A council has agreed to cover the legal costs of officers who may want to sue three councillors for defamation.
At a special meeting last night (Monday) Rutland County Council voted to grant an indemnity to support the council’s chief executive and officers to take legal action in their own name for defamation against Coun Richard Gale, Coun Dave Richardson and Coun Nick Wainwright, of the Rutland Group of the United Kingdom Independence Party.
The council estimates the cost of any case could be about £150,000. If any officer proceeds with legal action against the group and wins the case, any costs incurred by the council would be recovered. Damages would be awarded to the officer taking the action.
The council was considering suing the members itself earlier this year however the Minister of Justice later said authorities could not sue for defamation.
According to a monitoring officer’s report, which was discussed at the meeting on Monday, the allegations made by the three councillors on their website 4Rutland were “seriously defamatory of officers”. The allegations have now been removed from the website.
Rutland County Council leader Roger Begy (Con) told the meeting the accusations were damaging and no evidence had been offered.
He said: “We’ve got to protect our officers. They are doing a first class job and it is unfair that their future employment is at risk because of these allegations.”
He added: “We will do our best to make sure expenditure is controlled and limited but it is our duty to protect our staff.”
The recommendation by the monitoring officer to support officers wishing to take legal action was approved by 16 councillors at the meeting. Coun Alan Walters (Ind) voted against as he was concered about the cost and Coun Gene Plews (Ind) abstained.
Coun Wainwright did not attend the meeting and Coun Gale and Coun Richardson left the meeting shortly after it started and before the debate began.
In January, councillors voted to support officers wishing to take legal action in their own name for harassment by the same three councillors when they were members of the now defunct Rutland Anti-Corruption Group. The council says the legal bill for that case is £42,000 so far.