Gavin Barwell has been forced to issue an apology after he admitted he was at fault for a lack of organisation and proper supervision that led to several police officers being called out to an incident of reported racist abuse and threats of violence at a youth work gang that the Croydon Central MP ran on London Road on Saturday.
As we reported at the weekend, the incident took place close to Lidl, the scene of one of Croydon’s more notorious recent murders. In a neighbourhood hard-hit by last August’s riots, the situation is acknowledged to be volatile, where knife crime and gang activity has the police on high alert.
Initially, a leading Conservative party activist who is running the Change: Croydon project tried to dismiss the reports of abuse and threats, first by denying that he had seen or heard anything at the scene, and later by describing the incident that they had said they had not witnessed as being “small” and a “misunderstanding”.
The Tory activist, who was also photographed in the midst of a group of people being questioned by the police, even went as far as to question the word of the man who complained of being racially abused and threatened.
Now, though, Barwell has taken a different line. Yesterday, in the first posting on his website for almost a month, the MP conceded that something did, in fact, happen, calling it “one unpleasant incident as a result of poor planning on my part”.
Inside Croydon has put further questions to Barwell and his publicly funded constituency assistant, Sara Bashford, about their roles in Saturday’s events. Despite both being elected public servants – Bashford is a Tory councillor for Selsdon and Ballards – neither have responded to explain what measures they intend to introduce to ensure proper CRB checks, registration of participants, and adequate equipment and supervision before their next event.
On his website, Barwell has written this account of the flashpoint incident that his lack of proper management of a large group of youths had precipitated:
“A number of young people were gathered on what we believed to be a little used driveway, waiting to take over the painting duties but it was actually the entrance to the car park of a local mosque and when some cars tried to gain entrance there was a heated exchange and accusations that threats were made and racial insults exchanged.
“I have apologised to the mosque – clearly there are lessons to be learned, but I hope this won’t detract from what was overall a very positive event when a large number of young people gave up some of their precious weekend to give something back to a community that was scarred by last August’s riots.”
It is apparent that despite the best of intentions, Barwell had failed to anticipate that for some in his group “giving something back to the community” could include threats, abuse, jeering, shouting and general intimidation, even towards families, some with small children, who were arriving at the mosque for prayers.
No arrests were made on Saturday, but it is understood that the matter is subject to on-going enquiries by the police. Complaints have been filed, including to a local school over the conduct on the day of one of its teachers.
It seems that Saturday’s events have forced Barwell to re-think Change: Croydon. Originally, he had announced that the project would be staging work parties once a month. But Barwell has already informed teenagers signed up to the group there will be no project work conducted in May, and that the next planned work party will not now be until June 30, eight weeks away.
- 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
- Police called out for “racist” incident with Barwell’s work gang (insidecroydon.com)
- MP Gavin Barwell, statistics and a convenient oversight (insidecroydon.com)
- Use your loaf, Gav: Barwell’s “Let Them Eat Cake” moment (insidecroydon.com)