Council chief talks about impact of blogger in court as some charges are dropped

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A council chief has spoken in court about the impact a prolific blogger has had on her work and home life.

Chief executive of Rutland County Council, Helen Briggs, was giving evidence at Leicester Magistrates Court yesterday (Thursday) against Martin Brookes, who is charged with harassing and stalking her.

Brookes is also charged with stalking and harassing Oakham town councillor Charles Howarth however, two other charges of harassing and stalking police officer Christopher Wharton were dismissed yesterday at the request of prosecutor John Western.

During the third day of the trial, Mrs Briggs was cross-examined by Brookes’ defence solicitor David Swingler.

He suggested that many of Brookes’ blog posts, which include accusations of “bullying”, having a “special relationship” with the police and misusing public money for her own benefit, were reasonably held opinions.

He argued that under article 10 of the Human Rights Act, Brookes was exercising his freedom of expression.

Mr Swingler said: “It doesn’t mean what he is saying is right, but it is his right to say it.”

The defence questioned why Mrs Briggs is only taking action against Brookes and not other people who have questioned her conduct, including Private Eye magazine which published an article about “rotten” Rutland.

Mrs Briggs said: “This has been going on for years. I ignored it initially because I thought that was a sensible thing to do. It’s not about anything in the last six months - I have to take into account the cumulative impact of his behaviour.

“The Private Eye article made very uncomfortable reading. I wouldn’t agree it was acceptable but it was not sustained. It was an isolated incident.”

Mrs Briggs added: “He (Brookes) has a right to express his opinion but I’m here because of the cumulative impact of his statements.

“There are acceptable degrees of criticism and there are subject areas that are uncomfortable for my family and colleagues.

“I have never before had to explain to my family and friends why things are appearing on blogs about the way I conduct my job.”

Mrs Briggs admitted she had never directly asked Brookes to remove his blog posts or correct their inaccuracies.

Extracts were read out from Brookes’ blog, one which said she used council money to “fund her hobby” of cycling by making a contribution to the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic.

In response, Mrs Briggs said: “Mr Brookes always jumps to the conclusion that whatever I do, whether that be cycling or having contact details for the police, that my motive is always inappropriate or worse.”

Earlier in the day the court heard evidence from Det Sgt David McDonald, who had interviewed Mrs Briggs about Brookes’ behaviour.

He claimed the main issue of the case is the way Brookes publishes his comments rather than the actual content of his blogs and e-mails.

He said: “The method in which he deliver his criticisms is a mechanical method of attacking a person’s character.

“I see the issue is the robust way he used modern communications to get out his message.”

The trial had previously heard that Oakham town councillor Charles Howarth had set up an anonymous blog called The Laughing Stocks which he had used to attack Brookes.

When Det Sgt McDonald was asked why Mr Howarth had not been charged for the content of his blog, he said: “Both (blogs) were as bad as each other but I didn’t believe we would get a prosecution if it was brought to court.”

The defence also questioned evidence provided by Mr Howarth earlier in the week, who claimed he had received “dozens” of phone calls and messages from Brookes and seen him loitering outside his home.

Mr Swingler asked for the charges relating to Mr Howarth’s “weak, vague and inconsistent” evidence to be dismissed as he believed there was no case to answer.

But district judge John Temperley ruled that the credibility of the evidence was not questionable enough to drop the charges.

The case will resume at Loughborough Magistrates Court on October 8.