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Town council to pay £70k+ over defamatory statements about two councillors

Attleborough Town Council has agreed to pay more than £70,000 in costs and damages after it issued a “profound and unreserved apology” to two councillors who it said it had defamed.

A council statement offered the apology to Taila Taylor and Edward Tyrer “for the publishment [sic] of defamatory statements concerning false allegations of both councillors sustaining a ‘campaign of harassment, bullying and intimidation’ on fellow councillors, staff and employees of Attleborough Town Council. We accept that all such allegations were false and wrong”.

The council admitted that in February 2020 members passed an unlawful motion to remove both councillors from their positions and prevent them from being appointed as either vice-chairman or mayor for two years.

There had been “procedural impropriety and complete disregard to the due process” required for investigating the allegations against them.

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Attleborough said the unlawful motion was passed following several code of conduct complaints made to the monitoring officer at Breckland District Council - in which Attleborough is situated - and the issue of a formal letter of grievance by Miles Hubbard, regional officer of the Unite trade union.

It said the two councillors issued judicial review proceedings and had “been vindicated of all allegations relating to ‘harassment, bullying and intimidation’ and had all their previous positions held within the council reinstated”.

The statement added: “The council would like to make it clear that both Cllr Taylor and Cllr Tyrer have never been found to have harassed, bullied, or intimidated fellow councillors, staff and employees of the council and the council sincerely apologises for the hurt, suffering and stress that has been caused to both councillors.”

Attleborough’s bill comprises an agreed payment of £10,000 to a local charity, £20,000 in damages to Cllr Taylor, £7,500 to Cllr Tyrer and £41,200 as costs of the judicial review claim.

A court consent order was made that provided that the judicial review proceedings would be withdrawn if Attleborough set aside its earlier decision on the two councillors' roles and admitted “that it does not have the power formally to investigate or impose sanctions in respect of any allegation that the claimant has engaged in conduct which is either alleged to be, or would be, contrary to the member code of conduct and that any such allegations must be dealt with under the relevant arrangements of Breckland District Council”.

A summary of the consent order from the judicial review and the extensive council proceedings and correspondence that formed the dispute, has been published by the town council.

It reveals a long series of sulphurous exchanges and allegations that defamatory statements were made.

The summary noted that at one point supporters of Cllrs Taylor and Tyrer refused despite police intervention to leave a meeting at which a confidential report on the matter was due to be discussed

Mr Hubbard said: “Unite was completely justified in standing by our members over allegations that a number of councillors had waged a systematic and sustained campaign of bullying and harassment against staff employed by Attleborough Town Council. We stood by them then and do so now.”

He said the payments to the two councillors should be investigated by “relevant regulatory authorities” as to whether this was a proper use of the council’s money.

Mark Smulian

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