Town council in ‘bullying’ row sees latest meeting abandoned and police called
PUBLISHED: 10:03 04 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:46 04 March 2020
Archant Norfolk Photographic
A town council’s latest meeting was abandoned in a matter of minutes and police called to attend after the mayor refused to take questions from the public.
Attleborough Town Council (ATC) gathered on Monday evening amid a heated saga which has seen two members, Taila Taylor and Ed Tyrer, accused of "harassment, bullying and intimidation" towards council staff and fellow councillors.
Both have strongly denied the allegations but, last week, eight councillors including the mayor, Tony Crouch, passed a resolution removing them from council committees and preventing them from becoming mayor for two years.
While the public and press were not barred from Monday's meeting, public participation was not included as an item on the agenda and was therefore not up for consideration.
After members of the public voiced their dismay, Mr Crouch responded: "At this moment in time we have no public participation so we can press on and get this council running."
When pressed further on the matter by Peter Neal, a former Attleborough mayor, Mr Crouch added: "Due to what previously happened at council meetings, there is no public participation in tonight's meeting."
Addressing the mayor, long-serving Attleborough politician and Breckland councillor, Keith Martin, said: "I have been here 37 years, representing Attleborough, and we have always had public participation."
As Miss Taylor attempted to voice her own protestations, she was interrupted as Mr Crouch pounded his mayoral hammer before declaring "that's enough - meeting adjourned".
Councillors and the public subsequently left the town hall, just three-and-a-half minutes after the meeting had initially begun.
Following the meeting, Miss Taylor added: "There is no reason to justify why that meeting was adjourned. Even the manner in which it was adjourned breached the council's standing orders.
"If you are going to do a job and have a duty to your residents, then at least do it properly."
But in a statement issued on Tuesday, the town council said the meeting had been adjourned after proceedings were "disrupted by heckling".
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"Attleborough Town Council attempted a return to normal business, only to be thwarted again," the statement read.
"Regrettably, after the initial items, two members of the public objected to not having an opportunity to speak during the meeting. Councillor Taylor, recently removed from her committee duties because of her bullying of staff, also objected.
"The chairman advised there was no public participation item listed on the agenda because of recent disruption and called for order. This was met with jeering and heckling from the public.
"Whilst the town council has no wish to stop its residents from raising genuine concerns, there is a need for council business to be lawfully transacted."
Mr Crouch added: "I fully intended to allow the public to speak if the meeting was orderly, but we never got that far.
"People must understand this situation has been created because of councillors bullying and harassing our staff. It is not about process within the council.
"We have a duty to protect our staff from this toxic situation. Those turning out to support the two councillors at the centre of this need to consider what they are doing."
However, Miss Taylor - who maintains her innocence - is intent on clearing her name and continuing to scrutinise the council's recent actions.
"To this day I don't actually know who has complained about me, when it should be innocent until proven guilty," she said. "Several town council employees have been mentioned, but who are they?
"I'm less concerned now about the allegations against me, and more upset about the waste of taxpayers' money on solicitors and security."
As the saga moves into a third week, ATC has even likened its situation to the recent controversy surrounding home secretary Priti Patel and her alleged bullying of Home Office staff.
The council's statement continues: "In a week when there is a national outcry regarding alleged bullying by the home secretary, Attleborough finds itself in a comparable situation.
"The current scenario, in which Sir Philip Rutnam has resigned and intends to claim constructive dismissal, highlights a similar risk to the town council."
A Norfolk police spokesman confirmed officers had been called to Attleborough Town Hall following reports of anti-social behaviour, but said no arrests were made.