You report correctly (Advertiser, 18 June) about the unprecedented disruption of my public Residents’ Meeting, on 21January 2013, at the Church of St. Hugh and St. John, Mobbsbury Way, by Chells Labour councillor Burrell, and the subsequent belated decision in my favour by the Labour dominated Standards Committee of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC). In a rather feeble ruling, all that they asked was for the Labour member to apologize in public to me, which was done. I accepted the apology in public at the SBC AGM on 10 June.
Therefore, I was – to say the least – a bit surprised that in your report of 18 June, Cllr. Burrell (in another unprecedented move) not only effectively repeated his original and incorrect allegations against me, but that he also made several other factual errors, which need correcting:
- I did not fib or lie or make any incorrect statement;
- I did not claim that I had not been invited to a meeting;
- I did not ‘suddenly bring it up’ at the SBC AGM on 10 June; in fact it was on the agenda, with the normal notice period, as a report from the Standards Committee, and that was the only opportunity for me to accept the apology to me in public, since it had not been on any previous public agenda;
- At the AGM, I was not told to ‘back off’, or to ‘sit down and shut up’;
- Cllr. Burrell was called before the Standards Committee, not the ‘ethics committee’, the latter of which, as he should know, does not exist.
At the SBC AGM on 10 June, it was in fact my colleague, Cllr. Andy McGuinness, who had his maiden speech in the chamber interrupted and stopped, and was not given any opportunity to continue, when he quite properly was speaking on the report. This was the result of a combination of totally incompetent chairing by Labour’s mayor and an incompetent lack of correct advice from the Chief Executive. It is also totally unprecedented and disgraceful for a new councillor to have a maiden speech stopped for no reason – and poor practice indeed for correctly raised points of order, from myself and one other councillor, on the appalling handling of the issue, to be ignored and not answered. Meanwhile, a member of the public was allowed to speak for several minutes on the issue, when he clearly (by his own admission) knew nothing about the circumstances or facts!
Several people have said that the largely ceremonial AGM was the wrong time for me to raise the matter. They clearly misunderstand the circumstances. The legal section at SBC took over a year to deal with the charges against Cllr. Burrell and, when they did, their actions and report were amateur and full of errors and untested assertions. They did not send it to the Standards Committee until 31 January 2014, so by then it was too late for the Standards Committee report to go to the February 2014 full council meeting. The next one was the AGM on 10 June and, despite the fact that I stated that it was an unsuitable item for that meeting, officials insisted that it should be on that agenda. It will not be on any later meeting, so the only opportunity I had to accept the apology was at the AGM on 10 June.
The most important apology of all, of course, would be from Cllr. Burrell to the many members of the public who had their local Residents’ Meeting interrupted and hi-jacked for several minutes, on 21 January 2013 – but there has been no such apology.