Breckland ward anomaly: recount not allowed

IAN CLARKE The election farce in Breckland took another twist today as officials revealed a fresh count was needed on a Dereham Town Council ward after another “unsolved anomaly” was unearthed.

IAN CLARKE

The election farce in Breckland took another twist today as officials revealed a fresh count was needed on a Dereham Town Council ward after another “unsolved anomaly” was unearthed.

But soon after the council announced its intention to do another manual count, it then said it was unable to do so because the Electoral Commission had advised that statute law prevents this.

In the Central ward the number of ballot papers counted by the ill-fated computerised system was 687 - less than half for the same ward in the district council election.

The discrepancy came to light after papers counted electronically were checked during a debrief involving Breckland Council, Spanish company Indra which provided the e-counting technology, government officials and the Electoral Commission.

Breckland chief executive Keith Davis said: “The Council had intended to carry out a manual count on Monday, May 14 to demonstrate our commitment to openness in the process, but we have to take account of the legal advice we are given. This is regrettable, as I would very much have liked to have cleared up the anomaly that we have identified in an open and clear manner. However, my hands are tied by statute law.”

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In the district council election in Dereham Central - where there are two seats - Labour's Robin Goreham (600 votes) and Michael Fanthorpe (586) were elected. Conservatives Robert Hambidge (570) and Phil Irving (565) were third and fourth while Green candidate Sinead Bowyer was fifth.

In the town council Central ward - which has three seats - Mr Goreham (317) again topped the poll and was elected along with Mr Fanthorpe and Mr Hambidge who both polled 310 votes. The other results were Mr Irving (282), Labour's Julian Crutch (232) and Ms Bowyer (217).

Staff started the original count of Breckland district and town/parish councils using scanners last Friday morning but due to technical problems it was abandoned over the bank holiday weekend and remaining seats were counted by hand on Tuesday.

Of the 21 wards counted electronically, Breckland is confident 19 are accurate.

A discrepancy was found on the day for Dereham Humbletoft ward and a manual recount was done straight away and confirmed the original results.

Mr Goreham said: “The chaos that has pervaded this count is clearly continuing unabated. It just demonstrates a complete loss of control and there are clearly not just computer problems. We can only hope that lessons will be learnt from this.”

Labour agent John Cowan said: “I am sure the public must have completely lost confidence in this process. The word brewery, drinking session and organise come to mind.

“In my 16 years of being involved in the elections I have never seen such a mess.”

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