Greenwich Council refusing to say who was invited to £50-per-head mayor’s junket

Christine May
The invite-only event saw Christine May start her term as the borough’s mayor

Greenwich Council is refusing to reveal who attended last month’s invite-only private mayor-making ceremony, despite spending nearly £50 per head on the bash.

Leader Danny Thorpe used this spring’s event – which has played host to property developers and other businesspeople in the past – to announce that it would be the last to be held at the Old Royal Naval College.

But the council is refusing to reveal the names of most of the 380 attendees of the £17,400 junket – £10,100 of it going on food and drink – despite freely passing on this information in the past.

Past council leader Chris Roberts, who is now deputy chairman of a lobbying company representing a developer planning a controversial scheme in Charlton, was among the guests whose names were redacted by the council when answering a Freedom of Information Act request.

Multiple witnesses at the event confirmed Roberts attended, and his invite is confirmed by a short black bar and the words “Freeman of the Borough” – an honour Roberts was given in 2016, 18 months after he left the council following accusations of bullying.

Chris Roberts
Ex-leader: Chris Roberts (seen here in 2010 with Boris Johnson) now lobbies for the developer behind the Rockwell Charlton Riverside scheme

Roberts’ appearance is clear on the alphabetised list supplied by the council as the two other freemen of the borough with surnames beginning with “R” have longer names than him.

Roberts now works for Cratus Communications, which is representing developer Rockwell on a 771-home scheme for surrounding two isolated cul-de-sacs off Anchor & Hope Lane, which residents say will break the council’s masterplan by towering over their homes. Planning officers have recommended approval, a final decision is expected early next month.

‘Creative district’

The name of a representative of Berkeley Homes, the property developer on whose land the council is planning to build a £31m “creative district” in Woolwich, has also been blanked out.

Greenwich has only given names of councillors, office-holding politicians and senior council officers, even deleting the names of those attending in official capacities such as the deputy high commissioner of Ghana.

Redacted list
The list of attendees supplied under the Freedom of Information Act

The council also followed the same policy for a list of attendees of 2017’s event, which cost a similar amount to stage.

Up to 2016, the council freely gave the names of all those who attended, which included representatives from the controversial London City Cruise Port, Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon, and New Wine Church, which enjoyed a close relationship with the council until this website revealed its homophobic sermons. Indeed, Roberts’ name appears in the 2016 list (Word document).

Despite the involvement of many of those on the list in the borough’s public affairs, the council claims the information has now been withheld because “disclosure of this information would contravene the Data Protection Principles of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulations”.

However, it did reveal the buffet menu for both 2017 and 2018’s event, which comprised “deli sandwich & bagel selection, vegetable samosas, salmon goujons, caramelised onion and parmesan tart, mini duck spring rolls, chicken goujons, crudités and dips, cut fruit plates” washed down with Tarabilla red and white wine.

‘For the many, not the few’

Last month’s event was to mark the inauguration of Middle Park & Sutcliffe councillor Christine May as the borough’s first citizen. She told the event she looked forward to meeting the borough’s “meeting its residents, community organisations and many volunteers that do such amazing work for the sake of all. For the many not the few” – referencing the title of Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto.

May called the event a “great get together recognising the many achievements and contributions by the various groups, clubs, volunteers, individuals and partners of the borough all working together to ensure that this borough stays a diverse and great borough in which to live and work”.

She also paid tribute to outgoing mayor Peter Brooks: “Peter is wonderful and is what I call a proper mayor, no disrespect to previous Mayors, but he suits the robes, and he lights up any occasion with his big smile, humour [and] rosy cheeks.”

Bullying complaint

However, May’s appointment was criticised by past councillor Alex Grant, who stood down in 2014 after attempting to blow the whistle on bullying in the council.

Screengrab of letter
A letter from now-mayor Christine May to former councillor Alex Grant

Responding to leader Thorpe on Twitter, he said: “Kind-hearted and down-to-earth? Not sure I agree. In 2013 I wrote to Chris May (then chair of Greenwich Labour Group) seeking a meeting about bullying problems, then endemic at the council. I got this ‘WE will be setting the agenda, not you’ reply.

“Christine thought turning the meeting into a Spanish inquisition, with me alone in the dock, an appropriate response. The reason why bullying flourished in Greenwich at the time was that too many ‘good people’ like Christine did nothing other than turn on those complaining.

“Her letter was the rudest I ever received in 16 years as a councillor in Greenwich. I replied to ask her politely why she was acting so out of character but received no response. I will leave it to others to judge whether she is an appropriate first citizen.”

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