An Orthodox umbrella group in Stamford Hill displayed a “shocking disregard for public safety” by having an unauthorised bonfire in the middle of a road at night, Hackney Council has said.
The Jewish Community Council (JCC) was berated in unusually strident and public criticism by the council this week, after the fire marking the Jewish festival of Lag BaOmer exploded shortly after being lit, sending several people to hospital.
In a statement from Kim Wright, group director of neighbourhoods and housing, the council accused the JCC of “misleading” authorities, adding that it was only for reasons of luck that someone was not more seriously injured.
“The JCC applied to Hackney Council for permission to close the street for a commemoration event outside a synagogue,” said Wright.
“At no point whatsoever did the applicants tell us that they would be building a large bonfire in the middle of the road. Needless to say we would never have given permission for a bonfire to be lit in the street – so it appears the organisers have misled the Council in failing to disclose the true nature of the event.”
Wright added: “The organisers displayed a shocking disregard for the safety of local residents and the attendees, which, according to the video I have seen, included young children. It is sheer luck that no one was seriously injured, or worse.”
The council said they were still investigating the incident and taking legal advice, and would not in the meantime allow “any event or road closure request from the JCC or any of its related organisations and individuals”.
Wright said that the Council will be meeting with the JCC over the issue, before adding: “There is already a clear and simple process for residents to apply to close roads for community events…However, lighting a large fire on a street, regardless of whether the road is closed or not, is unacceptable.”
Speaking to Jewish News this week, JCC founder and director Levi Shapiro hit back, saying the application had instead been made under the name of Biala (the nearby shul), not the JCC”.
He said: “Kim Wright is falsely accusing the JCC of being the organisers… we had zero knowledge that a big fire was being planned. We thought it would be a small celebration as we have had year after year. The council knew that too.”
Shapiro said Wright was “trying to kick up a fuss” and dismissed her charge that the JCC had shown a “shocking disregard” for safety, adding that the JCC helped “a little bit” with regards to the road closure. He said the JCC was considering suing Wright, saying: “It is very likely she will face legal action from the Jewish community.”