‘It’s Chorley, not bloody Gaza’: Pro-Palestine scuffle breaks out at Lindsay Hoyle’s council

Police have launched an investigation after a scuffle broke out when pro-Palestine protesters disrupted a meeting of Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s local council.

The incident took place on Tuesday evening at Chorley council. Sir Lindsay, the Commons Speaker who last week was criticised for his handling of a Gaza debate, is the Chorley MP.

A local group of pro-Palestine campaigners, frustrated that the council would not formally debate a motion for a ceasefire, disrupted the meeting by calling for such a move and chanting.

At one point, a Conservative councillor physically manhandled the woman leading the protests towards the door, leading to a heated confrontation between both sides.

Lancashire police told The Telegraph that no arrests were made but they had launched an investigation into what happened. A spokesman said: “We have received a complaint of an assault at an event in Chorley yesterday evening [February 27] and an investigation is under way. No arrests have been made at this stage and enquiries are ongoing.”

The incident comes with Sir Lindsay under continued scrutiny for a decision he made regarding which statements about a ceasefire would be voted on in a Commons debate last week.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle
Sir Lindsay Hoyle angered some with his handling of a vote calling for a Gaza ceasefire - Nordin Catic/Getty Images

The Commons Speaker broke with convention by allowing Labour to hold a vote on their position during a debate brought by the SNP for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

It led to claims that Sir Lindsay, who had been a Labour MP for 20 years before giving up party allegiance to take up the Speaker position, had been lent on by the Labour leadership.

Both the Labour leadership and Sir Lindsay’s allies have denied he was unfairly pressured.

The events in Chorley Council took place as councillors had gathered to sign off the council budget.

Jenny Hurley, a pro-Palestine campaigner with the Chorley for Palestine group, attended the meeting to urge the council to pass a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Dozen protesters in hall

A three-minute video of what happened, posted by Ms Hurley on Facebook, shows her disrupting proceedings by standing up and proclaiming her argument during the meeting.

There were around a dozen fellow protesters in the meeting and a further 20 or so in a nearby spill-over room, according to one councillor present.

Members of the public are allowed to attend council meetings and ask questions but they are not allowed to disrupt proceedings.

The video shows protesters in the council room chanting “free, free Palestine” and Ms Hurley, holding a Palestine flag, speaking out making her case.

Ms Hurley says: “Why has no motion been put to this chamber? We were told that they would be happy, the Labour group would be happy to put a motion to this chamber? Why has that not happened?”

Following this, Craige Southern, a Conservative councillor who was standing nearby, says: “Because it’s Chorley, not bloody Gaza. Get out, go on.”

He approaches Ms Hurley and video footage appears to show him pushing her backwards towards the door. A scuffle then breaks out.

One man, apparently a fellow protester, challenges Mr Southern, saying “Don’t touch her. Get your hands off her,” while pointing a finger at the councillor.

Police officers later helped restore order.

No security checks are needed for members of the public to attend meetings at Chorley council.

Heightened concerns

The clash comes with heightened concerns about the safety of local politicians as demonstrators make their views known about the Israel-Gaza conflict. A £31 million package to protect democracy, which will partly be spent on bolstering MPs’ security, has been announced by Rishi Sunak.

Sir Lindsay said his decision-making in the Gaza vote, which has prompted a push by more than 90 MPs to oust him as Commons Speaker, was driven by concerns about MP safety.

Ms Hurley, the protester at the centre of the event on Tuesday night, referenced Sir Lindsay and last week’s vote in a message on Facebook posted alongside the video.

She wrote: “We have already had our voice taken away by our MP, Lindsay Hoyle, who recently broke protocol to twice stop a ceasefire motion from the SNP in Parliament. Is it OK for him to break protocol but not us? One rule for them?
Where is our voice now? Is Chorley now the most undemocratic place in Britain?”

Mr Southern, the councillor who challenged Ms Hurley, released a lengthy statement on Wednesday about his actions.

He said he had talked to the police, adding: “I explained the situation, that I had been intimidated and threatened and I feared for the safety of others. The officer accepted my version of events and left. I will happily co-operate with any further investigation.”

He added: “I would do the same thing again. Democracy is important to me and I will do all I can to protect it from mob rule. These people are a disgrace.”

Ms Hurley, contacted by The Telegraph, also provided a lengthy additional statement. Part of it read: “The protest was a peaceful reading of a statement that was met with violence.”

Peter Wilson, deputy leader of the Labour group on Chorley Council, questioned the behaviour of the protesters.
He told The Telegraph: “Everyone is entitled to their view, everyone is entitled to protest. You can come to a council meeting and make your point.

“But you can’t just disrupt the meeting entirely. It was a meeting to set the budget, perhaps the most important of the year. That can’t be disrupted. Unfortunately the meeting had to be suspended, but we carried on afterwards.”

The Labour group in Chorley has previously voiced its support for a ceasefire in Gaza but has not tabled a motion, arguing that would not be appropriate council business.