There are 30 people attending this evening, with much wider representation than just the Council of Faiths. By my reckoning, there are six Sikh groups or organisations represented, three Muslim, two Hindu and one Christian. There are four City Councillors and three police officers. The Race Equality Centre (TREC) is also represented. Nine of those attending are members of Leicester Council of Faiths; both members of staff (Ajay and myself) are present too.
After introductions round the table, Fayyaz Suleman (Vice Chair, Leicester Council of Faiths) sets the tone, explaining why the Council of Faiths is involved and what it can do in relation to this situation - at this meeting and, with attendees' consent and involvement, afterwards.
As far as this meeting is concerned, Fayyaz explains that the Council of Faiths and the police hope that those present will voice their concerns as individuals and as members of their respective communities and organisations; that we'll be able to receive a briefing from the police on the current situation; and that we can chart our way forward to serve the best interests of all communities, promoting cohesiveness throughout the city - not just for those directly affected.
Fayyaz then hands over to Rob Nixon, City Centre Commander, who outlines three specific topics on which he wants to speak:
- The current state of the police investigation into the incident (including an accurate description of the incident itself as it was first reported to the police; how the police responded; what actions have been taken by the police since the incident; what the police intend to do next)
- Wider issues on which some communities feel vulnerable (to do with protection of children and young people)
- How to move forward, who to engage from within the faith communities and the wider city to ensure a genuine multi-agency approach that has as positive an outcome as possible.
Below are some of the key points that I note from Rob's presentation and the discussion that follows. I have not included specific details about the police investigation. These are available from the police in a variety of formats and sources.
- The police have to secure the trust and confidence of communities, families and individuals, following due process. Everyone involved has to understand that this can't be done overnight and that patience is required.
- We must move away from profiling any of our communities as predator and prey or representing the relationship between any of our communities as that of victimiser and victim
- This horrific incident is also an unasked for opportunity for people of diverse communities to come together and make common cause for a positive and progressive attitude to the issues that provoked this incident.
- We all have to help steer the narrative away from any sense of condoning the behaviour of people taking the law into their own hands.
- There needs to be a general realisation that the police are dealing with criminal behaviour, not a faith-based issue - especially not of one community set against another
- Faith community leaders, spokespeople, workers and activists should be seeking ways to join with professionals, working across faith and cultural boundaries to protect young and vulnerable people of all communities
- The faith communities and organisations, individually and collectively, have a responsibility to take heat out of the situation via platforms within communities including their own media, mainstream media, social media, broadcast and print media in community languages
- There should be regular, frequent meetings between collective representatives of faith communities an organisations with police, the first of these being in a month's time
Closing the meeting, Cllr Manjula Sood (Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths) assured all those present that our prayers and thoughts are with those who were injured in the incident, their families and friends.
This afternoon I'd been twice by BBC Radio Leicester, with a request to go live on air tomorrow morning to speak for the Council of Faiths about the East Park Road incident and about this meeting with Leicestershire Police. Given the sensitivity of the issue, I couldn't help thinking that it might be better for an Executive Officer of the Council of Faiths to appear on the radio this time. I'd sent an email to the officers before this meeting voicing my concerns and asking that we make a decision, so that I could get back to the station with the name of the person who would speak. At the end of the meeting, our Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary and I agree that I should do it. Rob, Fayyaz and I put our heads together for five minutes and agree the general content and tone of what I should say. I phone Radio Leicester just after 2200 and set up an interview by phone for just after 0800 tomorrow morning.
As we're leaving, Fayyaz passes me a draft statement about this evenign's meeting which will be useful in dealing with the media and other interested parties:
"Leicester Council of Faiths facilitated a meeting with faith leaders, the local community and police representatives. The meeting unanimously condemned the criminality involved in the incident and all have agreed to work to communicate with their grass roots communities that everything should be done to support the police investigation. They also agreed to dispel any myths and rumours among the public. The group agreed to meet regularly and assist each other in keeping Leicester united against hate and crime."