Market ‘socialising ban’ is ripped up in county court ruling

Friday, 1st July — By Tom Foot

Dominoes IMG_3613

AN injunction banning socialising in a public square that has stopped Caribbean people playing dominoes for the last 18 months has been ripped-up after a court ruled it was unlawful.

Lawyers, representing Ernest Theophile, had successfully argued Westminster City Council was wrong not to consider equalities legislation when it sought the restrictions on Maida Hill Market.

Westminster City Hall took the unusual step of applying for an injunction following a series of resident complaints during a Covid-19 lockdown in January 2021.

But now a county court judge finally discharged the injunction in a ruling that will not be challenged by the council.

Harrow Road Labour councillors had “welcomed a court decision to grant Westminster Council’s application for a pre-emptive injunction at Maida Hill Market”.

Speaking after this week’s decision, Reverend Henry Everett, the vicar of St Peter’s Church, said: “The borough of Westminster has some of the most deprived areas in London. Around the Harrow Road, I have found there to be an astonishing level of need in the community in terms of mental health support, so I was shocked when I first heard about the injunction, and I expressed serious concerns about the use of this dangerous, catch-all measure against the whole community.”

The city council said yesterday (Thursday) that the “new administration accepts the approach taken has been wrong”.

But Labour councillors had in 2021 wholeheartedly backed the injunction when it was granted. Its press release said that “after years of lobbying”, the council was stepping in when the police had failed.

Campaigner Jacqui Hayes added: “Our community were totally ignored by the council when they resorted to applying for the injunction without consulting people and without putting in place any other facilities for the community to use to come together to socialise and support each other.”

Mr Theophile said the connections he made on the square were important to him, but that he “didn’t want to be arrested” over the dispute.

His lawyer Anne McCurdie said: “We are delighted that once again Mr Theophile had others from the community can enjoy the public space they value, free from draconian interference backed up by the power of arrest.”

The judgment was handed down at the Central London County Court, on June 22.

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “We want Maida Hill market to be a safe and widely used public space that is welcoming for all, including those wishing to play dominoes. As a new administration we accept that the approach the council has taken has been wrong at times and we have already begun a review to identify a new approach and are committed to working with local residents.

“In the meantime, we will also continue to work closely with the community and local police to tackle issues of anti-social behaviour where they occur and that have, at times, been a real cause of concern for many residents and businesses. We look forward to finding a solution that can hopefully work for all, including our support for the dominoes club as an important part of the community.”

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