24 April 2008

BNP slammed over "disgraceful" faith comments

British National Party district councillors have been slammed as a "disgrace to the council and the community" after condemning a multi-faith forum representing various religions which has been set up in the district.

BNP councillor Rod Law told Tuesday's council meeting: "Forums like these are an absolute waste of resources for the council and are only put together to promote diversity and multi-culturalism which we feel is absolutely detrimental to the very fabric of society.

"I would like to think there are enough councillors here to very much vote against this motion and not let this council be bogged down with politically correct clubs like these as we see in many inner city councils."

BNP group leader Pat Richardson said: "The idea is it's a matter of freedom of choice, those who wish to mix and exchange views are free to do so and that's the key word here, freedom. To be brow beat into accepting the concept that the public purse, the taxpayer, has to fund this seems a little bit off.

"There might be some people who do not agree with this so why should they have to fund it? These forums are in the area anyway and they are self reciprocating. I don't see that the public council tax payer would see this as a priority for their money."

Council leader Di Collins branded the BNP comments "disgraceful".

Independent Loughton councillor Stephen Murray said: "In 26 years (as a councillor) that was one of the most disgraceful contributions I've heard in this chamber.

"Because of a contribution like that there's even more reason why we need a multi-faith forum like this. We want to work together, we want community cohesion and we recognise that there is more that links faiths together than divides them."

Deputy council leader Chris Whitbread said the comments were "an affront to freedom".

"This is a motion at a time when we are in election mode that brings the council together because we all agree with it because it is about our wider community and the things we care about and the reasons we become councillors to start with."

He added: "It's about the wider good, and you as a party are not about the wider good.

"We've sat through meeting after meeting where you've sat silently and do nothing for your community. When we discuss the needs of your community you disappear and tonight you come here and you talk about dividing our community, and you don't even turn up when we discuss The Broadway or anything else.

"You are a disgrace to this council and you are a disgrace to our community.

"I am so cross that you could say that tonight, and for a start get your facts straight. This council is not paying for this body, this body is for the good of our community, you should retract your remarks."

Conservative councillor Mitch Cohen, a Jew on the 58-member council which also has a Sikh and a Muslim among its numbers, described the BNP comments as "disgraceful" and "disgusting".

Liberal Democrat group leader Jon Whitehouse said: "It's extremely important that we do take every opportunity to work together as a community and get the different strands of belief, backgrounds in the community talking together, sharing together, because what we have in common is far more greater than what divides us."

Mrs Haigh said: "It's very regrettable to hear the (BNP) words spoken. They (the forum) are coming together because they believe in the community, it's right across the district. I think it's very sad that people feel able to make statements like that without actually doing the research first."

The forum was established following multi-cultural Celebration of Faith services held by councillors Ann Haigh and Brian Sandler during their time as council chairman.

The two councillors have been appointed chairman and vice-chairman of the forum.

A motion noting the formation of the forum was supported.

Epping Forest Guardian

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