Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum by Irvin Leisure (TF 26(a))

  Please find below a briefing note on the present position with police in London which is giving considerable concern across our industry. I have focused initially on the police in Southwark, but then drawn similarities with other areas.

  Southwark Park is a large open space just south of the Rotherhithe Tunnel in the Bermondsey constituency of the London Borough of Southwark. It has been the venue for funfairs for at least 50 years, and for the past 10 our company has run fairs each Spring. These have always been most popular and well attended. There had been a history of racial and social tension as this was part of the old Docklands area, and obviously during the 80s there was high unemployment. Given that this was a predominantly white area, the National Front and other extreme groups tried to exploit this unemployment and there were very few black families at that stage, who felt isolated.

  There were also difficulties between the Labour Council in Southwark and the London Docklands Development Corporation, and because local people felt they were getting nothing from the Council the Liberal Party won a high profile by-election when Simon Hughes was elected, and since then the Liberals have a stronghold in this area on the local authority.

  The racial tension continued from time to time, and the Council's housing policy was not popular in the area. There were attacks on black families, and in Spring 1997 there was one such attack while the fair was in Southwark Park when two Somali boys were stabbed. After this the Council suspended all funfairs for a period of four months while they investigated whether the fair had in any way caused this incident. The Council report completely cleared the Fair of any responsibility at all and concluded that this attack would have taken place whether or not the fair was present. The suspension on fairs was lifted.

  Unfortunately, this suspension gave local residents who always object to fairs an excuse to seek to stop them. The Council resolved that all fairs would have to be cleared by residents groups, and frankly it is impossible to get unanimous agreement from everyone for any fair in any area, someone will always object. The Council then resolved that the only fairs in parks would coincide with events as a compromise.

  Since then we have operated in May and June to coincide with the Bermondsey Carnival in Southwark Park. We open for six days, with the Carnival being on the final weekend of our stay. We have run this for three years with no difficulties or incidents, and the Council then decided to reintroduce the Spring Fair, to go alongside the London Marathon. We were therefore booked into the park from Thursday April 6 to Sunday April 16. We liaised with the local police who told us that there had been for six months a series of serious incidents in the area. We therefore agreed with them to increase our stewards, the Council provided two full time staff at the fair, and the police were to maintain a presence in the area. These problems were based on local schools.

  On the Friday evening, 7 April, in the local streets, a young black youth was attacked. This did not happen at the fair but in the area. The police told us to watch for any attempted retaliation, but the Saturday was incident free. Then on Sunday evening, at 6 pm, the police told us that there had been a serious stabbing and a number of other attacks in the Park away from the Fair and asked if we could close. We did so for the evening and a meeting was called for the following day.

  At this meeting the Senior Police Officer for the area stated that he wanted the Fair to close for the rest of the week, but after discussion agreed that we should close for two nights, then re-open each evening until 8 pm. There would be increased stewards and increased Council presence, paid for by us. It was agreed that this would ensure that local families would not be affected by this attack and that normality should prevail.

  After that meeting the police liaised with Simon Hughes MP, following which they completely reversed their decision and after we opened Wednesday and Thursday, without any problems, they informed us that their "intelligence" suggested that there would potentially be problems again and that we must close, apart from the short period when the London Marathon took place. Commercially this was a disaster for us, and despite the repeated statements from the police that we were not to blame, that we had controlled our operation, and that this was a local problem, close we did. However it was agreed that the Funfair for the Bermondsey Carnival in June could return as normal.

  We were not surprised, being perhaps cynical, that there were no problems over that period in the area and we are very dubious about this "intelligence" information, the basis for it being from the residents who consistently oppose the fair and any other entertainment in the park, being from the old National Front blocks.

  On Friday 28 April there was a meeting between ourselves, the Council and the Police over the Bermondsey Event, and it was agreed that the fair would open from the School Holiday Wednesday, 31 May, until 2 June. All arrangements were put into hand for this. The Police were represented again at senior level, by the local police station Officer responsible for the event. The Police have known about this event for 12 months as it was fixed in 1999.

  However yesterday we were notified by Southwark Council that the Police have once again said that the Fair cannot take place apart from the Carnival Weekend and the Charity night on the Monday. This stops the entire half term holiday fair, which has been a local tradition in the area for years.

  It is clear that there are local tensions, but that the Police, and the local MP, are using the fair as an excuse for not solving the real problems. They need to be seen to be doing something, and banning the fair is doing something even if not anything actually useful. The following are the results:

       1.  Local people are deprived of a fun family activity, and the fact that they are told they cannot enjoy this normal pleasure is surely making them feel in fear, it is raising the tension. Shades of whipping up the press about crime again.

       2.  The local thugs carry out their assaults without being arrested, and meanwhile dictate the local leisure programme.

       3.  Showmen are deprived of their living. They all lost vast sums in April, and now cannot work during the important school holiday week.

       4.  Fairground people are portrayed as being the cause of this problem. The fair is banned, therefore there is clearly a problem with the Fair. This stigmatises us directly.

  Unfortunately this is not an isolated example. In all areas of London the Police are now reluctant to attend. We always ask them to visit the fair and be seen, to give an indication of their presence. We ask them to liaise with us, and work with us. One Police Officer actually articulated this when he said "we are short of resources, and we can use you as a lever to get more. If we stop you opening, the authorities will have to give us more money so that you can open".

  Funfairs all over the country will be effected by this. Fairs are easy targets for this type of approach as we are seen as nomadic and not legitimate by prejudiced police officers. Where London leads the rest will follow.

George Irvin

May 2000

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 5 June 2000