So it seems a good time to share with you a document I had a bit of trouble obtaining – an internal report into how Greenwich Council handled the aftermath of the disturbances.
The report was compiled for the 40 Labour Party councillors – the 11 opposition Conservatives only asked for, and got, a verbal report.
With suspicion over the council’s role in painting over the “Woolwich wall” – the hoardings at the destroyed Great Harry pub – I put in a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the Labour report as soon as I’d got wind that such a document existed.
Greenwich initially turned me down, declaring that an “updated” version of the report would soon be made public. Knowing Greenwich’s reputation for secrecy, and suspecting it was just trying to shoo me away and had no intention of ever publishing this report, I asked the council to review my request. Finally, Greenwich’s head of legal Russell Power agreed I could have a paper copy of the “updated” version of the report.
This was just after Christmas – personal upheavals over the past few weeks mean I’ve been sitting on this for a good few weeks. (Which probably makes me as bad as them.) But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that report’s actually been made public. You still won’t find this on the council’s website.
There’s no real skeletons or shocks in here, the report confirms that the mysterious Powis Street Estates was in charge of painting over the wall, but surprisingly, Greenwich was aware of its intentions for a week and asked the company to hold off so it could take photographs of the wall. If this information had been shared at the time, perhaps Greenwich Council would not have come in for such heavy criticism.
But again, it’s symptomatic of “Royal” Greenwich’s ineptness at dealing directly with the people who it is supposed to serve. As you’ll see in the report, the council’s priority was in speaking to businesses – dealing with worried residents simply wasn’t on the agenda.
One thing that is worth noting – the report says the council was bidding for money from the London mayor’s Outer London Fund to help Eltham after the riots. But it was the only south London borough not to get a penny out of Boris.
It’s worth taking a look at the report, though. Does it match up with your memories of last August? The claim about the wall being a target for “foul and offensive language” certainly doesn’t accord with what I remember of it. But I’d like to know what you think – and whether you think SE18 is recovering from the riot.
A community meeting held to discuss the impact of last week’s Woolwich riot went ahead on a street corner after Greenwich Council boycotted it because of an organiser’s past involvement in the far-right English Defence League.
The council announced it would not be supporting the event in an e-mail and flyers distributed on Thursday afternoon – but did not tell those who had organised or promoted the event.
Instead, the authority organised a private meeting at the same time for Woolwich business owners, held at the council’s new civic centre.
While the man concerned, one of the instigators of the “Woolwich wall” on the burnt-out Great Harry pub, freely admits to past involvement in the group, he insists he is no longer involved in the organisation, and had asked its members to stay away from the gathering.
The council statement said it was “concerned some people and organisations are using the events of last week to further their own causes”.
“One of the main organisers of tonight’s meeting has admitted to involvement with the English Defence League and has made what the council considers to be ‘provocative’ comments,” it continued.
“We simply cannot offer any support to a gathering linked with an individual who has also stated he still publicly supports the actions of the EDL and has used language which the vast majority of residents would find utterly offensive.”
This website has seen a Twitter account of his, last updated in March, where he promotes the organisation and its views.
But speaking before the meeting, the individual denied he still supports the organisation. “It’s completely false,” he told this website.
He did, however, admit to stewarding on “a couple” of EDL events.
“When I joned it was purely patriotism, not about racism. I left when I saw all the drinking and drug taking that went on,” he said.
Asked if he shared the group’s anti-Muslim stance, he said: “I don’t have a problem with Muslim people. I don’t like certain moral values, but I don’t like singling people out.”
He is one of a number of people behind the wall and Thursday night’s meeting, which he went on to play little part in. He also helped bring media organisations to the area after a week of little coverage.
But following the council boycott, attempts to find a venue fell through, and an 25-strong impromptu meeting, led by other organisers, took place on the street outside the damaged Great Harry.
One man with an EDL badge was seen lurking around the meeting, but was not made welcome by organisers, and graffiti supporting the organisation was scribbled off the wall to applause.
Speakers criticised Greenwich Council for not hosting a public meeting of its own, in contrast to other authorities such as Lewisham and Ealing.
The deputy leader of Greenwich’s Conservative group, Nigel Fletcher, said he had to pull out of attending the meeting following the council’s statement.
But he added: “If Greenwich Council have concerns about tonight’s Woolwich meeting, and are boycotting it, they really should organise an official one.”
However, Woolwich Riverside’s Labour councillor – and cabinet member – John Fahy did attend the early stages of the gathering to observe what was happening.
Leaflets were also handed out advertising a peace rally by the Greenwich Multi-Faith Forum, to be held at the same spot at 3pm on Sunday.
Listen to part of the meeting:
Listen to Woolwich Grand Theatre founder Adrian Green address the gathering:
An explanation and a point of view: An earlier version of this story named the individual concerned. However, on reflection, I’ve decided to delete his name from the story.
His name’s no secret, the original story was widely seen, and I’m sure it’ll appear again elsewhere. But if he is sincere about repudiating his past, though, he deserves a chance to prove himself, and it’s best not to add to publicity that could damage his reputation and that of his family in years to come. Was he stupid to join the English Defence League? Of course.
But in bringing the media to Woolwich, he’s allowed all sections of the community to feel their anger and distress has finally been recognised by an outside world that had ignored them – something no elected politician in this area has managed. Indeed, when communities feel ignored, they are often driven into extremism. This can’t be allowed to happen in Woolwich.
If the council doesn’t like the background of one of the people behind last night’s meeting – why isn’t it organising its own? Who’s providing leadership in a still-bewildered district? If leaders hide behind private meetings, they can’t claim horror when people they don’t approve of speak to the public in their place.
In any case, the community campaign in Woolwich – which involves a number of other people without dubious pasts – plans to continue. It’d be unfair to allow a row over one individual to overshadow their achievements. I hope to continue to follow events in the weeks and months to come.
The people behind the Woolwich wall have organised a community meeting on Thursday to discuss the aftermath of last Monday’s riot, and are hoping to get spokespeople from the police and Greenwich Council to come along and talk about what happened and what happens next. There’s a Facebook page here, but if you can’t see that, then the plan is to meet at the wall from 7pm and then onto a nearby venue from 7.30pm.
One other spin-off from last week’s events – the We Love Woolwich site has sparked back into life again…
Government minister Bob Neill visited Woolwich this afternoon to see clean-up efforts for himself, and to thank emergency services as the area battles back to normality after Monday’s riot.
The communities minister was joined by Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney as they toured the battered town centre, where most businesses are now open as usual following the disturbances.
Mr Neill also visited Woolwich fire station to thank officers for their work, as well as stopping to chat to police on duty in Calderwood Street.
Demolition teams have now moved into the destroyed Blue Inc shop on Powis Street, while contractors have been boarding up The Great Harry pub and the Wilkinsons store, both wrecked by fire. The fate of either building is not yet known.
BT engineers are also scrambling to reconnect 600 phone lines destroyed when a cabinet next to The Great Harry was burnt out by the fire. Business and residential users within 300 yards of the box on Wellington Street were cut off after the fire, and it will take three weeks to reconnect them all.
Despite the destruction in his constituency, and the lack of media coverage, local MP Nick Raynsford failed to mention Woolwich in the House of Commons, instead choosing to follow a string of Labour MPs in questioning Prime Minister David Cameron on cuts to police budgets.
Eltham MP Clive Efford condemned “rightwing extremist groups” using up police resources in his area over the past two nights, calling for locals not to be “diverted” by groups such as the English Defence League. In response, Mr Cameron said there was “no part of society sicker than the EDL”.
Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, who flew back from her honeymoon after news of disorder in Lewisham, called for “despicable videos” on internet “glorifying” violence to be taken down.