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Letter of complaint to Teresa Pearce, MP for Erith & Thamesmead

10 March 2011

Dear Ms. Pearce,

I am writing to you as my MP because of my treatment at the hands of Bexley council and their officials last night. I am hoping you will be able to deliver it to the appropriate Minister and seek a response.

I attended last night’s council meeting as I always do, equipped with a professional grade SLR camera, intending to take pictures of any protestors that might be there. It was equipped with a 14mm extreme wide angle lens (not a zoom) to enable me to take photos of banners etc. from only a couple of feet away as crowds will otherwise get in the way. It is equipment totally unsuited for any sort of paparazzi sneak shots from afar.

Upon entering the Civic Centre I was refused access because I was carrying a camera inside its protective case and at the bottom of an ordinary shopping bag. It was explained I had three choices. Go away, hand the camera over with advice that it would be at my own risk and no receipt would be given, or be arrested. This is how democracy works in Bexley despite the specific advice issued to all council leaders and monitoring officers by Bob Neill, the Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government as recently as 23 February, that recording of public council events should be welcomed by councils.

I argued that my camera would take several seconds to be ready for action and with the huge number of ‘heavies’ the council had hired to protect themselves from public scrutiny etc. there was no way I would be able to use the camera in the council chamber even if I had equipped it with a suitable lens. But Bexley council’s new rules, freshly printed this month in direct contravention of Bob Neill’s advice, had to prevail even though the displayed notices actually said “No photography” not “No cameras admitted”.

Fortunately a councillor with a little common sense and of greater intellect than Bexley’s leader had overheard the conversation and came to my rescue. Councillor Christopher Ball stepped in and offered to lock my camera in his office. This I was happy to do and I am most grateful for his intervention, but it should not have been necessary. I understand that several people not fortunate enough to have been assisted by one of the few decent councillors we have in Bexley were excluded from this public meeting because they were unwilling to leave their cameras at the mercy of a hired-in heavy mob.

I am sure you will agree that this was outrageous behaviour on the part of Bexley’s leadership both elected and not and should be challenged at the highest level to which you have access. I would ask for your urgent assistance in this matter.

I have attached for your convenience a copy of Mr. Neill’s letter to Bexley council’s leader.

yours sincerely

Malcolm Knight

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