A PAIR of Labour councillors claim they are victims of a “witch-hunt” by their own party over a row about public questions.
Hartlepool councillors Jonathan Brash and Pamela Hargreaves were suspended for seven days pending an investigation after the meeting of the full council on March 6, at which they voted against proposals supported by the Labour Group to scrap supplementary questions at meetings, as reported recently.
It is Labour Group policy, set by the national executive committee, for a member to be suspended for seven days pending an investigation, if they go against a group decision.
But the pair say more “draconian” measures had been attempted behind closed doors.
Both councillors claim they received letters on March 18 informing them that Coun Brash had been “expelled” from the group and Coun Hargreaves had been “suspended for two cycles of council”.
In a joint statement Coun Brash and Hargreaves said the inquiry was “a hugely flawed process” which resulted “in the disproportionate measurers being applied”.
Both councillors appealed to the national executive of the party on the grounds that there had been “systemic failures” in the process – a process which they claim even prevented them from speaking in their own defence.
The pair have an email, dated March 21, from new Labour chief whip and current chairman of the council, Stephen Akers-Belcher, which admitted “due process” had not been followed previously.
Instead, he offered to meet the pair and take a fresh look at the allegations in his new role.
But a joint statement by Coun Brash and Hargreaves added: “This is a bit like a company that is being taken to tribunal by an employee suddenly realising that they haven’t got a leg to stand on then saying ‘we’ve just realised that we didn’t treat you fairly during the process so we will re-employ you, re-run the process and fire you again, only this time we’ll fire you properly’.
“It is biased, prejudiced and unfair.”
Coun Brash and Hargreaves, who also called for a reduction in the car mileage allowance available to members, claim they are being threatened with suspension and expulsion for standing up for the public’s right to question councillors.
The statement, which claimed “this is nothing more than a witch-hunt,” added: “If defending the public’s right to question their councillors means expulsion from the Labour Group then that this is a price we are prepared to pay and those who chose to use this disagreement on a matter of principle should be ashamed of their actions.”
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “I can confirm Coun Brash and Coun Hargreaves have been asked to engage with the whips due to failing to maintain minimum standards as Labour councillors.
“I am disappointed that Coun Brash and Hargreaves have preconceived the outcome of any investigation as myself and the two deputy whips have agreed to take a fresh look at this matter and carry out a fair process.”