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Council leader issues second statement on £4m food safety “abuse of process” settlement, defends former chief executive at predecessor authority

The Leader of North Northamptonshire has issued a second statement in a bid to clarify its decision to pay £4m to a publican who alleged abuse of process in a food safety case brought against him by East Northamptonshire District Council more than 20 years ago, and to defend a former chief executive.

The case, which the legal team of claimant Dr Geoffrey Monks said was pursued on grounds that were last successfully argued in 1861, was launched two years ago against the now-disbanded East Northamptonshire Council.

North Northamptonshire took over the operations and liabilities of East Northamptonshire after local government reorganisation in April 2021.

In a first statement, Cllr Jason Smithers, Leader of North Northamptonshire, said that the decision to prosecute Dr Monks in relation to the Snooty Fox pub was an abuse of process “and should never have occurred”.

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North Northamptonshire said that in response to media reports and queries it had received on the issue, Cllr Smithers had now released an additional statement which reads:

“I would like to clarify that the prosecution of the claimant and its impact on him is reflected in the settlement which was reached and followed advice from highly experienced, external legal counsel. The Council has used the democratic process to consider this difficult situation, holding two extraordinary Council meetings where the matter was debated and discussed by elected members, supported by external legal advice leading to the Council’s decision.

“In settling the Claim, the Council has agreed to make, in open court, an apology to Dr Monks in which it will recognise that, in its view, prosecuting Dr Monks in relation to the Snooty Fox Public House was an abuse of the process of the court and should never have occurred and that this caused serious personal injury, loss and damage to Dr Monks. However, that does not mean that the Council admits each and every allegation made by Dr Monks. In particular, it does not mean that the Council admits any of the allegations, made in the Claim and elsewhere, of personal impropriety or personal animus against the former Chief Executive of East Northants Council, Mr Roger Heath. The Council has seen no evidence which would substantiate those allegations.

“The Council has made every effort to balance the need to protect public money, whilst at the same time, ensure that it does the right thing and compensates someone who has suffered serious personal injury, loss and damage over a significant period of time.

“The cost of the £4million settlement reached will be met from earmarked reserves from the legacy East Northamptonshire Council. The cost does not form part of the Council Tax requirement, and it will not be a further charge to residents.

“I feel that it is important to point out that North Northamptonshire Council has implemented processes to prevent a similar incident being repeated. The Council will however keep an open mind as to the lessons that it can learn.

“Regarding any historic abuse of process, I have made it clear that the Council will cooperate fully with the Police should they determine that any criminal offence may have been committed in the past in relation to this matter. At this stage I have no further comments to add to this statement but I hope this helps explain the Council’s position.”

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