WALTER CRONXITE has obtained confidential council documents which provide yet another twist in the Beddington incinerator saga
The fall-out from the Beddington incinerator continues with an alarming claim that the chief executive of Sutton Council exceeded his authority with an elected councillor, using a “barrage of abuse and intimidation” as he attempted to gag the councillor from discussing the issues surrounding the £1 billion Viridor scheme in public.
The Standards Committee of LibDem-controlled Sutton Council is due to discuss the Viridor incinerator on Wednesday, and how Viridor Credits, the company’s charity arm, came to make a donation of £275,000 to a church in the borough which is a favourite venue for political meetings and events staged by local Liberal Democrats, including MP Tom Brake.
Croydon is one of four south London boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership which will jointly pay for the Viridor incinerator.
Inside Croydon has now seen the minutes of a formal meeting that took place in July 2014 which shows Sutton’s senior local government official, CEO Niall Bolger, seeking to gag Nick Mattey, a councilor for Beddington North, and to prevent him commenting on the incinerator ahead of High Court legal review of the decision.
Mattey says that Bolger “went ballistic” at their meeting.
The minutes, taken by a council official and signed off by Bolger, include this: “NB [Niall Bolger] stated to Cllr NM [Nick Mattey] that the council is currently defending a Judicial Review and that Cllr NM actions are completely inappropriate and unacceptable”.
“I felt threatened,” Mattey told Inside Croydon.
Referring to Bolger, Mattey said: “I was bullied and intimidated, and he was red with rage, spitting mad, leaning over the table and waggling his finger in my face. I was shaking for days afterwards. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.
“I was effectively forbidden to discuss the incinerator in public in case I derailed the Judicial Review. Although it was not minuted, it was made clear to me that if the incinerator Judicial Review were to fail, Viridor could come after me personally.”
According to the meeting’s minutes, Mattey admitted using a “non-secure” email account – that is, not one controlled by the council – to contact other councillors and council officials about the planning process, the environmental impact of the incinerator, and expressing concern about the ill-health and decision-making capabilities of a fellow councillor who was a member of the planning committee which was to decide on the incinerator issue.
Bolger, who receives a salary of around £200,000, demanded that Mattey retract his email, which Mattey refused to do.
According to Mattey’s minuted comments, the concerns about the health of the fellow councillor had also been raised with Ruth Dombey, the Sutton Council leader, and Mattey claimed that Dombey confirmed that she was aware of the situation.
The minutes also show that Bolger told Mattey that he could only raise his concerns about the incinerator and fellow councillors in private. At the meeting, Bolger told Mattey that he had acted in breach of the council’s Code of Conduct, and gave him his own legal advice that his email was libellous.
Referring to the then-ongoing Judicial Review in respect of Sutton Council’s decision to allow the building of the incinerator, Bolger said at the meeting that the content of Mattey’s emails could be used by the High Court without redaction. This could be seen as suggesting that Bolger was concerned that Mattey’s comments might damage Sutton’s, and Viridor’s, legal case for the incinerator.
Bolger told Mattey that any future questions he had regarding the incinerator should be sent to Mary Morrissey, who was then Sutton’s director of environment, and copied to Bolger himself.
In stating as a matter of fact that Mattey had broken the council’s Code of Conduct, Bolger himself appears to have broken some rules of procedure, and therefore prejudiced the routine steps required to reach such a decision. According to Sutton’s constitution, any allegation of a breach of the Code of Conduct requires a written complaint, a thorough investigation and the appointment of an independent person.
Bolger’s minuted comments also appear to be in direct contravention of the Localism Act 2011, which states in its “plain English” guide:
“In parallel with the abolition of the Standards Board, the Government has used the Localism Act to clarify the rules on ‘predetermination’. These rules were developed to ensure that councillors came to council discussions – on, for example, planning applications – with an open mind. In practice, however, these rules had been interpreted in such a way as to reduce the quality of local debate and stifle valid discussion. In some cases councillors were warned off doing such things as campaigning, talking with constituents, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias or facing legal challenge.
“The Localism Act makes it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions, and that they should not be liable to legal challenge as a result. This will help them better represent their constituents and enrich local democratic debate. People can elect their councillor confident in the knowledge that they will be able to act on the issues they care about and have campaigned on.”
Mattey told Inside Croydon today: “If a council employee had been subject to the same barrage of abuse and intimidation, there would be an immediate inquiry. The minutes do not truly reflect the heat of the meeting.”
These latest allegations about Sutton’s handling of the incinerator issue could have wider ramifications, if it can be shown that Mattey was prevented from presenting significant evidence at the Judicial Review.
- Tom Brake link to £275,000 church donation from incinerator company
- Secretive incinerator scheme is a bad deal, say Sutton Tories
- Sutton official tried to influence vote at incinerator meeting
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