A Lewisham Council meeting descended into chaos last night, with all members of the public kicked out and police called.
Angry residents were not satisfied with councillors’ responses to questions relating to chief executive Ian Thomas, who has left the council after just a few months in charge; the Tidemill development, which saw the council spend over £100,000 on evicting protestors at a development site in Deptford; and proposals to rebuild Lewisham Library.
Directing their frustration at councillors and elected mayor Damien Egan, they chanted “Ian Thomas”, “vote them out” and “Egan out.”
Public frustrations began building when residents queuing outside the council building were told only those who had submitted a public question would be able to attend.
Once inside, sound issues plagued the meeting with those in the public gallery struggling to hear councillors. The microphone provided to those asking questions regularly cut out, forcing some to yell across the council chamber.
Councillors also banged on tables, making it difficult for the public gallery to hear what was being said on several occasions.
Public outrage peaked when the chair, councillor Jacq Paschoud, said she would skip a public questioner, who is visually impaired, from finishing her question when she was having trouble reading it from her notes.
Further councillor responses to public questions about the council’s approach towards serious youth violence and black students, as well as question about a document chief executive Ian Thomas may have written before he stood down from the role on 29 October, also sparked anger in the public gallery.
But the meeting finally descended into chaos about an hour in, following Paschoud’s announcement: “I am standing up and when I stand up everybody sits down and shuts up.”
Yelling and jeers drowned out the council PA system. Cabinet members and councillors then began leaving their desks while there were still two public questions left on the agenda.
Security began asking members of the public to leave the gallery, with police called to remove Save Lewisham Libraries campaigner Alice Corble, who wanted to stay for the rest of the meeting.
She said: “I was here to listen, because there were a number of questions about libraries.
“No one formally announced the meeting was over so I wanted to stay and see what happened.”
She tried to explain to security that she was a member of the public who had not been yelling but wanted to hear the rest of the meeting, she said.
But she finally left when police were called and she was threatened with a public disorder notice for breaching the peace, she said.
“Police came and they were going to physically carry me out,” she said.
“At no point was any public declaration made that it was over or that I wasn’t allowed to be there.
“This is an absolutely not democratic, transparent or open council,” she said.
The council meeting carried on once the public gallery was empty.
Lewisham Council tweeted after the meeting: “The council meeting was adjourned for a brief time tonight because of a small number of people who were intent on disrupting the meeting and preventing others from speaking. We have always welcomed questions from residents and we will continue to do so.”
The council has been contacted for further comment.
Bridie Witton is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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