Chief executive gives UKIP councillors time to ‘moderate behaviour’ before taking legal action

Rutland County Council chief executive Helen Briggs
Rutland County Council chief executive Helen Briggs
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Councillors accused of making defamatory comments about council officers have been given time to “moderate their behaviour” before they face legal action.

Rutland County Council chief executive of Helen Briggs has vowed to fight for her reputation and that of council officers following an ongoing dispute with three UKIP councillors.

The three, Richard Gale, Dave Richardson and Nick Wainwright have refused to apologise for comments made on their website, 4 Rutland, after they disbanded their Rutland Anti Corruption Group and joined UKIP.

Lawyers say council officers have a strong case for legal action because the comments suggested they were involved in fraud and corruption, suspect planning approvals, the misuse of public money and squandering millions of pounds of grant funding.

The UKIP members were given the opportunity to apologise or produce evidence to support their claims but the council says they have not done so.

Council members have agreed to foot the bill if Mrs Briggs or any council officers seek legal action.

In a statement to the council Mrs Briggs said: 
“You have given me a clear mandate to bring proceedings for defamation in my own name.

“Before doing so I intend to allow these three councillors a short period of time to 
show whether they can moderate their recent behaviour, and operate as councillors would be expected to, but I shall not hesitate in commencing proceedings unless there is a marked improvement in their behaviour.

“I will continue to deal firmly but fairly with these councillors, as I would with any other, and I hope that I can rely on your support to allow me to concentrate my efforts on pursuing the best interests of this council and the residents of Rutland.”

Residents have been assured that the legal dispute will not impact on the services they receive.

Mrs Briggs said: “The council has clear priorities and a challenging agenda to deliver.

“Significant work has taken place on key projects despite this distraction and I am committed to ensuring that the staff team are working hard to build on this work.

“I will not allow these three councillors, or anyone else for that matter, to continue to disrupt the effective operation of this council and me as its chief executive.”

The UKIP councillors are in talks with solicitors over building a case against the council for harassment. They say their comments were not defamatory.