EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
As the council prepared to hold a not-so-public meeting tonight at the Town Hall, which was called in the aftermath of the tragic killing last week of 15-year-old schoolgirl Elianne Andam in the middle of an escalating knife crime crisis in the borough, we can reveal that Croydon’s official Safer Neighbourhood Board has failed to hold any meetings for 18 months.
The chair of the Safer Neighbourhood Board is supposed to be the £84,000 per year Croydon Mayor, Jason “Part-time” Perry.
Ostensibly, tonight’s meeting is being held at the Braithwaite Hall on behalf of a separate, “community-led” organisation, called the Safer Community Partnership.
But the organisation of the event has been carried out by council officials based in Fisher’s Folly under Kristian Aspinall, the “director of culture and community safety”.
And the organisation of the event has, as with so many aspects of Croydon Council’s operations, been mired in uncertainty and confusion.
Aspinall has notionally been in charge of the Borough of Culture, and the distribution of £1.3million in arts grants. So it really ought not come as much of a surprise to discover that Aspinall is incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery, as chaotic scenes on Katharine Street tonight, with dozens of people outside the Braithwaite Hall without tickets, confirmed.
It all stemmed from a suspiciously retrospective decision to ticket the meeting.
A junior official sent an email at 8.58am on Friday morning announcing that the event would be held this evening. “We know everyone in Croydon is deeply shocked and saddened by Elianne’s death. This meeting is for local residents and community groups to come together to talk about the work that is being done to support our young people at this very difficult time, and how we can help them to stay safe…
“Croydon’s Borough Commander for the Met Police Andy Brittain, Croydon Council representatives and Sarah Jones MP will be at the meeting to answer any questions you might have. The meeting will be chaired by the borough’s Safer Neighbourhood Board chair, Donna Murray-Turner.”
And the council official added a hopeful little rejoinder at the end of the email: “Please share within your networks, communities, and organisations.” Which many did.
There was no mention in the invite, sent to community organisers across the borough, of any ticketing arrangements or limit on numbers attending.
Until, that is, 7.41pm on Friday.
Then, another email sent on behalf of Aspinall, said, “The Safer Croydon Partnership has taken the decision to make the community meeting planned for Monday night a ticketed event.”
Apparently, they had “received significant interest in attending… we need to manage numbers safely”. Who’d have thunk it?
But by 7.45pm, the Eventbrite page to which the Aspinall email provided a link was already showing the event as being “sold out”.
Community leaders, charity groups and specialists in tackling violence against women and girls were among those who contacted Inside Croydon to complain that they were being shut out of this important event.
Others, though, have told iC that despite the council and the Safer Croydon Partnership having declared the meeting to be “full”, they have been provided with virtual tickets to access the Braithwaite Hall. So obviously not so full, and not such a public event after all.
Yet while the Safer Croydon Partnership is deciding who can, and cannot, attend a supposedly public meeting organised (and paid for?) by the council, the borough’s elected Mayor has been sitting on his hands over formal meetings of an official council committee, the Safer Neighbourhood Board.
Members of the Safer Neighbourhood Board were confirmed in May this year as Perry, his Tory councillor colleague Ola Kolade – notorious in some parts as the only Croydon election candidate to be effectively called a liar by three bishops – plus Labour’s Enid Mollyneaux and Stuart King. So there was at least the pretence that this was a functioning, and functional, council body.
But the council website shows no agendas and no meeting dates held since Perry was elected as Croydon Mayor in May 2022.
In fact, the last time that the Safer Neighbourhood Board met was in November 2019. And this for a council area which has been dubbed “the knife crime capital of Britain”.
Around that time, Croydon had an expensively hired Violence Reduction director, Sarah Hayward, a former Labour councillor in Camden who was in need of a job when she got the shove as council leader. Hayward had no particular qualifications for the Croydon job.
Indeed, under Hayward, Croydon was more than two years late delivering its community safety strategy, a document that has to be up-to-date and functional by law.
The “new” strategy, for 2022 to 2024, was barely changed from the old strategy, and even relied on outdated data from the 2011 Census. What with boards that never meet and a poorly compiled strategy, it is almost as if keeping the streets of Croydon safe for the public is all too much for our increasingly dysfunctional council.
From November 2019 to today, further meetings of the Safer Neighbourhood Board scheduled for later that same month were cancelled. Then a meeting scheduled for March 2020 was cancelled, June 2021’s was “postponed”, September 2021 was cancelled as was November 2021’s.
This was nothing new. Four previous meetings of the Board scheduled earlier in 2019 had all been cancelled, too.
Katharine Street sources say that the Safer Neighbourhood Board has somehow become caught in a bureaucratic vacuum between Croydon Town Hall and MOPAC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and Sophie Lindon, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for policing.
“It is a farce all around,” according to one source. “In Croydon, Brittain is a stage-struck, vain and incompetent officer. The police is desperately trying to reinvent itself.”
With the Met in an existential crisis of its own making, in Croydon, all civic responsibility for community safety has effectively been abrogated to a collection of unelected, and unaccountable, activists, some of whom are believed to have been in receipt of significant sums of public money.
The latest twist caused by that administrative paralysis occurred over the weekend, with some WhatsApp groups, predominantly among the black community, calling on men to come out and patrol the streets to protect children going to and from school. Croydon could be just days away from having self-appointed, untrained vigilantes on its streets, with all the risks that that may hold.
And in the meantime, our elected politicians, like £84,000 per year Mayor Perry, can offer only “thoughts and prayers” as the family of another teenager, murdered on our streets, await for her funeral.
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