Redbridge Council leader accuses long-time health campaigner of 'spreading lies' - then retracts comment
PUBLISHED: 16:48 14 June 2019 | UPDATED: 17:30 14 June 2019
A council leader has retracted comments in which he told colleagues a long-serving health campaigner was "spreading lies".
Andy Walker has campaigned for years to protect the Accident and Emergency Department at King George Hospital in Ilford, despite repeated reassurances from hospital managers and the council that it is not under threat.
He recently sent Redbridge Council a subject access request, asking for all data, including internal correspondence, that it held about him.
The request revealed an email from Redbridge Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal to all Labour councillors on March 28.
It read: "Mr Walker has a history of spreading lies and fear in an attempt to gain votes.
"He is no friend of the Labour Party and I would recommend branches do not accept requests from Mr Walker or his associates to speak at meetings.
"Andy Walker has started up a campaign spreading misinformation and frightening residents and it is our responsibility as councillors to counteract his fear-mongering and reassure our residents."
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Andy Walker believes this led to him being "completely ignored" when he asked for councillors' support at a meeting.
He appealed to Labour and Conservative councillors at a meeting to discuss what Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust planned to do with money it was seeking.
He said: "Cllr Athwal has branded me a liar, so it reasonable to assume that his email to Labour councillors may have been a factor in them completely ignoring me when I asked for their help.
"It is important Cllr Athwal retracts his claim by writing to councillors to correct his error so I get a fair hearing in future."
Cllr Athwal retracted the comments at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (June 11).
Speaking to the Recorder, Cllr Athwal said he agreed to change the wording from 'lies' to 'misinformation' at the meeting.
"I don't want to offend him, but I won't apologise for what I believe in," he said. "Despite reassurances from MPs, myself, the hospital trust itself, he still maintains that the A&E is under threat, which is just not true. There are no plans to close it.
"For me to keep the A&E open is of paramount concern to me. We have been fighting for it for the last 20 years. Now we have won the battle, he still adamant that it's closing.
"He is not helping because he is scare-mongering staff and residents. It's having an adverse effect on hospital morale and staff retention at King George Hospital."