‘No place for hate in Havering’: Protests by far-right group outside Aklu Plaza condemned
- Credit: Michael Cox
The owner of a town centre shopping centre due to open in the new year has expressed his shock at a far-right group’s protest against his business.
Aklu Miah took over the former Debenhams site in Romford’s Market Place in May and last week offered customers a first taste of Aklu Plaza with a seven-day fish mela.
Over the weekend, however, his business was subject to protests by Patriotic Alternative, a far-right activist group which opposes the new mall.
The group posted photographs to social media of 10 protesters holding banners in front of the shopping centre, as well as outside Havering Town Hall, Romford War Memorial and the constituency office of Romford's MP Andrew Rosindell.
The post described Aklu Plaza as a “non-European” mall and noted its plan to include a prayer room on its second floor.
Mr Miah told the Recorder he had not been aware of the protest and asked: “What have I done wrong? I’ve just opened a shop.
"I’m not a racist at all, I love everybody, I don’t know what I’ve done wrong."
Havering Council leader Cllr Damian White condemned the protesters.
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“This kind of protest is unacceptable and we were not aware they were taking place,” he said, slamming the messages as deliberately "driving a wedge between our communities".
“We will never be party to or support such behaviour. We are proud to have a vibrant mix of communities who have supported this nation through war and peace. To say otherwise shows how out of touch this group are.
“We will always challenge and repel any type of racism and discrimination in our borough. There is no place for hate in Havering.”
The borough was recently named by charity Hope Not Hate as one of 52 local authority areas where the risk of far-right extremism had been “heightened” by Covid-19.
The charity, which aims to expose and oppose far-right extremism, said the areas named in its report had less long-term capacity to recover from economic shocks along with “more hostile than average” attitudes to multiculturalism.
David Taylor, press officer for Romford Conservative Association, described the protesters as “sick”, highlighting their decision to protest outside the town’s war memorial.
He said: “Not only are they trying to politicise the dead, but they are showing their ignorance.
“The group (Patriotic Alternative) is headed by a guy who appeared on Channel 4’s ‘Young, Nazi and Proud’. He has openly praised Hitler.
“I can think of nothing less patriotic than supporting the Nazis who caused so much devastation to our country.”
Mr Taylor noted residents had raised some issues regarding Aklu Plaza and said he had contacted their management to “seek urgent assurances”.
“We want Aklu Plaza to succeed," he said.
“By using the old Debenhams, the store operators have the largest and most important retail site in Romford. What they do there will set the tone for the whole town-centre.”
The proposed mall will have a Home Superstore on the ground floor, with 20 to 25 retail outlets and a food court operating on the first floor.
Its second floor will be reserved for homeware, a children’s play area and a prayer room.
A Shadwell resident, Mr Miah said he hoped the new shopping centre would help revive Romford’s town centre.
He said: “I really like Romford, it’s got a lot to offer; I think it’s a great place.
“A few individuals are just making things hard - I don’t know what they want honestly.”
Mr Miah had hoped to open the mall’s “flagship” brand – Home Superstore – before Christmas, but its opening date has been pushed back to early 2022.
He said last week’s fish mela featured just 30 per cent of the store’s full stock.
“When I’ve got everything in there I'm sure all the local people will like it as well, it will have products they want,” he said.
“Because now, it’s a little bit different; the locals maybe won’t understand what is going on.”