WALTHAM FOREST: Protest right clampdown claim

Protestors' tables are a familiar site in Walthamstow town square

Protestors' tables are a familiar site in Walthamstow town square

First published in Waltham Forest by

THE council is attempting to stifle free speech by threatening campaigners with prosecution for breaking a century-old bylaw, it is claimed.

The Socialist Party has for many years regularly campaigned in Walthamstow town square on a number of different issues, including privatisation, cuts to services, foreign policy and health.

The group, along with numerous organisations, regularly sets up tables in order to display leaflets and other materials and have, until now, been rarely bothered by the authorities.

But in recent weeks council enforcement officers have begun threatening them with fines.

On January 23 Socialist Party member Sarah Sachs-Eldrige was among a group of protesters asking shoppers to sign a petition calling for an enquiry into the council’s long-term mismanagement of finances.

She said: “A council officer came up and told us we were committing a crime. He was not very calm - he was aggressive and right in our face.”

Ms Sachs-Eldrige has since been sent a letter from the authority saying it is an offence to set up a stall in the town square without permission, under a 1906 bylaw.

The letter says: “Should you be seen in this location either conducting or being associated with this type of activity without permission you will be liable to prosecution.”

The maximum fine a court can impose for breaking the law is £500.

Ms Sachs-Eldrige said: “It is clear the council are using their ‘zero tolerance’ of environmental crime as a catch-all for stifling debate - and indeed any vibrant community life in the borough.

“The Independent Panel Report found the council undemocratic and lacking transparency and is in fact a vindication of the campaigns of the Socialist Party, the trade unions and others in the borough against privatisation.

“What are the council afraid of? Is it because we also petition for a public inquiry into their activities?”

Campaigners met at the Rose & Crown pub, in Hoe Street, on Thursday, and have agreed to stage a “day of action” in protest at the council's actions. The event called Campaign 2 Campaign will be held in High Street, near the town square, on March 6 from noon.

Campaigners are calling on residents to set up stalls, and bring banners and megaphones to demand the right to protest.

The Guardian is awaiting a response from the council.

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Comments (17)

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5:21pm Tue 2 Feb 10

Morris Hickey says...

With a bit of luck the voices of some of the ruling clique at LBWF will be silenced after 6 May.
With a bit of luck the voices of some of the ruling clique at LBWF will be silenced after 6 May. Morris Hickey
  • Score: 0

5:33pm Tue 2 Feb 10

myopinioncounts says...

I am NOT a socialist but this makes me mad!
The illegal dvd sellers, the gamblers, the beggars, the black tent on the Town square green, all these have escaped the attention of the council for so long, but this they leap on!
I am NOT a socialist but this makes me mad! The illegal dvd sellers, the gamblers, the beggars, the black tent on the Town square green, all these have escaped the attention of the council for so long, but this they leap on! myopinioncounts
  • Score: 0

5:37pm Tue 2 Feb 10

Tom Thumb says...

This kind of bullying is typical of the current council. Remember when local resident Kevin Lord held up a banner NICE LIBRARY, WHERE'S ALL THE BOOKS? when Prince Charles came to visit. A Labour councillor complained to the police, who pounced on Mr Lord, aggressively searched him for weapons, and then told him to clear off or be arrested.

Nu Labour's idea of a lively town square is that hideous 'Big Screen' broadcasting stuff that nobody watches.

There are very few stalls in the town square, and they are put up by religious and political groups who hope to convert people to their faith or their political cause. I don't see any harm in that. They bother no one. At worst you'll be given a leaflet.

As usual it has to be asked, are the Liberal Democrats complicit in this attempt to stifle local campaigning?

Does this also mean that when the independent candidates for the council set up a stall in the square, the thought police will pounce?
This kind of bullying is typical of the current council. Remember when local resident Kevin Lord held up a banner NICE LIBRARY, WHERE'S ALL THE BOOKS? when Prince Charles came to visit. A Labour councillor complained to the police, who pounced on Mr Lord, aggressively searched him for weapons, and then told him to clear off or be arrested. Nu Labour's idea of a lively town square is that hideous 'Big Screen' broadcasting stuff that nobody watches. There are very few stalls in the town square, and they are put up by religious and political groups who hope to convert people to their faith or their political cause. I don't see any harm in that. They bother no one. At worst you'll be given a leaflet. As usual it has to be asked, are the Liberal Democrats complicit in this attempt to stifle local campaigning? Does this also mean that when the independent candidates for the council set up a stall in the square, the thought police will pounce? Tom Thumb
  • Score: 0

7:03pm Tue 2 Feb 10

Techno2 says...

Tom Thumb wrote:
This kind of bullying is typical of the current council. Remember when local resident Kevin Lord held up a banner NICE LIBRARY, WHERE'S ALL THE BOOKS? when Prince Charles came to visit. A Labour councillor complained to the police, who pounced on Mr Lord, aggressively searched him for weapons, and then told him to clear off or be arrested. Nu Labour's idea of a lively town square is that hideous 'Big Screen' broadcasting stuff that nobody watches. There are very few stalls in the town square, and they are put up by religious and political groups who hope to convert people to their faith or their political cause. I don't see any harm in that. They bother no one. At worst you'll be given a leaflet. As usual it has to be asked, are the Liberal Democrats complicit in this attempt to stifle local campaigning? Does this also mean that when the independent candidates for the council set up a stall in the square, the thought police will pounce?
I hope that any independent candidates (or those of other poltical complexion for that matter) do more than just sit on their backsides chatting to their existing pals and supporters in front of a tressel table in the Town Square. That's lazy tokenistic nonsense.

The candidates need to get out onto the doorsteps and actively talk to the real public to find out what they really think.
[quote][p][bold]Tom Thumb[/bold] wrote: This kind of bullying is typical of the current council. Remember when local resident Kevin Lord held up a banner NICE LIBRARY, WHERE'S ALL THE BOOKS? when Prince Charles came to visit. A Labour councillor complained to the police, who pounced on Mr Lord, aggressively searched him for weapons, and then told him to clear off or be arrested. Nu Labour's idea of a lively town square is that hideous 'Big Screen' broadcasting stuff that nobody watches. There are very few stalls in the town square, and they are put up by religious and political groups who hope to convert people to their faith or their political cause. I don't see any harm in that. They bother no one. At worst you'll be given a leaflet. As usual it has to be asked, are the Liberal Democrats complicit in this attempt to stifle local campaigning? Does this also mean that when the independent candidates for the council set up a stall in the square, the thought police will pounce?[/p][/quote]I hope that any independent candidates (or those of other poltical complexion for that matter) do more than just sit on their backsides chatting to their existing pals and supporters in front of a tressel table in the Town Square. That's lazy tokenistic nonsense. The candidates need to get out onto the doorsteps and actively talk to the real public to find out what they really think. Techno2
  • Score: 0

7:33pm Tue 2 Feb 10

newyear says...

I hope when some of our Councillors, including the Leader of the Council, visited City Hall recently to campaign for more police for the borough (as reported on this site by Mhairi Macfarlane on 28th January and currently featuring prominently on the Council's website) they sought permission from More London Estate Management. The area surrounding City Hall is private land and demonstrations are not allowed there without permission. If they didn't, this smacks of hypocrisy.
I hope when some of our Councillors, including the Leader of the Council, visited City Hall recently to campaign for more police for the borough (as reported on this site by Mhairi Macfarlane on 28th January and currently featuring prominently on the Council's website) they sought permission from More London Estate Management. The area surrounding City Hall is private land and demonstrations are not allowed there without permission. If they didn't, this smacks of hypocrisy. newyear
  • Score: 0

8:05pm Tue 2 Feb 10

Techno2 says...

newyear wrote:
I hope when some of our Councillors, including the Leader of the Council, visited City Hall recently to campaign for more police for the borough (as reported on this site by Mhairi Macfarlane on 28th January and currently featuring prominently on the Council's website) they sought permission from More London Estate Management. The area surrounding City Hall is private land and demonstrations are not allowed there without permission. If they didn't, this smacks of hypocrisy.
Why is it that bad things, like hypocrisy, bullying and corruption always 'smack'?
[quote][p][bold]newyear[/bold] wrote: I hope when some of our Councillors, including the Leader of the Council, visited City Hall recently to campaign for more police for the borough (as reported on this site by Mhairi Macfarlane on 28th January and currently featuring prominently on the Council's website) they sought permission from More London Estate Management. The area surrounding City Hall is private land and demonstrations are not allowed there without permission. If they didn't, this smacks of hypocrisy.[/p][/quote]Why is it that bad things, like hypocrisy, bullying and corruption always 'smack'? Techno2
  • Score: 0

8:13pm Tue 2 Feb 10

mdj says...

Does this mean that the fundamentalists of various faiths who promote their views outside the mall have all obtained permits? How much does it cost to bend the public's ear for an hour or two? Does amplification mean you need an entertainments licence? So many questions!
This recalls when a young filmmaker made a prizewinning documentary about the market a year or two ago: he had the courtesy to inform the Council that he would be going up and down with a video camera for a day or two, whereupon he was hit with a substantial charge for 'insurance'. No policy document was forthcoming, however.
There's a very mean-minded culture at work in our borough: it's up to all of us to clean out the stables at the next election.
Does this mean that the fundamentalists of various faiths who promote their views outside the mall have all obtained permits? How much does it cost to bend the public's ear for an hour or two? Does amplification mean you need an entertainments licence? So many questions! This recalls when a young filmmaker made a prizewinning documentary about the market a year or two ago: he had the courtesy to inform the Council that he would be going up and down with a video camera for a day or two, whereupon he was hit with a substantial charge for 'insurance'. No policy document was forthcoming, however. There's a very mean-minded culture at work in our borough: it's up to all of us to clean out the stables at the next election. mdj
  • Score: 0

12:20am Wed 3 Feb 10

basillio says...

2151 - my cat's comment as he walked across the key board. But I have to agree with him. This is a extremely dispiriting tale.

I hope this was the action of one over zealous official, trying to impress his superiors. If not, I think we're living in a mad house.
2151 - my cat's comment as he walked across the key board. But I have to agree with him. This is a extremely dispiriting tale. I hope this was the action of one over zealous official, trying to impress his superiors. If not, I think we're living in a mad house. basillio
  • Score: 0

12:56am Wed 3 Feb 10

sensibility says...

Wasnt there something on the national news about LBWF having a "Speakers Corner" in one of the parks? If its there use it or this was this all noise and no action?
Wasnt there something on the national news about LBWF having a "Speakers Corner" in one of the parks? If its there use it or this was this all noise and no action? sensibility
  • Score: 0

8:46am Wed 3 Feb 10

amanda27 says...

Our Council seem not to be aware that they are public servants who should be interested in the views of local residents - asking for their input not trying to silence them. These strikes as another example of the Council’s self righteous attitude that is out of sink with local opinion and needs.
Our Council seem not to be aware that they are public servants who should be interested in the views of local residents - asking for their input not trying to silence them. These strikes as another example of the Council’s self righteous attitude that is out of sink with local opinion and needs. amanda27
  • Score: 0

9:34am Wed 3 Feb 10

jack de large says...

This Labour/Liberal Democrat Council is interested in one thing only, ENFORCEMENT, it's not interested in democracy, certainly not interested in freedom of speech, just "where can we squeeze the next pound from?". The idea of a Labour led Council stopping the Socialist party from campaigning is just too stupid for words.
This Labour/Liberal Democrat Council is interested in one thing only, ENFORCEMENT, it's not interested in democracy, certainly not interested in freedom of speech, just "where can we squeeze the next pound from?". The idea of a Labour led Council stopping the Socialist party from campaigning is just too stupid for words. jack de large
  • Score: 0

9:45am Wed 3 Feb 10

JonathanB says...

I bet they exclude religious nutters like the UCKG from this law.
I bet they exclude religious nutters like the UCKG from this law. JonathanB
  • Score: 0

10:56am Wed 3 Feb 10

jrp says...

The clue is in the story 'asking shoppers to sign a petition calling for an enquiry into the council’s long-term mismanagement of finances' It is really becoming laughable the lengths this council will go to stop this info getting out. This truly is a 'rotten borough'.
The clue is in the story 'asking shoppers to sign a petition calling for an enquiry into the council’s long-term mismanagement of finances' It is really becoming laughable the lengths this council will go to stop this info getting out. This truly is a 'rotten borough'. jrp
  • Score: 0

2:51pm Wed 3 Feb 10

Tom Thumb says...

sensibility wrote:
Wasnt there something on the national news about LBWF having a "Speakers Corner" in one of the parks? If its there use it or this was this all noise and no action?
This is supposed to be happening in Stoneydown Park, which is a long way from the High Street. Anyone standing on a soapbox there is likely to find themselves addressing an audience made up entirely of pigeons.
[quote][p][bold]sensibility[/bold] wrote: Wasnt there something on the national news about LBWF having a "Speakers Corner" in one of the parks? If its there use it or this was this all noise and no action?[/p][/quote]This is supposed to be happening in Stoneydown Park, which is a long way from the High Street. Anyone standing on a soapbox there is likely to find themselves addressing an audience made up entirely of pigeons. Tom Thumb
  • Score: 0

2:56pm Wed 3 Feb 10

Tom Thumb says...

Techno2 wrote:
Tom Thumb wrote: This kind of bullying is typical of the current council. Remember when local resident Kevin Lord held up a banner NICE LIBRARY, WHERE'S ALL THE BOOKS? when Prince Charles came to visit. A Labour councillor complained to the police, who pounced on Mr Lord, aggressively searched him for weapons, and then told him to clear off or be arrested. Nu Labour's idea of a lively town square is that hideous 'Big Screen' broadcasting stuff that nobody watches. There are very few stalls in the town square, and they are put up by religious and political groups who hope to convert people to their faith or their political cause. I don't see any harm in that. They bother no one. At worst you'll be given a leaflet. As usual it has to be asked, are the Liberal Democrats complicit in this attempt to stifle local campaigning? Does this also mean that when the independent candidates for the council set up a stall in the square, the thought police will pounce?
I hope that any independent candidates (or those of other poltical complexion for that matter) do more than just sit on their backsides chatting to their existing pals and supporters in front of a tressel table in the Town Square. That's lazy tokenistic nonsense. The candidates need to get out onto the doorsteps and actively talk to the real public to find out what they really think.
I don't think having a stall in the square and knocking on doors are incompatible activities. It's surely what all the political parties do. Any independent candidates will want to alert the wider population to their existence. Not everybody reads the local paper, and I don't suppose the council's newspaper will be opening its pages to local residents who think this council stinks and plan to stand against it in the May elections.
[quote][p][bold]Techno2[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Tom Thumb[/bold] wrote: This kind of bullying is typical of the current council. Remember when local resident Kevin Lord held up a banner NICE LIBRARY, WHERE'S ALL THE BOOKS? when Prince Charles came to visit. A Labour councillor complained to the police, who pounced on Mr Lord, aggressively searched him for weapons, and then told him to clear off or be arrested. Nu Labour's idea of a lively town square is that hideous 'Big Screen' broadcasting stuff that nobody watches. There are very few stalls in the town square, and they are put up by religious and political groups who hope to convert people to their faith or their political cause. I don't see any harm in that. They bother no one. At worst you'll be given a leaflet. As usual it has to be asked, are the Liberal Democrats complicit in this attempt to stifle local campaigning? Does this also mean that when the independent candidates for the council set up a stall in the square, the thought police will pounce?[/p][/quote]I hope that any independent candidates (or those of other poltical complexion for that matter) do more than just sit on their backsides chatting to their existing pals and supporters in front of a tressel table in the Town Square. That's lazy tokenistic nonsense. The candidates need to get out onto the doorsteps and actively talk to the real public to find out what they really think.[/p][/quote]I don't think having a stall in the square and knocking on doors are incompatible activities. It's surely what all the political parties do. Any independent candidates will want to alert the wider population to their existence. Not everybody reads the local paper, and I don't suppose the council's newspaper will be opening its pages to local residents who think this council stinks and plan to stand against it in the May elections. Tom Thumb
  • Score: 0

3:00pm Wed 3 Feb 10

Tom Thumb says...

basillio wrote:
2151 - my cat's comment as he walked across the key board. But I have to agree with him. This is a extremely dispiriting tale. I hope this was the action of one over zealous official, trying to impress his superiors. If not, I think we're living in a mad house.
This is the key question. Who has authorised this council official to bully the Socialist Party stallholders?

Was it the Leader of the council Chris Robbins? Was it Cllr Bob Belam, guardian of our public spaces? Does this attempt to suppress a local group have the backing of the local Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats?

I think we should be told.
[quote][p][bold]basillio[/bold] wrote: 2151 - my cat's comment as he walked across the key board. But I have to agree with him. This is a extremely dispiriting tale. I hope this was the action of one over zealous official, trying to impress his superiors. If not, I think we're living in a mad house.[/p][/quote]This is the key question. Who has authorised this council official to bully the Socialist Party stallholders? Was it the Leader of the council Chris Robbins? Was it Cllr Bob Belam, guardian of our public spaces? Does this attempt to suppress a local group have the backing of the local Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats? I think we should be told. Tom Thumb
  • Score: 0

10:35pm Wed 3 Feb 10

mdj says...

I was told that the Council are trying to sell the Town Square to the owners of the Mall, and this is part of clearing the decks to that end: can anybody comment on this?

BTW the official was attended by police officers, who seemed unaware that breach of a bylaw was a civil matter, and nothing to do with them.
As with Cllr Loakes' use of eight police officers to help him enforce a planning notice (with maximum publicity), it seems that the police need to be wary about being used for political gestures in this borough.
I was told that the Council are trying to sell the Town Square to the owners of the Mall, and this is part of clearing the decks to that end: can anybody comment on this? BTW the official was attended by police officers, who seemed unaware that breach of a bylaw was a civil matter, and nothing to do with them. As with Cllr Loakes' use of eight police officers to help him enforce a planning notice (with maximum publicity), it seems that the police need to be wary about being used for political gestures in this borough. mdj
  • Score: 0

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