|Photo: Simon Shaw|
The council's "Newham Live" events take place in Central Park and Stratford Park, offering the chance, the council says, "to watch all the live action from the Olympic and Paralympic Games on two giant screens". It claims that "all events are free and open entry" but those attending are searched before they enter and there have been complaints this weekend that there are no female security staff at Stratford Park. Notices outside also say that by entering the park, the public agree to be photographed, ostensibly for Newham council's publicity but implying the systematic recording of all those who are attending. Then today, Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) reported that its volunteer Community Legal Observers were banned from entering Stratford Park because the community group's stop and search rights cards are "making it easy for criminals and giving them tips".
The idea that providing people with information about their rights is in any way a threat to public order or likely to cause criminality is, of course, utterly ludicrous. It is also deeply insulting to local people, whom the council's security evidently look upon with immense distrust, a crowd ready to explode if it discovers that there is no need to provide their names and addresses if they are stopped by the police.
It seems that even the council recognises how ludicrous this is. After NMP made a complaint, the council's Sue Meiners, Head of Events & Sponsorship, Communications Team Policy, Partnerships & Communications (what a job title!) fell back on the catch-all excuse for banning things: anti-social behaviour. She claimed that the rights cards were causing "litter". Bearing in mind that NMP has very limited funds for its work during the Olympics and its volunteers have been asked to hand out rights cards sparingly to those who actually want them, this seems very unlikely. But when NMP's Community Legal Observers generously offered to stop handing out any further cards, they were still asked to leave the park.
There are legitimate reasons for monitoring the police this summer and the role of legal observers is simply to record what they see, not to intervene. One of NMP's aims is that the very presence of legal observers and the scrutiny they provide may help to moderate potentially excessive policing. People who are prepared to give up their spare time in defence of civil liberties should be applauded for their public-spiritedness - dare I say it, their 'resilience' - not barred from entering a public space by Newham's security guards.
The council has yet to respond to the complaint it has received.from NMP. If it wants to avoid the 'Olympic brand' of the council that tried to ban civil rights protection during this summer's Games, it needs to overturn this mean-spirited decision and let NMP's volunteers get on with their important work.
To find out more about Newham Monitoring Project's Community Legal Observer programme, click here.