Peterborough Mayor bans public from meetings over spycop councillor protests

Having suspended a chaotic council meeting last week amid noisy protests demanding the resignation of former spycop (and current councillor) Andy Coles, Peterborough Mayor John Fox closed today’s planned meeting to the public entirely today fearing “equally disruptive” actions.

Mayor Fox, who was himself a former police officer with the Cambridge force for 23 years and only retired as a community police officer last year, serves with Mr Coles as a fellow Conservative councillor. In a statement, he said:

Based on information from officers and the police, I feel I have grounds to expect a similar protest at the reconvened meeting on July 26th.  There is no evidence that the circumstances around the protest have changed, if anything it may be on a larger scale. I believe that there is a strong possibility that the demonstration will be equally, or perhaps even more disruptive.

As such, it is with the greatest reluctance that I have taken the decision, under my inherent powers as chairman, to exclude the public from the council chamber and public gallery at the reconvened council meeting. I have come to this view after very carefully weighing up the needs to secure the safety of the public and members, and the need to ensure that the legitimate democratic processes of the council are not further frustrated.  In forming this view I have taken the advice of officers, the police and the council’s legal officer.

Last Wednesday saw a council meeting at Peterborough Town Hall closed after around 30 people demonstrated, talking to councillors and the public, and handing out leaflets detailing Coles’ past as someone who had been involved in activist circles as an undercover police officer. Coles was one of several officers to deceive women into a relationship in the course of their deployment, in his case with a 19-year-old animal rights activist, known as Jessica. In a report, COPs said:

He groomed Jessica for a relationship. He told her he was 24 when he was in fact 32 and already married. When she discovered his true identity in May this year she spoke out, explaining that “Although not legally underage, I feel that my youth and vulnerability were used to target me. I was groomed by someone much older, and far more experienced (he had been an acting police officer for 10 years) and I was manipulated into having a sexual relationship with him.”

The meeting began at 7pm but lasted less than five minutes. People in the public gallery asked why Coles was present when anyone else, so damningly unmasked, would be suspended or – as he has done from the Deputy PCC post – resign.

A banner painted by Jessica herself was hung from the public gallery saying HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSER ANDY COLES. It is not a controversial statement, it merely echoes how his erstwhile employers have described officers like him. The mayor adjourned the meeting and refused to reconvene it until the banner was removed.

The people in the gallery refused to remove the banner until Coles left the building. Jessica, and those like her, have been quiet for too long already. Coles refused to leave and so, after an hour’s standoff, the mayor formally abandoned the meeting. The people in the public gallery left, vowing to return next week and bring their friends.

His clinging to the equally untenable position of councillor is insulting to the women he abused and to the council itself. He must go.

Coles, who resigned from his role as Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire after he was exposed, still clings on to other positions. Alongside his role as a councillor he is the governor of two schools – West Park Primary and the Voyager Academy.

It’s been seven years since the first bunch of spycops were exposed. A group of eight women who were deceived into intimate relationships by undercover officers brought a case against the police. They asserted that this was not merely deceit, but a strategy by the agents of Britain’s political secret police. They didn’t sue the officers who abused them, but the the employers who devised and enacted the strategy.

In 2015, after four years of police stonewalling, they received a landmark apology. The cases also sparked the Pitchford Inquiry, which is ongoing.