Council to investigate after Redbridge Library event is stopped over arts group’s “obscene” costume

The leader of Redbridge Council insists “everybody concerned will be held to account” after “obscene” performers were hired for an event aimed at children last weekend.

Vision, a charity set up by Redbridge Council to run its culture and leisure services, hired Mandinga Arts Group to perform at Redbridge Central Library in Ilford on Saturday, July 10.

Council leader Jas Athwal insists the event was shut down “within seconds” after parents reported one of the performers, dressed as a monkey, had a fake penis and exposed backside and nipples.

Mandinga Arts Group aims to promote carnival culture and takes its name from a Latin American slang term for devil. Despite the monkey costume’s rainbow colouring and complaints suggesting otherwise, the group does not describe itself as LGBT-related.

At an overview scrutiny meeting last night, opposition leader Linda Huggett asked why the group was booked when its “own website shows obscene costumes”, adding that it had made the council look “rather ridiculous” and “enraged residents”.

She told Cllr Athwal: “It is your ultimate responsibility to ensure services are carried out correctly. Parents need to be assured this will never happen again.”

Cllr Athwal agreed it was “an extremely serious matter” and reassured councillors there would be a full investigation into how the event was “commissioned, organised and overseen”.

He said: “I’m a father of four children and three daughters, what we saw was obscene and it should not be there. Everybody concerned will be held to account for hiring such performers.

“Not a penny of council taxpayer money was spent on this, this was wholly commissioned by Vision with money that came from an Arts Council England grant.

“Vision are an independent contractor, who have been in play since 2009 informally and 2011 formally and they have been very good all the way along.

“They have [organised events] thousands of times over the last 12 or 13 years. I have no idea how they did it but they dropped the ball and we will get to the bottom of this.

“We have managed to keep every single one of our libraries open, we want to make sure they are a safe space.”

Cllr Huggett also asked if there was “any likelihood Vision will be brought back into Redbridge Council” in response to the incident.

Deputy leader Kam Rai responded that the council would take a decision based on the results of the investigation once it was complete.

Mandinga Arts Group’s website, Facebook page and Instagram account are all down and the group has publicly apologised on their Twitter account.

On Sunday, they wrote: “We apologise for the offence caused while raising awareness of the reading campaign by Redbridge Libraries on 10th July.

“We never intended to offend residents. We respect everyone’s individual opinion with no offence to any part. Actions are being taken, more information to follow.”

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter