Council pays damages to support group founders after false statement - but won’t say how much
PUBLISHED: 15:19 17 November 2020 | UPDATED: 22:15 18 November 2020
A town council has apologised to the founders of a coronavirus support group and paid them damages for wrongly suggesting they were under police investigation - but says it is unable to reveal how much taxpayers’ money has been paid out.
In May, Sheringham Town Council stepped in to help “build bridges” between council-backed Sheringham Community Support (SCS) and rival group Mutual Aid Sheringham (MASH) over the replacement of MASh volunteer Jane Garry.
However, ill-feeling between the two groups intensified when SCS founder and deputy mayor Liz Withington was subjected to a string of abusive comments on social media.
But when the council issued a statement expressing sadness that the two groups were not able to work together, MASh founders Caz New and Jo Powers felt it implied they were part of a police investigation, and started raising funds for a legal challenge.
While the council statement did not expressly name the pair, or MASh, Ms Powers and Ms New said it damaged their reputations and undermined the good work of MASh.
The council has now confirmed it has agreed to pay damages to Ms Powers and Ms New - but would not reveal how much.
In a statement, the council said: “On May 19, 2020, councillors in Sheringham Town Council’s Sheringham Community Support group made a statement in a full council meeting that the founders of Mutual Aid Sheringham (MASh) were, at that time, subject to a police investigation.
“Sheringham Town Council has accepted that the statement was incorrect and should not have been made. Sheringham Town Council has agreed to issue an apology and pay damages and costs to the founders of MASh.”
In the apology, the town council said that it will make note of the decision at a meeting tonight (November 17).
The apology added: “Sheringham Town Council understands that you have suffered loss and damage as a result of the statement, and recognises that publication of the statement led to negative representation of the good work MASh has done for the community.
“In future, Sheringham Town Council will ensure that the accuracy of any information shared relating to the community activities you undertake through MASh or other emerging organisations will be checked prior to publication.
“Sheringham Town Council intends that the settlement agreed together with this apology will bring an end to this episode.”
Town mayor Madeleine Ashcroft said the matter had been dealt with by solicitors but would not reveal the figure paid out, adding: “There is nothing I can say; we have made a statement, it has gone into the public domain and I will be reiterating that at our meeting on Tuesday night.”
Asked if the amount of damages paid out to Ms New and Ms Powers would be made public when the town council accounts were published next year, Mrs Ashcroft said: “Yes, it will be transparent at that time.”
Ms New said: “We have agreed a settlement, but the biggest part of that for us was the apology. That has now been honoured and we are glad to bring to end to it.”
She added that what was important to focus on was the good work of MASH and Sheringham Community Support, which were both going “from strength to strength”.
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