Flag row over death of Stevenage doctor Karen Woo

A COUNCIL which refused to fly a flag at half-mast to mark the death of a resident killed while on an aid mission in Afghanistan last month flew a flag at half-mast in memory of one of its own members who died three years ago.

It has transpired that Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) chose not to fly a flag at half-mast in memory of Dr Karen Woo, of Brixham Close in Stevenage, after she was shot dead, after “strict rules” about flag-flying in the UK proved to be guidelines that SBC chooses to follow.

The council flew the Stevenage flag at half-mast from the council building when Cllr Tanis Kent, a member of Stevenage Borough Council, died in October 2007.

In a letter to The Comet, a reader wrote that it is important to acknowledge a heroine such as Dr Woo in our town, but “sad to say our council did not do this”.

He added: “I would have thought a flag flown at half-mast, showing they care about one of their citizens and are proud of her and the work she had done, would have been arranged.”

He questioned the council’s priorities, highlighting that the successes of Stevenage Football Club and Stevenage-born F1 driver Lewis Hamilton are publicly celebrated.

In response, council leader Sharon Taylor said: “There are strict rules laid down by central government regarding which flags can be flown from public buildings such as the council offices.”

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But Cllr Taylor has since admitted that these “strict rules” are in fact guidelines the council chooses to follow.

“If guidelines come through the Department for Culture Media and Sport from the Palace, then we tend to follow them,” she said, adding that the guidelines have changed since the death of Cllr Kent.

“We will now not be flying any flag at half-mast, other than upon the death of a sovereign or by special command from the Queen, unless there is a change to the guidelines,” she vowed.

Cllr Taylor admitted she did not know if, under the guidelines, the council could have requested special permission from the Queen to raise a flag to half-mast in memory of Dr Woo, or if this could be done for a councillor in the future.

She said there are plans to discuss with Dr Woo’s family the possibility of a permanent memorial in Stevenage for the aid worker.