CONTROVERSY continues to surround a large gathering at an unofficial Remembrance Sunday event at Warrington’s Cenotaph amid a police investigation.

The event took place despite the current coronavirus national restrictions.

In a statement released on Monday, Warrington Borough Council said it has contacted Cheshire Police who will be investigating the gathering to ascertain how Sunday’s event at the war memorial was organised without prior notice and to identify what Covid-secure measures were in place as required by the regulations.

The council usually organises Remembrance Sunday events but this year’s event was called off because of the restrictions.

A smaller scale replacement service at St Elphin’s was called off as well due to the national lockdown banning church services and outdoor gatherings.

People were asked to observe the silence at home instead.

It is understood between 200 and 300 people attended the event at Bridge Foot.

Eight PCSOs were in attendance, along with Warrington South MP Andy Carter and chair of Warrington Conservatives, Wendy Maisey OBE.

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden and deputy leader Cllr Cathy Mitchell were also spotted at the site on Sunday.

Julie Cooke, deputy chief constable at Cheshire Police, said: “We are aware of the concerns raised and are reviewing what happened at the Cenotaph in Warrington on Remembrance Sunday.”

Warrington Guardian:

Warrington South MP Andy Carter and Wendy Maisey OBE, chair of Warrington Conservatives, both pictured, were among those who attended. Photo: Twitter @WendyMaisey

The Government’s website says local authorities in England and faith leaders could have organised outdoor Remembrance Sunday events at a public war memorial or cenotaph, if they completed a Covid-19 risk assessment and took all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the virus.

It also states events should have been outdoors, be short and focused on wreath laying, have social distancing in place and with numbers kept to a minimum.

Mr Carter has issued a statement on the matter.

He said: “Specific exemptions were made by the Government to allow for open air, socially distanced Remembrance Sunday wreath laying.

“I placed a wreath at the cenotaph yesterday morning in my capacity as the Member of Parliament on behalf of my Warrington South constituents, a number of other individuals and organisations, including Cheshire Police did the same.”

Ms Maisey says Remembrance Sunday is a day when people of all political parties can come together, put any differences aside and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

She said: “This year Remembrance Sunday, like so many aspects of our life, has been very different.

“The Government issued specific guidance for Remembrance Sunday and exemptions were made to allow for open air socially distanced Remembrance Sunday wreath laying.

“I am from a military family, my parents were both in the Royal Signals.

“I lay a wreath each year at the Cenotaph, I checked the Government guidelines in detail before making the decision to lay a wreath this year.

“Cheshire Police were in attendance as was the deputy leader of Warrington Borough Council Cllr Cathy Mitchell.

“I also noticed that the leader of the council Cllr Russ Bowden talking to Cllr Mitchell.

“I would like the MP for Warrington North to withdraw her comments on social media that neither Cllr Bowden or Cllr Mitchell were at the Cenotaph, it’s very unhelpful.

“I am aware that Warrington Borough Council has referred the matter to Cheshire Police and I will be fully co-operating with any investigation if requested to do so.”

Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols did not wish to comment.

Cllr Bowden says he was ‘totally unaware’ of the unofficial event as the council had not been informed by whoever organised it.

He emphasised the council took a really difficult decision not to hold the event because the guidance was ‘very clear’ on what needed to be done to make it a Covid-19 secure event – including social distancing and contact tracing.

Cllr Bowden said: “I was out for a walk, I intended to stop and have two minutes of silence wherever I was and I thought well if the Cenotaph is clear then I’ll do it there.

“I crossed over the road to see find out what’s going on and saw Cathy there.

“In all my time there, I wasn’t intending to participate in an event that I wasn’t invited to.”

Cllr Bowden said he stood at the side by the wall and spoke to Cllr Mitchell and others to try to find out what was going on, along with being in communication with council officers to establish what was going on and what input the council had.

However, he said the event was not carried out with the Covid-19 secure arrangements set out, which he believes could have ‘inadvertently undone weeks of work’ in trying to manage cases in the town.

Cllr Bowden emphasised he ‘just happened to be passing’ and certainly was not there supporting the event or attending in any capacity.

Cllr Mitchell laid Winwick Parish Council’s wreath at the Cenotaph.

Cllr Bowden said he is ‘disturbed’ that the gathering was made to look like an official event and that he found it ‘distasteful’ that figures including himself, the Mayor of Warrington, Ms Nichols and the council chief executive were not invited.

He said people ‘may have been well intentioned but they’ve really made a mistake here’.

Cllr Bowden added: “My reading of the regulations is there’s only two groups that can put on a Remembrance service – that’s the council or local faith leaders. They clearly weren’t involved in this so it remains to be seen, obviously, what the police conclude.”

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, also issued a statement on the matter on Tuesday.

He said: “A representative from my party obeyed the council’s instructions and did not attend to lay a wreath because the event was cancelled.

“He, and a small number of my colleagues, attended events in their own parishes. “The one in Lymm was well organised, socially distanced and the names of everyone present were recorded.

“Remembrance services are an important way to stop and commemorate those who died in the service of their country, and for future generations.

“Despite requests from the council for people not to attend the Cenotaph, the two most senior Conservatives in Warrington were present, although not formally invited. 

“The Labour deputy leader of the council laid a wreath as the council leader watched with members of the public. Another example of one rule for some politicians and another for everyone else.

“The council has now asked the police to review the event despite a police presence there.

“People would like to know who organised it. How many people raised concerns?  Were social distancing and other Covid secure measures adhered to? Did the organisers record the names of people present? Were any offences committed by those attending by being there?

“It is a great shame that party politics has come into this when Remembrance Day should be about unity not division.

“We await the result of the police investigation with interest.”

However, on Wednesday afternoon Cllr Barr issued a new statement to clarify his comments after speaking to the council leader.

Cllr Barr said it appears that the unofficial, and possibly unlawful, gathering was organised as an act of remembrance ‘against the wishes and instructions’ of the council.

He added that if he gave the impression that the Labour leadership in any way ‘colluded’ in what took place then he apologises.