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  • May Mcnicol-Williams

London News Highlights

Hello and welcome to the January edition of London News Highlights in the Toast!! Hope everyone had a great first month of 2023. In this article we will touch on climate defenders protests, police officers committing crimes while posted in schools, and the teachers strike. 

Climate change activists who were found guilty of causing more than £100,000 of damage by smashing windows at the headquarters of Barclays Bank were spared jail by a judge.

The group attacked the windows of Barclays Bank HQ in summer 2021 and faced trial on Friday 27th of January in Southwark crown court. All defendants represented themselves barring an unnamed protester and Carol Wood, who were represented by Owen Greenhall.

“The trial process is something that has had a significant impact on both my clients and is not something they would want to go through again. There is no evidence of any serious distress caused in this case” Said Greenhall.

Zoe Cohen, Carol Wood, Sophie Cowen, Lucy Porter, Gabriella Ditton,  Rosemary Webster, and another protester, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were charged with criminal damage and pleaded not guilty.

The protestors had used chisels and hammers to break glass panels on the exterior of the building in Canary Wharf in London on 7 April 2021, Southwark crown court heard. They wore patches that read “better broken windows than broken promises” as they placed stickers stating “in case of climate emergency break glass” on the windows of the bank.

Rosemary Webster said: “I don’t feel that I am a criminal. I want to protect future generations. I do not call myself a protester, I call myself a climate defender.”

PC Hussain Chehab, 22, admitted four counts of sexual activity with a girl aged 13 to 15, three counts of making indecent photographs of a child, and sexual communication with a child, while he was posted at a north London school in his court hearing last week. He appeared at Wood Green crown court on Tuesday the 24th  and will be sentenced on 17 March. The family of a 16-year-old girl raised concerns with police in July 2021, reporting she had recently been in a relationship with Chehab which they believed began when she was 15. 

Evidence was later found showing Chehab and the girl may have had a sexual relationship when she was as young as 14. Chehab was arrested in August 2021 and placed on restricted duties, including working within the confines of a police building in a non-public-facing role, and having no contact with schools or children, but maintaining his job and full pay. The Met has said an accelerated misconduct process has been put in place for Chehab and would be held as soon as possible. DC Carol Haines said on the topic: “Our thoughts foremost today are with the young girls who Chehab exploited and took advantage of for his own sexual gratification.”  “While no evidence has been found linking any of Chehab’s offending to his role, we are engaging with our local schools, community forums and independent advisory groups to reassure them following the damage his actions will have caused.”

“The Met continues to ruthlessly target those who corrupt our identity. We have made it clear there is no place for the likes of PC Chehab in the Met and will take quick and immediate action to arrest and prosecute anyone who commits such abhorrent criminal acts, and will work to quickly remove them from the organisation.”

Primary schools in London face financial pressures to merge or even close because of dwindling numbers of pupils caused by a falling birth-rate, Brexit and the Covid-era flight from cities, councils in the capital have warned.

“London local authorities and schools are currently dealing with a significant and sustained period of reduction in demand for reception places, which has implications for school budgets and standards,” stated a report from London Councils. 

The forecast is that the number of four- and five-year-olds starting in-state primary schools will drop from 96,000 last September to 89,000 in 2026. 

London Councils executive member for children and young people, Ian Edwards, said: “Schools are having to make very difficult decisions about how to balance budgets as a result of this drop in school places and local authorities will support them through this process.” The report, that just before the strikes on 1st February, wants government funding to stay in track with growing inflation to help state schools manage swings in pupil numbers, and that councils be given powers over the number of pupils that academies can admit, as well as improving support so more children needing certain accommodations (such as mental or physical disabilities) can attend mainstream schools.

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