Row over claims council leader ‘defamed’ rival political group members

PUBLISHED: 06:00 19 November 2020

West Norfolk Borough Council leader Brian Long. Picture: Ian Burt

West Norfolk Borough Council leader Brian Long. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

A legal row has broken out over claims a Norfolk council leader defamed members of a rival political group during a meeting.

West Norfolk Borough Council independent group leader Terry Parish. Picture: Matthew Usher.West Norfolk Borough Council independent group leader Terry Parish. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Jim Moriarty, an independent West Norfolk borough councillor, has accused the council leader Brian Long of falsely claiming independent members leaked information to journalists. Both sides deny any wrongdoing and have involved lawyers in the row.

Briefings were held during the summer to inform all councillors about steps being taken to tackle coronavirus within the district.

But during a council meeting on July 9, independent group leader Terry Parish asked Mr Long why these briefings were stopped.

Mr Long said at the time: “The reason I stopped briefing the opposition group was that information that was imparted at a session within minutes of the meeting finishing appeared in the press.”

Independent councillor Jim Moriarty. Picture: Jim MoriartyIndependent councillor Jim Moriarty. Picture: Jim Moriarty

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A letter, sent by Mr Moriarty’s lawyers Hayes+Storr, and seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), was then sent to Mr Long in August, and said: “It is clear you are seeking to defame our client and the independent group by notifying the public of false allegations.”

But the council’s legal firm, Weightmans LLP, wrote back in October denying liability.

The letter, also seen by the LDRS said: “We do not believe there are sufficient grounds to pursue action against our client.”

Commenting on the row, Mr Moriarty said: “He hides behind the borough’s tax-payer funded lawyers.

“It’s absurd - it is not the council which has lied, it is just Mr Long.

“It is a disgrace and brings the council and the Conservative administration into disrepute.”

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He added: “He must either apologise, as I have asked and make good the damage he has done, or he must prove his claims.

“I cannot allow these lies to remain unchallenged. I will not be intimidated or bullied into silence.

“Mr Long must admit he misled fellow councillors, officers and the public and accept the consequences, or he should prove his allegations.”

A council spokesman said: “Under the council’s insurance policy, conditional cover is provided where defamation claims are made against officers and/or councillors.

“The council has adopted the same procedure as it would in relation to any member against whom such a claim is made.

“As these matters relate to an ongoing legal claim, the council has no further comment to make.”

Mr Long was approached for comment.

READ MORE: Council leader told to apologise to residents for ‘inflammatory schadenfreude’

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