Rutland County Council pursues legal action against councillors to “prevent harrassment” of chief executive and staff

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Rutland County Council has voted to seek an injunction to prevent three of its members harassing its chief executive and other employees.

The decision was taken at a special meeting of the full council last night (Thursday).

The meeting had been called to discuss the results of an investigation the council commissioned into the actions of Coun Richard Gale, Coun David Richardson and Coun Nick Wainwright, who make up a political group called Rutland Anti-Corruption Group.

A report to the meeting said public services law firm Bevan Brittan had been employed to investigate “reckless and serious allegations” made by the three councillors.

Councillors voted to:

Authorise the council to take legal action to seek an injunction to prevent harassment of the chief executive and other officers by Rutland Anti-Corruption Group and its members.

Grant an indemnity to, and support the chief executive and other officers, to take legal action in their own name for harrassment by the group

Resolve that all communications by the group to the council be subject to a single point of contact through the council’s internal e-mail system.

The council also agreed to authorise sufficient funds for these purposes.

All councillors attended the meeting, with 23 members voting in favour of the recommendations, which were put forward by Coun Edward Baines (Con), seconded by Coun Jonathan Munton (Con) and amended by Coun Kenneth Bool (Con).

Coun Gale, Coun Wainwright and Coun Richardson abstained from the vote.

Chief executive Helen Briggs withdrew from the meeting before the vote was taken.

A number of options that were outlined in the report were not agreed at the meeting, but deferred to be potentially considered at some point in the future. These included taking action in respect of defamation, asking the chief executive to make a complaint to the police, and carrying out a wider review into the impact of the group.

A report by Mrs Briggs ahead of the meeting said the main concerns of the council were the continued aggressive e-mail correspondence from members of the group to officers; accusations of corruption made against officers and members; the volume of e-mail traffic impacting on workload; and refusal to attend meetings with the chief executive or attend scrutiny panels.

Partner at Bevan Brittan Peter Keith-Lucas told the meeting: “My recommendation is absolutely clear to you. You need to do something.”

During the meeting, council leader Roger Begy (Con) said: “This is a black night for Rutland. This is not where we want to be.”

Coun Baines said: “I love this county and this county council is the public face. If we don’t restore trust and act quickly, it will drag on and on.”

Coun Richard Gale, the leader of Rutland Anti-Corruption Group, said his questions to officers had been left “unanswered” and said: “We had the potential to resolve this months ago.”

But Coun Wainwright said part of the Bevan Brittan report was “purely theoretical” and said the “report is liberally littered with inaccuracies”.

He added: “The questions we have been asking are not trivial.”

He also said the members of the group would “continue to strive to do our duty”.

In a statement released after the meeting Coun Begy said: “We have a chief executive and staff team who are simply doing their jobs to the very best of their ability.

“Of course, they should be subject to scrutiny and challenge as that is the basis of local democracy. However, they should not have to put up with false allegations about their conduct and regular questioning of their integrity and honesty. As councillors we have to protect our staff, and this decision sends out a strong message.

“We totally support open and transparent debate and argument in meetings that are held in public so everyone is aware of issues and all are able to answer and account.”

After the meeting Coun Wainwright said the group was taking legal advice and added: “Taking it to court is the right thing to do.”

The group is expected to release an official statement today (Friday).

After the meeting, Rutland MP Alan Duncan released a statement supporting the council’s actions.

He said: “The chief executive and other officers have my unequivocal support and confidence.”