Peterborough Public Servants Avoid the Public

Andy Coles protest 24 January 2018
Andy Coles protest, 24 January 2018

Peterborough City Council are continuing to ban the public from council meetings.

In July 2017’s council meeting there was protest from the public gallery about Councillor Andy Coles, after it had been revealed that Coles had violated human rights and sexually abused women whilst an undercover police officer in the 1990s.

Protesters hung a banner made by Jessica, who was a teenager when Coles had groomed her into a sexual relationship. They refused to remove it whilst Coles was present and, when he refused to leave, the meeting was abandoned.

The meeting was rescheduled for a week later, when the public were barred from the meeting. Citizens arrived at the Town Hall at the next meeting in October to find they were excluded again.

In December, council leader John Holdich OBE revealed that it had cost the council £3,000 to bar the public in July and October. There is no estimate for what the continued exclusion will cost, nor the cost of the proposed screens, but they don’t seem to care about that, nor the democratic principle invovled.

Holdich explained

‘First and foremost, Council meetings are meetings that are held in public; they are not public meetings’

It’s an odd position for a paid public servant to take regarding the public sitting in the public gallery of a building built and maintained at public expense for public adminstration and benefit.

Either way, Peterborough council will not be meetings held in public for the foreseeable future. This week, the public were once again excluded from the public gallery and we learned the council is considering installing solid barriers due to

‘concerns around disruption and safety’

It’s fair to assume the disruption is fear of protest over the presence of Andy Coles (though the July protesters agreed to be silent, only insisting on the banner staying if Coles did not leave).

But safety? What physical risk is posed by people being in the public gallery, and to whom? This is plainly a smear against those who protest about Coles, an underhand ruse to shield him from those who would hold him accountable.

This desperate and transparent nonsense is consistent with the Council’s assertion that it is ‘offensive’ to ask if councillors who are found to have committed acts of sexual abuse should be expected to resign.

Undeterred, protesters were outside the Town Hall ahead of the council meeting on Wednesday, distributing leaflets and talking to people about Coles. It was heartening to receive support from a growing number of councillors who stopped to chat before entring the building.

We will be at every Peterborough City Council meeting until Andy Coles goes. Join us at the Town Hall on Wednesday 7 March.

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