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Rutland County Council plans legal action


A council has voted to take legal action to stop three councillors from allegedly harassing senior staff.

Rutland County Council has set aside £90,000 to seek an injunction against Richard Gale, David Richardson and Nick Wainwright.

The trio have been accused of sending e-mails to chief executive Helen Briggs that, according to legal advisers, "are very likely to amount to harassment".

The councillors, who formed Rutland Anti-Corruption Group (RACP), have repeatedly called for her to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suspension of a senior officer last summer who, hours later, took his own life.

Ms Briggs has explained to the councillors the widow of the officer wanted the circumstances of the disciplinary action against her husband to remain confidential.

The council claimed the group had also sent it baseless e-mails alleging officers had manipulated land deals, flouted financial rules and regulations and had tried to manipulate the award of contracts.

The council voted on Thursday to seek the injunction. Twenty-three backed the motion, three abstained.

Members also backed a motion to support officers who wish to bring legal action for harassment against the three councillors.

Speaking after the meeting, leader Roger Begy said: "The £90,000 is an insurance policy. Should our senior officers sue us for constructive dismissal, that could cost us £250,000.

"We have a chief executive and staff team who are simply doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

"Of course they should be subject to scrutiny and challenge as that is the basis of local democracy.

"However, they should not have to put up with false allegations about their conduct and regular questioning of their integrity."

A report by lawyers Bevan Brittan said the actions of RACP were damaging the ability of the council to recruit outstanding officers, hampering efforts to secure funding for education and recreation and distracting senior officers.

Councillors Begy said: "As councillors, we have to protect our staff and this decision sends out a strong message. Now we have to move forward."

The council decided to defer a claim for defamation against the group.

It decided to monitor all communications with the group through a single point of contact, subject to review by the chief executive, and that members of RACP must use the council's secure e-mail system.

Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton, said: 'The council has been forced to take this entirely proportionate action in response to the disgraceful conduct of these three councillors.

"Their campaign of harassment went far beyond legitimate and open scrutiny of the council.

"Instead, they have brought shame on the office of councillor. The chief executive and officers have my unequivocal support."

The group has not responded to calls to comment on the injunction.

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