Tower Hamlets Town Hall in Whitechapel. Photo credit: Rich Mix, London
LocalLocal democracyNews

Tower Hamlets Council meeting disrupted following public gallery heckling

Tower Hamlets council has removed online footage of its annual budget meeting which would have shown heckling from the public gallery and security staff intervening.

Tower Hamlet Council’s annual budget meeting was disrupted on Wednesday 28 February, while security asked the public to leave the gallery because of heckling and ‘inappropriate comments’ towards councillors.

During the full council, female councillors had reportedly threatened to walk out of the meeting unless action was taken against those who were being disruptive.

The annual setting of the budget is one of the most important days on any local authority’s calendar and must be approved at full council before the new financial year begins on 1 April.

Labour councillor, Marc Francis was criticising the Aspire Party’s budget plans for 2024/25 when he was heckled and screamed at from the public gallery and was allegedly called a ‘racist’.

A verbal argument broke out, and security had to intervene and remove members of the public from the room.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands the footage showing the altercation is currently being reviewed by the council and is not available to watch back on the council’s online webcast.

Screenshot of Tower Hamlets website showing that you are unable to rewatch Wednesday's meeting online
Unable to rewatch Wednesday’s meeting online. Credit Tower Hamlets Council website

Wednesday’s meeting was the first full council since it was announced last week that government inspectors would look into how the council is being run under the mayor, Lutfur Rahman and the Aspire Party.

The borough’s only Green councillor, Nathalie Bienfait, said: ‘The meeting left me feeling very shaken, I was really not expecting to see that level of near violence.

‘I was quite shocked, especially given the context that the inspectors from the government were in the room witnessing it all.’

Councillor Sirajul Islam released a statement on behalf of Tower Hamlets Labour Group and said: ‘The Tower Hamlets Labour Group condemns the abuse and chaos that plagued [Wedensday’s] budget meeting.

‘We are deeply disturbed that it took the Council’s female councillors to threaten to leave the meeting before action was taken against individuals who had persistently disrupted proceedings with abusive and disrespectful conduct.’

Cllr Islam added: ‘The Labour group is not afraid of being held to account by our residents, our meetings are often lively and robust, but last night’s proceedings crossed a line.

‘The safety of members and officers is paramount, and concerns had already been raised with the administration following worsening public conduct and a coarsening of debate at recent council and cabinet meetings.’

After the meeting, Mr Rahman posted on X: ‘Labour spent most of its time tarnishing hard-working council employees and spreading [misinformation].

‘They forgot one important thing, our residents. Meanwhile, not only did we pass our second transformative and balanced budget, we found money to invest even more.’

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: ‘[Wednesday’s] full council meeting featured a cross-party debate and vote on the council’s annual budget.

‘There were allegations of inappropriate comments from the public gallery towards councillors.’

They added: ‘As a result, the speaker asked a member of the public to leave, and the public gallery was subsequently cleared.

‘Whilst we encourage healthy debate, providing a respectful environment for the public, councillors, and staff is a priority for the council.’

After the public gallery was cleared, the meeting carried on and councillors were asked to vote on Aspire’s proposed budget, as well as voting on amendments from the Labour Party and the Green Party.

Aspire, which has a council majority, had its budget passed and both Labour and Green’s amendments were outvoted by Aspire councillors.

For more local news read Paul Scully MP apologises after calling Tower Hamlets a ‘no-go’ area

Please support local journalism.

As a not-for-profit media organisation using constructive journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or subscription fee as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.

We are powered by members. Hundreds of members have already joined. Become a member to donate as little as £3 per month to support constructive journalism and the local community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.