This is the moment 71-year-old Tower Hamlets Alzheimer’s ambassador John Wright was asked to stop filming a segment of last Wednesday’s full council meeting.
It demonstrates the confusion caused by Eric Pickles’ announcement a couple of weeks ago that residents had the right to film their councillors in action.
Just hours before the meeting was due to start, Tower Hamlets council’s most senior officer, Stephen Halsey, wrote to councillors telling them the Communities Secretary’s opinion appeared to be wrong. In a letter, which I reported here, he said the council’s constitution specifically barred filming of full council meetings. This advice was then repeated to everyone in the council chamber by Speaker Lesley Pavitt at the start of the meeting.
However, John, one of the borough’s most colourful campaigners, was convinced Eric was right. So, during a segment in which Lutfur’s cabinet member for housing, Rabina Khan, rose to her feet to give her opinion on social landlords, John, who is a longstanding council tenant, got out his camera and pressed start.
Just prior to that, I’d tweeted that town hall security guards seemed to be getting twitchy. And so they were. They clocked John and surrounded him. A council civil enforcement officer, one of the £40,000 a year THEOS, flashed his “warrant card” and told him he would call the police. I later saw an officer hovering outside with the chap who runs the council’s CCTV control room.
The video lasts for 15 minutes and it’s well worth watching it all. This is a man who clearly thought a senior Cabinet minister had given him the green light. Following a couple of minutes discussion with the Speaker, who later told him she would try to get the constitution changed, the meeting was suspended until he decided to back down.
For about 10 minutes, a series of people talk to him, including the veteran East London Advertiser journalist Mike Brooke, who wrote this report. Commendably, Lutfur’s finance chief, Alibor Choudhury, someone more used to provoking a verbal fight in the chamber, intervenes to calm things down.
There are some memorable lines in the exchange: too many, in fact to type out now. But here’s a flavour of John’s quotes:
My Government is filmed, the London Assembly is filmed: why is your council not allowing me to film, or are you hiding something?
Why are you not allowing me to photograph when Eric Pickles says I can?
This is England–we are democratic.
Why are you hiding? Are you all corrupt?
In response, Speaker Pavitt tells him they are not hiding anything, just that they need to have procedures in place because there might be some people who do not wish to be filmed. I think she means people in the public gallery.
John, who has published the video on YouTube, is for many a local hero and I think his actions will be seen as a tipping point. The council will be urgently looking at ways of allowing filming next time round.
Here’s the video.