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COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON POISON-PEN COUNCILLOR

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A Bedford councillor has failed in his high court bid to lift a six-month suspension - imposed due to unjust slurs ...
A Bedford councillor has failed in his high court bid to lift a six-month suspension - imposed due to unjust slurs cast on council officers.

Anthony Hare - independent councilor for Wilhamstead - was suspended from office over a breach of Bedford BC's code of conduct in penning a vitriolic letter which, without foundation, 'made the most serious possible accusations against council officers'.

Mr Hare, who represented himself during the hearing in London's high court, said the November 2005 suspension had taken a devastating toll on him, likening it to a 'life sentence' in terms of its impact.

He had found it 'very difficult' coping with the suspension, Mr Hare told Mr Justice Silber, adding: 'In particular, I am prevented from having any input into matters affecting my electors'.

'So if anybody wanted to teach me a lesson, they have done so,' he reiterated.

But the judge yesterday pinpointed 'serious aggravating features' in Mr Hare's case, particularly his failure to apologise or show insight into his misdemeanour, and the fact he had made 'allegations of an essentially criminal nature against professional staff....'

'In my view he falls a long way short of showing that the order of disqualification for six months imposed on him was 'plainly wrong',' the judge concluded.

The background was a vexed property dispute between the borough council and a local resident over her claims that she had 'gained the title to certain land of which the council was the registered owner' through 'adverse possession' - commonly known as 'squatters rights'.

Although she originally had legal representation, by May 2003 Mr Hare had stepped in to represent the widow, although not a lawyer.

Another dimension was added to the issue in January 2004 when a council solicitor wrote to Mr Hare, claiming that the councilor had made use of a confidential council report - allegedly to 'strengthen the bargaining position'.

The tribunal which ultimately ruled on Mr Hare's breach of conduct rules later held that the report was not confidential, although finding that the council's general concerns were 'amply justified'.

Mr Hare's transgression occurred when he replied to the letter from the council's solicitor, accusing a cluster of officers of 'peddling a deliberate lie to dupe and/or to gain unfair advantage against an elderly widow lady', the judge was told.

Mr Justice Silber observed during the hearing that the letter was 'very offensive', although Mr Hare said he had now 'held his hands up to that'.

Mr Hare had effectively accused council officers of mounting a defence to the property claim which was 'known to be founded on invention and falsehood'.

He was suspended after the case tribunal - appointed by the Adjudication Panel for England - found he had breached the borough council's code, which demands that an elected member 'must treat others with respect'.

He was suspended for six months and itis that penalty which he challenged unsuccessfully in the high court.

Background here

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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