CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Former mayor Lazzaro Pietragnoli resigns as Labour’s chief whip over ‘abusive’ Twitter account

Last week, he falsely told the CNJ that his wife was running @PHillmum account

18 November, 2021 — By Richard Osley

Lazzaro Pietragnoli said he had referred himself to the standards board

CAMDEN Labour group’s chief whip yesterday (Wednesday) resigned his role after admitting he has secretly been running a Twitter account which dished out spiky criticism of some of his colleagues and had called a former mayor a “scumbag”.

In a scarcely-believable sequence of events, Councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli said that he had falsely told the New Journal last week that the @PHillmum account was being operated by his wife.

In fact, university professor Valentina Arena had nothing to do with it at all and was unaware that she was being identified by her husband in these responses to us.

Today the New Journal makes it unequivocally clear that Ms Arena had no part in the account’s five year history of tweets.

Instead it was Cllr Pietragnoli himself who had been making the posts, while presenting as a mother living in social housing in Primrose Hill and raising three children.

He said he has now referred himself to the standards board.

Nobody in the area had ever been able to identify the author of the @PHillmum feed despite its apparent in-depth knowledge of council affairs and forthright opinions on local issues.

The account had regularly praised Cllr Pietragnoli, promoting his work as a councillor in the Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward. Conversations occasionally unfolded between Cllr Pietragnoli’s official account and @PHillmum, even though he was running both.

Cllr Pietragnoli was re-elected in Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward alongside Pat Callaghan and Richard Cotton

The  New Journal asked him last week if he knew who was running the account after being sent a series of screenshots by internet sleuths, some which appeared to show he was linked in some way.

At first, he replied to our polite enquiry by saying he did not know for sure but could pass on a message. Later, when asked about further curiosities, he said his wife had set up the feed and wanted anonymity while she tweeted.

But yesterday (Wednesday), he told the New Journal that this was all wrong, adding: “I want to confirm that she [his wife] was never involved in the Twitter account nor had she any knowledge of what I told you last week.

“That Twitter account was set up by me as a prank, which clearly escalated into something very negative and abusive, for which I am sorry.”

He added: “I made a bad error of judgement and I want to apologise wholeheartedly to all the people who have been affected by it.

“I am going through a very difficult period with some very stressing personal issues. When you rang me last week to ask for clarification about the ownership of the account, I panicked and came up with the worst possible explanation without considering the consequences of my action. I appreciate the distress that this situation has caused to many people and would like to apologise to them unreservedly.”

He added that he would take “all necessary steps to repair my actions”.

Again, the New Journal makes clear that it took last week’s explanation in good faith. The @PHillmum’s account name was changed last Wednesday – after our questions – to ‘Primrose Hill (Valentina)’ and a bio which read that it was the account of the “proud wife of Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli”.

It is now wholly clear that Ms Arena had no involvement at all.


Apology: In our article on November 11, it was incorrectly reported that Valentina Arena was the author of the Twitter account @PHillmum.
The New Journal would like to clarify that this is not the case, and we apologise


As chief whip, Cllr Pietragnoli was in charge of enforcing discipline in Camden’s Labour group but there were suggestions last night that backbenchers may now challenge any input he has had into the candidate reselection process ahead of next May’s council elections.

Several existing Labour councillors are said to be fighting for survival after not being recommended to stand again.

During Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, Cllr Pietragnoli, writing secretly on the account, would often offer sharp criticism – and promoted the idea of voting Green while he was in charge.

The @PHillmum account said the party was in the control of a minority that “prefer Putin, Assad, Iran’s ayatollahs to freedom and democracy”, and replied to another social media user that “Corbyn and shit are the only two words with any sense in your sentence”.

Maryam Eslamdoust during her time as the Mayor of Camden

When Labour councillor Maryam Eslamdoust was chosen to be the mayor, the account tweeted other elected members with the question “are you happy that this scumbag is going to be the Mayor of Camden?”

Cllr Eslamdoust had worked for Mr Corbyn as a Labour staffer.

Her husband, Thomas Gardiner, also a councillor,was described as “disgraceful man” and the account tried to persuade local councillors to act against him after he was challenged over Labour’s handling of anti-semitism cases while he worked in the party’s complaints office.

Richard Cotton, Cllr Pietragnoli’s ward colleague at the council, was asked by @PHillmum to take a more “balanced approach” on the issue of self-determination for trans people, while Labour’s former cabinet member Sally Gimson was criticised for how she apparently dealt with a deputation by mental health service-users.

The account, still shielding its true identity, also took swipes at Conservative councillor Henry Newman in relation to his work as a Downing Street adviser, called drivers upset by changes to Euston Road “scumbags” and occasionally sent snippy tweets to the Lib Dems or local residents.

Incognito, Cllr Pietragnoli, himself a former mayor of Camden, could also use the account to enter the debates over Primrose Hill’s locked gates and ice cream van pollution.

This week, the account was deleted.

Cllr Eslamdoust said that the tweets were “not victimless” and she was “horrified” to learn they had come from the group’s chief whip.

She said the feed had caused her stress while she was pregnant.

The case comes amid a national debate over how far anonymity should stretch in political discourse. Online anonymity on social media has been celebrated in some quarters as a way for people to safely participate in debates.

But it has also led to concern about how fierce the tone can be from those unwilling to say who they are.

In a sometimes acrimonious battle within Camden’s Labour group, rivalries have emerged between those who were resolutely opposed to Mr Corbyn’s direction for the party, and those who were enthused by his leadership and ideas.

At one stage, mediators were considered to try and pull together different factions.

Last night (Wednesday), Camden Council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said: “I was deeply disappointed to hear that a councillor was involved with this anonymous account, the content of which was completely unacceptable.

“I agree with his decision to resign as chief whip and report himself to our standards committee. I would urge all colleagues to maintain respectful language and behaviours to each other, and will be taking steps to improve this in our group.”

 

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