Row over town's deputy mayor snub

MAYOR making is usually rather a genteel affair – with the honours decided long before the robes and chains of office are bestowed with due ceremonial ritual.

MAYOR making is usually rather a genteel affair – with the honours decided long before the robes and chains of office are bestowed with due ceremonial ritual.

This, however, can hardly be said of the annual selection evening at Sudbury – which rapidly descended into an undignified shambles with one councillor's expectations of high office in tatters.

Now a bitter row has embroiled the ranks of Sudbury Town Council – with the new mayor, Lesley Ford-Platt, accused of "politically sabotaging" fellow councillor Peter Goodchild's chances of becoming her deputy on her very first day in office.

Mr Goodchild had his apparently assured path to civic office snatched away at the eleventh-hour.

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The EADT has been told the council had entered a gentleman's agreement to make Liberal Democrat councillor Mrs Ford-Platt town mayor and Conservative councillor Mr Goodchild her deputy.

And at Tuesday's mayor making ceremony Mr Goodchild was even given a coveted seat on the top table at Sudbury Town Hall in front of a 40-strong crowd and flanked by his proud wife, Val, and son.

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But just moments before Mr Goodchild was due to be handed his ceremonial robes Lid Dem town councillor Andy Welsh made a last minute announcement proposing fellow party member Nigel Bennett for the role of deputy.

After a split six-all vote, the casting vote went to Mrs Ford-Platt – made mayor just moments before – who voted in favour of her Lib Dem colleague Mr Bennett.

The move left Mr Goodchild feeling embarrassed and humiliated in front of his family, fellow councillors and members of the public.

Out of the seven people who voted in favour of Mr Bennett, five were Lib Dems, and the party has now been accused of politically hijacking the event, which should have been Mr Goodchild's moment of glory.

Yesterday, a humiliated Mr Goodchild, who could well have gone on to be mayor next year if things had gone as he expected, said: "It made me feel quite foolish. It was agreed a year ago that we would support Lesley and that she would back me as her deputy, but she decided to follow the party line, and I think this is blatant political sabotage. It was very underhand."

Former town mayor Ray Smith said: "Lesley had been saying how much she was looking forward to working with Peter and then at the last minute she votes against him. I think it was grossly unfair."

Another former town mayor John Coleman, who was at the ceremony, said: "This was one of the most shameful meetings I have had the misfortune to witness.

"In my view, this brings only shame on those who participated in this petty example of political back-stabbing."

Town councillor Albert Pearce, the only Lib Dem member who voted for Mr Goodchild, said: "I am utterly ashamed of the actions of several members of my own party. This is appalling."

Despite the fierce criticism Mrs Ford-Platt has defended her decision and insisted her vote was not politically motivated.

"I had no idea a new proposal was going to be made, but I had no choice but to make the casting vote. I voted for Mr Bennett as I thought it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, I felt that is what the majority of the people in the room wanted, and there was no political motive in my vote.

"This was a very difficult situation and it was very sad for Mr Goodchild who handled the situation with great dignity."

Andy Welsh, who made the proposal for Mr Bennett, said: "What happened was shambolic and I feel desperately sorry for Mr Goodchild, but I was never made aware of any gentleman's agreement.

"I did get together with a few councillors a couple of months ago and we decided we would be putting forward Mr Bennett. We didn't notify anybody of our intention because there is no requirement for us to do so.

"I do not understand why Mr Goodchild was put on the top table, and this should never have happened, but I feel it was important to get the best man for the job."

Town clerk Sue Brotherwood said: "We are now going to review the way we hold future mayor making ceremonies, as we don't want anything like this to ever happen again.

"There was a gentleman's agreement and if we had the slightest idea there was going to be a new proposal we would never have put Mr Goodchild on the table or allowed him to be humiliated in this way."

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