Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Catholic librarian sacked for criticising council’s China contract elected as councillor to same local authority

A Catholic former librarian has been elected as an independent councillor to the local authority that sacked her for publicly criticising its decision to award a multi-million pound redevelopment contract to a Chinese firm.

Maureen O’Bern was fired by Wigan Council in 2021 when she objected to a £135 million deal with Beijing Construction Engineering Group International (BCEGI) UK to redevelop the town centre because of the persecution of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese state.

She was later escorted from the public gallery of Wigan Town Hall after telling councillors: “You’ve all got blood on your hands.”

She appealed unsuccessfully against her dismissal then decided to stand as an independent for her local Ince Ward.

In a shock result in local elections last week she won to serve a four-year term on the council gaining more votes than the ruling Labour Party leader David Molyneux.

She said: “I do feel it vindicates the position I took regarding the demolition of the Galleries (shopping centre) and the choice of a Chinese State owned firm to carry it out. 

“Most people are very fair minded and know the council’s actions, in both  making the decision to demolish the Galleries and to sack me were wrong. The fact that I was elected with more votes  than the Leader of the Council speaks volumes.  

“Councillors and politicians are elected to listen to and represent the electorate.  Too many have become complacent.”

Mrs O’Bern worked at Leigh Library, in the Wigan local authority area, for 34 years until she was suspended then fired after she objected on social media to the involvement of BCEGI in the redevelopment of the town centre.

The plans will involve the construction of a new shopping centre with a 150-room hotel, 464 homes, a cinema, a bowling alley and a centre for indoor mini-golf.

Mrs O’Bern had pointed out that awarding the contract to a company owned by the Chinese government was contrary to the professed commitment to human rights and oppressed minorities of Wigan Council, her then employer, because of such abuses by Beijing as the persecution of Uyghur Muslims and other religious groups.

Since 2014, the Communist state has subjected the Uyghurs to forced sterilisations, forced labour and forcible internment in camps for re-education.

A disciplinary hearing by the council concluded that her public criticisms of the contract broke the rules of her employment and constituted gross misconduct.

Mrs O’Bern was dismissed without notice by the disciplinary panel.