18 February 2014

Poppygate: Council Response



Below is the New Mills Town Council press release concerning the recent remembrance poppies row that reached the national press and attracted comment from around the world.

It is reprinted here as issued to the local newspapers:


COUNCIL'S RESPONSE TO MEDIA COVERAGE

DUE TO THE MEDIA INTEREST THAT HAS BEEN SHOWN, OVER THE LAST TWO WEEKS, IN THE NEW MILLS TOWN COUNCILS RE-ORGANISING OF ITS STORAGE SPACE IN THE TOWN HALL THE TOWN COUNCIL WOULD WISH TO MAKE THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS:-

ALL OF THE OWNERS OR CUSTODIANS OF THE ITEMS FOUND IN VARIOUS LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THE TOWN HALL HAVE NOW BEEN CONTACTED AND ALL OF THEM, APART FROM THE POPPY APPEALS ORGANISER, HAVE WORKED WITH THE COUNCIL IN AN AMICABLE MANNER TO SORT OUT PROPER STORAGE FACILITIES.

WITH REGARD TO THE POPPIES AND OTHER REMEMBRANCE DAY ITEMS. THE NUMBER DISCOVERED WAS SOME 23,750 POPPIES NOT THE 10,000 THAT WAS MENTIONED IN THE PRESS. IN ADDITION TO THESE THERE WERE ALSO HUNDREDS OF OTHER REMEMBRANCE DAY ITEMS, WREATHS, COLLECTING BOXES AND TINS ETC. TOTALLING, IN ALL, NEARLY 25,000 ITEMS.

THE COUNCIL DID OFFER TO CONSIDER STORING THESE ITEMS IN THE TOWN HALL AND DID INFORM THE POPPY APPEALS ORGANISER WHAT HE WOULD NEED TO DO TO FACILITATE THAT BUT HE CHOSE NOT TO ACCEPT THIS OFFER AND MOVED THEM.

THE COUNCIL HAS NEVER SAID THAT IT WAS GOING TO BIN, BURN OR DESTROY THE POPPIES IN ANY WAY AND WOULD NEVER CONSIDER SUCH A RIDICULOUS AND DISRESPECTFUL ACTION.

THE COUNCIL DEEPLY REGRETS THE AMOUNT OF UPSET THIS HAS CAUSED, NOT LEAST TO ITS OWN COUNCILLORS AND STAFF, THAT THE PROVIDING OF THIS INACCURATE AND POSSIBLY MALICIOUS INFORMATION TO BOTH LOCAL AND NATIONAL PAPERS, BY AN INDIVIDUAL WHO APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN ACTING WITHOUT THE AUTHORITY OF HIS PARENT ORGANISATION.

IN ORDER TO MAKE IT VERY CLEAR WHAT THE COUNCIL’S RELATIONSHIP IS WITH THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION THEY HAVE PROVIDED THE COUNCIL WITH THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT TO ADD TO THESE COMMENTS.

A SPOKESMAN FOR THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION SAID:

“THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION HAS A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW MILLS TOWN COUNCIL AND WE ARE GRATEFUL TO THE COUNCIL FOR ACCOMMODATING OUR POPPY APPEAL STOCK FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. WE HAVE NOW IDENTIFIED OTHER PREMISES FOR STORAGE AND THE STOCK HAS BEEN MOVED’’


12 February 2014

MP Ousted In Attack Of The Doughnut

Before...
Today, High Peak's Andrew Bingham was amongst several male Tory MPs who lost their coveted seats immediately behind the Prime Minister at televised Prime Minister's Questions.

Straight, white men like Andrew Bingham make up less than 50% of the general population. But in the Conservative parliamentary party they are in the majority, and by a large margin.

Tory party managers are acutely aware of the importance of public image. And PMQs is the main part of parliamentary business that gets on the national TV news. So when a black man became a Tory MP, after they gave thanks for the miracle he was hurriedly placed immediately behind the Prime Minister for visual impact on the electorate at PMQs.

'Well I've got a black friend!'
It is not known who the party managers were trying to fool with this. The very rarity of a person of colour on the Tory benches made his involuntary prominent positioning for the news bulletins look ridiculous.

Andrew Bingham has been the undisputed champion of bagging one of the seats immediately behind the Prime Minister for the televised PMQs.

However, from today Andrew Bingham has more than a coloured friend to contend with in the competition to sit behind David Cameron.

Last week there was criticism from Labour that the Tories were a male-dominated party in parliament. So today four women (yes, there are that many in the Conservative parliamentary party) were press-ganged into sitting in a row immediately behind the PM. Along with some new women who were slid along the front bench to be nearer to the despatch box money shot, the desired 'doughnut' (or halo) effect surrounding the Prime Minister was achieved.

This particular doughnut/halo around the party's central figure on the screen - David Cameron - was intended to give the impression of a cuddly minorities-friendly party for the TV pictures that will be shown on the news.

Sadly for the party which gave us the first woman prime minister and the first Jewish prime minister, this all looks a bit tokenist.

... and After

10 February 2014

Official Press Statements - Poppies




The recent situation in New Mills regarding poppies in the annual remembrance appeals has led to two official statements so far.

Here is the interim statement from New Mills town council, read out at the town council meeting on 3 February 2014:
New Mills town council is extremely surprised that Mr Jeff Lawton has felt the need to contact the press over this matter which has led to such comments as "The Royal British Legion has hit out at New Mills town council."
New Mills town council feels that it has an excellent working relationship with the officers of the Derbyshire County British Legion as well as the officers of more local branches.
As far as New Mills town council is concerned it was, and still is, in the middle of finding the best way forward in order to resolve this matter.

Here is the official statement from Royal British Legion to New Mills town council:
A spokesman for The Royal British Legion said “ The Royal British Legion has a good relationship with New Mills Town Council and we are grateful to the Council for accommodating our Poppy Appeal stock for a number of years.  We have now identified other premises for storage and the stock has been moved.”
There may or may not be a final official statement from New Mills town council about the recent goings-on and anti-council stories that were planted in the press.


09 February 2014

Recovering the Charity Money: Trustee Councillor's Statement Made In Public Not In Secret



This is the fourth in a short series of articles setting out where the various New Mills town hall issues are up to, or how they have been completed.

This article concerns the latest developments in the matter of the missing charity money and the mismanagement of the charity's affairs

During the New Mills town council meeting on 3 February 2014, councillor Alistair Stevens was asked, in public, to report on what he knew about the charity's financial affairs and what he was doing as a trustee to rectify the situation.

The council meeting had to be suspended to hear his comments, because Cllr Stevens has an interest in the matter under discussion.

The council agenda item reads:
'Charities - Feedback from the last meeting. (Meeting to be suspended in order to receive a report from Cllr. Stevens).'
When the time came for this item, the Chair duly suspended the meeting to enable Cllr Stevens to speak on the subject of the charity. Instead, Cllr Stevens said he did not want to speak in the public part of the council meeting. He wanted the matter to be taken in the secret part of the council meeting, that is to say with all the public excluded.

When other councillors objected to dealing with the item in secret, Cllr Stevens then stated that he didn't want to speak about the matter while "a blog" was present. By this, loyal readers, he meant High Peak Transparency.

But Cllr Stevens had had plenty to say to the meeting on all of the other agenda items up to this point. So why Cllr Stevens' attempt at secrecy just on this particular matter?

Cllr Stevens then said that he had not been asked to make a report to the council about the charity or his connections with it.

In fact, Cllr Stevens received the agenda and summons about five days before the council meeting.

All that was being asked of Cllr Stevens was to honestly explain, firstly about his connection with the charity, and secondly what specific action he was now taking (if any) to help recover the missing money and put the charity's affairs into order.

Cllr Stevens said he had written to the Charity Commission, had received an acknowledgement from them that his letter had been received, and that a further substantive reply would come from the Commission within 20 days "if he was entitled to one".

A reasonable suggestion

Cllr Stevens should put his energy into urgently rectifying this charity situation and recovering the £25,000 of local charity money.

This would be instead of ranting in the town hall offices, prematurely wasting police time about a much smaller amount of missing town hall safe cash that may be non-existent, attempting to condone and cover up his wife's dishonesty while she was the town clerk of New Mills, and forming bogus companies for the purposes of deception.*




* The fake 'Tall Poppies' company. See previous HPT exposure

06 February 2014

The True Story Behind 'Bin Threat To £10,000 Poppies' Headline



Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

It is very moving to visit Picardy, Thiepval, Ypres and other places that became momentous in history. Especially if one has relatives who lie in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery.

Even a hundred years on, these graves are immaculately tended. Local people in France, Belgium and elsewhere take great pride in maintaining the resting places of the fallen from these shores and other parts of the Commonwealth. It is a touching and remarkable long term endeavour.

Most towns and villages in the High Peak have a war memorial with local names carved with pride. Many local families lost loved ones in World War One.

From a local town hall to the national press

So it is appalling to see that a most unseemly row has broken out in New Mills in the High Peak. In this year of all years, a public row has erupted about some poppies. The precious symbol of selfless sacrifice and loss.

The row, which started in New Mills last week, has reached the national press. Here is today's Daily Mirror’s report:

“Bin threat to £10,000 poppies
Town hall chiefs are threatening to dump 10,000 stored British Legion poppies they say are a fire hazard.
Appeal official Jeff Lawton, 39, said: It’s ridiculous - especially on the centenary of the First World war. This could cost us £10,000.
Lesley Mills, town clerk at New Mills, Derbys, insists the Legion needs insurance.”
How did this happen?

Clearly, no councillor in New Mills is ever going to countenance ‘throwing away’ any remembrance poppies or associated items.

No-one yet has the complete story. This article will be expanded as further accurate information comes in. In the meantime, here is what would appear to have happened so far.

Jeff Lawton became friendly with Susan Stevens. Susan Stevens is the dishonest former town clerk in the town of New Mills. Jeff Lawton lives in New Mills and is chairman of the High Peak Conservative Association.

Susan Stevens told Mr Lawton he could store stuff in the town hall. It is not clear that the trustees of the Public Hall of New Mills gave permission for this. (The Public Hall of New Mills - which is registered charity number 216384 - is informally known as the town hall locally).

Mr Lawton stored a lot of stuff in more than one place in the town hall. In any given year, he does a fair deal of community work in the town.

The space in the town hall recently started being re-organised. Some of the extensive basements area was allocated for dry storage of the archives of the town council and former Urban District Council. These will be of value to future local historians. A local Citizens Advice office was given over to the Parks Manager's use. (Why New Mills residents are made to pay extra money to a town council for parks, when residents in Glossop and Buxton enjoy excellent parks maintained by High Peak Borough Council for no added cost, is a whole other story.)

Mr Lawton’s extensive array of stuff was discovered by staff during this space re-organisation exercise. A couple of councillors were called in. “What is all this stuff and where has it come from?” was the reasonable question, before it was known that some of the boxes etc contained poppies and poppy-related items.

Far from fire being the initial concern, the recent serious roof water leak at the town hall was the urgent danger to the poppies. The paper poppies were stored where water was coming through.

Here is the critical moment. The moment that ignited this most unseemly of rows. A letter was sent on the town council's official letterhead to Mr Lawton. The general line was ‘Come and get your stuff. If you don’t it will be disposed of.’ At the present time, it is not known how this letter came to be composed and whose responsibility is the exact wording that was used.

It is possibly relevant to note here that some years earlier, two or three New Mills town councillors and Mr Lawton had fallen out with each other. Only those people can say why, and whether it was justified, and whether they are happy with the state of affairs that has now been reached.

Rescuing the poppies and taking the inventory

When it was discovered that “some poppies”, and poppy-related items, were part of Mr Lawton’s… well, what word to use? Stash? Hoard? Items in storage? Aladdin's cave?  Anyway, the only sensible course of action was to rescue the poppies from the water ingress area and get all the other materials out of danger, organise them properly in separate stacks for counting, and then make an accurate inventory.

Here is the inventory of what was found:

6,000 LOOSE POPPIES
12,000 BOXED POPPIES
15 CARDBOARD COLLECTING BOXES – EACH WITH 250 POPPIES = 3,750 POPPIES
500 LARGE POPPIES
14 WREATHS
2,000 STICK-ON POPPIES
100 CAR POPPIES
SOME VERY LARGE CENOTAPH POPPIES
10 LARGE CARDBOARD CENOTAPHS
25 BOXES OF COLLECTING TINS – EACH X 6 = 150
PLUS 80 LARGE BOXES, EACH CONTAINING 12 OTHER BOXES OF MIXED ITEMS
10 BOXES SUNDRY ITEMS

TOTALLING AT LEAST – 24,350 POPPIES + 14 WREATHS + LARGE CENOTAPH POPPIES + 960 BOXES +150 COLLECTING TINS + 10 LARGE BOXES OF SUNDRY ITEMS +10 VERY LARGE CARDBOARD CENOTAPHS.

The source of the above listing figures is the written inventory that was read out to the New Mills town council meeting on 3 February 2014.

It is relevant to this extraordinary story of a hoard of nearly 25,000 poppies to point out that the current population of New Mills is just over 9,000 (including children).

More to follow

The above initial article sets out the basic facts (as they are known at the time of writing). If you know any different, do not hesitate to email highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com

The fall-out from the poppies affair, the spin carefully placed in the newspapers when the story was first given to them, the correct order of precedence at remembrance day parades, and the Royal British Legion’s official position on the various matters, will all be covered in a future article.

A slight case of over-stocking?  The scene at the poppies rescue and inventory recording

04 February 2014

Council Unanimous: No Confidentiality Clause - The Facts Must All Come Out

In a dramatic town council meeting last night, New Mills councillors unanimously voted there would be no 'gagging order' agreed to in the case of the dishonest ex-town clerk who is suing the council in an attempt to get compo.

This is one of the most refreshing decisions to have happened in local or any other kind of politics in recent years.



More to follow on this story shortly, and also the poppies war of words that has unfortunately erupted in New Mills