CAMPAIGNERS from the newly-formed Waltham Forest Anti-Cuts Union have criticised council staff for taking photographs of its members as they tried to hand out leaflets in Walthamstow Town Square.

The group, made up of a variety of left-wing activists, union members and even a Labour councillor, have said they will make a formal complaint after an enforcement officer tried to stop their activities during a protest on Saturday (August 14).

The council introduced a new policy in April banning anyone from setting up stalls in the square without first asking for written permission up to seven days in advance.

So far no-one has been fined for breaching the rules, but activists now fear they could be the first to be prosecuted as they put up several tables during their demonstration.

Nancy Taaffe, co-ordinator of the anti-cuts union, said she believed Saturday's events were more about the council trying to clamp-down on dissent over funding reductions than about public safety.

She said: “I'm very upset about it. I've been giving out leaflets in the square for 20 years and I think it's an important part of local democracy that people can make their voices heard.

“We were in the square just handing out leaflets when a council enforcement officer came across and said that we didn't have permission to be standing where we were.

“We didn't move so he started to take photographs of us all. With us we even had councillor Gerry Lyons, who is against the Government's cuts, but that didn't stop him. There was a bit of a stand off but we weren't put off.

“We were trying to make our voices heard but this was an intrusive attack on our democratic rights. We're not going to go anywhere and we will be back.”

A council spokesman said it was common practice for people to be photographed in the town square “if their permission to set up stall there is called into question.”

At the launch of the policy, cabinet member Cllr Afzal Akram said permission for stalls would only be denied if the council believed campaigners might break laws such as inciting racial hatred.

The council has always denied that the policy is designed to restrict free speech.

Cllr Akram, and Cllr Clyde Loakes, who is now the cabinet member responsible for the policy, both declined to comment.

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