The political assistant at the centre of an email row which exposed a rift between Conservatives in Norfolk has resigned – with the county council handing him a payment for “the difficulties of the last few months”.

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And Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy has come under increased pressure over his role in the sending of that email, with his former Conservative association complaining to the party at a national level that his conduct could harm the party at the polls.

The email at the heart of the controversy was sent in April to BBC Radio Norfolk by Kevin Vaughan, political assistant to the Conservative group at County Hall.

It was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council. was due to appear on Nick Conrad’s show to discuss the King’s Lynn incinerator, which has been a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.

It suggested it might “be pertinent information” for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing “a serious leadership challenge” and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.

When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation at County Hall, which last month concluded that Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy.

The county council said the findings of the internal disciplinary process would remain confidential.

They said “appropriate action” had been taken and Mr Vaughan had not been sacked.

But last night it emerged that Mr Vaughan, who was employed by the county council, not the Conservative group, has resigned from the council, after passing up an offer to find him an alternative job elsewhere in the authority.

Anne Gibson, head of human resources and organisational development at Norfolk County Council, said: “I can confirm that Kevin Vaughan has resigned from the county council.

“Kevin’s role as political assistant was due to come to an end on August 8 and he declined an offer to be considered for redeployment elsewhere within the authority.

“The county council has paid Kevin the sum due to him contractually, plus an additional sum in recognition of the difficulties of the last few months.

“The details of the settlement are recognised by both sides as fair and reasonable and will remain confidential, in line with usual employment practice.”

She also revealed the council’s own monitoring officer had investigated reports that the investigator’s report, which the council has refused to release to the EDP, had been circulated to members of the public.

She said: “In addition, it has been reported that copies of the investigator’s report had been passed to members of the public unconnected with the investigation.

“The monitoring officer has thoroughly investigated this allegation and found no evidence that it was true.”

Meanwhile, the North West Norfolk Conservative Association (NWNCA), which Mr Murphy, county councillor for Freebridge Lynn, was a member of until July, has written to the Conservative Party’s co-chairman Baroness Warsi about the county council leader’s conduct.

The letter, from the association’s chairman George Eve and president James Morgan, highlighted “the unhappiness of ourselves and the vast majority of our association’s membership about Mr Murphy’s actions and to make it clear that any negative impressions that have been given about NWNCA and some of its members by Mr Murphy (and his adherents) are a gross distortion of the facts.”

The letter, which Mr Eve and Mr Morgan say was sent on the suggestion of North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, stated that the association “deplores the actions of Mr Murphy generally” adding that he “has many undoubted skills, but unfortunately his propensity to sow divisiveness in his wake and to pursue personal vendettas against those who oppose him within the party is now starting to materially harm the party electorally in Norfolk almost as much as the Lynn incinerator issue.”

Mr Murphy, now a member of South Norfolk Conservatives, has countered with his own complaint to the Conservatives about his former association’s letter, rebutting the letter paragraph by paragraph.

The County Hall leader, who will be seeking election in the South Norfolk division of Forehoe in next May’s county council elections, said: “I categorically and completely deny the accusations made in this particular letter.”

He added that some of the association’s officers had emailed Conservative head office distancing themselves from the letter’s contents and questioned the procedure which had led to the letter being sent.

dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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