. “It may be with the best of intentions,” the councillor told Inside Croydon, “but without proper and careful checks and supervision, that sort of work could turn out to offer muggers easy access to vulnerable old people’s homes.

“Has anyone really thought this all through properly? It does not seem so. It is irresponsible if they have not.”

Yesterday, Inside Croydon sent to public servants Barwell and Bashford (who receives up to £70,000 a year in council allowances and a state-funded salary as a parliamentary assistant) a set of questions about Change: Croydon. These included:

  • Did you make any requirement on participants that they should attend the event not carrying knives or other weapons?
  • What provision was made for CRB checks on the group supervisors?
  • What notification and information was given to the parents of any minors participating in the scheme?
  • How do you justify organising an event which requires a police squad car to attend to conduct a search?
  • How do you respond to the charge that some of your group racially abused a local resident at London Road?
  • Please explain how this scheme is being funded.

Neither Barwell nor Bashford replied to these questions.

If Barwell and Bashford and their eager Tory activist helper are to be believed from their public statements elsewhere, the entire Change: Croydon project is supposed to be organised by local young people, rather than adults. Yesterday, Barwell was telling some that if successful, he hoped to roll the scheme out across other boroughs.

The scheme’s brief and information-lite literature in any case suggests that it is all based on a false premise, blaming “the media” for the “feral youth” tag which hard-working, respectful and blameless youngsters rightly resent.

What Barwell appears to have overlooked (conveniently) is that the “feral youth” description was widely used by Tory politicians, somewhat like himself, who rushed into television and radio studios across the country last August to condemn the rioting and looting, seeking to place the blame on particular sections of society.

Yesterday’s incident serves to illustrate that, well-intentioned as Barwell’s latest Big Society exercise may be – and that’s only if you accept that the Conservative MP’s motivation is entirely altruistic – it cannot replace the established youth services infrastructure that his former colleagues in control at Croydon Town Hall have managed to strip away.

Indeed, without those previous structures in place and the help of experienced, CRB-checked professional youth workers, a potentially tragic incident might have occurred yesterday.

  • Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to Police called out for “racist” incident with Barwell’s gang

  1. It’s obvious more supervision is needed if this Youth Project is going to work.

    I actually hope it does work as well. Youth movements like Scouts and Brownies have been great for turning wayward kids around over the years. And West Croydon does need a good fix-up.


  2. 'Lucyy Day says:

    This report does not reflect the incident yesterday very well at all. I was one of the people there to help out from 11am onwards and saw the whole situation get blown out of proportion.

    I personally believe that the media should not be focussing on the ‘bad’ news, but in fact all the hard work that Project Change are doing to change the stereotypes of us young people in Croydon.

    I notice that this report does not contain any of the photos which were taken of me and my peers painting, handing out leaflets or picking up litter. I know that me and my friends will continue to attend these events to help repair Croydon.

  3. One of the organisers pictured has written repeatedly about this on Twitter. This may be under investigation by the police so I will not comment specifically but agree with others that, if this organiser knows nothing, as he claims, how can he call the incident “relatively small”, a “misunderstanding” as the result of “quick tempers”, and claim there to be “no evidence”, or even that is was all “un-policeable”?

    The fact is that serious issues were made public on the day. A claim of racism, that physical harm was threatened and knives were mentioned. All of these, to my mind, are very serious indeed. Police were called and attended rapidly, indicating that they took events seriously, and I have faith they will deal with matters robustly.

    The biggest question for me though is how the adults in charge of Project Change: Croydon still failed to react when, even if oblivious to the events obvious to the public, when the incident drew the response of six police officers who attended. I was well aware of what was going on, as were others present. I ran to the distressed man’s aid when no other adult in charge did.

    So that there is no misunderstanding: I remain firm in my view that Croydon youth are not “feral” and have no such reputation to address. I see great things in our youth and they have my full support. They should be celebrated.

    But if anyone, irrespective of age, conducts themselves in a way that draws police attention, then we must allow the police to deal with it without prejudging.

  4. We need more support for organisations in Croydon like the one our young people have created called Tabula Rasa Youth Project (which was out and about promoting in Croydon the same day the Change Youth Gang were).

    This is a project run by young people (aged 22-25) for younger people (aged 8-22). We try to take into consideration not only what young people enjoy doing but getting them into work, careers and education through workshops they have an interest in e.g music. We are trying to help young people of Croydon become celebrated by society rather than judged. There are young people out there that do want to do good by their community, if only given the chance or the right ears to listen.

    There are too many Youth Projects ran by people (adults) who think they can help young people today rather than young people (who can relate better). How could young people aged 21 years old be turned away (even if it was politely) from wanting to help? These are the prime ages that could mentor and provide support to the younger generation. And would have probably been able to provide supervision for the younger people.

    Some of our team out and about on the day met with some of the young people taking part in the Change project and found them to be very pleasant, although a lot were standing round in groups and just walking up and down in Croydon.

    What tasks were they actually given and how was the effectiveness measured during and after?

    It is excellent that there are 100+ (or at least 50) young people that were interested in showing up and helping out, but there should have been more structure to who supervised the events and young people when they were out and about.

    More time and planning is needed to be put into organistions that support young people through their peak times, to find their way in society, feel welcome and secure by the government, police and their local community.

    It’s not only about giving young people what they want or helping them look good, it is about supporting them and their OWN ideas for Change. This is the only way Change will come. We must remember young people are the future of this world!

  5. Karen Earl says:

    Thank you, Inside Croydon!

    My daughter, who took part in the Change Croydon project on Saturday is studying for her Citizenship GCSE. You have provided some great material for her to use concerning biased reporting. Your reporters need to check all the facts before submitting reports!

    There were far more attendees than you imply – they were split up into groups working in various places on differing parts of the project.

    The reason some young people were waiting around for paint brushes etc was not because the organisers hadn’t brought enough but because they sensibly decided to do the painting a group at a time rather than have people getting in each others way. The youngsters waiting their turn were doing just that – waiting and watching, enjoying the opportunity to make a difference to their home town.

    In your report you made MANY comments about the accusation of racial abuse and link it with ideas of unruly behaviour. However, you write little about the fact that, when investigated, no arrests were made. In fact, those who were actually there report that the man got involved when he was merely asked – by an adult – to be careful as he drove past as there were lots of young people working and they didn’t want any accidents. The man made many accusations including one that some of the young people were threatening to stab him.

    The young people involved willingly consented to be searched by the police for weapons because they knew this would prove that they weren’t intending anything of the sort – nothing harmful was found on them because they were there for no other reason other than to give something to the community.

    Yes, I agree that the organisation of the event could have been handled better.

    Yes, as a parent, I agree that a more formal ‘sign up’ to the project with us parents getting full information about it would have been a great idea (although the students from my daughter’s school were there with the teacher who organised their articipation).

    But why do you have to be so negative about the whole thing? Why not applaud the young people for wanting to do something positive for Croydon? My daughter and her friends were deeply upset by your empasis of the negative aspects of Saturday’s events and pointed out that it will do little to change the biased views that many people have about youngsters.

    Their consolation will have to be that the report will be useful material for their Citizenship coursework on bias in the media.

    • Oh dear. Don’t you want your daughter to pass her GCSE then?

      Because using our article as an example of “biased” reporting could well get her a grade F.

      Your daughter might want to learn the quote which William Randolph Hearst is supposed to have been the first to utter, that, “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.”

      Sometimes, truth can be uncomfortable. Don’t take our word for it, see what Gavin “I’m not posh” Barwell said about the poor organisation of his initial Change: Croydon event, where he admitted it was marred by “one unpleasant incident as a result of poor planning on my part”.

      You can read the rest of Gav’s mea culpa here: http://insidecroydon.com/2012/04/24/mp-barwell-says-he-got-it-wrong-over-groups-racist-incident/

      We do not “imply” anything about the numbers attending on Saturday. We have based our estimates on photographs published on the Change: Croydon site. We have not included helpers, teachers or other hangers-on, just the number of kids who turned out. There were many, many fewer than the 140 which Barwell had been boasting about. And there is no evidence to contradict our estimates, because the organisers failed to register attendees.

      You also need to go back and re-read our report. We state clearly and early in our report that no arrests were made.

      That said, we are also aware that there is an on-going police investigation, something which surely would not happen if the police did not consider that a serious incident had occurred. Or would you rather we did not report that, too?

      From your comment, it seems unlikely that you were there on the day. So your account of events is based on hearsay.

      Our account is based on witness statements from several people who were there. The MP and local councillor who were supposed to be organising the event were invited to comment, but refused to do so.

      We believe it is right and responsible to report on matters where young people’s – including your own daughter’s – and the general public’s welfare is put at risk by poor, ill-thought-out organisation.

      Certainly, there were some among the organisers there on Saturday who wanted to suppress any suggestion that people had been racially abused or threatened. Why would they do that?

      This site has reported on several occasions of the need for good, community-based youth activities within Croydon. Sadly, in the past two years, that has normally been in the context of Bashford and her colleagues on the council cutting funding from existing, and usually properly organised, youth projects.

      We were marginally amused when you wrote that: “The young people involved willingly consented to be searched by the police”. Frankly, when three squad cars roll up, lights flashing and sirens sounding, and officers approach you asking to search you, it is not considered a good idea to resist or argue. Ask any youth in Croydon who has been subject to random stop and search.

      We leave the final word on this to the “organiser”, Gavin “I’m not posh” Barwell, who has admitted he had to apologise to the local mosque – presumably because there was something to apologise for? – and admits: “Clearly there are lessons to be learned.”

      Let’s hope so.

  6. It is a great shame that Karen Earl’s daughter did not write herself if, indeed, she was there.
    I was there, took pictures and notes. I had been asked to help the Project and wanted to know more about it before promoting it.
    An awful lot has already been written and it sounds like damage limitation spin. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
    If any risk assessment had taken place and activities had been planned, the youngsters would not have had the time to get bored. The organisers admitted that there were lessons to be learned. Perhaps they should now consult the community and find out what the community wants. They might be surprised to learn that litter picking is not the first choice. The Council has a statutory duty to clean the streets of Croydon.
    There are many choices and I will be only too happy to send proposals. I am CRB checked and have organised quite a few things with different age groups.
    It is time we moved on.

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