Redbridge Police moved in to protect school pupils but admit failings over sleeping bag incident

PUBLISHED: 17:21 29 May 2013 | UPDATED: 17:44 29 May 2013

A police photo taken during the operation shows an old gym mattress and rubbish

A police photo taken during the operation shows an old gym mattress and rubbish


Redbridge police this week revealed more details of an operation which led to them being accused of confiscating sleeping bags from rough sleepers and admitted their response to complaints could have been better.

Editor’s comment

The Facebook and Twitter reaction to our front page story last week about the police operation focusing on rough sleepers was unprecedented and astonishing. The tens of thousands of people who registered their concern indicated the strength of feeling over the treatment of homeless people.

The reaction sparked a statement on Friday from borough commander Det Ch Supt Sue Williams denying the claims and implied the Recorder had reported the story incorrectly. I am pleased Mrs Williams has admitted “slow communication” in response to our inquiry had meant we were forced to publish the story without having the full details of the police position.

I want to assure our readers that the Recorder went to great lengths to clarify the facts of the incident before going to press and that is our policy on all articles.

Our meeting with the police on Tuesday ironed out some misunderstandings and we will maintain our excellent relationship with our borough police, who, we are now aware, take the issue of rough sleepers seriously and humanely. Indeed reporter Amanda Nunn has been invited to go out with the town centre safer neighbourhood team to see the tactics used to deal with the problem.

It is, however, shameful in 21st century Britain that we all preside over a situation where a handful of people seek shelter in shop doorways and derelict buildings in conditions more akin to the 19th century. The Recorder will work with the police and all the agencies concerned to attempt to solve this human crisis that has been a stain on this borough for some years.

A meeting was called on Tuesday between borough commander Det Ch Supt Sue Williams and Recorder editor Chris Carter following a storm of protest after last week’s front page article and web story.

Also at the meeting was Ch Insp for Safer Neighbourhoods John Fish and Sgt Jake Sutton – who led the operation involving three areas used by homeless people – plus news editor Zjan Shirinian and reporter Amanda Nunn.

The Recorder had reported claims by charities that items were taken by police from homeless people.

The police response from Mr Fish failed to deny the claims, but after social media networks were inundated with comments Mrs Williams issued a statement insisting her officers had not confiscated any items.

She said at the meeting that “in hindsight” someone from one of the charities should have been asked to attend and communication should have been better.

She said: “We should have had someone from the outreach team – it would have been beneficial to us, we recognise in hindsight.”

And yesterday (Wednesday) Mrs Williams added: “I understand the public interest regarding the Ilford Recorder article. While I stand by my statement released on Friday, we have been slow to react to press inquiries and the concerns raised as a result of police activity – this led to the Recorder’s article not fully representing our position.

“As a result we will be reviewing our multi-agency strategy and how we work with the voluntary services, as part of our response to the homeless community.”

Clementswood and Ilford Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Team Sgt Sutton said that his team went to the baths after a request from the Isaac Newton Academy, Cricklefield Place, off High Road, Ilford.

He said: “The school said there was lots of rubbish and drugs paraphernalia. The school and MP Mike Gapes were putting a lot of pressure on us to do something.

“The two people there were given ample opportunity to take their belongings. The rest was rubbish which didn’t belong to anybody.”

They also visited St Mary’s Church cemetery, High Road, Ilford, where there were temporary structures, followed by speaking to a woman in a shop doorway.

Rita Chadha, from the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London (Ramfel), High Road, Ilford, said: “We thank the police for their communication even if it is via the media. We stand by what our clients told us and we have no reason to disbelieve them.”

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