Shamed Waveney councillor’s resignation triggers political battle in Worlingham

THE political control of Waveney was back on a knife edge this week as shamed councillor Andrew Draper finally resigned – three months after admitting drink driving and assaulting a police officer.

The independent councillor announced his decision on Monday, as Suffolk police revealed he had been charged with a new offence of sending an offensive email and that he was being investigated over an allegation of having an offensive weapon – believed to be a stun gun – at his home in Carlton Colville.

As a result of Mr Draper's resignation, the overall control of the authority is now up for grabs as it has triggered a by-election in the former Conservative councillor's Worlingham ward.

The by-election could be held next month and, if the opposition Labour group triumphs, it will have 24 seats compared to the Tories' 22 and will only need the support of Green councillor Graham Elliott to form a cabinet and wrest power from the Conservatives. However, the ward is traditionally a Tory heartland.

As the rival parties started to draw up their battle plans this week, a word of words erupted over the way that the council leader Colin Law had handled the issues arising from Mr Draper's initial arrest.

When Mr Draper, 37, pleaded guilty to drink driving and kicking police inspector Stephen Bunn in August, it led to him standing down as a Conservative and becoming an independent.

However, he continued to support his former party and helped to retain power.

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At the time, Mr Law said he felt it was a 'very noble' of Mr Draper to leave the party to avoid damaging the Tories' reputation. But this week by Julian Swainson, the leader of the Labour group, said the latest developments showed that Mr Law and his Tory colleagues were 'out of touch' with the electorate.

Mr Swainson said: 'Councillor Draper's conviction for police assault made many people question whether he was fit to continue as a councillor. The Conservatives showed how out of touch they are by describing councillor Draper as 'noble' when he refused to resign his council seat. The most recent revelations about his behaviour raise serious concerns about the judgement of the Waveney Tories who considered him fit for office.'

Mr Swainson said he was looking forward to seeing people in Worlingham display their disapproval at the Tories over the Draper affair by supporting his party at the polls. He added: 'Labour want councillors that voters can trust, which is why we have consistently called for a by election for Worlingham voters to have their say.

'Labour councillors will always put our constituents first and we are ready to show electors how we will fight for services in Waveney delivered by a council that you can trust.'

In response, Mr Law defended his earlier statement and said he was looking forward to his party winning the by-election by highlighting the good work his administration had done.

He said: 'The use of the word 'noble' has been taken out of context here somewhat and certainly does not reflect my, or the council's, view of the offences he (Mr Draper) was prosecuted for.

'I was simply referring to his decision both to stand down from the Cabinet and resign from the Conservative group and not the actions that led to his prosecution which, as I stated clearly at the time, are completely unacceptable.

'I would say that any politician, of any party colour, could be considered to have acted in a noble way if they resign to spare the reputation of those they have sought election with. But again, this should not be confused with my personal view of Mr Draper's offences which I have repeatedly labelled as unacceptable.'

Looking forward to the by-election, he added: 'It is for the people of Worlingham to decide and it is certainly not for me to speculate on the outcome. However, it presents us with an opportunity to contest an election and remind the electorate of this Council's continued successes and improvements. I am really looking forward to it.'

On Monday, Mr Draper issued a statement to The Journal saying he had finally resigned from the council.

His announcement came as it was revealed by police that he was due to appear before Lowestoft magistrates on November 22 charged with sending an offensive e-mail. He is also on police bail until December 8 over allegations that he had offensive weapon, believed to be a stun gun, at his home in Martin Close, Carlton Colville.

Mr Draper's resignation statement said: 'I have today tendered my resignation as a Waveney District Councillor with immediate effect. I have given this much thought and, in light of recent events, have reached the conclusion that it would not be in my, or the council's, best interests to remain.

'I would like to thank the people of Worlingham who elected me as their ward councillor and extend my very best wishes to them, and to the council as a whole, for the future.'

When Mr Draper stepped down as a Conservative in September it meant the Tories had to rely on him and the council's independent chairman Peter Collecott to win any crunch votes.

When he resigned this week it meant that Mr Elliott, who represents Beccles North, could have supported any calls to change the council's leadership before the by-election. However he has previously stated he would not support such a move as it would set a precedent of creating political instability every time a councillor resigned.

Mr Elliott added: 'The Green Party welcomes the belated resignation of Andrew Draper from Waveney. It brings to a close a very sad chapter for the council and for democracy.

'A by-election gives the electorate a real chance to shape the future of the council.'

Mr Draper, a self-employed residential landlord, was elected as a councillor in May. He gained 951 votes while his fellow Tory in the same ward, former council leader Mark Bee, secured 1,046 votes. Labour's Lindy Cocker and Sylvia Robbins gained 571 and 655 votes respectively while Eric Wareham of the Green Party got 274 votes.

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