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Police called after rebel councillor refuses to leave ‘shameful’ Town Hall meeting

9th December 2013

Police called after rebel councillor refuses to leave ‘shameful’ Town Hall meeting

‘Treason’ – for asking a legitimate question

Edited version first published in ‘Warrington – Worldwide’ 04/12/13

by David Skentelbery

Kevin Bennett is Vice Chair of the Labour Representation Committee and a prominent member of Councillors against the Cuts.

Police were called to a meeting of Warrington Borough Council after a member refused to leave after the council had voted for him to be excluded.

Rebel Labour councillor Kevin Bennett refused to leave the meeting after members – including most of the controlling Labour Group – had voted that he be asked to leave the council chamber.

The Mayor, Cllr Peter Carey, called police and two officers arrived at the Town Hall.

They spoke to council solicitor Tim Date – then asked Cllr Bennett to leave and he agreed to do so peacefully.

But he later issued a statement in which he criticised the Mayor for “turning the meeting into a circus.”

He added: “This makes a laughing stock of our council, and politicises the role of the Mayor.
“While this smokescreen was being generated, there were serious questions which the leader (Cllr Terry O’Neill) failed to answer about his recent conduct.

“These questions will not just go away quietly and I will continue to ask them, despite the vicious hate campaign that some members of the Labour Group seem to have launched against me.”

Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the move to expel Cllr Bennett as did at least one Labour member, Cllr Jan Davidson. But some Conservatives voted with the Labour group.

The situation – described by Conservative leader Cllr Paul Kennedy as “a shameful episode and an embarrassment to the council” – arose following an incident at the previous meeting of the council when a legitimate question, asked by Cllr Bennett, was struck from the agenda on the instructions of the council leader, against the advice of the council solicitor.
Cllr Bennett subsequently threatened to report the council to the Local Government Ombudsman over the issue.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Ian Marks said: “In an extraordinary personal statement to the council, the Labour leader admitted that he had demanded the question be removed because Cllr Bennett had not followed Labour’s ‘agreed political protocol’.

“He did this despite being strongly advised by the Council’s legal officer that the question was legitimate and it was a breach of the council’s constitution to strike it out.

“In a parliamentary democracy, it is fundamental that elected politicians are bound by constitutional rules which must take precedence over party political protocols. To abandon this principle is a slippery slope which it is dangerous to go down.”
Cllr Bob Barr, Lib Dem, added: “Sadly the council leader failed to answer questions about why he had ignored legal advice or which section of the constitution gave him powers to censor legitimate questions from elected councillors.
“If the ruling group can change the constitution to make their own party rules prevail, what is to stop them banning questions from opposition parties or the public in future?”

After the meeting, Cllr Bennett – who is currently suspended from the Labour Group following an earlier fall-out with the party – said: “The Mayor moved a vote on whether I should leave the chamber. He gave no explanation why I should leave and therefore I remained in my seat and exercised my right to peaceful protest.

“Some Labour and Lib Dem councillors voted against his suggestion to evict me. In the end, the Mayor turned the meeting into a circus by calling the police on the grounds that his authority was being challenged. After a meeting with the police and the council solicitor, the police asked me to leave, which I did peacefully.”

Cllr Sheila Woodyatt, Conservative, who voted for Cllr Bennett to be excluded from the meeting, said: “This was a direct challenge to the authority of the Mayor, who is the Queen’s representative in

“At one time, this would have been considered treason.”

The stormy meeting was adjourned twice – for a total of about one and-a-quarter hours.

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