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Long Melford: QC is under investigation over alleged remarks about disabled

PUBLISHED: 10:36 24 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:49 24 April 2014

Melford sign

Melford sign

Archant

A Queen’s Counsel who allegedly referred to disabled people living in a west Suffolk village as “three-eyed and one-legged” is being investigated by the Bar Standards Board.

It is claimed Peter Village QC made the remarks while representing David Wilson Homes at a public inquiry into an application to build 51 homes on a former factory site in Long Melford.

Babergh’s planning committee rejected the proposal due to concerns about access to the site and pedestrian safety.

A group of residents opposed to the development hired a witness to speak at the inquiry – held in Hadleigh in February – about problems the narrow access way could pose to people with disabilities. Mr Village’s alleged comments were made in response to evidence presented by this witness. Last night, the QC who is a London-based planning and environmental law litigator, said he would “vigorously defend” himself against the complaints.

A spokesman for the Bar Standards Board said: “We do not comment on individual cases unless a disciplinary tribunal has been scheduled.”

The inquiry was discussed at the annual Long Melford parish meeting on Tuesday evening, where it emerged that complaints made about the way Babergh has handled the planning application are also the subject of an internal investigation at the council.

At the meeting, Melford resident Camilla Rodwell said: “The conduct of David Wilson Homes QC Peter Village (at the inquiry) was appalling.

“Some might say he was just doing his job but his summation of the residents of Long Melford was that we all drive Range Rovers, are opposed to affordable housing and in his closing remarks he referred to the disabled people in our community as ‘three-eyed and one-legged’.

“This is totally unacceptable and I have lodged a complaint against him with the Bar Standards Board, as indeed has another member of our community who was present at the hearing.

“The Board has accepted both complaints and is conducting a full investigation into Mr Village’s behaviour.”

County, district and parish councillor and former magistrate Richard Kemp, who was also at the public inquiry, said Mr Village’s comments had been made in response to points raised by the opposition’s expert witness about disabled access.

Mr Kemp said: “I was shocked and appalled that he made these remarks in front of 30 witnesses, including one of our residents who was awarded an MBE for his work with people with disabilities.

“His comments were grossly offensive and although they have been reported to the Bar Standards Board, I also think there is a prima facie case for criminal breach falling within the Disabled Persons Act.”

Last night Mr Village said: “I have received two complaints which I am vigorously defending through the appropriate channels.”

A council investigation is under way after complaints were made about the way officers at Babergh handled the application for the 51-home development in Long Melford.

To support growth, authorities receive a grant from the Government under the New Homes Bonus Scheme for every new house built.

Some villagers, who openly expressed their concerns at the annual parish meeting, have accused the authority of colluding with developers and not doing enough to defend the planning committee’s decision to refuse the scheme.

On the second day of the public inquiry into the application, Babergh dismissed William Richards, the planning law specialist it had appointed to formulate the case against the development.

The council said this was on the grounds he had failed to inform David Wilson Homes the hearing was being recorded.

Mr Richards was replaced by Babergh’s planning chief, Christine Thurlow, who had overseen the original planning report in support of the scheme.

One of the committee’s two reasons for refusing the application had also been removed from the final report without further consultation. At the parish meeting, members of the action group opposing the development urged Long Melford Parish Council to write to Babergh demanding an independent inquiry.

Last night, a Babergh spokesman said: “Babergh District Council is aware of a number of totally unsubstantiated but serious allegations made against various members of our staff.

“We are currently concluding an internal investigation into some of the issues raised but, guided by the principles of openness and transparency; we feel that the most damaging allegations need to be referred to the police for their consideration.

“We have repeatedly advised the parties making these allegations to contact Suffolk Constabulary immediately and we will co-operate fully in any investigation.”

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