Britney Spears shoots Criminal video as council bars gang drama filming on Hackney estates

Ronan Bennett

Screenwriter and Hackney resident Ronan Bennett. Photograph: Grant Smith

Hackney Council this week has defended its decision to refuse Channel 4 drama Top Boy filming rights on estates in the borough, whilst Britney Spears got the go-ahead to shoot her new music video, Criminal.

The crime thriller Top Boy revolves around gang crime in and around the fictional Summerhouse Estate in Hackney.

Top Boy writer Ronan Bennett says the council refused premission because the programme’s portrayal of the borough could damage tourism ahead of the Olympics.

Mayor Jules Pipe did not directly comment on Bennett’s claim, but responded by saying: “[I]t was not fair on residents to run the risk of having their neighbourhood stigmatised on national television as riddled with drugs and gangs.

“Even where estates do suffer these problems, few people would want their home portrayed like that, and I’d question the motives of any that did.”

Defending the decision, Mayor Pipe said: “Estates aren’t film sets to be casually rented out, they are people’s homes. When filming is proposed on an estate, before approaching residents’ associations for their agreement, Hackney’s film office looks carefully at the application and considers numerous issues including whether the portrayal would have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the area.

Had Hackney agreed to the filming and had our worst fears confirmed, what possible justification could the Council give for being complicit in such negative stereotyping?”

Whilst there was nothing to prevent Top Boy filming in Hackney’s streets, the Town Hall refused filming on council estates, for which specific permission is required.

Notwithstanding, Britney Spears was earlier this week acting out scenes of an armed robbery, brandishing a gun around Stoke Newington Town Hall  as she was filmed for Criminal, her forthcoming music video.

Hackney Council had given the go-ahead for the filming, but in a  statement to the ITV London Tonight programme, it said: “In this case we did not agree that a replica gun could be used at Stoke Newington Town Hall and we are disappointed … We will be raising this matter with the production company.”

The council’s focus on reputation management paid off last year, when the Local Government Association (LGA)  highlighted Hackney as a case study as part of its reputation campaign.

The LGA outlined the borough’s efforts to improve its ‘Reputation Index score’, and, according to the study, the council identified crime and anti-social behaviour as areas which particularly affect public perceptions.

Related: Channel 4 commissions Hackney-based crime thriller

Real news stories don't come cheap.

The Hackney Citizen is the borough’s only independent newspaper, and is now in its tenth year.

Our hard-hitting journalism has uncovered fire safety failures in tower blocks, revealed plans to criminalise rough sleepers, exposed dodgy letting agents and reported on many other issues of public concern.

We’ve always been totally free in print and online, but advertising revenues are falling.

That’s why we’re asking for your help.

Hackney Citizen’s high quality journalism is produced by a small team on a shoestring budget, so we’re asking you to make a monthly contribution to fund our work, enabling the paper to survive and thrive.

Support the Hackney Citizen from as little as £2 per month.

Can you spare £4 a month or more? Get the paper delivered direct to your door each month! (UK only)