Tower Hamlets Council refuses to disclose how many Palestinian flags it has taken down

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Tower Hamlets Council refuses to disclose how many Palestinian flags it has taken down

In response to a freedom of information request asking how many Palestinian flags it had taken down following complaints by residents Tower Hamlets said disclosure could 'endanger the safety of individuals'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Tower Hamlets
Tower Hamlets

An East London council has refused to answer a freedom of information (FOI) request asking to know how many Palestinian flags they have removed from lamp posts and other public property in the borough on the grounds that to do so could endanger the safety of individuals.

The streets of Tower Hamlets have made newspaper headlines because so many lamp posts and walls in the borough have had Palestinian flags put up on them in response to the October 7th terror attack and Israel’s response in Gaza.

Jewish residents in the borough, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country, have been among those to raise concerns about the impact of the flags on many streets.

The UK Lawyers for Israel organisation have even claimed the council is guilty of “multiple criminal offences” for failing to remove the flags, stickers and posters.

Children in Tower Hamlets attending a protest.

On October 29th a BBC report confirmed some Palestinian flags had removed from lamp-posts on streets in east London after concerns were raised with police, and the council insisted it was also taking them down.

But the situation has changed, and in recent weeks some streets have flags on nearly every lamp post.

In an FOI request seen by Jewish News Tower Hamlets were asked “How many reports/complaints have been made to the council about Palestinian flags on lamp posts and other public property?”Council chiefs were also asked:”How many Palestinian flags has the council removed to date? Will you remove all the flags that get reported to you?”

In a partial response the council confirmed there had been approximately 355 reports/complaints/queries of flags and related paraphernalia on posts and other property.

Tower Hamlets added:”The subject of Palestinian flags and their erection/removal within the borough is a matter of community tension and safety and certain information being released into the public domain is likely to contribute to issues of community safety and tension which could lead to the endangering of individuals.”

They also confirmed “the situation is being continuously monitored by the local authority via mechanisms such as the Tension Monitoring Group” and that  “when a report is received that should evidence the placement of a flag or other such paraphernalia is placing the safety of an individual or individuals at risk, appropriate steps wiwill be taken, including, when necessary, the removal of flags and other paraphernalia.”

But responding the specific question of how many flags had been removed Tower Hamlets admitted:”There is likely a public interest in the middle eastern conflict and the impact it is having on some members of the public which can include knowledge of specific information around flag removal within the borough.”

But they concluded the element against this disclosure was “endangering the safety of any individual.”

One Jewish resident told Jewish News:”Frankly, the situation with Palestinian flags in the borough has got out of control, and those in power should have acted over this issue weeks ago. 

“I would say exactly the same thing if there were Israeli flags lining our streets as well. The failure of the council to even disclose how many flags they have taken down, will now only serve to make the situation worse.

“Living in a thriving multi-cultural borough, which Tower Hamlets often can be, depends on our leaders making and taking important decisions like this. Using the excuse that personal safety is being put at risk, is the number of lags being taken down was disclosed is, quite frankly, a pathetic one.”

Last month the government  ordered a best value inspection at Tower Hamlets, encompassing leadership, governance, organisational culture, use of resources and impact on service delivery.

Kim Bromley-Derry, a former chief executive of the London Borough of Newham, will act as the Lead Inspector. It is the second time the borough has been the subject of an inspection. 
Current Mayor Lutfur Rahman was also in the same post during the time of the 2014 best value inspection.

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