`Direct action' by political group

MEMBERS of a political group barred from standing in borough council elections are threatening "direct action" against the authority they claim has "silenced their voice".

MEMBERS of a political group barred from standing in borough council elections are threatening "direct action" against the authority they claim has "silenced their voice".

Voters in Haverhill, group leader Mabon Dane maintains, will now show their opposition to St Edmundsbury Borough Council through protest and court action following Tuesday's decision to invalidate their ballot papers.

The Haverhill Representative Alliance, on which Mr Dane has served for a year, had hoped to win seven seats on the borough council following the local elections in May.

But the group's ballot papers were voided in the 11th hour after members failed to register their name as a political party until two weeks after the deadline of March 10 had passed. Members, however, are still eligible to stand for election to Haverhill's town council, on which Mr Dane already serves.

"This is very unfortunate, unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional. The voice of Haverhill has been completely silenced," said Mr Dane.

"All seven of our borough candidates stood a very good chance of winning their seats. They have been left shocked and angered by this, and are still taking it all in.

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"We feel like the system is completely weighted against us, in favour of the main political parties. It is against the man in the street who wants to stand up for his community.

"We can probably fight to take control of the town council, but the chance of winning representation on the borough council, where the big decisions are made, has been destroyed."

Deborah Cadman, returning officer on St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said the group had not registered as a political party until March 24. The ballot papers relating to candidates hoping to stand in for election to the borough council were subsequently invalidated.

She said: "21 nominations were received from the Haverhill Representative Alliance 70 minutes before the 12 noon close of nominations on Tuesday 25 March.

"Seven of these were for the Haverhill borough wards, with 14 for Haverhill Town Council.

"All nominations need to be validated to check they are eligible. While going through this process it was discovered that the Haverhill Representative Alliance had not registered as a political party until 24 March 2003.

"Because an all-postal vote is being carried out, the St Edmundsbury Borough Council (All Postal Voting Scheme) Order 2003 set the date for the Notice of Election at 10 March, rather than the standard 24 March. When this issued had been identified the deadline for nominations had passed."

Mr Dane said he had investigated the possibility of taking the council to a judicial review regarding the election deadline, but had reconsidered due to the £30,000 cost involved.

He now intends to seek compensation through the small claims courts for his own personal outlays incurred during the production of the voided ballot papers, as a mark of protest.

But the tactics adopted by the Haverhill Representative Alliance, Mr Dane warned, will now change, with direct action taken against the borough council, both through the courts and with community protests.

"Because our voice has been silenced in the borough council chamber, our tactics will have to change," threatened Mr Dane. "We cannot allow the kind of treatment the people of Haverhill have suffered in the past four years to continue.

"We will now be taking a lot more direct action, and many more court actions. I will underwrite legal actions, and the borough council will find itself in court much more often."

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