Hartlepool mayor issues apology to war veteran after not replying to call for ‘freedom’

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HARTLEPOOL’S mayor has apologised to a war veteran for not acknowledging a letter which he sent him asking for the town’s servicemen to be given a civic honour.

Edward Powell sent a letter to Hartlepool’s ceremonial mayor, Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, asking for the town’s seven ex-service associations to be considered for the honour of the Freedom of Hartlepool for their services and sacrifice.

Mr Powell, 75, said he posted the letter earlier in the year, but is still awaiting a reply.

Coun Akers-Belcher says there are proper channels to go through to make such a request, but has apologised for overlooking Mr Powell’s letter, which was also sent to the secretaries of the seven associations, the Royal British Legion, Royal Navy Association, Royal Air Force Association, Royal Artillery Association, Royal Army Service Corps/Royal Corps Transport, The Fellowship of the Services and Durham Light Infantry (DLI).

Mr Powell, who is married to Carole, was in the forces for 18 years, starting in the Coldstream Guards and serving in Kenya, Bahrain and Zanzibar, before transferring to the Royal Army Service Corps, being posted to Singapore, and later serving in the Borneo confrontation.

The dad-of-three and grandfather-of-two said: “Men and women belonging to the ex-service associations in Hartlepool; men and women who served their country in wars and campaigns and were willing to lay down their lives to ensure peace reigned in the United Kingdom go unrewarded.

“I do not believe that seven pieces of paper in seven frames is too high a price to pay to acknowledging the ex-service associations in Hartlepool.”

The Rifles, a successor of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), did received the Freedom of the Borough.

But Tug Wilson, secretary of the Hartlepool Combined Ex-Servicemen’s Association and Northern Region representative for the Royal Artillery Association’s National Executive Committee, said: “It would make much more sense to honour all seven than just giving the Rifles the Freedom of the town.

“The feedback from the ex-service association representatives I have spoken to is ‘yes, why shouldn’t we have it after all these years?’

Mr Powell,from Birchill Gardens, said: “We feel ignored.

“I spent 18 years in the forces, I walked the streets of Northern Ireland, I slept in doorways and park bandstands and got involved in confrontations.
“But as soon as you come out, it’s ‘thank you very much and away you go’.

“We would just like some acknowledgement of what we did.”

He said he also felt the non-reply to his letter was even more of a “kick in the teeth”, as the council signed an Armed Forces covenant in 2012, calling for respect, support and fair treatment of forces personnel.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “There is a process and this involves writing to the chief executive with nominations, the cut-off point was October 18, last year.

“We were very clear and there was a lot of advertisement about that.

“I’m not saying it’s not a worthy cause, but we can’t move away from the channels.

“I can’t remember receiving the letter, I get hundreds of letters.
“If I haven’t replied I genuinely apologise and hold my hands up.

“But it shouldn’t be done on a nod and a wink from the Mayor, it has to be an open and transparent process.”

Mr Powell has also criticised Councillor Allan Barclay, for not making contact with the associations, having been made Forces Champion by the council.

But Coun Barclay says he was only appointed two weeks ago and his role is still to be officially “rubber-stamped”.