Labour-run Warrington Borough Council has reported a Remembrance Sunday gathering to the police, saying that it breached Covid restrictions. The council had cancelled their official event following the lockdown announcement, but 'up to 300' people gathered at the town's cenotaph anyway. Several police officers were present at Sunday's gathering and an officer was pictured standing between two local Conservative politicians during what appears to have been a spontaneous event.
|A police officer was flanked by the Tory MP for Warrington South and the|
chairwoman of Warrington Conservatives
Further undermining the council's decision was the presence of its two most senior figures, both of whom insisted they had no prior knowledge of any 'event'. Cllr Cathy Mitchell, deputy leader of the council, said she had gone there to lay a wreath on behalf of her local parish council. Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden claimed that he 'just happened to be walking past': "I was out for a walk, I intended to stop and have two minutes of silence wherever I was and I thought well if the Cenotaph is clear then I’ll do it there. I crossed over the road to find out what’s going on and saw Cathy [Cllr Mitchell] there. In all my time there, I wasn’t intending to participate in an event that I wasn’t invited to".
Cllr Bowden told the Warrington Guardian that he had contacted council colleagues in order to ascertain how the 'event' had come to pass. A council spokesperson later confirmed that it had reported the gathering to the Cheshire Constabulary, despite the presence of its own leader and deputy leader.
The Liberal Democrats lashed out at both Labour and the Tories, and also mocked the absurdity of the police probe. Cllr Bob Barr said he and his party colleagues had stayed away as instructed by the council: "Despite requests from the council for people not to attend the Cenotaph, the two most senior Conservatives in Warrington were present, although not formally invited. The Labour deputy leader of the council laid a wreath as the council leader watched with members of the public. Another example of one rule for some politicians and another for everyone else. The council has now asked the police to review the event despite a police presence there".
It appears that this will be a complete waste of police time given that there appears to be no evidence that the gathering had been pre-planned and merely occurred thanks to so many people arriving of their own volition. In any case, at 10:08 that morning Warrington Borough Council contradicted its own advice with social media posts showing the town's Labour mayor laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. A series of photos on Facebook and Twitter were accompanied by the caption: "Cllr Maureen Creaghan has honoured the fallen by laying a wreath at the Cenotaph". Local people may have interpreted this as confirmation that an official event was taking place after all. It could well transpire that the council itself is inadvertently to blame for so many people spontaneously showing up at Warrington Cenotaph.
The two leading Conservatives who were present both say they had merely gone there to lay wreaths, as had a representative of Cheshire Constabulary. Warrington South MP Andy Carter released a statement: "Specific exemptions were made by the Government to allow for open air, socially distanced Remembrance Sunday wreath laying. I placed a wreath at the Cenotaph yesterday morning in my capacity as the Member of Parliament on behalf of my Warrington South constituents, a number of other individuals and organisations, including Cheshire Police did the same". His colleague Wendy Maisey OBE added: "I am from a military family, my parents were both in the Royal Signals. I lay a wreath each year at the Cenotaph, I checked the Government guidelines in detail before making the decision to lay a wreath this year".
A veteran who also attended said he had no idea so many others would be present. Lt Col Les Taylor-Duff told the Warrington Worldwide blog: "Everyone else just turned up randomly, but social distancing was maintained. I saw the MP and others, but no arrangements had been made to meet - people just turned up to pay their respects in a public place. At the end of proceedings, the police actually came over and said thank you. I am angry and upset that the council has instigated a police investigation and that politics has got involved at a time when we are honouring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, so others can enjoy freedom".
A petition has since been set up calling on the leader of the council to resign. After all, regardless of what he claims about the gathering - he was there himself!