Council warns impact of abuse and harassment is putting people off

Liberal Democrat councillor Sarah Bütikofer. Picture: North Norfolk District Council

Liberal Democrat councillor Sarah Bütikofer. Picture: North Norfolk District Council - Credit: North Norfolk District Council

A Norfolk council has warned the impact of abuse, intimidation and harassment is “putting people off standing” for election.

North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has agreed to call on the government to address abuse and harassment in public life.

During a meeting held on Wednesday, November 18, the council voted unanimously to call on the government to deliver a cross-party response to the issue.

It comes after the council has faced increasingly turbulence in recent months, including a police investigation into a financial crime allegation, criticism of an almost £400,000 exit package for a council officer, complaints over the failure to publish a member’s register of interest for almost a year, and multiple defections from the ruling Liberal Democrat group to the rival Conservatives, including after a councillor referred to a female colleague as “you bitch” during a meeting.

READ MORE: North Norfolk Conservatives want urgent meeting on police investigation at council

Council leader Sarah Butikofer told members: “Councillors and candidates are being subjected to abuse, threats and intimidation, undermining principles of free speech and democratic debate.

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“Social media has provided a largely anonymous route for individuals and groups to engage in such activity. Public intimidation is putting people off standing as local councillors.”

She added: “Abuse, intimidation and threats are designed to undermine democratic decision-making. If we are prepared to tolerate unacceptable behaviour then we will see more of the dreadful situation that led to the murder of Jo Cox.”

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John Rest, independent leader, said: “The amount of mental stress people have suffered since the outbreak of this pandemic I feel it’s vital to ensure members and officers work in a sympathetic manner with each other.”

And Christopher Cushing, Conservative group leader, said: “We condemn all forms of threats and harassment towards elected officials and government officers.

READ MORE: Council failed to publish register of interests for almost a year after councillor’s election

“It is also important to safeguard our democratic structures. Intimidating behaviour can put people off standing as councillors or officers.

“But we must be careful not to misrepresent respectful challenge as personal attack. The opposition has a vital role to play in a sound administration of this council.”

While Nigel Dixon added “ We should do more than just delivering training - we have to sign up to abiding by the principles.”

READ MORE: Councillor accused of sleeping during meeting continues to refute claim

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