Council chairman denies assault claim as meeting is abandoned
A Norfolk parish council chairman has strongly denied claims that he assaulted a member of his council this week during a meeting which was abandoned after a heated exchange between the two men.
Kevin Craske, 57, a parish councillor in Briston, near Fakenham, has reported to police that he was assaulted by his chairman Tony Serne at the council's meeting on Monday night.
A Norfolk Police spokesman said: 'We have been contacted about an incident at The Copeman Centre in Briston on Monday night and our officers are investigating.'
Mr Craske claims he was pushed by Mr Serne, although he admits not forcefully, but said that he intends to press charges on principle.
Mr Serne denies pushing Mr Craske and says that he simply put his arm across a doorway to prevent him from entering a room.
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This is the latest twist in a long-running feud between the two councillors.
It came about as the council came to item 20 of its agenda, 'to discuss confidential employment matters.'
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Item 21 was 'to discuss a confidential council matter' and item 22 'to discuss confidential trust matters.'
The press and public were asked to leave the room and Mr Serne asked Mr Craske to leave, due to his prejudicial interest in the items. Mr Craske refused.
It is understood that the council was to discuss to situation with Mr Craske's wife, Sandra, who has been clerk of the council for 23 years but has recently been dismissed for reasons related to her performance and conduct.
The council is advertising for a voluntary clerk.
Under the confidential trust matter, the council was to discuss an issue related to Mr Craske's involvement with the running of a youth cafe in Briston, called Loftys, which has now closed down but used to be run by the Higginbottom Trust, a charity of which Briston Parish Council is the trustee.
As we have previously reported, Mr Craske has kept hold of some equipment from the cafe, including a pizza oven, a blender, chopping boards and some stock, which he says, as a trustee, he is entitled to do and has refused requests from the council to return them.
He has previously been accused of theft and questioned by police over the matter, but police decided to take no further action.
The EDP understands that the council is considering either taking the issue to a county court hearing or referring it to North Norfolk District Council's standards board.
Mr Craske told the EDP: 'I felt I could not express a prejudicial interest in the items because there was not enough information on the agenda for me to do so. There was also duplicity of items on agenda points. There should only be one point for discussion on each agenda point.
'When I refused to leave Mr Serne attempted to take the meeting into another room. I challenged him and he pushed me. I wasn't pushed very forcefully, but it should not have happened so I have contacted police.'
Mr Serne said: 'I did not push Mr Craske at all. I put my arm in the way so he could not enter the room.
'The meeting had to be abandoned because of Mr Craske's refusal to leave.
'I find it pathetic the way he continues to challenge the exact wording of things on our agendas and other trivial matters.
'At the end of the day, we are a parish council and not the House of Commons.'
Mr Craske said: 'I was elected to the council on the back of making sure that things are done correctly. When we are talking about someone's employment with the council it is a very serious matter and things should be done in the correct way.'
When Monday's meeting was abandoned, councillor Julie White, who was elected to the council at last month's by-election, stormed out of the room shouting: 'There are 2,000 people in this village but all of our time is taken up by two people. This has been going on for six years.'
Mr Serne said that he intends to turn the council's finance and general purposes committee meeting, scheduled for December 19, into an extraordinary meeting of the council so that the confidential matters can be discussed then.
He will request for police to be present at the meeting.
Meanwhile, David Chambers has recently become the fourth member of Briston Parish Council to resign since the May elections.
Mr Chambers was subject to a standards board investigation on October 21. He was to be suspended for three months from that day, but handed in his resignation during the course of the investigation.
Mr Chambers attended Monday's meeting as a member of the public and told the EDP afterwards: 'I resigned because of Mr Craske. I am sick of his complaints to the standards board and his continuous interrupting of meetings.
'I might not always speak with as much grace as some people but I have always worked hard for the people of Briston.'
A by-election for Mr Chambers' seat is due to take place on January 12.