The Focus E15 table is innocent – release it now!

Newham council and police shut down Focus E15 street stall

On Saturday 5 December, the Focus E15 campaign was holding its weekly street stall in Stratford when police and a council official confiscated the stall table, bundling it into a police van like a person being arrested. This is the reality of the ‘right to protest’ in 2015.

As usual the campaign had been drawing attention to the housing crisis in Newham, a Labour borough in east London, home of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and the second poorest borough in England. Newham has the severest housing need in London and 25% of homes are overcrowded. Thousands of people and families are in temporary accommodation and those that are offered housing are being sent out of borough and out of London. Labour Mayor Robin Wales, who in 1995 talked about ‘making Newham the new Islington’, is pushing ahead with gentrification. Newham is keeping over 400 council homes empty on the Carpenters Estate while luxury apartments are going up everywhere.

With 40 minutes left to go on our weekly stall John Oddie, a Newham Law Enforcement officer, accompanied by several police, approached the stall, in what was obviously a pre-planned operation. They demanded that we pack up immediately or else they would seize our table, banner and sound system, quoting the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (regarding the sound system) and the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 (regarding the banner and table). However, they chose the wrong people to intimidate.

The stall has been there, at the same time and place, every week for over two years. Why, the campaigners demanded to know, was today the day they chose to harass and threaten Focus E15 campaign and its presence on the streets? Could it be because there is renewed resistance to the council after Newham delivered a blow to the Carpenters Estate, closing down the Tenants Management Organisation and changing the locks on the community centre on the estate?

Newham council has borrowed £500m from banks, more than any other local authority, and will end up paying over £1bn back to the banks in the next 60-70 years due to the interest on these huge loans, an act of blatant squandering of public money.

The police were not able to confiscate banners or the sound system, but they did seize the table, bundling it away into a van in an absurd manner like a person being taken to a police station.

The Socialist Workers Party had their stall closed down minutes before ours, on the same pavement.

We will not be intimidated or silenced and we ask for solidarity. Let’s stand together to defend our right to protest.

As the van drove off and the police walked away we were not silenced. Focus E15 campaigners and comrades of east London Revolutionary Communist Group stood with our banner and chanted.

Join us next week, Saturday 12 December,12-2pm on the Broadway, outside Wilkos in Stratford E15.

Together we will defend our space, defend our right to protest and continue to demand that the Carpenters Estate be repopulated.