The leader of Wokingham Borough Council has been criticised for ”causing outrage to black residents” after saying the council could not support Black Lives Matter (BLM).

Council leader John Halsall was criticised at a meeting last week for his comments last month on the anti-racism movement.

A member of the public told him his comments had “caused outrage to black residents, staff and the public”.

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On June 16, Cllr Halsall said: “We cannot support the BLM movement, as it has become a political organisation.

“The council should not be a political football or used inadvertently or advertently for political motives.

“Regrettably, in the US, the message has become an anti-police message and whilst this may or may not be appropriate there; we cannot associate with such a message in Wokingham.”

Leanne Henderson, asking a question to Cllr Halsall on behalf of Kiran Nar at Thurday’s (July 23) full council meeting, said: “At a recent council meeting, you said that equality and diversity were hardwired in WBC’s DNA.

“You then proceeded to make public statements that have caused outrage to black residents, staff and the public.

“You have since launched a survey to understand racism more, despite saying equality is being hardwired.

“Clearly the statements made by you about equality and diversity is contradicted by your offensive comments. Is it really genuinely hardwired into WBC’s DNA?

“What research did you conduct on BLM before your statements were made and can you explain how and why such an important mandate on the Council’s position was considered?”

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Responding, Cllr Halsall said: “I was as shocked and disgusted at the killing of George Floyd as any other right-thinking person and it is my sincere hope that the world can change for the better as a result of the outcry it has produced.

“I completely support the message, principles and aims of Black Lives Matter in the UK. I have always been opposed to discrimination in all forms. I understand the need to have a clear focus on tackling racism where it is found.

“If any comments I have made have been offensive to anybody I apologise unreservedly. That was never my intention. Rather, by reaching out, we had hoped to bring residents together.

“WBC is anti-racist, promotes equality and celebrates diversity. We are determined to do better to ensure every resident in the borough feels truly valued.

“I am genuinely surprised and shocked that this rational, energetic, reasonable and determined approach that the council has taken should be considered as offensive.

“I can only really re-iterate my council’s and my own ongoing commitment to combat racism, strive for equality and celebrate diversity.”

The council has launched a survey of black and minority ethnic people’s experiences of life in the borough, which it hopes will act “as a starting point to tackling the blight of racism head on”.