Community organisations come together to defend free speech

Press Release 7 March 2013

The different community organisation that are opposing the budget cuts to services
have come together in as an estimated 4,000 strong group to defend a youth worker
after he was taken from his home by police at about 10:15pm on February 16th and
held more than four hours before being issued with a fixed-penalty notice for alledgedly
‘causing harassment, alarm or distress’ under section five of the Public Order Act.

Michael McDonald, 34, of Benwell, was arrested late at night whilst looking after
his six year old son. The arrest followed an incident earlier in the day when
McDonald, know by friends and colleagues as ‘Don’, engaged with Nick Forbes, the the
Labour Council leader, in the street. Don wanted to discuss with Forbes, the
effects of the cuts to Newcastle’s youth services, which the youth worker fears will
have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable residents of the city.

“All I wanted to do was express my concerns directly to the man who is spearheading
these sweeping cuts,” McDonald stated. “Forbes has kept a deliberate low-profile
during the consultation process; attending very few of the public meetings, but
preferring to hide behind a video camera. Meeting him in the street was a rare
opportunity I didn’t want to miss. I was not threatening to him. I didn’t swear. I
only tried to explain to him, as a professional youth worker, the effects these cuts
would have on the city’s services.”

McDonald denies all accusations against him, and has returned the fixed penalty notice,
saying he will challenge the alleged accusations and the police action in court.

Project Manager, Michael Bell of Patchwork, a well respected youth project that has
been delivering services to the community of Benwell for over a decade said of
McDonald “He is a peaceful man and a great role-model for the children he works
with. Don is well-loved by the kids and is respected throughout the community
services of the city.”

Following comments about McDonald made by Labour Councillors in the civic centre
meeting last night before voting through the cuts that are of deep concern to many
of Newcastle’s residents, the resolve of the ‘Defend Don’ group has strengthened.
A petition will be put online demanding the charges against McDonald are dropped and
that the council actively support freedom of speech for Newcastle’s residents.

“The Labour council are being very irresponsible by causing a rift between the
council and the community workers,” says Gari Sullivan from Artists Against Cuts.
“The community workers are the very people the council will need to work with in
order to salvage something from these destructive attacks on our public services.

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