Social media vent leads to visit from police for former councillor
Tony Boxford was getting ready to go out and play bridge on Tuesday when he saw two figures at his door and the outline of an ID badge.
Believing they were charity fundraisers he ignored the knock at his semi-detached home in Hadleigh.
But when he went outside he saw a police car. His local police community support officer (PCSO) and a sergeant were standing there. He knew the PCSO from his time as a Hadleigh town councillor and said hello.
They asked to come in. “They said ‘you are not in trouble, we just need to have a word about some of the comments you have made on social media about the town council’,” he said.
Mr Boxford had posted a link to his blog and made comments on a local Facebook page which were critical of the town council and its clerk.
In the blog, the trainee driver instructor had spoken out about some of the problems at Hadleigh Town Council. He criticised the clerk for suspending a group last year working on the town’s neighbourhood plan.
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The blog also questioned the council for taking disciplinary action against a councillor who questioned the town clerk’s authority to suspend that working group.
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said the visit was just to give advice about the “appropriate use of social media”.
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But Mr Boxford said police could not tell him specifically what he had said or written to warrant the visit.
He said: “They said ‘we have been asked to have a word with you to be aware about some of the things you say and the way you say them (on social media)’.”
“I said unless you tell me what it is I’m doing wrong or what I need to be aware of how can I avoid doing it again?”
“I told police it goes back to when I was on the council in 2015 and didn’t want to toe the line. Anybody who shows dissent or doesn’t do as they are told is ostracised by the town council.”
The 61-year old quit the council a few months after being elected in May 2015.
He added: “I will not allow my democratic right to hold my elected representatives or their officers to account shut down.
“I’m simply expressing my personal opinion about things in the public domain.”
He was not alone in getting a visit from the police.
Mr Boxford added: “I asked the police, why am I being targeted? They said they had been asked to speak to other members of the public.”
A second man was also visited by officers this week about critical comments he made about the town council.
He had said at a private Christmas party that he thought the town clerk should resign, according to town councillor Rickaby Shearly-Sanders.
It is understood comments had also been made on social media.
Mr Shearly-Sanders, who has been critical of the way the council is being run, said he questioned why police officers were spending time visiting people for being critical of local politicians and council employees.
The police and town council were asked by this newspaper who made the decision to send the officers and why they were sent.
The town council refused to comment.
But a Suffolk police spokesman said: “Concerns were raised with police that some comments had been made regarding a member of the town council which they believed to be derogatory in nature – this included posts on social media.
“Two individuals have subsequently been spoken to by officers and offered words of advice regarding these comments and in particular the appropriate use of social media.
“They were also reminded that if they wish to complain about any member of the town council, there is a formal process by which they can do this.”