Council boycotts Woolwich meeting over organiser’s far-right past

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.

16 comments

  1. I am stunned. I bet his only “sin”, in this context, was to be more of a community hero than the Dear Leader is or ever could be.

    Poor, poor people of Woolwich. None of your elected representatives cares tuppence about you. All the Council cares about is the International Olympic Committee not getting to hear about how wrecked Woolwich is.

    (comment edited to remove the individual’s name)

  2. A strange evening all round. Maybe it could have been organised better, maybe the council should have done more to organise their own public meeting.

    Credit to Cllr Fahy who – for some reason or other – didn’t end up engaging with the crowd and giving the answers these people so desperately want.

    Great to see the community in Woolwich getting together – a real positive from last night.

  3. Indigo talks nonsense as normal. Does he know anything about the EDL? A Guardian reporter went undercover to attend EDL demos and wrote “At each demonstration I attended, I was confronted by casual racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence.” Their leader, Tommy Robinson, is really called Stephen Lennon and is a convicted criminal (for violence) and ex BNP member.

    I would give credit to Greenwich Council for revealing this.

  4. I am perfectly livid about this. I don’t know why Greenwich Council resorted to sabotage.

    Matty, I don’t care about the EDL and neither did anyone else at that meeting last night. No racist would have pulled together the people of Woolwich with such enthusiasm, and as the good Lord says, it’s people’s fruit you need to judge them by. The fruit of the Woolwich Wall has been community pride, unity and a sense that we need to do something to keep that sense of community in our beleagured town.

    I wonder what might motivate someone to get involved with the EDL? Might it perhaps be a sense of powerlessness, feeling marginalized and wanting to do something about it? A person might be dumb enough to drift to the far right in their youth, but wise up when they grow up and try to do something genuinely different instead, that unified rather than divided?

    I am disgusted, aghast and perturbed by the behaviour of Greenwich Council.

  5. There have also been vieled threats from the edl against the organiser in question, this is totally uncalled for, and along with the council boycott shows exactly what is wrong with the world today x

  6. People make mistakes. Sometimes they see the light and find a true purpose. I am deeply saddened that an individuals attempts to bring a diverse community together have been sabotaged in this manner. No wonder young people find themselves disillusioned and disenfranchised when local government feels the need increase the distance between people rather than trying to bring them together. Shame on Greenwich Council and its leader. People will remember this when they next vote.

  7. “A person might be dumb enough to drift to the far right in their youth, but wise up when they grow up and try to do something genuinely different instead, that unified rather than divided?”

    That is true and there are plenty of examples of this. Many ex-BNP/NF people have recanted their views and started to work against them. Ricky Tomlinson is one of the most famous examples.

    However, while I don’t know a lot about this particular individual, the article seems to say that he was promoting the EDL as recently as March. The interview quotes are hardly reassuring either. “I left when I saw all the drinking and drug taking that went on”. So the chants of “Allah, allah who the **** is Allah” didn’t worry him then? or the chants of “Burn a Mosque”. These are just a couple of the chants that are regularly held at EDL demos.

    “I don’t care about the EDL” Well, I do and very strongly so. No way would I get involved in an organisation led by an EDL activist (or by someone who has links with them that are not clarified).

  8. Well, I’ve spent a fair old bit of time with the organisers of the Wall and the meeting now. So perhaps my opinion should have a bit more weight than yours? Maybe you should even consider taking my word for it and checking out what’s happening yourself, maybe even joining in?

    As I said, you should judge people by their fruit. And the fruit of the Woolwich Wall has been unity. It was like a great big cliche of multiculturalism there last night.

  9. Having just worked out who the target of this action is, I am even more saddened. People who make snap judgements about others based on scant real information and the odd deliberately shocking newspaper article are no less bigoted than a fully paid up member of the EDL.

  10. when a gang leader drops out of his organisation and starts to speak out,do we boycott him and try to stifle him no they dont so why do it to someone who has dropped out of edl.perhaps if you listen to him you might be able to stop this rot.

  11. I hate to point out the obvious that there are obvious race tensions within Woolwich. As a white person I sometimes feel unsafe to walk out around Powis Street in the early evening where I may be one of very few people amongst the ingenious immigrant community who are clearly now in the majority. I do feel as if I don’t belong in Woolwich in a way I don’t when visiting Eltham

    I think there is an issue of racial tensions and not just gang problems.

  12. Please let’s not get bogged down/divided/dispirited by this. It would suit His High(handed)ness in his misguided machinations. The pitfall of extremism versus an individual’s lifecourse, worthy of notice. Fruits – yes indeed – but then, the scaredy cats in the civic (lack of)centre offering catnip to business people in the midst of crisis – for shame ! – would have found some other “excuse” for their wobbly stance.

    Us community-lovers, we can just keep shining our light on them. We can SEEEEEEE you !

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