A campaigner described the spat as ‘childish’ but today Lambeth Council suggested police could be involved in future meetings as tensions between library protestors and councillors hit an all-time low.
What began in March as candle-lit vigil in Carnegie and Minet libraries, earmarked for closure or conversion into privately-run gyms, has descended into bitter recriminations and accusations of bad behaviour on both sides.
The Labour-majority council, without explicitly naming the Friends of Lambeth Libraries group, said a ‘small hardcore group’ had disrupted meetings with aggressive behaviour and lead the council to review access and security at meetings.
The statement said: “During the latest incident, councillors and council officers faced aggression from a small number of protestors not only during the meeting but as they left and on their journeys home.
“One planning officer was followed onto a bus, heckled and subsequently had to disembark and get a taxi home.
“In May a full council meeting had to be abandoned after repeated shouting and aggressive behaviour prohibited any meaningful discussion.
“There have been incidents of glitter being thrown directly into a council officer’s face, plastic eyes being thrown at councillors with intimidating chants of ‘we’re watching you’ and repeated abusive and threatening language.”
The meeting in May was abandoned but protestors say it was the councillors who refused to engage with protestors who had been denied the opportunity to bring a deputation (a form of public lobbying made by groups with concerns to present to the council).
Laura Swaffield, chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries, denied there had been any intimidation or aggression at the meetings and said she hadn’t seen protestors throwing glitter or plastic eyeballs.
Regarding the May meeting, she said: “We were told there had been no development regarding the library and so could not bring a deputation.
“When it came to the portion of the meeting for deputations I walked to the front of the meeting saying I would like to speak.
“The councillors shouted to make sure I was not heard.
“I think they decided in the circumstances they would rather junk the rest of the meeting than continue.
“I can’t remember their reaction to any comment or criticism.”
What the council’s suggestion that it would ‘review access’ means remains unclear but Ms Swaffield dismissed the possibility of being denied access to public meetings.
“The council ought to ask itself why this is happening,” she said.
“We are not talking about a ‘small and hardcore’ group, this is hundreds of people representing thousands of residents, and the thousands of people who have signed petitions against the closures.”
Despite the on-going ructions at meetings regarding the future of Lambeth’s 10 libraries, the council did say the vast majority of public meetings were productive and respectful.
They pointed to the planning meeting on the endagered Brixton arches which was ‘peaceful and productive’ despite the police intervening to deal with people standing on chairs shouting.
Ms Swaffield said the meeting had descended into shouting with protestors shouting ‘shame, shame shame’ as councillors ‘ran for it’.
The decision in early 2015 to close libraries across Lambeth to make £10 million worth of cuts came as a shock to residents who said they should be prioritised over £70 million town hall refurbishment.
Due to the refurbishment Lambeth Council meetings have been held in various locations around the borough while meeting with residents over controversial issues such as the demolition of the Cressingham Garden estate.
Leader of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck, said: “It is a very sad state of affairs when public servants are abused simply for doing their job.
“Lambeth is a borough with very strong communities, huge diversity and a high level of political engagement, that is one of the things that makes Lambeth such a special place. Most people coming to public meetings do so to engage and debate peacefully.
“However a small, hardcore mob seem intent on disruptive, aggressive behaviour and it simply will not be tolerated.”
Image of Carnegie Library courtesy of Libraries Taskforce, with thanks