Councillors meet to discuss legal action - groups says openess is all it wants

From left, Rutland county councillors, Dave Richardson, Nick Wainwright and Richard Gale during a protest outside Rutland County Council offices in December
From left, Rutland county councillors, Dave Richardson, Nick Wainwright and Richard Gale during a protest outside Rutland County Council offices in December
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People can attend a meeting tonight (Thursday) where Rutland County Council will consider advice that it can sue three of its members for defamation.

A special meeting has been called for councillors to consider whether to take action against Rutland Anti-Corruption Group founders Richard Gale, David Richardson and Nick Wainwright.

The meeting will be held in the council chamber at the offices in Catmose, at 7pm.

The council agreed to take legal advice on the group’s actions following a meeting in October and public services law firm Bevan Brittan was instructed to carry out an investigation.

The law firm has advised the council that allegations made by the three councillors have damaged the authority’s reputation. It also said the name of the group implies there is corruption within the council.

A report by council chief executive Helen Briggs to the meeting alleges the three councillors made “reckless and serious allegations” which were “unsubstantiated by evidence, made with the potential to harm the reputation of officers, members and the council itself”.

The council’s lawyers said in their report that e-mails sent by the group to Mrs Briggs were “very likely to amount to harassment”.

Concerns have also been raised by the council about the three councillors’ alleged “failure to comply with council processes which impeded the efficient operation of the council”.

Following the release of the council report about Rutland Anti-Corruption Group, its members Couns Gale, Richardson and Wainwright issued this statement: “We are three Independent councillors elected to represent the views and aspirations of the whole community of Rutland.

“In times of austerity it is so important to regularly consult with and inform the electorate how Rutland County Council spends the reducing amount of money it has to provide services on their behalf.

“All we have ever done and all we will continue to do is ask for openness and transparency in line with current National Government directives.

“Despite this we have been denied our statutory right to see minutes of meetings, background information and reports on capital projects and other far-reaching and significant projects and expenditure.

“Such documentation is essential in order to make well informed decisions. Furthermore, without this openness and transparency we cannot respond to the electorate who want and have a right, to know how their money is spent.

“We will not be deterred by certain false and misleading published information recently about ourselves and no matter how uncomfortable this gets we will continue to ask those questions, as is our duty as elected councillors, in order to keep the public fully informed.”

Rutland County Council would be the first local authority in the country to pursue a defamation claim. Other options to be outlined during the meeting include financially supporting the chief executive or other officers to pursue legal action; reporting the group to the police alleging criminal harassment and malicious e-mails; ensuring the group only contacts the council through one person; considering mediation; conducting a wider independent review; or taking no further action.

Bevan Brittan said in its report: “There is particular merit in considering action by the council for defamation of the council, as this would go to the root of the issue, and for an injunction against further harassment of officers, as this would be effective but require a relatively low standard of proof”.

If the council decides to pursue legal action for defamation, it would cost at least £90,000 but the winning party should be able to recover 70 per cent of its costs.

The council has already spent £8,000 on legal fees.