Councillors deny claims of ‘harassment, bullying and intimidation’ after meeting chaos
PUBLISHED: 11:49 25 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:53 25 February 2020
A week after Attleborough Town Council was plunged into disarray, THOMAS CHAPMAN looks at the latest twists and turns in this chaotic saga.
Chaotic scenes unfolded at Attleborough Town Hall on an otherwise normal Monday evening, as around 50 protestors refused to leave a council meeting due to be held in private.
The reason for their defiance? A controversial motion to forcibly remove Taila Taylor and deputy mayor Edward Tyrer from their Attleborough Town Council (ATC) committee duties.
With police forced to step in, the meeting was adjourned and officers subsequently evacuated the hall after a bin fire was discovered at the rear of the building.
It later transpired that eight councillors, including mayor Tony Crouch, had put forward the proposal after staff at the council made claims of bullying against Ms Taylor and Mr Tyrer.
The former "categorically denies" the claims, while the latter says they are "completely untrue and unfounded".
But in a statement sent to this newspaper, Mr Crouch and the town council have now launched a scathing attack on the two members, accusing them of "a campaign of harassment, bullying and intimidation".
It goes on to claim the bullying of council staff and fellow councillors has been "severe".
Such is the seriousness of the accusations, Mr Tyrer - who has remained tight-lipped until now - says he can no longer keep his peace.
"I have maintained a professional approach in order to allow the correct procedures to be followed to deal with the completely untrue and unfounded allegations against me," he said.
"However, following the poisonous and libellous comments by Tony Crouch and the council it is now necessary and appropriate to make the community aware of the truth.
"Councillor Taylor and myself are effectively whistle blowers on the malpractice of the running of Attleborough Town Council. This is based on my experience over the last 10 months as vice chairman and as chairman of the Attleborough Neighbourhood Plan.
"Both councillor Taylor and myself have been trying to fulfil our civic duties wholly in the best interests of the town, including asking questions as appropriate. In each case we have been deliberately obstructed, rudely questioned, challenged, ignored and avoided.
"Because of our entirely appropriate and professional enquiries, Tony Crouch now seeks to remove us from important council positions so his actions and behaviour cannot be effectively scrutinized."
A week on from scenes which saw the town labelled a "laughing stock", Mr Crouch, the mayor, said he was "extremely saddened" at the actions of the public who attended the meeting.
Referencing the death of Norfolk television presenter, Caroline Flack, he added: "It is quite astonishing in 2020 and, in a week when a high-profile celebrity has taken her own life which is linked with online bullying, there are people who turned out to support two bullies.
"Myself and many of my fellow councillors have been appalled at the unacceptable behaviour which has gone on and did our best to put a stop to it - only to be abused and threatened ourselves."
Ms Taylor has responded by saying she is "completely appalled" by ATC's statement and the "disrespectful" comments made by Mr Crouch.
"Myself and councillor Tyrer were never going to be given fair trial and the statement confirms this," she said. "It's libellous and defamatory, not only of our characters but to the residents who attended last Monday's meeting.
"The mayor has promoted himself to judge and jury, while me and councillor Tyrer are still waiting to receive any evidence to support the claims - yet somehow we have already been publicly deemed guilty."
In the remainder of its statement, the council claims the motion to remove Ms Taylor and Mr Tyrer had been a "last resort" following "months of inappropriate behaviour".
ATC adds that, after concerns were raised last year, staff and councillors were interviewed by an independent HR company, who "identified severe bullying and harassment, particularly by two councillors".
Their findings were never published after they were apparently deemed "too detrimental" to the council, and the company withdrew its services.
The statement continues: "The eight councillors are very much aware of the town council's legal duty to protect staff and hoped to pass a resolution at the council meeting held on February 17 in an attempt to stop the bullying.
"However, when the public were requested to leave the meeting to enable councillors to discuss the matter, supporters of Cllrs Tyrer and Taylor refused to leave despite the efforts of several uniformed police. Some chanted and taunted the police to arrest them."
Ms Taylor's parents, Stephen and Samantha, have also slammed Mr Crouch for his reference to Miss Flack following the loss of their own son to suicide.
They said: "Having lost a child to suicide, for the mayor and ATC to use a person whose family are local to the area to gain support for their actions - only days after their loss - is absolutely unforgivable.
"While they were promoting people's feelings, not for one moment did they stop to consider that family at the worst time they will go through.
"We feel we can no longer sit back and watch our daughter go through this personal attack which has been going on for months."
The town council's damning statement has meanwhile dragged Breckland Council into the saga, who it says are "reluctant to take action" despite "requests for help" and 12 standards complaints against Ms Taylor and Mr Tyrer.
With the accused pair having also made complaints regarding the conduct of Mr Crouch and council staff, Ms Taylor and Mr Tyrer argue the town council has "ignored" Breckland's recommendation of mediation.
The district council says it cannot comment specifically on the situation in Attleborough, but has sought to clarify its position.
A spokesman said: "As a district council we have no authority or legal powers to intervene in the daily business of town or parish councils, as official bodies, except in very limited circumstances.
"Where a complaint relates to the conduct of an individual parish or town councillor, the district council does have a duty to look into these.
"In situations where there are complaints and counter-complaints relating to more than one councillor, mediation may be suggested as the most suitable way forward to resolve any underlying issues."
Attention now turns to the rescheduled meeting at 6pm on Thursday, February 27, where the future of Ms Taylor and Mr Tyrer is once again up for discussion.
Despite councillor Vera Dale previously insisting the meeting would not be held behind closed doors, the town council has confirmed the press and public will not be admitted.