Complainer defends himself

PUBLISHED: 08:45 20 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:03 22 October 2010

The man behind a string of complaints and allegations against a Norfolk council defended his actions last night .

The man behind a string of complaints and allegations against a Norfolk council defended his actions last night.

It came after South Norfolk Council's cabinet yesterday decided that any further correspondence from Stuart Carruthers, of Harleston, and his wife Jane, would be directed to the authority's chief executive, Geoff Rivers.

He will decide if further staff involvement is required, while any statutory applications or requests for emergency assistance will be dealt with as normal.

The council said the action - recommended by the authority's solicitors - was in response to Mr and Mrs Carruthers' "irresponsible" demands on officers, which have amounted to hundreds of hours over nearly 10 years.

The couple have challenged the authority on various issues, from planning and building control to its annual accounts and the integrity of its officers.

As previously reported, a complaint made to the Ombudsman was investigated and dismissed and within the past 12 months the couple have twice sought consent from the High Court to start proceedings for a judicial review of council decisions, both of which were refused.

The District Auditor also failed to uphold objections they raised to the council's 2002/03 accounts, with the authority left to pick up the investigation costs of £39,420.

The issues relating to the couple were discussed behind closed doors after the council said it had to consider their human rights.

While Mr Carruthers, who attended the meeting, said he was happy for them to be heard in public, cabinet leader Vivienne Clifford-Jackson said his wife had not given her permission in writing.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Carruthers, 47, a former policy advisor, said he had no regrets and that he and his wife were considering their position. "We have our personal issues and we have public interest issues . . . We have experienced problems with South Norfolk Council. We have encountered people who have had problems with South Norfolk. The members need to be concerned about what the officers are doing.

"This has no impact on what we are doing. We have got a lot of the evidence we need . . . Our point has always been that we couldn't access the evidence." Asked if he would continue his challenges, a defiant Mr Carruthers said: "We don't need to do the same sort of thing . . . If we have to stand up to them, we will continue to stand up to them."

Mr Rivers said the time spent dealing with the complaints had probably cost the council tens of thousands of pounds.

"South Norfolk Council prides itself on the good relations it has with the residents of south Norfolk. However, this irresponsible use of officer time at the council by Mr and Mrs Carruthers has necessitated action," he said.

"The £40,000 costs incurred from the District Auditor's investigations is a fraction of what we estimate the true cost to be. It could exceed £100,000 if we take the costs of all public agencies into account. To spend this sum of money on one complainant is totally unacceptable."

Ms Clifford-Jackson added:

"It is time to stop this. It has been going on for nearly 10 years and no organisation which Mr and Mrs Carruthers has approached has found any fault with South Norfolk Council. It's costing far too much money in officer time and we have other priorities to address."

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