Complaining pair 'a public nuisance'

PUBLISHED: 09:35 12 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:59 22 October 2010

District councillors are to be asked to back action against a couple whose constant complaints and allegations have become a "public nuisance".

District councillors are to be asked to back action against a couple whose constant complaints and allegations have become a "public nuisance".

In a confidential draft report to South Norfolk Council's cabinet, leaked to the EDP, principal solicitor David Ward says a huge amount of officer and member time has been taken up over several years dealing with issues raised by Stuart and Jane Carruthers, from Harleston.

They have ranged from complaints about the planning department and building control to the integrity of officers and the council in general.

It started in about 1997, a year after the couple moved to the town, and Mr Ward says Mr Carruthers continued to complain despite being given explanations and compre-hensive answers.

A complaint he made to the Ombudsman was investigated and dismissed, and within the past 12 months Mr and Mrs Carruthers have twice sought consent from the High Court to start proceedings for a judicial review of council decisions. Both were refused, and earlier this year they were ordered to pay costs to the council of £3,460.

The Audit Commission also failed to uphold objections they raised to the council's accounts for 2002/03, with the authority picking up the investigation costs of £39,420.

In 2002, the council invited the couple to submit their complaints to a formal panel, which they did, but these

were found to be unjustified and were dismissed.

It was agreed there should be no further contact with them except as necessary and required to allow the council to fulfil its functions or if asked by the Ombudsman or another body.

However, Mr Carruthers, 47, who has described himself as a policy adviser, began raising complaints again, using

e-mails to "bombard" officers, members and various regu-latory bodies, it is claimed.

In a strongly-worded report, Mr Ward says that, apart from one or two small details, the complaints and allegations "have always been without substance and often misconceived and erroneous".

Now, the council cabinet is being asked to allow chief executive Geoff Rivers to instruct staff that they should not have any dealings with the couple, other than to do with statutory applications, emer-gency assistance and performing normal functions such as collecting council tax.

Any issues and comm-unication would be passed directly to Mr Rivers, who would decide what action should be taken.

E-mails to members or officers would be diverted also to Mr Rivers, and it is recom-mended that the council's standard complaints proced-ure should be suspended in relation to the couple.

Last night, Mr Carruthers, who has been invited with his wife to speak at the cabinet meeting next Monday, said he could not comment but had responded to the council.

Mr Ward said yesterday that the council could not comment on draft reports, which, for human rights reasons, were intended to be confidential.

But in the report, he says: "…Mr and Mrs Carruthers' constant attacks appear to have no continuing purposeful or benign basis and amount to a public nuisance to the council.

"A hugely disproportionate amount of resources, including many many hund-reds of hours of officer and member time, has already been taken up dealing with them by this council alone, and there is still no sign of Mr and Mrs Carruthers' activities abating."

Mr Ward adds that, after the High Court and Audit Comm-ission responses, it seems "an opportune time to draw a line in the sand".

When the district auditor reported back last year on Mr Carruthers' complaints about the accounts, he said he had received 650 e-mails from him and that his actions had caused substantial inconven-ience to council officers and had resulted in higher costs to the public purse.

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