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LAIRD SUSPENDED OVER E-MAILS

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By Jennifer Taylor ...
By Jennifer Taylor

Cheltenham BC managing director Christine Laird has been suspended on full pay for two months.

The move follows a council decision to investigate the ongoing dispute between her and leader Andrew McKinlay (Lib Dem). The dispute dates from last summer, when Ms Laird and the council's three opposition groups made a complaint about Mr McKinlay to the Standards Board for England (LGC, 15 August 2003).

The situation recently came to a head when the council decided an independent investigator should look into the allegations Ms Laird made against the council. She was suspended a week-and-a-half later.

The reasons for her suspension are disputed.

A representative for Ms Laird said she was suspended for misconduct after the council claimed she broke its IT policy by handing e-mails to the police after she suspected her account was being hacked.

Ms Laird's solicitor Simon Collingridge called the charges 'trumped up' and said: 'The matter of people hacking into Ms Laird's e-mail system is in the hands of the police. We wait to see the outcome of their investigations.'

A spokesperson for Gloucestershire Police said: 'Gloucestershire Police can confirm we are considering a matter referred to us concerning Cheltenham Borough Council, but it is not a criminal investigation at this stage. We are considering whether it is a matter for police involvement.'

But Mayor Garth Barnes (Lib Dem) said Ms Laird was suspended because 'it was felt that her staying in the office would prejudice the investigations going forward'.

A council spokesperson said Ms Laird had sought an injunction to prevent the council meeting to appoint a designated independent person, but the court rejected her application. On Monday, Ms Laird was signed off sick for three months by her GP.

Association of Local Authority Chief Executives consultant Richard Penn, who is representing Ms Laird, said: 'She has been signed off by her GP as unfit to attend work and take part in any process.'

Ms Laird was unavailable for comment.

jennifer.taylor@emap.com

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