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Attempt was made to stop public vote being held on warring council’s future

PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:16 31 July 2020

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

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

Archant

A bid was made to stop a vote being held on the future of a warring town council, it has been revealed.

Attleborough town clerk Gina Lopes. Photo: Sonya DuncanAttleborough town clerk Gina Lopes. Photo: Sonya Duncan

Attleborough Town Council was left in turmoil following a series of bitter rows and disputes earlier this year.

The in-fighting culminated in a saga which saw former deputy mayor Edward Tyrer and fellow councillor, Taila Taylor, accused of “bullying” council staff - allegations the pair have always strongly denied - and a committee was set up to investigate the row.

Ms Taylor is also a district councillor at Breckland Council.

New leadership was appointed at the town council last week, as Philip Leslie and Beverley Bulmer became mayor and deputy mayor respectively at an extraordinary meeting on Monday, July 20.

The election came three months after a parish meeting on March 12, when more than 200 residents called for the resignation of all councillors via a referendum-style vote known as a parish poll.

The poll was subsequently postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and has not yet taken place.

READ MORE: ‘What goes around comes around’ - outgoing mayor launches staggering attack on councillors and residents

And now emails obtained via Freedom Of Information request have revealed Gina Lopes, town council clerk, queried whether the parish meeting had been legally convened - and if the result could avoid being implemented.

In an email dated March 20 - eight days after the meeting - she said: “Our solicitor advised prior to the meeting it was his understanding it was not legally convened.”

And on March 23, the council’s solicitor, Nicolas Hancox, said: “In my opinion, the recent so-called parish meeting in Attleborough was wholly unlawful and was not a parish meeting within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972 at all.

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“This is because parish meetings have to be on a date set by the parish or town council. Although members of the electorate can issue the summons for a parish meeting, they cannot themselves choose the date.

“Given that the meeting was not a formal parish meeting, it cannot lawfully demand a parish poll.

“I hope Breckland’s lawyers agree with my opinion and all talk of a parish poll can be quashed.”

READ MORE: Warring town council sent ‘extraordinary’ legal letter over row meeting

He added: “I’m sure Attleborough does not want to get into judicial review litigation.”

Reviews are a process of legally reversing a decision made by a government body, and typically cost tens of thousands of pounds.

But Rhodri Oliver, chairman of Breckland Council’s scrutiny committee, said he was “shocked”.

Mr Oliver, who led the March meeting at Attleborough’s Connaught Hall, said: “To have Ms Lopes, who is unelected and paid for by the public, working so closely with Mr Hancox to prevent the public having a vote is outrageous.

“It is wrong on so many levels – trying to stop the public having a say, spending more of residents’ money on fees and again carrying this all out in secret.”

He called for a “full independent investigation” into the situation.

Meanwhile, Tristan Ashby, district councillor for Attleborough, said Ms Lopes’ actions could “not be allowed to stand”.

Ms Lopes said: “I confirm I was acting appropriately in my capacity as the Proper Officer of Attleborough Town Council.”

READ MORE: Councillors deny claims of ‘harassment, bullying and intimidation’ after meeting chaos


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