I find the People Scrutiny meeting to be hard going at times and I think I know why. The subject matter
is not the problem, it is just so damned difficult to feel involved because of the audio problems.
The number of people around the table forces the public into an alcove which acts as an echo chamber not served by the public address system which directs all the loudspeakers into the main chamber.
All the Cabinet and Labour Members sit back to the public and are hard to hear although Councillors three times as far away on the far side of the room come across loud and clear.
Last night 50 chairs had been put out for the public but with only two copies of the Agenda. Fortunately for Bexley Council I was the only observer although that probably added to the alcove echo chamber effect. It’s a pretty poor show for the £42 million spent on refurbishing that building.
There was little incentive to stay but Item 10 (Youth Services) of the 12 item Agenda looked potentially interesting so I waited for that but it proved to be a waste of time. The guest speaker’s voice had some sort of incompatibility with the sound system. Probably not her fault, there is a prominent Councillor whose voice never comes across clearly either, even when he is close to the microphone. I doubt I will be saying much on Youth Services.
There were no such problems with Borough Police Commander Jeff Boothe who confirmed that he has been posted to Croydon and his position is to be filled on a temporary basis by Superintendent Stuart Bell.
Councillors were naturally keen to hear what he had to say about the Northumberland Heath “disorder” on 19th September when young people, most of whom were of school age and many in uniform, rampaged across the borough.
It started in the Broadway and “a number of school kids were dispersed”. Later there “were about 60 reports from residents of disorder across the borough which we narrowed down to five specific locations. It was a very unclear situation at the time, we did not know what the cause was”. Additional resources were brought in, two people were injured but they were released from hospital the same day.
“There was absolutely no indication that this disorder was going to take place. A team from Scotland Yard is scouring the CCTV, looking to identify individuals. We have already arrested eleven individuals currently on police bail with restrictions but there are ongoing investigations.”
“There has been a partnership response” aimed at “identifying the cause and prevent this from reoccurring”. The Commander was “confident” that by the time of the next Scrutiny meeting “there would be a report back”. The incident “was not a schools issue, it was not race issue and there is no intelligence to say it is gang related”.
Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) thought that provision of “a Universal Youth Service would have given those young people something else they could have been doing that evening”.
Cabinet Member Philip Read was not at all happy with Councillor Ogundayo’s comment as one might expect but devalued his analysis of the situation by drawing unnecessary attention to Mabel being a minute late to the meeting. Councillor Read “did not see it was the responsibility of the borough’s residents to provide things for the children of the borough’s residents to do every night of the year”.
Councillor Sharon Massey abruptly switched the discussion from what may have had its roots in bad parenting on the grand scale to bad parenting at the individual level. She introduced the subject rather craftily by saying it was the first time the Chief Superintendent had been at a Council meeting since the murder of Jo Cox MP and she wanted to know what “steps” the Commander “was taking to protect public servants in Bexley and their families from harassment, you know. I know Councillors here and the MP do fear for their own safety”.
The Commander said he had “contacted all the MPs and if any public representative has any concerns they should contact us so that we can look at mitigating any perceived risk. Hopefully that answers your question”.
Presumably it did not. Councillor Massey referred to her “family, particularly my daughter” and “I really welcome the hate crime hub [recently introduced by MOPAC] . I am particularly concerned about school children. What concerns me is that there is no law against lying, that’s the problem. Can I just talk to you as a mum, and just how does that feel about some of the ways social media is shared around, like Facebook, Snapchat, even Twitter and what you are doing and how you might do it if one adult downloads a picture of a child and shares it with another adult and then they use that picture to create a story of fictional circumstance. I mean to me as a mother, I have really great conversations about why adults are sharing pictures of school children and I just wondered what you felt you would do to protect children. Can we use this on line hate crime hub to protect children about photographs being shared and can we bring in a law against lying?” (sic)
The Commander may have been caught on the hop and was not at his most lucid, choosing his words with some hesitancy and care.
“The main thing for me is about education, increasing children’s awareness of their actions of what might be unintended consequences. It’s about how do we work with schools, with parents to increase their awareness of what might be happening in terms of what might be a crime and what isn’t a crime. Our job is always to take the report, we will then take the complaint, we will then look into it, try to investigate.”
“One of the key things we will look at is whether or not there is an existing offence, whether an offence has been committed and we have to take that on a case by case basis. We then sometimes before we make a decision we need to find out what is the intention of the individual to have a clear distinction of whether an offence has been committed. We take each case on its merits and from that will look to see if within the law we can with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service and whether it is in the public interest. So that, I hope, kind of covers your question but I do take pride in the fact that our officers do deal with a wide variety of issues with the utmost compassion; we don’t always get it right but if we make mistakes we hold our hands up.
It was unclear if Councillor Massey is the subject of abuse on Facebook and Snapchat which we do not know about, if so one must have at least a little sympathy.
I use neither (†), and my Twitter account is used only to draw attention to new blogs. It seemed possible that Councillor Massey is still trying to attack this blog which did not mention her daughter until after the police told me that she had accused me of harassment.
It is also possible that Sharon Massey is still attacking the Councillor who she claimed was in possession of a photograph of her daughter but as she reported him to the Code Of Conduct Committee rather than the police, maybe not.
If the Masseys have a problem with on line pictorial harassment much of it must be their own fault. Over the last few months I have been on the receiving end of eleven photos of the Masseys in and around their home. Goodness knows why I am supposed to be interested but if I was I could download most of them plus a few more from Google images. The Masseys appear not to have given a thought to their on line actions, and as the Commander said, there can be unintended consequences.
A lesson everyone should learn is that if you don’t want your information and personal data shared, don’t make it freely available on the internet.
The much blurred photograph taken at a party in the Massey’s home which may have sparked their vendetta against BiB was posted alongside a score of similar pictures unprotected on Facebook. It wasn’t really necessary to listen to Natasha Briggs’ audio recording of the party to know there was one.
As for a law against lying, Commander Boothe wisely said nothing and every politician in the room breathed a sigh of relief.
† The Bexley is Bonkers Facebook page is run with my permission by a third party. Like the Twitter account it rarely goes beyond advertising this blog.