Councillor suspended from office

A COUNCILLOR who falsely accused a planning officer of "being in cahoots" with a property developer and fiddling council minutes for his own gain has been kicked out of office for nine months.

A COUNCILLOR who falsely accused a planning officer of "being in cahoots" with a property developer and fiddling council minutes for his own gain has been kicked out of office for nine months.

Terry Waters, Forest Heath District Council member for Eriswell and the Rows, was suspended for nine months yesterday after he was found to have brought his office into disrepute.

A tribunal panel convened by local government watchdog the Standards Board found Mr Waters had twice breached the councillors' code of conduct over unsubstantiated and false allegations he made in a letter about Forest Heath head of planning Richard Plowman which was sent to senior council members and staff.

Mr Plowman was referred to as "Mr A" throughout proceedings, and although present at the hearing, he was later unavailable for comment.


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The case arose from a planning application which the council had approved in 2002, but when minutes from the meeting were later published, Mr Waters contested they did not match what had actually been approved, which led to him writing the letter in question in September of that year.

Katherine Olley, acting on behalf of the Standards Board's ethical standards officer, told the tribunal: "It would be a serious derogation of his duties for an officer to falsify minutes, it has been suggested the wool has been pulled over councillors' eyes.

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"It is suggested that Mr A was in cahoots with the developer, again a very serious allegation."

She added: "There was a suggestion that Mr A intended to hoodwink members of the council."

Furthermore, Ms Olley said Mr Waters held a grudge against Mr Plowman because of planning difficulties he had experienced regarding Mildenhall Stadium, which he owns, and the letter had been a personal attack on his character.

The tribunal was told that an internal auditor's investigation had shown there were some weaknesses in the council's planning procedures, which were subsequently improved, but Mr Plowman had been completely exonerated, and had later received the full vote of confidence of the council.

Ms Olley also said Mr Plowman had not been the case officer in the planning application in question and had only minimal involvement in the matter and had been deeply wounded by Mr Waters' accusation.

Mr Waters said there was no grudge, apologised for causing offence, and claimed he had not meant to attack Mr Plowman and had only been trying to point out the flaws in the planning system.

He said he was "an old country boy" with little formal education, and sometimes he had difficulty expressing himself and his statements had been misconstrued.

He added: "The points I was making concerned the administration of planning applications generally and not one officer in particular."

Mr Waters told the panel he had further evidence about other matters at the council, about which he had chosen to keep quiet, but which would "make their hair curl", although he did not elaborate.

However, the panel found Mr Waters had not only brought his office into disrepute but had also shown disrespect to a council office and suspended him from office with immediate effect. They also recommended he write a formal apology to Mr Plowman.

More than 60 people crammed into the tribunal, held at the Angel Hotel Bury St Edmunds, most of whom were there in support of Mr Waters, and gave him a standing ovation when proceedings ended.

He said later he was "disappointed" at the outcome and was considering whether or not to appeal against his suspension.

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