Peterborough council hits out at Willow Festival organiser’s ‘abusive behaviour’

The Willow Festival

The Willow Festival

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The organiser of the Willow Festival has been accused of “abusive behaviour” by Peterborough City Council which claims it has had to bail him out in the past.

The council has publicly hit back at Mark Ringer in their ongoing dispute and claimed its involvement in previous years had stopped the police from closing down the festival at the last minute and put £100,000 into the event in 2012/2013.

The authority has stopped the three-day music extravaganza from running at the Embankment in July due to what it says is the non-payment of a £4,500 fee to hire the land, a point disputed by Mr Ringer who says the council is refusing to accept the money as it does not want the festival to go ahead.

In a letter to councillors, which was also forwarded by the council to the Peterborough Telegraph, Councillor Janet Goodwin, cabinet member for city centre management, culture and tourism, made a series of accusations against Mr Ringer.

These include:

* That “in 2012, it was discovered an hour before the event was due to open that the security cover was inadequate. The police objected to the opening of the event with this inadequate coverage. The council immediately stepped in and arranged for more security cover at the council’s expense to ensure the event opened safely.”

* That “in 2012, Mr Ringer failed to employ a competent noise consultant which was his responsibility (he actually employed a DJ with no experience or qualifications in this field) so the council, at its own expense, stepped in at the last minute and employed a noise consultant to ensure the event could open on time.”

* That “in 2013 on the day before the event was due to open, the police threatened to demand a review of the licence due to insufficient security cover for the event which was in conflict with the numbers promised in the plan submitted by Mr Ringer to the Safety Advisory Group who oversee the safety of the event. At this point Mr Ringer irresponsibly walked off site and said he had cancelled the event, leaving the businesses and concessions uncertain about their position. The Chief Executive, Annette Joyce, Mr Ringer and Mr Ringer’s business partner met the next day, as a matter of urgency, and the council agreed to pay £10,000 to employ extra security cover.”

* That “in 2014, on the Sunday there was an issue with the safety of one of the stages. The Chief Executive and Annette Joyce, Services Director, were called by the police to the site because Mr Ringer’s safety officer could not be found and Mr Ringer declined to give the police the safety officer’s telephone number. The Chief Executive and Annette Joyce refused to leave the site until a proper evaluation of the structural integrity of the stage was completed by the stage crew and the stage was therefore deemed to be safe.”

* That “later on the same Sunday in 2014, the police called the Chief Executive and Annette Joyce back to the site. In addition the Silver Police Commander from Bedfordshire Police also attended the site as the security team were threatening to leave the event as they had not been paid. A decision was required as to whether to close the event. After some negotiation it is understood that a partial payment was made to the security firm and the security cover continued.”

Councillor Janet Goodwin concluded: “Aside from the safety concerns and the considerable efforts made by the council to secure this event with a considerable financial contribution, Mr Ringer’s abusive behaviour has not created the kind of trusting and respectful such as these a success as well as safe for families and children to attend.”

A furious Mr Ringer, who had just read the letter to councillors, said he would consider legal action against the council for misrepresentation.

He stated: “It’s an absolute disgrace, I can’t believe it. It’s just a whole load of fabrications and I’m totally stunned they sent it.

“I’m writing to councillors now saying I strongly disagree with the letter.”

Mr Ringer also hit back at an accusation in the letter of “abusive behaviour,” and he said he had provided £10,000 to tackle the shortage of security in 2012.

He added: “If these things had not been met at any point, this event could not have been run. This letter has been done to stop councillors from supporting us.”

Conversely, event organiser Mark Ringer has said he will release email correspondence with council officials to generate sympathy from councillors and the public.

He has also called for the resignations of council leader Councillor John Holdich and Annette Joyce, the council’s service director: city services and communications.

Mr Ringer said: “We are putting a report together so we can show councillors what is being said by their department is incorrect. We will also make it public.”

Mr Ringer also suggested he will go to governmental organisations to force the council to relent on its decision not to hire out the Embankment.

He added: “The council can say whatever it likes, but it works for the benefit of the public and what they are doing is in nobody’s benefit. There are other organisations above the council and we will send the report to them.”

Mr Ringer said he had tried to pay the money asked by the council to use the Embankment but that it was refused.

The council said it would not respond to Mr Ringer’s call for resignations, and it wrote on its website that residents with queries should contact organisers directly to ask why they have not paid the £4,500 hire fee.

The statement added: “It’s a great shame this event isn’t happening but this is solely in the hands of the organisers.”

Mr Ringer said he was still hopeful of the event from July 8 to July 10 going ahead at the Embankment and that he had back-up options. However, he said he could not guarantee that the festival would take place.

The petition, entitled ‘Save The Willow Fest Cambs 2016’, was started by Tanya Collier and by Thursday afternoon had over 230 signatures.

That total had swelled by yesterday to 5,500.