The deputy mayor and prominent female councillor in Tower Hamlets has resigned from all her posts within the council and accused Mayor John Biggs of bullying and sexism.
Cllr Shiria Khatun , who has represented Lansbury ward since 2006, said she made the decision to resign from the cabinet, the Labour executive committee and deputy mayoralty after she claimed she was removed from her position as cabinet member for community affairs without any explanation. She remains a Labour councillor.
However, Mayor Biggs has strongly denied the accusations against him and said he had made numerous attempts to speak to Cllr Khatun about her role within the authority. He said she had initially agreed to stay in the cabinet with new responsibilities but later changed her mind.
Cllr Khatun said she was taken into Mayor Biggs’ office a few weeks ago and told she would no longer be the member for community affairs and safety and that, if she wanted to remain in the cabinet, she would have to accept the role of member for environment instead.
Cllr Khatun said: “I asked him why I was being taken away from community safety but he said that he’s the Mayor and he decides and wouldn’t give me any other explanation.
“I was working on a big project and he’s pulled me away from that and given it to someone else without speaking to me about it.
“I invested a huge amount into my work and hardly got to see my family because I thought community safety and community cohesion was so important in Tower Hamlets.
“When I told him I was resigning he didn’t even phone me to talk about it. My work has not been recognised at all.
“I think he doesn’t appreciate those who speak out. Particularly because I’m a strong and confident female, maybe he feels intimidated. That’s the way it seems. I just don’t understand his behaviour towards me. I feel I have been bullied by him.”
She added: “I’m just a backbencher now. I don’t want to take any position from John Biggs. If I took another position from him I would feel indebted to him, so I have decided not to accept anything at all.
“It’s important to stand up for yourself. When you are in an elected position, the people who elect you give you a mandate to represent them. If you can’t stand up for yourself, how can you represent the people who elected you?”
Mayor Biggs said: “It is regrettable Shiria has decided to act in this way.
“She has served as a member of the cabinet and was invited to continue but with different responsibilities.
“These are very important ones about improving the environment and quality of life for residents in the borough and it’s disappointing she does not feel that these are important issues for Tower Hamlets.
“While I am grateful for her work, during the past year it became apparent to me – and others – the community safety portfolio required a new approach.
“She accepted this position and it wasn’t until 10 days later, shortly before the council AGM, that she changed her mind.
“I was happy to discuss her new role with her but despite attempts to contact Shiria, she has not responded to calls, texts or emails.”
He added: “The claims made regarding bullying are new and were not raised prior to the AGM. I do not think they have substance but if she feels they do, she must make a formal complaint and this will be properly and independently investigated.
“For the record, I am committed to treating all members of my group fairly and thoughtfully. I am also committed to improving the position and opportunities for women in our community. It is of note that five of my nine cabinet members are women.”
Cllr Asma Begum has taken over the role of cabinet member for community safety, and Cllr Amina Ali is now cabinet member for environment.
Cllr Sirajul Islam remains statutory mayor, and Cllr Rachael Saunders remains deputy mayor. A second deputy mayor to replace Cllr Khatun has not yet been appointed.
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