Councillor apologises after former Norfolk County Council leader threatens legal action over email
- Credit: Simon Finlay
A county councillor has issued an apology after he was threatened with legal action over remarks he made about a former leader of Norfolk County Council.
Solicitors acting on behalf of Derrick Murphy, former Conservative council leader at County Hall, launched the libel action against fellow Tory Brian Long.
Mr Murphy instructed solicitors following remarks Mr Long, who represents Fincham ward on the county council and Mershe Lande on West Norfolk Council, made in an email sent in April.
The comments, which Mr Murphy's solicitors said were libellous, were made in an email which formed part of a string of correspondence about the incinerator. It was sent to all Norfolk county councillors, three journalists and a member of the public.
Mr Long, who had opposed the proposed incinerator at Saddlebow in King's Lynn, wrote in that email: 'Strangely, when I wanted to point out that the finances did not stack up along with a whole host of other problems he ended up taking me off my SRA (special responsibility allowance) and then threatening me (albeit without any evidence) that he would end my political career. What a nice guy he is.'
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However, Mr Murphy instructed Cambridge-based solicitors Barr Ellison to take action. They wrote to Mr Long stating the remarks were libellous and demanding that he apologise.
They said the email contained two untruths - one was that Mr Long's special responsibility allowance was not taken away by Mr Murphy, but by his predecessor as Conservative council leader Daniel Cox.
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The second was that Mr Long's standards committee complaint of 2011 which alleged bullying by Mr Murphy had been dismissed with no case to answer.
Mr Long has now sent a letter to those he sent the initial email to, along with Mr Murphy, in which he apologised.
He wrote: 'I now realise that those statements are quite unfounded and that my actions have caused Mr Murphy considerable embarrassment and distress. 'I wish to take this opportunity of unreservedly withdrawing the statements contained in my earlier email and all imputations upon Mr Murphy's character and to express my sincere regret for having made such a statement.'
Mr Murphy, who used to represent Freebridge Lynn, stepped down as council leader in January last year, as he faced a standards hearing into his conduct over a controversial email sent to BBC Radio Norfolk in April 2012.
He was cleared of six of seven standards claims against him. But he was found to have brought his office into disrepute because he had asked Kevin Vaughan, a political assistant to Mr Murphy's Conservative group to claim it was so-called twin hatter councillors - county councillors who also serve on West Norfolk Council - not Mr Murphy, who asked him to send the email.
That email was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, was due to appear on Nick Conrad's show to discuss the King's Lynn incinerator - long a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.
It suggested it might 'be pertinent information' for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing 'a serious leadership challenge' and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.
When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation, which concluded Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy. Mr Vaughan later left the council, with a pay-off.
The hearing heard how then County Hall chief executive Mr White had secretly recorded a conversation he had with the council leader over the sending of the email.
Mr Murphy, who decided not to stand in last May's elections, is currently cycling through the Himalayas to raise money for East Anglia's Children's Hospices.• Do you have a council story? Call reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email firstname.lastname@example.org