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Youth Councillor Hannah Chowdhry pictured with the nativity display that she set up prior to it being destroyed (courtesy of Wanstead and Woodford Guardian) Read initial installation article
A Christmas Nativity Scene installed in Ilford Town Centre in the London Borough of Redbridge was smashed to pieces and the baby Jesus figurine within the set suffered an IS-styled beheading in an act of vandalism that has raised concerns about Islamists in Ilford. On Monday 31st December 2018 our Chairman Wilson Chowdhry re-registered the crime as hate crime after local police failed to recognise the angst and anxiety that the attack had caused amongst the Christian community and closed an initial police case into the desecration of a religious object.
A local woman reported the desecration of a nativity scene displayed at Ilford Town Hall. According to the Ilford Recorder, she described being put off dismissively by Redbridge Town Council when she called to report the incident, when they told her that the items did not belong to them and that they were breaking for lunch. But for the community member, who does not self-identify as religious, the violent act of beheading the baby Jesus in the manger scene was a concern. She said:
“It is a desecration of a religious icon - I am disgusted.”
She also noted:
“It is three days before Christmas and this happens.
“Any other religion and there would be an outcry and it would have been fixed already."
Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association, who sponsor the display expressed his shock. He said:
"It is stunning that someone would do this when the intent of the project was to install a reminder in the town centre about the true meaning of Christmas to sit in contrast with all the commercialism.
“Even though the location this year made the nativity more visible to the public, the entrance to the main council building is a more protected location but was not offered this year due to other events taking priority - a crying shame considering the huge support for a return of our local nativity”
“As an Ilford Recorder poll suggested last year that the majority of local people desire a Nativity, use of the entrance should be given a priority.
"The loss of our nativity which had cost us £800 is a devastating blow but we will put every effort into bringing one back for 2019 despite this setback."
The holiday display was meant to be on show until January and was started last year when a local call went out to "Bring Back Baby Jesus" to the town centre (click here). The British Pakistani Christian Association lead the appeal but was backed by donors from a diversity of religious groups including Christians, Hindus and Muslims.
Many people in the community regardless of their faith or none found this act disturbing including a kindly Police officer from the Muslim faith who called Mr Chowdhry to confirm a more concerted effort to investigate would ensue.
This year the display was set up by Youth Councillor Hannah Chowdhry as part of her volunteer work with BPCA, which will contribute to her Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award. (click here)
Ms Chowdhry said:
“I was so excited to be introducing the figurines for only the second year. This spiteful act has ruined our nativity, but it cannot destroy the message of Christmas. Jesus came to show people God's love."
Wilson Chowdhry also commented to the Guardian on the message of the nativity. (click here) He said:
"The symbol of the nativity is a pressing message to all of us, irrespective of our backgrounds to offer care and support to the most vulnerable in our communities."
Community members agree that the display contributes to the community ethos at Christmas. Leader of Redbridge Council Cllr Jas Athwal said to the Ilford Recorder Newspaper that the incident was "sad" and he will not let “mindless people ruin the nativity”.
“If we have to have it protected in the future then we will do it,” he said.
“One thing I love about Redbridge is the diversity and living together and this year I had the privilege of going Eid celebrations, Chanukah, Vaisakhi and last week I went to a church for Christmas.
“We want to be making sure that all religions are living here peacefully.”
A Redbridge council spokesperson said to the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian: "We were very disappointed to hear about this act of vandalism which we deplore. We take matters like this seriously and do not tolerate vandalism of any kind in Redbridge. The council will continue to work closely with the police during their investigation and we urge anyone with information to contact them on non-emergency number 101.”
In his discussions with local police it has become very evident that the local Met Police have not attempted to obtain CCTV evidence from Redbridge Control Room, despite the council operating a 24-hour CCTV surveillance of Ilford town centre, which is very extensive. Similarly, CCTV surveillance from Anytime Gym and Ilford Exchange Shopping Mall which may help to identify the vandals has not been sought.
Mr Chowdhry, added:
"At first I did not take any direct action myself as a crime had already been recorded and a call for evidence was placed in the Ilford Recorder. When I received a call from several local Christian leaders asking me to register the crime as a hate crime, I realised the extent of hurt the vandalism has caused.
"I was therefore surprised to find out that the case had been closed so soon without a proper investigation.
"I am grateful that Redbridge Police will now be meeting with me to discuss this crime further and hope they will locate the available CCTV surveillance that could identify the vandals before it is too late. I have contacted Redbridge Control Room to suggest they share the footage with the Police to jolly-up this process.
"I am seeking contact with the Scotland Yard 'Communities Together Strategic Partnership to ensure that they take into context the hurt and anxiety felt by many local Christians by this act of vandalism, that they might incorporate policing plans that help to promote local social harmony."
British Pakistani Christian Association has committed to the upkeep of the nativity and will need to repair or replace it due to the vandalism this year. If you would like to contribute to this effort to keep this display showing the true meaning of Christmas please (click here). We need to raise £800 to return our nativity to Ilford Town Centre.