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Letter: Warrington Cenotaph gathering was not an organised meeting

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From Julie Francis Warrington

I am writing to you with regard to the Council’s actions in reporting the gathering at The Cenotaph War Memorial, Warrington town centre, on Remembrance Sunday, 8th November 2020, to Cheshire Police.

As reported previously in the local media, Warrington Borough Council referred the matter to the Police over apparent safety concerns, at what they described as an “unofficial gathering”.
As many people in Warrington are aware, I look after the site all year round and liaise with The Commonwealth War Grave’s Commission to ensure that it is maintained and protected, just as a Memorial should be. It is something I do from the heart, and something I take great pride in.
I was obviously upset that due to Covid 19, the Remembrance Service had to be cancelled this year, as indeed many services were all across the Country, but I fully understood the reasons for this.
As a person with family members who have diligently served their country, I felt that I wanted to attend the Cenotaph personally on Remembrance Sunday, as I do every year. Myself, along with 3 Veterans, 2 Standard Bearers and a Bugler decided to go to the Cenotaph, our normal public place, to pay our respects to our own family fallen, and the fallen of the town.
There was no organised meeting. I knew of a handful of people who had said they would attend, but at no time was there ever mention of a large gathering. On the day, members of Cheshire Police were in attendance, along with members of the Council plus a local MP. Wreaths were laid and total respect was shown at all times.
Warrington town centre Cenotaph is a public place and people are free to gather there if they wish. Everyone in attendance was aware of Covid 19 and the restrictions which this brings. Masks were worn by anyone who chose to do so at all times, and social distancing was observed.
To discover the next day, that Warrington Borough Council had reported both the meeting and myself to Cheshire Police, was a complete shock and incredibly upsetting for me, and the people that I had attended with. I was absolutely devastated and found myself in the position of being required to speak to Cheshire Police, which I did. I knew that I had done nothing wrong, and explained everything that had occurred to them.
The whole thing made me physically sick, and the stress of being referred to the Police completely knocked me for six. I suffer from anxiety and depression normally, which has been exacerbated recently due to Covid 19, but the stress of the situation that was thrown at me made it very much worse. I found myself unable to sleep because of the worry and could not venture out of my home for days. I felt traumatised and vulnerable, being used as what felt like a political pawn. It was extremely upsetting, especially as it was then reported in the National press, and was all over social media, which added to my distress.
It is now two weeks since the incident and despite contacting Warrington Borough Council, I have received nothing from them, by way of apology or explanation for all the distress the issue has caused to myself and others. I feel that I have the right to demand a full written public apology from Warrington Borough Council. I look after the Cenotaph site all year round in my own time, and this is how they have repaid me. I feel that I have been treated disgustingly, and with utter contempt.
I now require confirmation of the name of the person or persons, who made the decision to report the incident and myself to Cheshire Police. I believe I have the right to know on what grounds the Council felt they should report the matter, without even contacting me first to discuss their concerns. The national media interest has brought disgrace to our proud town and its people and has been a complete embarrassment. I have a lot of support in our town, the country and around the world from the Military Community. People have been horrified to hear what happened on such an important day, when the lives of the men and woman who fought and died to defend our country should have been remembered, with both respect and dignity.
I have no choice now but to publicly publish this letter, because Warrington Borough Council have not had the courtesy of contacting me to discuss the matter, despite my request for them to do so. The Council’s own Code of Conduct states that both Councillors and officials should act with integrity, objectivity, selflessness and with respect for others. They have acted with none of these towards myself, or any others who attended the Cenotaph with the most honourable of intentions. Their sole reason for acting in this way appears to have been incited by the attendance of the local Conservative MP and other members of the Conservative party.
Their attempt to bring these people into disrepute for attending the Cenotaph, has resulted in me being used as a “political football” with no regard for my health, wellbeing or good intentions. In doing so, they have left me in no doubt that they have broken their own code of conduct, acting without any integrity or respect for myself, the people, or the fallen of Warrington.
Yours sincerely,
Julie Francis.

*Warrington Borough Council has been given the opportunity to respond to this letter

Police investigate unofficial gathering at Warrington Cenotaph

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