New twist in Breckland mystery

IAN CLARKE The release of more details about the departure of former Breckland Council chief executive Becky Hellard is being held up as she is on holiday abroad and cannot be contacted, it emerged today.

IAN CLARKE

The release of more details about the departure of former Breckland Council chief executive Becky Hellard is being held up as she is on holiday abroad and cannot be contacted, it emerged today.

Breckland is eager to issue a statement lifting some of the mystery surrounding an investigation into the £100,000-a-year senior officer and her resignation.

But under a gagging clause in a contract between the council and Ms Hellard signed on the day she resigned, any statements have to be agreed between the two parties.

And it has emerged that she cannot be contacted by her lawyer or the council as she is out of the country on holiday, adding a further twist to the deepening saga.

The EDP had the majority of a Freedom of Information Act request to Breckland about Ms Hellard turned down and we are currently lodging a complaint with the council and will then appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Most Read

Ms Hellard is due to start a new job on up to £125,000 a year with Bradford Council early next month.

She was not at Breckland Council offices for a month from early November while she was under investigation and then resigned on December 8.

Breckland has held its first full council meeting since she quit and members agreed that the issues surrounding her will be “fully debated” at an overview and scrutiny commission meeting next Thursday - but it will be behind closed doors with press and public excluded.

It is not expected that Ms Hellard or her lawyers will be present.

Several Breckland councillors complained yesterday about the issue being discussed in secret.

Councillor Nigel Wilkin said the next press release should be written by Dan Brown as the saga was turning into “Breckland's Da Vinci Code.”

Breckland solicitor John Chinnery said it was normal for senior staff to sign such a so-called compromise agreement clause which limits what can be said and he hoped the new statement - when agreed - would be in the interests of Ms Hellard and the council.

Scrutiny chairman and Labour group leader Robin Goreham said: “To scrutinise things entirely in confidence is certainly not going to assist the public with understanding what has become a complex and perplexing thing.”

He said as much information as possible should be in the public domain.

Labour member Jack Ramm said he was unhappy at so little information being released and described the situation as “pitiful.”

He said people should be told how much she was paid, who agreed the gagging clause, was a criminal offence involved and what meetings were held about the investigation and her departure.

Conservative member and former leader Cliff Jordan said: “I am not all together happy about this. There are things that we should surely be told. The perception on the street is that something untoward has happened and that we are not dealing with it effectively.”

He raised questions about the time period between Ms Hellard resigning from Breckland and getting the job with Bradford.

Breckland leader William Nunn said it should be “fully debated” by the scrutiny committee but would have to be “below the line” with press and public excluded.

He said Ms Hellard had resigned on December 8 and was appointed by Bradford on December 21.

“She had applied for other jobs and I encourage this from staff to further their careers. She had no job when she resigned from this authority.”

The council has insisted if it made statements without Ms Hellard's agreement, it could be in breach of contract.

The EDP has tried to contact Ms Hellard but she has not returned our calls.