Out in the wild west of Norfolk, trouble is brewing.

With its 800-year-old church, bustling pub and an auction which has been running since the Norman Conquest, Methwold may seem a quiet and charming rural village, surrounded by vast swathes of farmland.

But below the tranquil surface, the community has been riven by a bitter dispute which has led to it being dubbed the "most unruly in Norfolk".

Eastern Daily Press: The village sign in MethwoldThe village sign in Methwold (Image: Denise Bradley)

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According to official documents, Methwold's parish council has attracted more complaints than any other in the district this year - more than double the next-placed village.

Disrespectful behaviour, bullying and bringing the council into disrepute are just some of the accusations levelled at its members - allegations that have been dismissed as "vexatious" by the authority's chairman.

The row was first triggered by plans to install a defibrillator but has escalated into a complex wrangle about the council's finances.

It initially broke out between serving councillors but after some of them resigned the attacks now come from the public gallery.

Eastern Daily Press: The pub in the centre of MethwoldThe pub in the centre of Methwold (Image: Newsquest)

The dispute has cost the council almost £3,000 on legal fees and has seen the chairman issue frequent pleas for the rogue residents to stop their complaints.

But the acrimony shows no sign of abating.

The row comes as West Norfolk Council - which oversees the area - proposes the creation of a new role of 'parish council sheriff', who would be tasked with riding into village showdowns to quell any growing rancour.

Eastern Daily Press: Denise Charlesworth-Smith, former Methwold parish councillorDenise Charlesworth-Smith, former Methwold parish councillor (Image: Newsquest)


Like any parish council, there had been occasional differences in opinion among Methwold's members.

The bad blood grew at the end of 2022, when complaints about one councillor's treatment of the parish clerk triggered a flurry of retaliatory complaints.

But the dispute really came to a head at the start of this year.

At a fractious meeting in February, discussions over installing a defibrillator led the council to collapse into disarray.

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The row was sparked by disagreements about the long-term funding for the lifesaving equipment in the hamlet of Brookeville, to the north of the village.

It led to the meeting being called off after a number of councillors walked out due to a complaint being made by then vice chairwoman Denise Charlesworth-Smith.

Eastern Daily Press: Disagreements over the funding for maintaining the defibrillators in the village sparked the rowDisagreements over the funding for maintaining the defibrillators in the village sparked the row (Image: Public)

At subsequent meetings, the members attempted to carry on as normal, but tensions deepened. And by April, they were at breaking point.

Mrs Charlesworth-Smith, who sat in the public gallery during a meeting that month despite still being vice chairwoman, faced a rebuke from other councillors over claims she had made on Facebook attacking the management of the council.

Those accusations related to decisions to spend £4,000 to replace three noticeboards in the village and a £30,000 bill to repair the crumbling wall surrounding St George's Church.

In the messages, Mrs Charlesworth-Smith suggested the costs were disproportionate.

But councillor Simon Liddle defended the spending, arguing it was necessary to fulfil the council's responsibilities.

Following the meeting, Mrs Charlesworth-Smith left the council, standing down before the following month's elections were held.

Other disgruntled councillors have also since left.

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Eastern Daily Press: St George's Church in MethwoldSt George's Church in Methwold (Image: Denise Bradley)


Following the fallout from this row and the election of a new administration in May, similar complaints about the council have continued - although now from members of the public rather than councillors.

At a meeting in August, chairman Martin French attacked the "small, organised group" he said was pursuing an "agenda of disruption with misguided fervour" aimed at the parish council, based on an unfounded belief the administration was "venal and corrupt".

The majority of the complaints - which have been levelled at the clerk - were dismissed as based on "half-truths, incorrect facts and insinuations of malpractice".

"Shame on them," Mr French told the meeting, before explaining the council was resorting to taking legal advice.

The disgruntled group, which has included Mrs Charlesworth-Smith, has been taking to social media to attack the actions of the council, accusing it of misusing public funds.

But Mr French has argued the council had undertaken an extensive audit of its accounts, finding no wrongdoing.

Between May and October, there were 15 complaints made about the council, which included a code of conduct complaint about Mr French.

All were dismissed by West Norfolk Council's monitoring officer.

Eastern Daily Press: Methwold village hallMethwold village hall (Image: Google)Some of the attacks took aim at the way the council had set up the Methwold Hall Complex Charitable Trust, to run the village hall.

The complainants accused the authority of unlawful disposal of assets, unlawful level of expenditure and a failure to seek legal advice in setting up the Trust.


As the dispute deepened, Mrs Charlesworth-Smith contacted Doug Lawson - a former town councillor in Downham Market - for advice on how to pursue investigations into perceived discrepancies.

He was consulted due to his experience as a councillor - a period which saw him embroiled in his own bitter disputes with fellow members in Downham.

He was accused of "woeful behaviour" and West Norfolk Council's standards committee upheld three compaints against him in November 2022.

Eastern Daily Press: Doug Lawson, former Downham Market town councillorDoug Lawson, former Downham Market town councillor (Image: Doug Lawson)

He said: "[Mrs Charlesworth-Smith] asked me to help with the process with the knowledge I had and advised where there could be discrepancies.

"These were valid complaints as there were indicators that things had not been done correctly.

"Under these circumstances, the electorate is more than entitled to ask probing questions and to complain if they don't get answers."

But the auditors, who were paid £2,769 for the investigation, dismissed the accusations against Methwold council and found no wrongdoing.

Eastern Daily Press: Alun Ryves, West Norfolk Borough councillor for MethwoldAlun Ryves, West Norfolk Borough councillor for Methwold (Image: Newsquest)


The issue was again addressed at a meeting last month.

Mr French told the public meeting: "Villages are a hotbed for rumours and gossip, and indeed thrive on them.

"However, when they are factually incorrect, I believe that it pays to put the record straight.

"I hope this report from our solicitors will bring these challenges to an end and the parish council can be allowed to concentrate on running the parish and stop having to deal with serial vexatious complainants."

The Methwold row also came before members of West Norfolk Council's standards committee this month, during which district councillor for the village, Alun Ryves, said: "The number of complaints reflects a bitter personal dispute.

"They were poking each other for a while and some have now resigned but the bad news is that they now make their complaints as members of the public against the parish."

Mrs Charlesworth-Smith declined to comment. She said the last council meeting she attended was in July.

Eastern Daily Press: The village is the second biggest parish in Norfolk in terms of land but has a small population of about 1,500The village is the second biggest parish in Norfolk in terms of land but has a small population of about 1,500 (Image: Denise Bradley)


Amid the turmoil in Methwold, the number of complaints against parish councillors in West Norfolk has doubled this year.

It has led West Norfolk Council to propose creating a new team of senior councillors tasked with intervening when village disputes get out of hand.

It is hoped the intermediary force will stop disagreements from escalating in order to avoid the costly investigations it has to carry out every time a complaint is made - the majority of which are dismissed as needing no further action.

Eastern Daily Press: The village sign features an American bomber planeThe village sign features an American bomber plane (Image: Denise Bradley)


The parish of Methwold, which includes the hamlets of Brookeville and Methwold Hythe, is the second largest in the county in terms of the land it covers, although its population is relatively small at just 1,600.

It sits at the edge of the Fens and the Brecks and is surrounded by 20 farms ranging from 60 acres to 1000 acres.

Agriculture and food production are the main source of employment in the village.

Historically it was the site of an RAF airbase and it remains popular with American servicemen who are stationed at nearby RAF Lakenheath.

Its close ties with aviation have been memorialised in its village sign, which depicts a Lockheed Ventura - an American bomber used in the Second World War.