Olympic Town Hall blames 'violent guests' over VIPs barred from council chamber
PUBLISHED: 12:08 10 August 2012 | UPDATED: 15:19 13 August 2012
Town Hall officials have today slammed back at opposition councillors calling for an investigation into why fire-alarms were mysteriously set off which disrupted yesterday’s civic visit by a Bangladesh government minister to Tower Hamlets Olympic ‘host’ borough.
Labour and Tory councillors were already furious over executive Mayor Lutfur Rahman banning use of the council chamber when the alarm rang 15 minutes into the visit by Bangladesh Minister Syed Ashraful Islam. The town hall had to be evacuated with hundreds of VIPs and office staff spilling out onto the street.
Tower Hamlets council has now accused some guests of being “disruptive and abusive” and is insisting the invitation from the council chairman to the Bangladesh government member was “a private meeting.”
A Town Hall statement said: “The fire alarm went off shortly after the guests entered. Some had already been very disruptive and abusive and there have been allegations of threats of violence against our staff.
“We will think carefully before allowing any similar functions in the future.”
Councillors deny there were any threats—but agree many guests were angry when they were kept in the lobby and barred from entering the reception because of overcrowding, which they blamed on the council chamber being locked.
Mr Islam, in London for the 2012 Olympics, had earlier been herded into a side office along with other VIPs because Mayor Rahman had ordered the chamber to be kept locked.
Labour and Tory councillors now want CCTV footage examined to find out if the fire-alarm had been malicious.
Labour’s deputy group leader Motin Uz-Zaman said: “We want to make sure anyone responsible should be reported. It’s totally unacceptable.”
He had earlier asked if he could give the visiting minister a tour of the chamber—but was refused.
Tory group leader Peter Golds said: “Locking up the council chamber was embarrassing and put Tower Hamlets to shame.”
Poplar & Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick, one of the VIP guests locked out of the chamber, said the ban was an insult.
He told the Advertiser: ¨It’s sad when we should be offering the hand of friendship during the Olympics that the mayor decides to withdraw any opportunity to see what Tower Hamlets is all about.
“It’s a big mistake by Lutfur Rahman, whose refusal could be regarded as offending international guests.
“His ban seems perverse, petty and demeans the mayor’s office.”
Council chairman Rajib Ahmed, Tower Hamlets’ First Citizen who had invited Mr Islam, had to hold an impromptu gathering in the street where the Bangladesh minister gave his speech, after the Town Hall near the Blackwall Tunnel was evacuated.
Mr Islam, a member of the ruling Awami League government which heavily defeated the Bangladesh National Party’s Jamaat Islam alliance in the 2009 elections, later went on to a civic reception in Islington—where he was welcomed into the council chamber!