Newham Council responds to complaint over exclusion of legal observers

Newham Monitoring Project has now received a response to the complaint we made to Newham council, regarding the behaviour of security guards at Stratford Park and the decision to ban our Community Legal Observers from entering.

Unfortunately, the council has now provided us with another, entirely different justification for the exclusion of local volunteers engaged in informing local people about their legal rights Our initial complaint was submitted because NMP’s Community Legal Observers had been stopped at the entrance on Whalebone Lane at 2pm by someone who appeared to be in charge of security at Stratford Park. He apparently accused them of distributing material that was “making it easy for criminals and giving them tips”.

NMP sent an email immediately to Head of Events, Sue Meiners explaining the purpose of our project and raising a complaint about this incident. Volunteers were approached again later in the afternoon and were spoken to personally by the council’s Head of Events, Sue Meiners, who offered a second explanation: that our rights cards were causing “litter”. Even when volunteers offered to stop distributing rights cards, they reported that they were still asked to leave because she wasn’t clear who NMP were, despite acknowledging to the volunteers she had received NMP’s email.

A third and new explanation comes in an e-mail from the council’s Head of Communications, Douglas Trainer. In the interests of transparency, it is published below. As well as repeating the suggestion that we might cause littering, he adds that the live-screen park areas are part of a ‘corporate event’ and that as a result, the council does not allow organisations “to come into the park with a branded presence – including the wearing of branded shirts or bibs.” We struggle to understand any of the reasons we have been given so far for the exclusion of our volunteers. The claim that providing civil rights information encourages criminality is clearly without substance.

Newham Council has agreed to follow up the complaint with its contractors as it “demonstrates an apparent failure to understand why we consistently refuse entry to our events for leafleters”. We believe it raises far greater concerns than this around apparent stereotyping of the local community as criminals and we hope this will be addressed robustly.

The second justification for excluding Community Legal Observers from Stratford Park, regarding littering, is equally difficult to comprehend. We are a small community group with limited resources, so we have spent time talking to members of the public and only given them rights cards if they want them. If people later drop these (as they may do with any other items on them such a food wrappers) inside or outside the park, it seems somewhat over zealous to ban us from distributing cards at all.

As for the designation of Stratford Park’s live screenings as a ‘corporate event’ and therefore subject to restrictive controls towards providing information to the community, this will come as news to many who live and work locally. Newham Council refers to the Olympic Games within its current Corporate Plan as an opportunity to strengthen local communities so they “have the same social and economic chances as their neighbours across the rest of London”. We believe providing rights information independently contributes to this goal. There has been much debate about the rules used to protect corporate brands during the Olympics and we are genuinely surprised that the council would adopt and enforce similar rules against its own citizens, especially those who are volunteering for a local not-for-profit group with charitable aims.

If the London Borough of Newham insists on banning Community Legal Observers from its events, then we will of course respect their wishes. We have a far more pressing task in monitoring the conduct of the police during the Olympics and, when necessary, holding them to account. It is disappointing, however, that the council has chosen to take such an unsympathetic position to volunteers who have given up their spare time to provide an important service to local communities.

Newham council’s response

From: “Douglas Trainer”
To: Estelle du Boulay
Sent: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 5:33:25 PM


Thank you for your email which Sue Meiners has passed to me to respond to as the head of service. Apologies for the delay in responding – it is a busy time for all of us.

We have a consistent position across all of the Council’s corporate events programme – including the Live Sites – to refuse all requests to leaflet in our parks and venues other than for organisations who are a formal part of our event. In part this is to reduce the litter associated with flyering which we are responsible for clearing. We also do not allow such organisations to come into the park with a
branded presence – including the wearing of branded shirts or bibs.

This has been consistently applied when requested across a wide range of organisations including community, faith, political groups and the like.

We obviously would have no problem with NMP volunteers on the public highway outside our events handing out information to the public in a responsible manner. Similarly, we would have no problem with your volunteers enjoying the Olympics at our Live Sites when they are not working.

We will certainly be taking up your complaint below with our security contractors. The position as set out below is not acceptable and demonstrates an apparent failure to understand why we consistently refuse entry to our events for leafleters and the like.

I am happy to feed back to you the outcome of that discussion once completed.

I hope this explanation is helpful and would be happy to answer any follow up questions. Thank you for your understanding.