Council's election blunder fury

By Liz HearnshawVOTERS could have been misled by a council error that saw the wrong information placed on polling cards for a by-election, it has been claimed.

By Liz Hearnshaw

VOTERS could have been misled by a council error that saw the wrong information placed on polling cards for a by-election, it has been claimed.

Brian Lockwood, who received just 35 votes in the by-election for the vacant Risbygate ward seat on St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said the low turnout of 26.9% could also have been due to the mistake.

The polling cards issued to residents wrongly stated Thursday's by-election was for a seat on Bury St Edmunds Town Council.

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The error means any candidate could challenge the result of the poll, taking St Edmundsbury Borough Council to court to force another by-election at a cost of about £2,000.

Mr Lockwood, who fought as an Independent candidate, said: “The mistake was pointed out to the chief executive Deborah Cadman at 9.15pm, but she said the election would carry on.

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“This was not a town council election and I think this could have been misleading and one of the reasons there was a poor turnout.

“As far as I am concerned, the best party won, but I really think it is time the borough council got its act together. The polling cards are something which should have been checked and checked again.”

The by-election was forced after Conservative councillor Robert Everitt was disqualified after being adjudged bankrupt for failing to return self-assessment tax forms over a three-year period.

Independent candidate Melinda Nettleton won the contest with 293 votes, and will now serve the ward alongside her husband, David.

Ray Nowak, a Labour candidate in the election who led St Edmundsbury prior to losing his seat at last year's poll, said he had no intention of challenging the result.

“I think the mistake created some confusion amongst the electorate, but it was just one of those things,” he added.

“I do not think it made a bit of difference. If someone wants to challenge it, then fine, but I won't be doing so.”

Despite the Conservative candidate Paul Simner only losing the seat by 15 votes, the party's agent James Cockram said it did not plan to take further action.

“We were aware of the issue with the polling cards and have decided we are not going to challenge the result of the election,” he added.

“We put out a lot of literature which made the point that this was a borough council election, so we would look rather foolish if we did try to challenge it. Although the official card was wrong, I don't think that influenced the result.”

A spokesman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council confirmed a mistake had been made on the polling cards and added the returning officer had taken the decision to allow the ballot to continue.

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