Inquiry launched into race relations at Havering Council

Romford Town Hall

An investigation has been launched into race relations at Havering Council, leader Damian White has revealed. - Credit: Archant

An investigation has been launched into race relations at Havering Council, its leader has revealed.

Councillors and staff have been asked to participate in interviews with the Local Government Association (LGA).

Its findings will be published in a report this summer.

The probe follows complaints raised about the borough’s race relations last year, amid global protests over the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer.

Havering Council leader Cllr Damian White said he is "determined that the outcome of this work should be a proactively anti-discrimination council".

Race Relations

In 2018, Havering Conservatives were condemned for distributing an election leaflet described as containing alleged “dog-whistle racism”.

One Tory peer called it “hateful” and accused its authors of “racist signalling”.

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The party, which controls Havering Council, apologised for any unintended offence and withdrew it.

Criticism was reignited two years later as protests swept the globe over George Floyd’s murder.

In June 2020, Labour councillor Tele Lawal called on Havering Council to express more solidarity with the BAME community.

“Where is Havering’s support?” she asked. “Barking and Dagenham decided to put the [town hall] lights up in respect to him. They didn’t have to do that. They chose to do that because they understand the demographic of their community.”

Labour councillor Tele Lawal

Labour councillor Tele Lawal said last year that Havering Council was failing to support minority groups. - Credit: Havering Council

Cllr Lawal added: “I’ve lived in Havering my whole life so I am very much aware of the inequality issues we have.

“I feel that Havering is lagging behind... both with their own workforce and in the community.”

Slavery Links

Weeks later, Cllr Lawal said she would raise “urgent” concerns with the council after it emerged that Havering had several public tributes to slave traders.

In Upminster, two streets and a school were named in tribute to Andrew Branfill, a people trafficker whose reputation for brutality meant he was tasked with keeping “disobedient” slaves in line.

In Harold Hill, a street was named after slave trader Richard Neave, who used his trafficking fortune to buy 1,600 acres of land in Dagnam Park.

Branfil Primary School

A petition was launched to rename Branfil Primary School, as it is named after a brutal slave trader. - Credit: Google Streetview

Student Ryan Easman launched a petition to either change the names or install permanent reminders of the men’s actions.

Cllr White said he was open to changing the names if the public wanted and pledged to commission an independent review of race relations in Havering.

Independent Review

A year later, Mr Easman has told the Recorder he was “sceptical” of Havering’s “commitment and willingness” to affect real change.

“It has now been over a year since the commissioning of the review and there are yet to be any widely published updates or findings, which does call into question how seriously and transparently the council are taking this review,” he said.

When the Recorder asked Cllr White for an update, he revealed the LGA investigation.

“After I made the commitment, the council commissioned the LGA to carry out the independent first phase of the review, which focused on the council itself,” he said.

“We will receive the LGA’s report over the summer and will publish it at a future cabinet meeting, after which work will then begin on developing the council’s response to the review’s recommendations.”

He said a second phase would follow, “looking at the borough and the experience of residents affected by discrimination in general”.

Havering council leader Damian White was secretly recorded earlier this year claiming he had influen

Havering council leader Damian White said an investigation into race relations was underway, starting with a probe into the council itself. - Credit: Mark Sepple / Havering Council

What next?

“I sincerely hope that this review generates real, positive and actionable changes to Havering’s institutions and communities,” said Mr Easman.

He said just renaming tributes to slave traders would be “superficial, performative changes" which would  not address "explicit and structural" problems.

Asked why he believed racism was “rife” in Havering, Mr Easman said: “In terms of explicit racism, one needs to look no further than local community Facebook groups.

“There are regularly either openly racist comments or dog-whistle comments using coded language aimed at all minority groups.

“Thankfully, however, the admins take quick action to remove them, but of course that is just hiding the issue rather than confronting it.”

Student Ryan Easman

Student Ryan Easman said he hoped the review would lead to 'real, positive' changes in Havering. - Credit: Ryan Easman

Cllr White said: “I am determined that the outcome of this work should be a proactively anti-discrimination council in a cohesive and community-focused borough.”