Mayor Biggs denies accusations of Islamophobia by demoted Cllr. Khatun

The row between Cllr. Shiria Khatun (Labour, Lansbury) and directly-elected Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has worsened after BBC London News broadcast an interview with Cllr. Khatun in which she accuses Mayor Biggs of Islamophobia and sexism.

Cllr. Shiria Khatun was previously one of three Deputy Mayors and also in charge of Community Safety but decided to step down from her role after being demoted in a recent Labour cabinet reshuffle.

In the BBC London News interview Cllr. Khatun claimed that since she started wearing the Hijab and Abaya she has been the subject of disparaging comments from Mayor Biggs and that he had ‘continuously’ asked her why she was wearing traditional Muslim dress.

Cllr. Khatun in traditional hijab in 2017 (left) and right pictured in 2012
Cllr. Khatun in traditional hijab in 2017 (left) and right pictured in 2012

Cllr. Khatun also accuses the Mayor of making sexist comments, claiming that he described one female councillor as looking as if she was from Bollywood.

Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit

Responding to the accusations Major Biggs vehemently denied them saying that “I am a man who respects people’s faith and there were no circumstances in which I would do that.”

He went on to say that he thought that Bollywood actors dress pretty splendidly and his comments were inline with that.

As the Mayor conceded he does have a reputation for extremely dry self-deprecating humour and it may have been a misinterpretation of this which may have caused offence.

Statement from Mayor Biggs

“It is regrettable that Shiria has decided to act in this way.  She has served as a member of the cabinet and was invited to continue, but with different responsibilities.  These are very important ones about improving the environment and quality of life for residents in the borough and it’s disappointing that she does not feel that these are important issues for Tower Hamlets.

While I am grateful for her work, during the past year it became apparent to me, and others, that the Community Safety portfolio required a new approach. She accepted the new position and it wasn’t until 10 days later, shortly before the Council AGM that she changed her mind. I was happy to discuss her new role with her but despite attempts to contact Shiria to discuss this she has not responded to calls, texts or emails.

The claims made by Cllr Khatun in my view have no substance but if she feels they do she must make a formal complaint and this must be properly and independently investigated.

For the record I am committed to treating all members of my group fairly and thoughtfully. I am also committed to improving the position and opportunities for women in our community. It is of note that five of my nine cabinet members are women with four of the nine roles held by BME members.”

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