Farcical count ends in Tory victory

IAN CLARKE Politicians from all parties insisted “lessons must be learned” as Breckland's farcical election count finally finished - more than 100 hours after it first started.


Politicians from all parties last night insisted “lessons must be learned” as Breckland's farcical election count finally finished - more than 100 hours after it first started.

The remaining seats on the council were counted by hand after a government-inspired electronic trial was abandoned on Friday due to major technical problems.

A raft of questions are being asked about how it could have gone so badly wrong.

The root of the difficulty was that the computerised equipment could not cope with pieces of perforated paper being left on ballot papers.

The counting fiasco overshadowed the news that the Conservatives had strengthened their control of the authority.

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When the final results were finally declared at 4.07pm yesterday - after counting started at 9am on Friday - the Tories had won 48 of the 54 seats - a gain of six.

Labour lost five seats and now have three councillors. There are now three independents - one less than before the election.

The uncounted papers from Friday had been locked up and stored over the holiday weekend and returning officer Keith Davis decided to scrap the electronic trial and draft in extra council staff to count the votes manually.

Amid chaotic scenes yesterday morning, the count started again at Dereham and the day began with Labour agent John Cowan setting off a fire alarm at the council offices and staff had to be evacuated.

Mr Davis asked Mr Cowan to leave and when he refused police were called. Mr Cowan - who said he did it though “sheer frustration” - then agreed to leave peacefully and no further action was taken against him.

He said: “I have no confidence in the system. This is bye bye to democracy in Breckland.”

All the opposition parties remain angry and frustrated at the problems which dogged the election count.

Labour leader Robin Goreham has called for an inquest into what has gone wrong.

“I do not underestimate the problems the returning officer has had but the conduct of this election has not been satisfactory.”

Mr Davis refused calls for results which were declared on Friday to be recounted and said he had “total confidence” in the accuracy of the results.

He insisted there had been no extra cost to Breckland taxpayers from the delays as the electronic trial was being paid for by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

Mr Davis said: “Whether we like it or not, e-counting will be a thing of the future. We need pilots to iron out problems.”

He heaped praise on “fantastic” staff for working tirelessly in very difficult conditions.

That view was echoed by council leader William Nunn.

Mr Nunn - who had a “traumatic” weekend waiting for his own result - said: “I will be speaking to the returning officer to ensure that lessons are learned and we give feedback to the government and the Electoral Commission.

Spanish company Indra - which supplied equipment for the trial - was still refusing to comment yesterday on what had gone wrong at Breckland.

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