Assault claim at feuding police forum in Lambeth
A group that is supposed to represent the community on law and order issues has descended into chaos with members accusing each other of assault and computer hacking.
While the police are facing swingeing cuts to staff and police stations, Lambeth's Community Police Consultative Group (CPCG) has been riven with internal feuding which came to a head at its AGM.
The whole board were due to step down for fresh elections at the meeting at Lambeth Town Hall on September 26 in a bid to clear the air.
But voting for a new committee never took place, the meeting descended into a shouting match, and police are now investigating a complaint of common assault.
Police, who usually attend the group's bi-monthly meeting but were not invited to this one, confirmed they are also investigating an allegation of an offence under the Computer Misuse Act which was made earlier that month.
The group, formed in 1981 in the wake of the Brixton riots, are supposed to play a vital role liaising with police and representing the community on issues such as stop and search and the treatment of people with mental health problems.
But since the departure of the former chairman Clarence Thompson, forced out in early July following months of bitter wrangling, meetings have become even more stormy and ineffective according to insiders.
John Howard, one of the founding members, said: "The CPCG is rapidly losing any form of respect or standing for what it is meant to be doing as a safety valve and campaigning group."
Speaking about the AGM, CPCG board director Felix Ogbogoh said: "Quite a few people were bent on ensuring the meeting didn’t take place."
Member Richard Moore said of the conflict at the meeting: "It was a reflection of the mood of the membership.
"It was a reflection of the members not having a bottom-up organisation."
Member Jim Toohill said: "The work goes on, the work on stop and search goes on, the work on mental health goes on.
"It is hard for the people involved in those to get on with their work.
"It is a shame that the people making speeches and rants at AGMs grab attention."
The current chairman Wesley Walters-Stephenson said since July they had faced a multitude of problems but he looked forward to re-scheduled elections in December.
He said: "All I have to do is hold the whole thing together until then.
"Londoners benefit from this. Everybody is safer because we are involved in the process."
Mr Walters-Stephenson said three people had come forward to act as independent intermediaries between members.
Borough Chief Superintendent Matt Bell refused to comment on the battle raging inside the CPCG due to "an ongoing investigation".
But he said that he and other officers meet the group on a bi-monthly basis to discuss community safety and described it as "a valued partner in the fight against crime and disorder in the borough".
Streatham MP Chuka Umunna said: "Whatever current difficulties are encountered, it is absolutely essential that we all act to ensure there is good dialogue and a healthy relationship between the community and the police.
"Our community’s history underlines the value and the necessity of ensuring strong police community relations.
"There are few things more fundamental to building a bright future for our borough than making sure that everything is in place so that grievances are heard and the police are always able to listen to the voices of those living in our area."
A Lambeth council spokesman said: "We are unable to comment on any ongoing police investigations.
"But the CPCG for Lambeth is long standing independent organisation which the council and its partners work with constructively."