A council press officer who joked about using chemical warfare on Streatham High Road has apologised after provoking outrage amongst business leaders, politicians and residents.
Sam Masters, who works for Lambeth Council, made the apology following an outcry from several community leaders, including Streatham MP Chuka Umunna.
In a letter to the Streatham Guardian today, Mr Masters expressed regret for the remark, saying it was “ill considered, ill advised and very offensive to many”.
Lee Alley, chair of the Streatham Business Board, said he was planning to lodge a formal complaint with the council over the comments, which were published on the social networking site Twitter.
The comment, posted on a Twitter account which has since been deleted, read: “Having spent a considerable amount of time in Streatham, my solutions for supporting the High Road mostly involve napalm.”
Scores of residents expressed outrage after the comment was revealed by the Streatham Guardian last week.
Zoe Robinson said: "Aside from the obvious, this is insensitive to those who lost family in bombing of Streatham during World War Two."
And Clarry McDonald, chair of the Music4Children at the White Lion pub in Streatham High Road, said: " I work in Lambeth education. If I tweeted that our schools are crap I'd probably be sacked."
Mr Alley said the comment was indicative of Lambeth Council’s attitude towards the town, which has suffered significant decline since the economic downturn.
He said: “We always wondered what the council thought about Streatham - now we know.”
Resident Philip Sidaway has also submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request about the council’s social media policy to establish whether the tweet breached its official rules of employment.
Yesterday, Streatham MP Chuka Umunna called on Mr Master’s to issue a formal apology over the fiasco.
He posted on Twitter: “Part of a local authority press officer's job is to promote an area not run it down, whether on Twitter or any other platform.
“Is it too much to ask for an apology Sam? My constituents pay your salary.”
The letter in full:
I write in reference to your article about my comments on Twitter, May 24.
Clearly they were ill considered, ill advised and very offensive to many. For that I would like to apologise. That I didn’t apologise sooner is also of profound regret to me.
What was supposed to be a silly joke on a social networking website has offended many people, and for that I am genuinely sorry.
I spent more than four years working everyday in Streatham in my last job. Anybody who knew me during that period would, I hope, testify that I worked hard to champion issues that were important to the people who lived there.
Less than a month ago, I joined Lambeth Council in the hope I might affect some change in a borough where I wrote about the very challenging issues that surround crime, education, public health and housing. Sadly, my comments have distracted from these issues.
To the people that live in the area and who have never had the opportunity to meet me, I would like to apologise. At no time has championing local people and local issues been more important. It is my aim to do that going forward.