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29-06-2009

Police Filming

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Mystery surrounds a police decision to film a public meeting of Birmingham Council on Friday night which has prompted fears of Big Brother style surveillance of local government.

Officers equipped with video cameras attended the quarterly ward gathering on Friday, apparently at the request of local councillor Len Gregory - Brum's Cabinet Member for Transport.

It's been claimed that there were fears racist language might be used, although as it was a public meeting there would surely have been witnesses without the need for camera coverage.

The issue was first raised on The Stirrer Forum, where it was claimed members of the British National Party were spreading fear about the conversion of the local Community Centre on Yardley Wood Road into a mosque - although party member and former Billesley candidate Mike Bell has denied this, saying he and his colleagues are simply concerned about the centre's closure.

Conservative councillor Colin Hughes wasn't present at the meeting after his wife gave birth on Wednesday, but he explained some of the background to the story.

"The BNP have become quite active (well noisy really) over the last few months. They are still going round telling people that the old doctors surgery on Yardley Wood Road is going to become a mosque/madrassa. There is little parking there so they are also saying that we (the council) have closed the community centre so we can demolish it and turn it into a carpark for the mosque.

"The truth is that somebody did originally enquire about using the building as a mosque however there is a convenant on the building, placed there originally in 1948 and renewed in 2000, that means the building can only be used as a professional dwelling e.g. doctor's, dentist's or as a private dwelling place. A mosque or education centre does not fit in with the convenant and we (the council) are not going to remove it (we only recently renewed it so why would we - there is very limited parking and lots of closeby neighbours). The building has also recently been vandalised including a having large swastika painted on it.

"The community centre is currently closed because there is a problems with the electrics and so it isn't safe to be used, council officers are talking to the local community group that have the lease on the building exploring costs and options for future community use. There are no plans to demolish it and nor would we as the local councillors allow that.

"So what the BNP are saying is not true (I don't supose that will surprise many on here), they also know it is not true but that doesn't stop them repeating it over and over (again I doubt many of you will be surprised). They also allege that we local councillors are in favour of allowing Severn Trent to build a road across Chinn Brook Recreation Ground to access an underground storage tank (we have now managed to stop Severn Trent from doing this twice, so how that is in favour of them I don't know) but also that we wanted the road so we could open up some of Chinn Brook land to build 200 houses on it. A complete work of fiction on their part but still, what do we all expect from them?

"As to the decision about filming, I wasn't in on it (I was otherwise engaged - see first line) but (to say it delicately) the atmosphere at public meetings (both ward and police) has not been as friendly as we would like (people spreading lies and stirring up fear when none need exist does not help). Local residents have genuine concerns about what is happening in the area, and we are working with residents to tackle them, but the BNP seem to think that they can gain public support by spreading lies around.

"Such is life I suppose when dealing with racist parties."

The Stirrer has attempted to contact Len Gregory without success, and we are awaiting a response from West Midlands Police.

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