The decision to postpone a Peterborough City Council meeting due to protests in the public gallery has been described as a capitulation.
Former council leader and mayor Cllr John Peach, Conservative member for Park ward, said the protesters should have been arrested by police so the meeting tonight (Wednesday, July 19) could have continued.
Mayor of Peterborough Cllr John Fox adjourned the meeting for a week due to shouting and the displaying of banners against Cllr Andy Coles, the former deputy police and crime commissioner for the county who resigned from the role following the screening of a Channel 4 investigation which claimed he had a relationship with a young activist while working as an undercover officer.
The Channel 4 programme, screened on Friday May 12, centred on an investigation into the activities of undercover police officers in the 1990s who infiltrated a group of animal rights activists. The programme interviewed a woman who is taking legal action against Met Police and her allegations against Cllr Coles.
The protesters want Conservative Cllr Coles to resign from his role representing residents of Fletton and Woodston.
Cllr Peach said: “I believe it’s against Section 5 of the Public Disorder Act which is an arrestable offence. The police should have arrested them so the meeting could have continued.
“We should not have capitulated to mob rule.”
Cllr Coles was approached by the Peterborough Telegraph for his views straight after the meeting, as he congregated with councillors in the Mayor’s Parlour.
He said he was not allowed to comment.
The protests, organised by COPS (Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance), began outside Peterborough Town Hall before carrying on inside.
The mayor told the protesters to be quiet before ordering the public gallery to be emptied.
What followed was then a stand off for more than 30 minutes with police acting as mediators and passing on messages between senior councillors and the protesters.
In the end, Cllr Fox returned to the council chamber at around 8pm to announce the postponement of the meeting as the protesters would not take down a banner from the gallery unless Cllr Coles left the meeting.
The mayor’s announcement was greeted with chants of “shame on you” directed at Cllr Coles.
Council leader Cllr John Holdich has now agreed to meet with two or three representatives from COPS.
Following the adjournment of the meeting he said: “I do not think we had any option - they would not behave themselves. You can give into mob rule but that does not help anyone.
“They are claiming they want justice. Well justice in my opinion is when you are found guilty.
“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.”
Labour group leader Cllr Ed Murphy said: “It’s a shame we did not manage to do our business. There were really important motions about Peterborough’s future.”
Asked if the postponement was the right decision, he replied: “Rather than remove people for legitimate protest? Yes.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford said: “I think it’s always unfortunate when a democratic meeting has to be adjourned. The council was in a position where we did not have any sort of option.
“There were people who were there disrupting the meeting and displayed a banner that was offensive.”
Cllr John Whitby, of UKIP, said: “I would rather the decision have been to throw them out of the building, but that would have been difficult.
“I accept people have the right to protest, which they were doing outside, but to take a stance where they were totally disrupting and making allegations that can’t be answered is completely unacceptable.
“I for one would not agree to bow to demands to remove an elected councillor.”
Councillors were due to discuss the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposal to take over the governance of the county’s service and a motion for a bridge at Fletton Quays, among other agenda items.
A new interim chief finance officer was also set to be approved.