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People demand referendum to decide future of divided council

PUBLISHED: 11:15 13 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 13 March 2020

During a parish meeting at Connaught Hall, the room voted unanimously barring one abstention for a parish poll asking whether Attleborough''s town councillors should resign. Picture: Taila Taylor

During a parish meeting at Connaught Hall, the room voted unanimously barring one abstention for a parish poll asking whether Attleborough''s town councillors should resign. Picture: Taila Taylor

Archant

Around 200 people have demanded a referendum which could see voters call for the resignation of their town’s divided council.

A parish meeting to discuss the future of Attleborough Town Council was held at Connaught Hall. Picture: ArchantA parish meeting to discuss the future of Attleborough Town Council was held at Connaught Hall. Picture: Archant

Connaught Hall in Attleborough was a packed house on Thursday evening as parishioners had their say on Attleborough Town Council and the heated saga which has left it in disarray.

Recent weeks have seen two councillors, Taila Taylor and Ed Tyrer, stripped of their committee roles over claims of 'harassment, bullying and intimidation' - allegations they strongly deny.

The row has split the 15-strong council distinctly in two, with eight members - including the mayor, Tony Crouch - supporting the motion against Miss Taylor and Mr Tyrer when it was tabled last month.

Attleborough's parish meeting was held at Connaught Hall amid the ongoing 'bullying' saga surrounding the town council. Picture: Archant/Breckland CouncilAttleborough's parish meeting was held at Connaught Hall amid the ongoing 'bullying' saga surrounding the town council. Picture: Archant/Breckland Council

The remaining seven members, including the accused pair, chose not to vote having assumed the result a foregone conclusion and disputed the legitimacy of the process.

But at a parish meeting led by Breckland councillors for Attleborough, Tristan Ashby and Rhodri Oliver, the town's electorate was invited to debate the council's future amid increasingly uncertain times.

A spokesman for Attleborough Town Council had indicated earlier on Thursday that Mr Crouch and the town clerk, Gina Lopes, would not be attending.

Taila Taylor has strongly denied allegations of bullying made her against her and fellow Attleborough town councillor, Ed Tyrer. Picture: Breckland CouncilTaila Taylor has strongly denied allegations of bullying made her against her and fellow Attleborough town councillor, Ed Tyrer. Picture: Breckland Council

Following a period of intense debate and discussion lasting more than two hours, those in attendance had the opportunity to approve parish polls - referendum-style questions which require a 'yes' or 'no answer.

They voted almost unanimously - with one abstention - for a parish poll with the wording as follows: 'Should all serving town councillors of Attleborough Town Council immediately resign to allow for new elections of Attleborough Town Council?'

MORE: Town council in 'bullying' row sees latest meeting abandoned and police called

Mayor Tony Crouch chose not to attend the Attleborough parish meeting at Connaught Hall on March 12. Picture: ArchantMayor Tony Crouch chose not to attend the Attleborough parish meeting at Connaught Hall on March 12. Picture: Archant

Mr Tyrer, who has also been ousted from his role as deputy mayor, agreed the resignation of the entire council was the only way forward.

'I really cannot believe this whole situation - it beggars belief,' he said.

'The town council is broken and not working. It is dysfunctional and the only way to solve that, in my view, is to reboot and start again.'

A parish meeting to discuss the future of Attleborough Town Council was held at Connaught Hall. Picture: ArchantA parish meeting to discuss the future of Attleborough Town Council was held at Connaught Hall. Picture: Archant

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A second, unanimously approved parish poll read: 'Should there be an investigation into whether or not the council is following its rules and procedures?'

The poll proposals will now be lodged with Breckland Council, who decide whether it is valid to put them to the public.

Ed Tyrer was stripped of his committee duties by Attleborough Town Council following claims of Ed Tyrer was stripped of his committee duties by Attleborough Town Council following claims of "bullying" that he says are completely untrue". Picture: Attleborough Town Council

However, the results of parish polls are not legally binding and town councillors would not have to resign even if parishioners voted in favour.

The open forum part of the evening's proceedings saw members of the public grill the eight attending councillors over what has transpired over the past few months and the rise in tensions over the last few weeks.

MORE: Council spends £660 on security and thousands on legal costs amid 'bullying' row

Attleborough's parish meeting on March 12 was held at Connaught Hall amid the ongoing 'bullying' saga. Picture: ArchantAttleborough's parish meeting on March 12 was held at Connaught Hall amid the ongoing 'bullying' saga. Picture: Archant

One speaker, Diane Ashton, asked Jacqueline Roper - the only councillor in attendance who signed the motion against Miss Taylor and Mr Tyrer - what evidence she had seen before doing so.

Mrs Roper responded: 'I know I am in the minority. I understand there were some issues and for me it is about everybody being treated equally.

'We have to treat everybody - staff, residents - with due respect.'

Rhodri Oliver, Breckland Councillor and Norfolk county councillor for Attleborough, chaired the parish meeting at Connaught Hall. Picture: Breckland CouncilRhodri Oliver, Breckland Councillor and Norfolk county councillor for Attleborough, chaired the parish meeting at Connaught Hall. Picture: Breckland Council

When pressed further on the topic by audience member Mark Weaver, Mrs Roper said she had been presented with a 'list of issues' by Unite, the union who brought the initial complaint of behalf of its members.

She did, however, admit she had not seen the full extent of the bullying allegations.

Another member of the public, Elizabeth Burrows, questioned whether the term 'bullying' had been exploited throughout the ongoing saga.

She asked: 'Do people actually know what bullying is, or do they call robust questioning bullying?'

The town council has said Mr Crouch and Mrs Lopes will 'preside' over the annual town assembly from 6pm on Monday, March 16, which it is calling the 'official' parish meeting of Attleborough.

MORE: Police investigate malicious communications report towards town council

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