Croydon’s council leader Tony Newman has admitted that he failed to report, immediately, allegations of serious violence against a young woman. Instead of going to the police straight away, Newman spent more than 24 hours working on a cover-up of a “serious incident” involving one of his Labour councillors.
Niro Sirisena resigned as a Labour councillor for Fairfield ward in September.
Since then, Newman has refused to explain publicly the circumstances surrounding the abrupt resignation of one of the supposed rising stars of his council administration.
Sirisena had enjoyed a rapid rise in the local Labour Party, having been elected as a councillor for Fairfield ward in 2018, while earlier this year he was employed in the constituency office of Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones.
But the latest edition of Private Eye magazine reports that, “It is alleged that Sirisena, who is in his late 30s, had a violent row with a girlfriend, leaving her ‘battered’.”
The alleged assault is understood to have occurred after Sirisena, whom Newman had promoted to deputy cabinet member for the arts, had been enjoying a night of cheap Prosecco at the re-opening of the Fairfield Halls.
According to the Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column today, “Newman and a couple of colleagues were made aware of the incident while at the Labour conference in Brighton on Monday 23 September, but they did not report it to police.
“Instead, they confronted Sirisena the following day, secured his resignation and put out a statement to try to minimise any political damage, while waiting 24 hours for the victim of the alleged assault to go to Knacker herself.
“Newman told the Eye: ‘It was made clear that the other party involved wished to report the matter to the police on her own terms. Out of respect for her, we gave her the space to do so. Had she failed to report the matter we would have taken the appropriate action’.”
According to a practising criminal barrister who Inside Croydon has spoken to, “the appropriate action” for any individual holding elected public office, when they are made aware that a criminal act may have been committed, is to report the matter immediately to the police.
The barrister told us, “Domestic violence, of course, always needs to be handled differently, sensitively, because of the often delicate circumstances of each case, and with the victim’s interests at heart.
“But the first duty of anyone elected to public office if they are made aware that a crime may have been committed is to report it to the police as quickly as possible. It is for the law enforcement agencies to investigate allegations of criminal conduct, not councillors.”
Newman told a full council meeting last month that the Sirisena matter is subject to an on-going police investigation. Sirisena and Chris Clark, his Labour councillor colleague in Fairfield ward, are both understood to have been interviewed by the police as part of their investigation, Clark as a possible witness.
It seems very possible that Newman has never made any report about the incident to the police.
It has been suggested that Newman delayed taking the matter to the police because he wanted to keep the victim’s identity anonymous. “The trouble with that, though, is that the moment that Tony issued the Croydon Labour statement about Niro and the ‘serious incident’, by identifying Niro, he risked identifying the other party,” a Croydon Labour figure said.
“Anyone in the local party, in Momentum or at the council, will have known Niro’s girlfriend.”
It appears that Newman has now been more forthcoming with a fortnightly satirical magazine about the “serious incident” than he has ever been with most of his fellow Labour councillors, the council itself, or the people of Croydon he is supposed to serve.
Newman is fond of wearing on his lapel a white ribbon badge – the symbol of a campaign to eliminate violence against women, a widespread crime, with 1.3million domestic violence cases reported in the last year.
White Ribbon Day asks people to take a pledge to “Never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.”
Yet when pledge-taker Newman was presented with a possible case of violence against a young woman, he managed to remain silent for as long as it took to try to cover-up the incident. And all to avoid political damage to himself and the Labour group at Croydon Council.
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