Police called to parish meeting in Lovejoy village for second time in a fortnight
- Credit: Archant
Police were called to a parish council meeting in a picturesque Suffolk tourist village for the second time in just two weeks after they received complaints from two people claiming they had been ‘assaulted’.
Disagreements between some members of Long Melford Parish Council turned to anger at a finance committee meeting on Thursday night after the parish clerk read out a statement calling for the resignation of certain councillors.
Less than a fortnight ago, police were requested to “restore order” at a meeting in the village because one of the councillors claimed he “feared for his safety”.
The unrest within the organisation escalated after new member Paul Morton and colleagues including Liz Malvisi and Richard Michette criticised the way some of the established members make decisions.
Mr Morton, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, also says numerous requests for documents relating to council business have been refused.
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But council chairman Jayne Lines said that the parish clerk has been inundated with an “unacceptable” number of email requests for information and says she has received “email and verbal abuse” from some councillors.
At the latest meeting, at Melford Library, attended by around 20 members of the public, the trouble erupted again after Ms Lines made a special announcement which included the written resignation of councillor Helen Spear, who in light of the recent troubles has decided she no longer wants to be part of the current situation.
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The parish clerk Jill Gould, who has been in the role for three months, read out her own statement. In it she said she would take legal action against members who had allegedly made “defamatory comments” that questioned her professionalism.
She also called for the resignation of councillors – including Liz Malvisi, who was present at the meeting – which prompted cheers from the public.
Mr Michette attempted to raise a point of order which prevents members of the public from interrupting council meetings, but he was not allowed to speak.
Amidst more shouting and jeering from the public, Mr Michette, his wife Carole and Ms Malvisi left the meeting and as they were making their way out, the alleged assault took place.
Last night, police confirmed that between 7.30-7.55pm, they received separate complaints of common assault from two different people at the meeting.
A spokesman said both parties had reported the incident.
No injuries were recorded and no charges were made, but warnings were issued to both parties.
Following the meeting, Ms Malvisi said she felt she had been “publicly humiliated” by the parish clerk.
She added: “The parish clerk stated several times that if I don’t hand in my resignation by Monday, she will take legal action against me for defamation, which in my opinion is blackmail.
“The clerk cannot demand the resignation of a councillor. I will now be following due process which is afforded to me.”
When approached by the EADT, Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC), the corporate body which provides advice to parish councils, declined to comment on the situation in Long Melford.
However Steve Ellwood, corporate manager for governance at Babergh District Council which has the power to investigate standards complaints, said: “The (district council’s) monitoring officer and SALC are aware of the problems in Long Melford Parish Council and we will be discussing how we can resolve those issues and assist the council to ensure that decisions are made correctly going forward.”
Meanwhile, south Suffolk MP James Cartlidge said it was “not an acceptable way” for a parish council to behave.
He said: “Based on the reports that I have heard from people who attended this meeting, whoever is in the right or the wrong, it was clearly inappropriate behaviour.
“Parish councils provide a vital role for our villages and they should uphold that in a proper and lawful manner.
“I will be writing to the clerk to express my concerns and will be requesting to attend the next meeting if possible.”
The previous clerk, Gifford Lewis, resigned earlier this year, as did parish council chairman Peter Turner.
Richard Kemp, who had served on the council for more than 40 years, also resigned over “unfounded allegations” of misconduct.