Complaint partially upheld after Brent leader breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions

Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council (Pic: Francis Henry)

Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council (Pic: Francis Henry) - Credit: Archant

An apology has been issued by Brent’s council leader after he “inadvertently” breached lockdown restrictions - but an opposition councillor has called for his resignation.

Tweet posted by Alperton's Cllr Trupti Sangani before putting privacy blocks on her account. Picture: BK Times

Tweet posted by Alperton's Cllr Trupti Sangani before putting privacy blocks on her account. Picture: BK Times - Credit: Archant

Cllr Muhammed Butt, along with Cllr Trupti Sangani, have been found to have breached the members’ code of conduct after attending a joint prayer meeting at Ealing Road Temple on June 11.

It was not until June 13 that “individual prayer” was allowed in places of worship and not until July 4 that socially distanced communal worship was allowed.

Former Liberal Democrat council leader Paul Lorber filed a complaint against both, accusing them of failing to show leadership or integrity and failing to publicly apologise.

Monitoring officer Debra Norman found them both in breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct in terms of leadership and integrity, but she found they did not bring the council into disrepute given that the wider intention behind the attendance was to provide comfort at what was a very distressing time for many”.

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She found “no suggestion of his having acted in a hypocritical manner which might have brought his office into disrepute”.

In an apology published on the council website, Cllr Butt said: “As leader of this council, whilst I do of course accept that a mistake was made regarding the time between what happened and what was sanctioned, I do believe that an argument could be made for the actions of those in attendance being a positive demonstration of well-intended community leadership...the idea that such a gesture would upset anyone had simply not occurred to me for which I am happy to apologise unreservedly.”

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Cllr Sangani said: “I regret that in the confusion surrounding various government announcements that we were mistaken in how our brief moment of quiet reflection unfolded. I...would like to apologise to them for what was a honest mistake made in good faith by well-intentioned people.”

On June 5, Brent Council put out a media release in which it promoted a video by Brent Multi-Faith Forum and said: “Following on from the message of unity in this video, we are calling for people of faith and no faith to join together to pray or reflect at home at the same time on Thursday 11 June at 8pm.”

No one has taken responsibility for organising the Ealing Road Temple gathering on June 11. Cllr Butt told the monitoring officer that he was invited by Cllr Sangani verbally on that day. Cllr Sangani said she did not recall receiving a formal invite, but became aware of the time, date and place via conversations.

Cllr Sangani posted a video of the event on her Twitter account, which she set to private after being contacted by this paper.

Liberal Democrat councillor Anton Georgiou called for Cllr Butt’s resignation after he broke the rules in an area which saw such high Covid death rates.

He said: “Whilst the Labour leader and Labour councillors were breaking the rules, Brent residents were adhering to the guidelines issued by the government and as a consequence were sacrificing so much, as they will again now.

“I’ve personally supported families who have lost loved ones, have been unable to visit sick relatives and denied the ability to attend funeral services. Despite this, the leader of the council, who should be setting an example for the borough, broke the rules.

“I call for his immediate resignation and for him to be replaced by someone who can credibly lead the borough through the next challenging months.”

Paul Lorber said: “It is of course up to the Labour Party to decide what further disciplinary action they will take against the two councillors but I would find it very odd if a political party which made such a fuss over the breaches by Dominic Cummings would remain silent or do nothing.”

The monitoring officer told both councillors to seek advice before attending events, to ensure current restrictions are followed.

Cllr Butt said in a statement: “It is a shame that this positive but mistimed event to unite members of different faiths at this difficult time has been likened to an illegal barbecue or other reckless lockdown-breaching social activity. Having already issued a comprehensive public apology in August, I am happy for that to be posted on the council’s website.

“Furthermore, it was reassuring to learn that the main thrust of the complaint regarding potential disrepute was rejected by the monitoring officer.”

The Kilburn Times was referenced in the decision by the monitoring officer, in finding that Cllr Butt had not acted in a “hypocritical manner”. We previously reported that Cllr Butt said people disregarding social distancing guidance was “not acceptable and heightened risk”. In fact his comment was: “Of course the parties and the use of outdoor gyms we saw during lockdown are not acceptable given the heightened risk, but when you have such mixed messages from central government on what can and can’t be done, you can see why people were confused and were restless and frustrated after so many weeks of lockdown.” We are happy to set the record straight.

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