The village at war - parish council chairman’s letter on two years of ‘false allegations and abuse’ to councillors and staff
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
An otherwise sleepy Norfolk village was today embroiled in an astonishing row after a series of allegations were made by its parish council chairman against fellow villagers.
In an open letter to the people of Hoveton, Martin Richmond, chairman of Hoveton Parish Council, has revealed what he described as a 'concerted campaign' of abuse and allegations against his councillors and staff, which he says is damaging their mental health.
In it, he said councillors and staff had been dealing with 'vexatious and disruptive' behaviour for the last two years, which included verbal abuse, meetings being secretly recorded and the making up of baseless complaints, which had to be investigated at the taxpayers expense.
Although police have not been involved, Mr Richmond described some of the incidents as being potentially 'criminal'.
He said: 'It has become what appears to be a concerted campaign to discredit the council. Some members of staff are really feeling under siege.'
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He said it was impacting volunteers who 'have given years, and in some case decades, of dedicated service to this community'.
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• 'Unfounded complaints' against the council, which were investigated by North Norfolk District Council and found to be 'baseless'
• People secretly recording meetings and sharing them on social media
• 'Deliberately misreporting the actions and decisions [of the parish council] on social media'
• 'Planting derogatory stories' about the council's Christmas display
• Anonymously contacting the council's insurers before Christmas to report health and safety concerns over its Christmas light display
• Contacting the employer of a member of the council to make 'false and vexatious allegations'
• Verbally abusing parish councillors and volunteers
Mr Richmond said he decided to speak out when the effect on his colleagues' mental health became clear, saying in the letter he was 'appalled' at its 'debilitating' effect.
As a former civil servant, he said he was aware the council would receive criticism and challenge, and his concerns were not a case of the parish council being 'brittle'.
Malcolm Allsopp, vice-chairman of nearby Wroxham Parish Council, said the council had not experienced any similar problems, but kept in regular touch with Hoveton parish councillors and employees and said they had his 'heartfelt sympathies'.
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The letter in full
At its meeting in January, Hoveton Parish Council adopted a new policy to deal with vexatious or disruptive behaviour by members of the public towards councillors or council employees. It was a step that we took with heavy hearts, but sadly, over the last two years, a disproportionate amount of our time, the time of other public bodies, and your money has been spent responding to the correspondence and actions of a very small group of individuals in our village.
HPC is completely open and transparent in the way that we operate and we are subject to annual audit with regard to our conduct as a council; we are open to and expect fair criticism; we welcome challenge and honest debate. Despite this, residents might be shocked to learn that all of the following things have happened in our village over just the last two years, all originating from this small group of just a handful of individuals:
Raising, and inciting third parties to raise, unfounded complaints against members of the Parish Council; all such complaints require proper investigation by NNDC's lawyers and professional staff, and all at the taxpayers' expense. All were found to be completely baseless.
Raising multiple FOI requests across many public organisations, including HPC, on matters of entirely personal (not public) interest. Again, all requiring the valuable time of legal and other professional staff at the taxpayers' expense.
Individuals secretly recording Parish Council meetings and sharing these recordings (including contributions from unsuspecting members of the public) with third parties; action which may well constitute a criminal offence.
Deliberately misreporting the actions and decisions of HPC on social media and refusing to correct these reports when it's been brought to their attention that they were untrue or misleading.
Planting derogatory stories in local media about HPC's Community Christmas display.
Anonymously contacting the Parish Council's insurers immediately before Christmas to falsely report 'health and safety problems' with Hoveton's Community Christmas lights. This robbed valuable family time from a long serving councillor over the holidays, who was forced to arrange for an electrician to verify that the installation was (of course) completely safe. It was only thanks to the generosity of a local tradesman that this did not also cost our community valuable public money.
Contacting the employer of a member of the Council on multiple occasions to make false and vexatious allegations against that member. Again, this required extensive work by senior public officials at the taxpayers' expense.
Individuals being verbally abusive to Parish Councillors and volunteers in a public place.
To be clear, these (often anonymous) attacks aren't being targeted at overbearing or undemocratic authority figures, nor are they in pursuit of some policy objective or change agenda. They are being targeted, for no stated or apparent reason, at hard working community volunteers and Parish Council employees, volunteers who have given years, and in some cases decades, of dedicated service to this community.
As the Chair of Hoveton Parish Council, I have been appalled at the behaviour of these very few individuals and disturbed by the debilitating effect these actions have had on my colleagues, and on dedicated Council employees. And so I wanted to make this public plea to those involved to reconsider their current course of action and to focus their efforts instead on making a positive contribution to our community. There are many, many initiatives in our village in desperate need of community minded volunteers to e.g. undertake fundraising activities or to help set up youth facilities for our young people.
So if you know these individuals or if you see or hear of such activity in the community, please remind those involved that not only are they wasting your money and our time, but they are causing extreme and undue stress to hard working volunteers and council employees.
We work for you, please help us continue to serve you.
Chair, Hoveton Parish Council