Tearful ex-mayor tells of 'photo snub'

THE Departing Mayor of Kirklees launched a blistering attack on a group of orthodox Muslims for refusing to pose with her in photographs.

Coun Jean Calvert (Lab, Ashbrow) said it proved "we are no further down the road" of women's rights than when she first became a councillor in 1992.

Her comments came in her departing speech as she handed over mayoral duties to Coun Karam Hussain (Lib Dem, Dewsbury West).

Coun Calvert was referring to her invitation to attend a community cohesion event at Dewsbury Town Hall in March.

It was organised by the North Kirklees Forum of Mosque Imams to mark Eid-Milad-Un-Nabi, the prophet Mohammed's birthday.

In her tearful speech to the full council and members of the public at Huddersfield Town Hall on Wednesday, Coun Calvert said she had checked whether the invitation was really for her rather than deputy mayor Coun Karam Hussain but organisers insisted she was welcome.

She said: "I attended this event and was horrified to be left on my own in a room full of people that I didn't know. The press wanted to take photographs of the group with the mayor.

"The photographer was told in no uncertain terms that 'we don't have photographs taken with women.'

"That was bad enough but then to stand on my own for a further 15 minutes while photographs were being taken of all the other guests in the room was very upsetting, to such an extent I actually walked out of the room after speaking with council chief executive Rob Vincent and telling him of my intentions."

In her early years as councillor, Coun Calvert was chairwoman of the Women's Rights Committee and helped to launch the council's domestic violence policy.

She said: "I started my life in politics trying to even out the injustices of women's rights, anti-poverty measures and to make for a more equal society.

"These actions have made me realise that we are no further down that road today than we were in 1992 when I became a councillor.

"The question is when are things going to change?"

But an organiser of the event said he had contacted the mayor's office in advance to explain Coun Calvert could not appear in photographs with orthodox clerics.

Waseem Riaz, of Heckmondwike Jamia Mosque, said: "We confirmed this beforehand with the mayor's office that we wanted the mayor to come along but, just to keep things culturally sensitive, if it would be ok that the mayor doesn't appear in photos."

He said it was the custom of orthodox Muslims to keep the sexes apart and it would have been the same if a male mayor had met a group of female orthodox Muslims.

He said: "It is a part of orthodox Islamic beliefs that unless it's a person's own wife, it is better not to have photographs taken. Some orthodox Muslims would not even have photographs taken with their own wives." Mr Riaz said there was supposed to be a group of people at the event who would welcome the mayor.

But he said they had been delayed on the day and by the time they arrived, Coun Calvert had already left.

In Coun Calvert’s speech on Wednesday, she also alleged her consort, Shane Eastwood, had been prevented from placing a chain around the neck of the deputy mayoress, Karam Hussain’s daughter-in-law Nasreen Akhtar, at last year’s mayoral ceremony.

She said: “We as a council have a wonderful community strategy but last year at the mayor-making ceremony Shane was excluded from the traditional role of the consort putting on the chain of the deputy mayoress because it might have upset someone in the audience.

“This act upset him so much he vowed he wouldn’t be here today as a matter of principle.

“The same thing has happened today and I ask the question: when should long-standing traditions change and by whose authority?”