Published: Wednesday, 31st January 2018

Speech from Cllr Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

The speech was delivered at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday 31 January 2018. 

"Thank you Mr Mayor. Can I welcome all the members of the public here tonight, as well as those watching online.

"I want to address what has been a hard week for everyone in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The abhorrent death of Fusilier Lee Rigby has again been in the news.

"This is thanks to claims by some that we should commemorate Fusilier Rigby's life at the site of his brutal murder - not at the place chosen by his loved ones and colleagues in the British army.

"The claims come years after the community and family chose St George's Garrison Church as a fitting spot for people to show their respect.

"They come five years after we decided the Wellington Street site wasn't the right place - because innocent kids from the local primary school walk past it each day, people in Elliston House have to be reminded of it every time the leave their homes.

"But before we go into this again, I'd like to start by saying that his murder remains one of the darkest days in the history of this Royal Borough. It is an event we will always remember.

"Some members of the public have pointed out to me the parallel with Stephen Lawrence - also killed by extremists. And indeed, the cowardly murder of Fusilier Rigby sits alongside the horrific deaths of other Greenwich residents, of every colour and creed, who have been killed on grounds of race or religion.

"Like those tragedies, his death was a moment when local people were confronted by the forces of intolerance and prejudice.

"In both of those cases, we listened to the wishes of their families and our communities.

"It was a reminder that the values on which this borough and this country is built - decency, bravery, fairness, sticking up for each other, showing respect - still demand our vigilance if these values are to live on.

"It was staged at the beating heart of the British military - whose many thousands of brave service men and women we are lucky enough to have here, at our Royal Artillery Barracks.

"And I'd like to make clear that Fusilier Rigby is never far from my own mind - as a patriot and as a proud Greenwich resident.

"Downstairs in the Town Hall we have a book of commemoration and a photograph of him on duty. I pass it every day, as I do the St George's Garrison Church - where the permanent memorial in his honour sits in place, with the full support of his family and The Army.

"In the aftermath of his death and the other appalling incidents that we have faced up to in this borough, I still recall how we came together; how we united as an area. How we chose to go on protecting diverse and tolerant values; to tell the enemies of what we stood for that they were not welcome.

"I know everyone else around here feels the same. I know no one in this borough will ever forget Fusilier Rigby.

"Our decision to remove the items left at Wellington Road came out of respect for this. The site had become a free-for-all. We wanted to clean it up to show respect for the disciplined, dignified and proud tradition, which he and others in the forces stand for.

"We listened to our communities and acted accordingly. Some may not be happy about that, but I maintain it was the right choice.

"Of course I understand that people want to show their respect for what Lee stood for.

"What I will not accept, however, are accusations that those of us at the council are motivated by politics or by ulterior agendas. I believe all Members in this Chamber stand united in this regard. We have worked tirelessly and privately with Fusilier Rigby's family to ensure their wishes are respected. And we are every inch as proud of this borough and this country as anyone.

"We must not confuse that horrific event with Woolwich. It was an act of terrorism that took place here because Woolwich has been home to British soldiers for more than 300 years. It cannot be used to define this proud town or its people in the future.

"Less still can I accept this accusation when it comes from a handful on the far right - a scattering of whom are here today - who are in fact those looking to rake up what happened for cynical political point-scoring.

"Least of all will I tolerate the disgusting behaviour of a tiny and un-British minority, who have threatened and endangered the lives of my staff and Councillors.

"This is what has happened to the caretaker who was one of a team who cleared the Wellington Street site. Footage of his face posted online. Details of his children and his home address shared. Threats made to burn his home or even to kill him. Public safety and the rule of law itself are under threat.

"Caretakers and council workers roll up their sleeves and give their all for our area every day - just as our armed forces do each day for this great country.

"Those who threaten them, while they are going about their work as Fusilier Rigby was, have more in common with the monsters responsible for his murder than they do with the decent and right-thinking British majority.

"This borough is home to people from across the world. We might differ on some things, but basic respect, decency and the dignity of work are the values that unite us.

"In this light we want to make sure the memory of Fusilier Rigby is honoured and respected in this borough, with a permanent memorial that has been installed in agreement with his family.

"The main focus of the memorials and commemorations will remain at the St George's Garrison Church, as it has been for the last two and a half years. I would encourage those who want to pay their respects to do so there.

"As I have said, we at the council will continue to think of ways to make public shows of respect for him easier.

"But in the mean time I urge everyone to focus on what Fusilier Rigby stood for, and to stand up to those who seek to make his death a source of division."

View the webcast of the Full Council meeting