Wednesday’s meeting of Peterborough City Council went ahead but only after thousands was spent on security guards to keep protesters outside the council chamber.
The previous week, a protest was held outside the town hall demanding the removal of councillor Andy Coles, who as Andy “Van” Davey infiltrated the animal rights movement from 1991-95.
The meeting was suspended after activists hung a banner saying “Human rights abuser Andy Coles” in the public gallery and jeered at Coles who was in the chamber. On local radio the following day council leader, John Holditch, said the gallery would be closed to the public for the next meeting and that’s exactly what happened. A separate room was set aside where coverage of the meeting was live streamed to television.
But it didn’t stop there. According to the Peterborough Telegraph website, the council paid over £1500 to a private security firm, PPL, whose employees patrolled the premises, in addition there were extra police officers on duty: “Due to the tight security, parts of the Town Hall were cordoned off with a security guard even standing in front of a toilet on the first floor.Several police officers were present all evening for the meeting which began at 7pm and lasted approximately two-and-a-half hours.”
The decision was taken by Mayor Fox, himself a former police officer for 23 years, on the basis of “information from officers and the police” of the likelihood of “a similar protest at the reconvened meeting… on a larger scale. I believe that there is a strong possibility that the demonstration will be equally, or perhaps even more disruptive.” The protest outside went ahead anyway and was well attended.
Clearly the ruling Conservative Party, of which Coles is a councillor, wasn’t taking any chances. Ever since the scandal broke, the ex-spycop has received unqualified support from his party. After he had to resign as Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner in May, Tory leader Holditch went on record on record as saying: ““Cllr Coles I have found is a man of great integrity and maintains my full confidence. We owe a lot to men and women who work undercover to keep us safe.”
The council even went as far as circulating a leaflet entitled Legal position regarding Councillor attending full council which stated:
Cllr Andy Coles has been elected city councillor since May 2015. Cllr Coles is not currently a member of any committee.
As is the case with all democratically elected councillors he is entitled as of right to attend all meetings of full council. There is no power for officers or members to remove that right.
No allegations have been proven. Whilst the allegations are very public, they remain just that, allegations and in law, allegations are not to be taken as evidence of guilt.
Group discipline doesn’t impact on a democratically elected councillor’s right to attend full meetings of council.
Thus is not true. Councillors can and should be suspended when accused of gross misconduct in public office, no matter how long ago it occurred. If a woman had said Coles raped her while working for the police force, this would no doubt have happened immediately.
Let’s be clear about this. While undercover Coles deceived a 19 year old activist named Jessica (not her real name) into a longterm, intimate relationship. She feels groomed by him because he lied to her about his age, claiming to be 24 when he was really 32 and married. Other women have come forward to say he behaved inappropriately towards them.
These aren’t empty allegations, there is a wealth of evidence to support them. Coles, it is said, belonged to the secret unit called the Special Demonstrations Squad, which was also home to spycops like Bob Lambert, John Dines and Jim Boyling. In 2015 the assistant commissioner of the Met, Martin Hewitt, gave an unreserved apology and stated:
“Thanks in large part to the courage and tenacity of these women in bringing these matters to light it has become apparent that some officers, acting undercover whilst seeking to infiltrate protest groups, entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships with women which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong.
I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma. I unreservedly apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service.”
Coles has had ample opportunity to deny that he was an undercover police officer, yet has refused to do so. In fact his younger brother, Richard, admitted it and even wrote about it in his biography. So it’s not hard to understand why he has not refuted the accusations – they are simply true.
Coles has chosen to hide behind his own silence, hoping in time this will all blow over. Hold itch, who is clearly backing him, added: “You are innocent until you are proven guilty. Unfortunately Cllr Coles is not allowed to speak for himself because the Met have told him he must not say anything and he is obeying that.”
We don’t know whether Coles actually said that or Holditch made it up himself. Several ex-spycops,however, have gone on record. Bob Lambert even wrote about it in the Guardian. There is nothing stopping Coles coming out and making a statement if he so wishes. The fact he has chosen to say nothing says everything.
The council might be able to call in the heavies to keep protesters out of one meeting but that won’t solve the problem. Full council meetings are supposed to take place regularly – are they really going to turn the town hall into a ghost town on each occasion? It won’t look good for them if they do and meanwhile on the ground events are gathering pace.
Labour has called for Coles’ suspension as has the Green parliamentary candidate for Peterborough, Fiona Radic, in her blog:
Please suspend Cllr Andy Coles. It is reasonable that he is suspended. It is not decent, fair or reasonable that he stays in post while Jessica’s allegations of dreadful behaviour (amounting to state sanctioned rape) remain unresolvedI believe that the Conservative Party is the only body able to suspend a Conservative Councillor who won’t resign.
The Tories have a majority of just one and by elections are in the offing. Activists say they will get involved in local campaigning and raise the issue of Coles’ past and his party’s refusal to suspend him. This could become a highly contentious issue and come back to haunt Cllr Holditch and Mayor (himself an ex policeman) Cllr John Fox.
This scandal is going to run and run, no matter what the Tories would have us believe. They are storing up a whole heap of trouble. Best thing they can do is suspend Coles now.