Council mayor apologises for saying 'All Lives Matter' in letter to Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Forest of Dean

Khady and Eleni have been fighting to be able to hold the protest. Credit: Khady Gueye

A council has apologised after encouraging the cancellation of a Black Lives Matter protest in the Forest of Dean, after police allegedly said there could be legal consequences.

Lydney Town Council's Mayor, Walter Leach, retracted the use of the phrase "All Lives Matter" used in a letter to organisers, claiming it was used "without wider knowledge of the associated connotations."

The council also reversed its decision to ask them to cancel the protest.

It comes after Gloucestershire Police also told councillors that the force is legally obliged to facilitate it.

Khady Gueye and Eleni Eldridge, who have been campaigning to hold the peaceful demonstration, said they are "really pleased".

The letter caused controversy amongst supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Credit: Lydney Town Council

The protest in Bathurst Park was cancelled last week after Mayor Leach contacted Khady and Eleni asking them to re-think their plans.

An open letter to the pair said the event would be "more damaging to the cause than helpful" in light of alleged social distancing concerns from members of the community.

Mayor Leach said while he supported "the underlying aims" of the movement, cancelling it would show "respect for all lives".

He also said the size of the event, estimated to attract around 1,000 people, was a cause for concern.

  • Read the full letter to the organisers here.

On Monday 15 June the council was forced to apologise for the letter after a meeting between Bathurst Park and Recreation Trust trustees.

The decision to cancel the protest was reversed and organisers have since been given the go-ahead to host the peaceful event.

Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper also got involved and asked senior officers from Gloucestershire Police to speak to councillors, advising them of the possible legal ramifications of cancelling the event.

However Mr Harper also called on the march's organisers to also apologise, after they insinuated those with worries about the size of the march were "racists" during an interview.

He added: "In the House of Commons I made it clear that I abhor racism of any kind and, from my experience of being their MP for 15 years, I know that is also the view of the vast majority of my constituents.

"I also said in the House of Commons that I would defend a peaceful demonstration to take place after the Coronavirus Regulations are no longer in force.

"The organisers would do a great service to their cause by apologising to my constituents for their comments."

Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper has called on the organisers of the march to apologise for calling people “racist” for objecting to the gathering. Credit: Mark Harper MP

After a week of campaigning, Khady and Eleni said they now want to focus on Saturday's demonstration.

Speaking on behalf of the pair, Khady said: "We are really pleased the decision has been overturned and we are being allowed to proceed".

Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement disagreed with the use of the phrase "All Lives Matter" in the council letter to organisers.

Mayor Leach's apology referred to this and he claimed it was used "without wider knowledge of the associated connotations."

A statement from Lydney Town Council added, "The Town Council would like offer its deep regret for this insensitivity and offers a full apology for any offence caused".

At the virtual meeting on Monday, Inspector Nick Cook read out a statement from the county's police force.

It said, "In brief, the police advice is that we are obliged to facilitate the event and could cause legal problems if we object.”

A local councillor, Alan Preest, defended the council's original stance and said the event was illegal because of coronavirus regulations.

Councillor Preest quoted a letter from MP Mark Harper, which reportedly said those taking part in Saturday's demonstration would be committing an offence.