27 October 2016
Perhaps the mystery of why poppy charity thief Jeff Lawton unjustly evaded a jail sentence may be a bit closer to being solved.
Friday's Daily Mirror (28 October 2016 - front page below) has further details of the Jeff Lawton New Mills theft case and some insider detail about the bad sentencing decision.
Here is a link to the online edition of the Mirror's story:
20 October 2016
Former High Peak Conservative Association Chairman Jeffrey Peter Lawton has been found guilty at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates Court of theft of money from the Poppy Appeal, the principal ex-servicemen's charity of the United Kingdom.
Jeff Lawton was a collector and custodian of cash for the charity and other local good causes for many years. This all started to unravel when his bosom buddy the former town clerk of New Mills in Derbyshire (Mrs Susan Stevens) was dismissed from that post for gross misconduct. Councillors were then able to access the town hall's storage spaces. About 25,000 poppies were found, when Mr Lawton had claimed there were only about 10,000.
Being fortunate in his friends in high places in the Conservative Party and in the local press etc, suspicions were only aroused among local people when Mr Lawton failed to hand over cash collected on behalf of the New Mills Carnival local good causes.
Following the mass poppy discovery, a patient covert police investigation was under way for many months, until sufficient evidence was gathered for a charging decision to be taken. The trial started on Monday 17 October 2016. Costs of £2,060 were awarded against Mr Lawton.
Some may wonder at the leniency of 200 hours community service and eight-week night time tagged curfew, rather than custodial sentence, when the victim of the theft was our national ex-servicemen's charity.
More than a day after High Peak Transparency broke this story, here is the Buxton Advertiser's catch-up, published on their website at 14:03 on Friday 21 October 2016:
'Former Tory chairman found guilty of stealing more than £3,000 from the Royal British Legion in New Mills
'The former chairman of the High Peak Conservative Association, Jeffrey Peter Lawton, was found guilty of stealing £3,135.65 from the Royal British Legion in New Mills at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court earlier this week.
'Lawton 41, of High Lea Road, New Mills, had originally denied the theft, said to have occurred between November 2014 and October 2015, at an earlier hearing in April.
'He was given a community order and a curfew between 8pm-6am until December 13 and ordered to pay court costs of £2,000 and a victim surcharge of £60.
Derbyshire Police confirmed that a case against Lawton began in 2015 that he had failed to bank some money that had been raised during the Poppy Appeal in November 2014. Lawton was arrested in October last year and finally charged over the stolen money in March this year.'
19 October 2016
Some High Peak Transparency readers have requested a reprint of the Manchester Evening News article that disgraced Conservative ex-Chairman Jeff Lawton engineered to appear in the newspaper in February 2014.
In the light of Mr Lawton's court conviction this week for theft of over £3,000 from the poppy appeal, it does make fascinating reading. The article appeared on 6 February 2014, under the byline of Alex Scapens:
"Town hall bosses have threatened to throw away 10,000 British Legion poppies – because they are a fire hazard.
|Poppy appeal organiser Jeff Lawton outside New Mills Town Hall|
"Jeff Lawton, organiser of the New Mills appeal, has been told to collect the paper flowers right away or they will be ‘removed and disposed of’.
"He has been storing poppies at New Mills Town Hall since 2007 and says this arrangement was agreed with the building’s caretaker and the town council.
"But New Mills Town Council says there has been no such agreement and that written permission must be given after Jeff has provided details of insurance cover for the poppies.
"Jeff, 39, said: 'This is ridiculous, I’ve been told they are a fire hazard.
'I’ve been running the Poppy Appeal for years and until recently, I’ve had nothing but brilliant support – which is as it should be, because it is a very worthy cause.
'It’s just a shame that this has changed in what is a big year for the appeal – the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. If they get thrown away, that feasibly could cost the Poppy Appeal £10,000, as it’s not unreasonable to estimate people pay £1 per poppy on average – and I have around 10,000 stored.
'That money can help a lot of people. I’m pretty angry about this.”
"Jeff, who helps organise other community events such as New Mills Carnival, also has collection tins, a marquee, Christmas lights and cones stored at the town hall.
"All of these will be thrown away if not collected.
"Lesley Bramwell, acting clerk for new Mills Town Council, told Jeff this in a letter dated Tuesday, January 27.
"In it, she said: 'I asked you to remove all the items that you have lodged with the town hall with immediate effect or they will be removed and disposed of.
'If you wish to lodge any items in the town hall you should write to the town council requesting permission, stating very clearly what the items are, how long you wish to store them for and what insurance cover you have in place.'
Some High Peak Transparency readers have requested a reprint of the Buxton Advertiser article that disgraced Conservative ex-Chairman Jeff Lawton engineered to appear in the newspaper in February 2014.
In the light of Mr Lawton's court conviction this week for theft of over £3,000 from the poppy appeal, it does make fascinating reading. The article appeared on 1 February 2014, with no reporter byline:
In the light of Mr Lawton's court conviction this week for theft of over £3,000 from the poppy appeal, it does make fascinating reading. The article appeared on 1 February 2014, with no reporter byline:
"New Mills council say poppies pose fire risk
"The Royal British Legion has hit out at New Mills Town Council, claiming it will no longer let it store poppies in the town hall as they are a fire hazard.
"Acting clerk Lesley Bramwell wrote to Jeff Lawton, New Mills poppy appeal organiser, last Tuesday to say he had stored his leftover poppies, collection boxes and wreaths in the building 'without authority from or agreement with the council.'
"She added that unless he removed the items within a week, they would be 'disposed of'.
"Jeff said: “I’m disgusted. I do have permission to store my stuff in there, it was arranged with the former clerk Susan Stevens. It makes me angry. They were stored in the loft above the toilet. They’re not short of storage space and they haven’t said they want to use the space for anything else. One councillor said they pose a fire hazard. To pick on something like the poppy appeal is pathetic.
'I’ve never had anything but support from the council until this year. They were all happy to have their photos taken for the paper on the day of the launch. It’s not very public spirited, it’s annoying and unnecessary.”
"At the time of publication, the town council had not commented."
Read more at: http://www.buxtonadvertiser.co.uk/news/new-mills-council-say-poppies-pose-fire-risk-1-6402489
11 October 2016
The can is kicked down the road again, but council rejects the key part of DALC's report by 6 votes to 2
The first item to be discussed at last night's New Mills town council meeting was item 4: ‘Co-option – to consider the recommendation of the DALC representatives from their report commissioned by the Chair and the Council.’
A large number of members of the public were in attendance for this meeting.
Cllr Lance Dowson took a very dim view of the fact the authors of the report had not been invited to attend this council meeting. He said he would have liked them there in order for councillors to ask for any clarification of their report’s points and assertions.
Cllr Barry Bate, chairing the meeting, replied that the report had been commissioned, it had been written and delivered to the council, and the report authors had been present at the previous two full council meetings. The report clearly states that the relevant decisions are solely the council’s to make, after reading what the report has to say.
Cllr Bate reiterated that the issue before the council now was to make the necessary decisions about the report’s recommendations.
Cllr Derek Brumhead referred to a list of adverse comments made in the report that he objects to. He read out nine specific statements from the report that criticised the town council or councillors but which had nothing to do with resolving the co-option issue – the co-option issue which was meant to be the purpose of the report. Cllr Brumhead closed by saying that it’s a poor report.
It is relevant to note here that being a former senior University academic and currently an esteemed local history author and promoter, Cllr Brumhead has seen, examined and scrutinised countless reports during his life.
Cllr Ray Atkins focused solely on two aspects of the document that critically undermine its credibility as a local government report.
The first aspect was the report’s use of the word ‘instate’ in reference to David Lamb becoming a member of New Mills town council. This is paragraph 1 in the ‘Recommendations and Ways Forward for NMTC’ section at the conclusion of the report.
It is a fact that there are only two ways to become a member of a town or parish council: a public election, in which case the Returning Officer for the local government area makes a declaration to that effect; or a co-option, in which case the council’s minutes record the council’s resolution to co-opt the individual. Neither of these things has happened in David Lamb’s case.
The second aspect of the report demolished by Cllr Atkins is paragraph 5 in the ‘Recommendations and Ways Forward’ section, where the report asserts ‘…(the council) should have the courage to dissolve the present Council…’.
Here is the problem with such an assertion: each council in England is a creation of statute. No mechanism exists in law for a council to ‘dissolve’ itself.
The next-council upwards in the local government tiers, in this case High Peak Borough Council, can consider dissolving one of the town or parish councils in its area, but this would require consultations and a strict legal procedure, followed by a Borough Council decision so unlikely in this specific case as to be akin to a snowball’s chances in hell.
Cllr Lance Dowson stated that the proposal was ‘how we might resolve this matter.’ He referred to the scoring sheets from the original co-option meeting. These show that David Lamb did well in the technical components of being a councillor, outscoring most candidates.
Cllr Dowson asserted that there were ‘two voting systems’, i.e. the scoring sheets and then the hand vote.
Cllr Rebecca Harman said that Andy Bowers stepping down immediately after the co-option meeting vote (at the council meeting of 22 June 2015) did not mean that another person can step in.
Cllr Brumhead said that only the show of hands counted toward who was co-opted.
Cllr Tony Ashton’s contribution was succinct, covering the following points:
- it is ridiculous to suggest “two scoring systems”
- the advice contained in the report is misguided and sometimes plain wrong
- the council’s own approved minutes show that David Lamb was unsuccessful in the co-option meeting
- for a council to ‘dissolve itself’ is impossible.
Cllr Ashton then agreed with the report’s recommendations on training for councillors; on the council’s policies being reviewed and then updated as necessary; and on recognising the value of the town clerk and all council staff.
Cllr Ashton’s agreement with the above three recommendations formed the basis of his pre-prepared suggested resolution wording. This also included that the CPALC body (Communities, Parish and Local Councils) be consulted on the co-option matter, and the co-option issue be on the agenda for the next council meeting.
There were then further general contributions from councillors, but these largely re-iterated points they had already made, both in this meeting and at length in previous council meetings.
Cllr Barry Bate stated that everyone is agreed that we need to move to a conclusion.
A vote was held on Cllr Tony Ashton’s proposed resolution wording outlined above. The resolution makes no reference to the council 'instating' David Lamb as a councillor. The result of the vote was:
Six votes FOR: Councillors Ashton, Atkins, Allen, Bate, Brumhead, Harman
Two votes AGAINST: Councillors Dowson, Lamb C
One councillor was unable to attend and sent apologies: Cllr Whewell
The above is a summary, not a verbatim account. Any accidental missing-out of a councillor's important points can be rectified by emailing HPT direct at firstname.lastname@example.org or just sending in a comment to this site using your real name. This article will then be amended.
08 October 2016
|As the seasons turn...|
The man who did most to clean up New Mills town hall in its recent serious corruption troubles – which led to the sacking of the former town clerk and subsequent failure of her Employment Tribunal claim against the town’s council -has been elected to the Executive Committee of the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils.
Mr Lamb’s new position is DALC Executive Committee member for the High Peak. The election happened at DALC’s annual executive meeting on Thursday 6 October 2016.
Regular HPT readers will know that some associates of the dishonest and incompetent former town clerk of New Mills have been desperately trying to keep David Lamb off New Mills town council. This matter is item 4 on the agenda of the next New mills town council meeting:
“4. Co-option – to consider the recommendation of the DALC representatives from their report commissioned by the Chair and the Council.”
Background information: Derbyshire Association of Local Councils
DALC’s description, taken from their website front page:
"Formed by Parish Councils --- Run for Parish Councils --- Delivering to Parish Councils.
The Derbyshire Association of Local Councils (DALC) is a not for profit membership organisation, representing, training and advising the parish (including town) councils of Derbyshire, who form the grass roots tier of local government in England.
We offer members a resource of vital, operational information and facilitate communication at all levels of the parish network - district, county, regional and national.
As a membership association we are unable to deal with queries from the public, but we are happy to make general information available through this website. Please do not contact us directly unless you are a member."
DALC’s ‘About us’ page from their website:
"The Derbyshire Association of Local Councils (DALC) represents over 190 Parish and Town Council and Parish Meetings in the county. Our aim is to protect and promote the interests, rights, functions and privileges of members in the performance of their duties and we strive to promote a widespread and well-informed interest in local government. The Association is a member of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
Who we are
DALC is a not for profit membership organisation representing the parish and town councils of Derbyshire. It provides information about the operation and powers of parish and town councils, and parish meetings. It works to enhance communication with everyone within the Parish Council network, ranging from the National Association (NALC), through our Association at county level, to all those parish councils, town councils and parish meetings who form the grass roots tier of local government. As a membership association it is unable to deal with queries from members of the public, but is happy to make general information available through this website.
Membership is open to any parish or town council or parish meeting which pays an annual subscription to the Association.
What we do (Member Benefits)
DALC is constituted to support local councils and parish meetings in the delivery of services to their communities. As it is not a statutory body it has no powers or duties to intervene in the operation of individual councils.
Advice and information to member councils for them to use as they deem appropriate, on a range if subjects including: Legal advice service; Employment advice service; Advice on council administration; Policy consultation and advice; National Circulars and Information Bulletins; LAIS (Local Authorities Information Service)
Training - The Association runs a programme of training courses to equip clerks and councillors.
National affiliation - Membership of the Association can also provide affiliation to the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) which seeks to represent local councils at national level as well as providing advice on legal and procedural matters, national publications and regular information bulletins.
Local Council Awards Scheme - DALC administers this national awards scheme for Councils in Derbyshire.
Administers the Transparency Fund
All queries from member councils should initially be placed with DALC by e-mail, telephone or post, and this should be done through the Chairman/Vice-Chairman or Clerk. DALC staff are available to not only answer queries, but also to deliver training where their specialised knowledge is required.
How we make decisions - Executive Committee
DALC is governed by an Executive Committee made up of elected members from councils in DALC membership in each of the district/borough areas and the County Council. The current Chair of the Association is Cllr John Pritchard of Whaley Bridge Town Council.
Executive Committee information
DALC is an unincorporated membership association and is not a public sector body. DALC is funded by member council subscription and training fees.
Almost 95% of parish and town councils in Derbyshire are in membership of the Association. This means that their voice is heard on local issues and at national level. It is hoped that all local councils will join the Association to avail themselves of the support available to them in these changing times for local government."
25 September 2016
Since the last full New Mills town council meeting (12 September 2016) all the correspondence and argument into High Peak Transparency has been about one subject: the horrible mess that the council has got itself into about the empty council seats that were left unfilled at the last local elections.
Those local elections were held in May 2015. They left six council seats unfilled out of twelve seats in total. As at the date of this article, the council has either two vacancies or three vacancies. The number depends on whether David Lamb is co-opted onto the council.
At the 12 September meeting, a report was presented to the council. The text of the report has been published here on HPT a few days ago. The audio of the part of the council meeting dealing with the report is likewise on HPT.
If one accepts that the key issue now is for the New Mills town council to put all this horrible mess behind it and move forward positively, then here is a road map:
1. Lynne Allen is a councillor. Cllr Allen was co-opted by the council. it was done in public. Her co-option by the council is specifically and clearly recorded in the audio of the meeting. The council resolution co-opting her is publicly recorded in writing, in the minutes of the council meeting.
2. The council resolves in its next meeting to appoint the 'floating' councillors to the wards they applied for. If they didn't apply for a specific ward then the 10 October 2016 council meeting can decide which ward, in consultation with the councillor concerned.
This would require a carefully-worded standalone agenda item, just for this one issue of 'warding' the known councillors.
3. That only leaves the issue of David Lamb. At the next council meeting a vote should be held whether to adopt the report recommendation and co-opt David Lamb. Or not.
(Note: a ward needs to be specified for David Lamb's co-option vote, on the same basis as the wards were earlier specified in the vote that 'warded' the floating councillors.)
4. Whatever that David Lamb co-option council vote decides, that will be the end of that issue. There cannot be a tie, because in the event of a tie, the Chair of the council has a second, casting, vote.
In the interests of transparency and simplicity, this specific 'whether to co-opt David Lamb onto the council' decision should have its own carefully-worded standalone agenda item
If David Lamb is not co-opted at the 10 October NMTC meeting, there will be three vacancies on the council that must be filled.
If David Lamb is co-opted, there will be two vacancies that must be filled.
There is no need for any councillor to resign over the result of this decision, whatever that result may be. If one or other councillor does resign, then that is their decision. It is essential that this council now moves on positively from this mess.
Filling the remaining vacancies lawfully
These two or three vacancies will then be filled in the way specified by law:
The council's proper officer notifies the Borough Returning Officer of the vacancies and the wards that have the vacancies;
Notices go up inviting any ten electors to call a by-election if they want to;
If ten electors call a by-election to fill a vacancy then a by-election is held. If not, then the council can co-opt the required new member(s).
20 September 2016
At some point the town council has to decisively move on from this horrible co-option mess. It is both stopping the council from functioning efficiently and also damaging its public reputation.
The body that will make the decision is New Mills Town Council. If the October 2016 meeting agenda item is worded carefully and thoughtfully, this will result in the final decision of the council on this saga of the 2015 co-options.
The report has faults. This means that some people don’t like it and want to reject it. But a different report by different authors would have a different set of people not liking it and wanting to rejecting it.
Becoming a town/parish councillor
There are only two ways to become a town/parish councillor. Either one stands for public election in a local government ward, wins the election, and the appointed Returning Officer makes a declaration that this person is a councillor. Or one is co-opted by a council, in which case a council meeting records its resolution that this person is a councillor.
So far as David Lamb is concerned, neither declaration nor council recorded resolution has happened yet.
The council’s proper officer has signed David Lamb’s declaration of acceptance of office. David Lamb was summoned to council meetings early in this saga and attended those council meetings. There is now an independent report, commissioned by the council itself, recommending that David Lamb be instated.
These would be relevant facts in his favour were Mr Lamb to apply for a judicial review of the October 2016 NMTC meeting’s decision, if it were to go against him.
Resolving the different issues, step by step
Let us now unpick this Gordian knot carefully, discrete step by discrete step. Dealing with the easier issues first should mean that the other answers fall into place as well.
Some people are saying that if David Lamb is not a councillor then Lynne Allen is not a councillor either. Some people are saying David Lamb is a councillor and Lynne Allen is not a councillor. Some people are saying Lynne Allen is a councillor and David lamb is not a councillor.
Trying to link the two issues is a fool’s errand. Making that link is also sometimes used as a smokescreen.
Lynne Allen applied for co-option to the council. The council discussed whether to co-opt her. The council co-opted her as a councillor. The proof is in the council’s written resolution to do so.
Apart from a transgression by not sending a necessary apology to the council’s proper officer (wrongly relying on another councillor to do it for her), in the main business of being a councillor Cllr Allen has done nothing to make anyone regret the council’s decision in co-opting her.
So let no one raise any further question or smokescreens re Cllr Lynn Allen’s office as a New Mills town councillor.
On the face of it, co-opted councillors appeared to be appointed ‘generally’ and not to wards. If so, this was an error.
But does this view stand up to scrutiny?
Each co-option application named the ward that the applicant was applying for.
So why make problems where none exist? Apart from the disputed David Lamb co-option, a formal resolution at the upcoming October 2016 council meeting confirming in writing the ward that each ‘not David Lamb’ candidate applied for, and then resolving and recording that Candidate A represents Ward B etc would settle this aspect of the matter.
If any co-opted councillors did not specify a ward in their application, Ollersett would presumably need to be specified in the new resolution, as that is where the main vacancies were.
Provided the issues itemised above are now simply concluded along the lines outlined, the remaining matter to be settled would be co-opting David Lamb onto New Mills town council for the appropriate ward. Or not co-opting him, dependent on which way the council votes.
The council wisely commissioned an independent report.
This means that the council has been presented with a golden opportunity now to end this protracted, complicated, horrible, reputation-damaging, messy problem of its own making.
Some people don’t like the report, but that is not the point. The point is to put all this mess behind the council and enable it to move on.
The way out
The body that was asked for its findings by way of a report was the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils (‘DALC’).
The report, which has DALC behind it, recommends that David Lamb be instated as a councillor.
As this cannot be done by magic or superstition, but only by co-option at this stage, if the council votes to accept the recommendation then the resolution needs to say something along the lines of:
‘By accepting the recommendation of the report (details) the co-option by New Mills town council of David Lamb to x ward is hereby confirmed’.
Pragmatists please now come to the aid of your local council.
By popular demand here is the entire audio of the part of the New Mills town council meeting which dealt with what the council should do about the DALC report that was presented to the council on 12 September 2016.