Council spends £660 on security and thousands on legal costs amid ‘bullying’ row
- Credit: Sonya Duncan/Breckland Council
A council at the centre of a row over bullying allegations has spent £660 on security for two heated meetings and thousands on legal costs in recent months.
Attleborough Town Council (ATC) convened on Monday evening for an adjourned meeting after one last week was abandoned after just three-and-a-half minutes.
The council later blamed the premature conclusion on 'jeering and heckling' from the public, who were left disgruntled after public participation was omitted from the agenda.
It comes amid controversy over allegations of 'harassment, bullying and intimidation' against councillors Taila Taylor and Ed Tyrer, who have been removed from council committees and barred from becoming mayor for two years. The pair have strongly denied the allegations.
At Monday's meeting, amid obvious unrest, townsfolk were finally given an opportunity to question ATC over its handling of the issues.
After mayor Tony Crouch informed the public that interjections would not be permitted, Mervyn Beales - a member of the public - began the public participation section by asking: 'When is the bullying supposed to have started?'
Following deliberation between town clerk Gina Lopes, council solicitor Nicholas Hancox and Mr Crouch, the latter responded: 'We're not going to answer that.'
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Mr Beales added: 'Is that surely not what this problem is all about? If - as the council has publicised - this started two years ago, it should have been resolved a year ago.
'Has every councillor present seen definite written evidence of the allegations of bullying?'
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Mr Crouch answered: 'As this is a staff issue, I'm not discussing it in an open forum.'
When asked again whether he was prepared to answer questions on the issue, Mr Crouch firmly responded: 'No.'
Debbie Lane, another attendee, added: 'Is it normal procedure to have a paid lawyer at every council meeting and do you think it's a good use of council funds?'
She was promised a written response to her query.
Later on, as members scrutinised the council's financial matters, it was revealed more than £13,750 has been spent on Mr Hancox's services in recent months, with another £660 spent on hiring security staff for two previous meetings.
Miss Taylor said: 'Last week it was stated a re-election would cost approximately £10,000 - that's £4,000 cheaper [than the solicitor's cost].'
However, Mrs Lopes highlighted Mr Hancox's employment for other council matters as a contributing factor to the cost.