Norfolk police has been called in to investigate an extraordinary ‘dirty tricks’ row which exploded on the eve of today’s council elections.

The force has been contacted by Norwich City Council’s returning officer about an official Labour Party leaflet accusing a rival of  “unacceptable personal behaviour”.

The flyers were distributed in the Town Close ward of Norwich, making the allegation against Ian Stutely, a former Labour councillor who is now standing against the party as an Independent.

The document claims Mr Stutely – one of the so-called 'Town Close Clique' councillors who left Labour last autumn – was disqualified from standing for the party because of his behaviour towards other members. It adds that Mr Stutely apologised.

Members of the public have reported the letter to the police, claiming it represents a breach of data protection rules while the Town Close Clique say it is defamatory.

However, Labour has defended the document, saying voters had been asking on the doorstep why the group had left the party.

The leaflet - which is headed "What you haven't been told about why Ian Stutely and other councillors went 'independent' - says: "Ian Stutely was not allowed to be selected as a Labour councillor due to evidence of unacceptable personal conduct towards others in the local party. He did not contest this evidence but apologised for that behaviour."

It adds: "He didn't jump because of principle or policy differences; he was 'pushed'."

It goes on: "Shortly afterwards, he resigned as a Labour councillor at a Norwich City Council meeting, without saying why he was prevented from standing as a Labour candidate."

Eastern Daily Press: Ian StutelyIan Stutely (Image: Labour Party)


Following Mr Stutely's deselection last autumn, his Labour colleagues in the Town Close ward refused to select a replacement candidate to stand in this week's city council election.

This forced Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) to impose its own candidate, Chris Smith, who is on the ballot today.

Four city councillors -  including Mr Stutely's partner Karen Davis - announced their resignation from Labour at a dramatic meeting in November, costing the party its overall majority on the council.

Two county councillors also revealed they were quitting the party due to his "unjust deselection".

The councillors to quit were: Emma Corlett, deputy Labour group leader at Norfolk County Council; Maxine Webb, county councillor; Cate Oliver cabinet member for wellbeing and culture at City Hall; and city councillors Karen Davis, Ian Stutely and Rachel Everett.

Despite their numbers, they were called the Town Close Four, as four of them represented the ward, although they have also been dubbed the Town Close Clique.

They all continued to represent their wards as Independents, and Mr Stutely is standing for re-election as a councillor in Town Close. 

The reasons for Mr Stutely's deselection by the local party were not revealed, but he had been a vocal critic of the Labour administration at City Hall. 

Eastern Daily Press: Emma Corlett and Ian Stutely (back row) with Karen Davis and Cate Oliver (front)Emma Corlett and Ian Stutely (back row) with Karen Davis and Cate Oliver (front) (Image: Town Close Facebook)


The letter, distributed by the Labour Party, says: "Up until October last year, Ian Stutely was trying to remain a Labour councillor.

"He was disqualified from selection as a Labour candidate for this election because of unacceptable personal conduct towards others in the local Labour party."

It goes on the claim that Mr Stutely appealed against his deselection at a regional level in the autumn, but this was not upheld. 

A spokesman for the Labour Party said: "For a long period, residents have been asking us, why did these people 'defect'? It was clear that those involved have not told the most important part of the story, so this letter gives the answers."

Eastern Daily Press: The letter distributed in Town CloseThe letter distributed in Town Close (Image: Submitted)


Police are now considering the issue after it was reported to City Hall's returning officer, Louise Rawsthorne, who is responsible for the conduct of the election.

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: "As per Electoral Commission guidance, matters relating to campaign material are for the police to consider and investigate.

"If the returning officer receives any complaint about campaign material, they are referred to the police, as necessary."

Members of the public have also contacted the police claiming the letter represents a breach of GDPR (general data protection regulation).

Police have declined to comment but officers will now have to assess whether or not to launch a full investigation.

READ MORE: Norwich City Council under fire over purple voting slips

Eastern Daily Press: There is an election at Norwich City Council todayThere is an election at Norwich City Council today (Image: Newsquest)

The Independent group said: "We consider this letter defamatory, and it has been independently reported to the police. 

"We are proud of the positive campaign we have run - and continue to run - and are proud of the many residents who have told us they will vote for Ian for his track record of hard work and care on the issues that matter to them. 

"We continue to support our residents across Town Close, who will decide who is best placed to get things done in our ward.

"We urge anyone who receives this letter to report it to the electoral commission and the police."

There will be 13 seats at stake in the election today - one in each of Norwich's three-member wards.

The Labour Party, the largest group on the council, will be fighting to regain its overall majority following the resignations of the Town Close Clique.