29 October 2016

What Daily Telegraph Readers Are Learning About Previous Years' Poppy Money in New Mills, And About The High Peak Conservative Association

Mr Lawton's hidden overstock of poppy merchandise, after discovery by New Mills town councillors

Here is how the house newspaper of the Conservative Party, the Daily Telegraph, is reporting the scandal in the High Peak Conservative Association, president Edwina Currie:

"Edwina Currie tried to help poppy thief who stole money for war heroes

"A former local Conservative chairman who stole more than £3,000 from the Royal British Legion under the guise of selling poppies was helped in court by Edwina Currie.

"The former MP and her husband John Jones pleaded with magistrates to have mercy on their friend Jeff Lawton, 41, after he was convicted of stealing money meant for war heroes and their families.

"Lawton stole £3,135 after collecting money for the Poppy Appeal.

"Ms Currie and her husband sent letters to Southern Derbyshire Magistrates Court to help his mitigation.

"Her husband told the Mirror: 'We are both horrified because we actually don’t think he is guilty. We have known Jeff for quite a few years and we are quite fond of him. He hasn’t got a bad bone in his body.

'He’s the most disorganised person you could wish to meet. He’s very careless but a lovely guy. Both Edwina and I sent letters to the court as some mitigation. He’s not a thief in my opinion but who am I to argue with a judge? Having been convicted, he was very lucky not to be given a prison sentence. He’s in a real state now and his parents are really distraught.'

"Lawton, who has now resigned as chairman of the High Peak Conservative Association in Buxton, Derbyshire, over the scandal, had raised £400 for the British Legion but claimed he had only collected £200.

"Another receipt revealed he had raised £7,000 but only submitted £4,000.

"He was found guilty of theft by magistrates and given a community order.

"Lawton was arrested last October after the British Legion noticed discrepancies in its accounts.

"He initially blamed a cashier for the error when he deposited the money at a bank.

"A spokesperson for the Royal British Legion said: “This loss will deprive those in the service and ex-service community and their families of much needed assistance and support.”

"Former New Mills councillor Mark Gadd added: “He’s gone from being a pillar of the community to a disgrace. No one knows what he has spent the money on.”

"He caused controversy two years ago when New Mills Town Council complained he had left 23,750 poppies and hundreds of other Remembrance Day items, wreaths, collecting boxes and tins, totalling nearly 25,000 items, in council offices."

Here is the link to the Daily Telegraph article on the newspaper's website:

27 October 2016

Currying Favour With The Magistrates To Get A Lenient Sentence For A Pal

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

Local Tory Ex-Chairman Guilty of Theft from British Legion Poppy Appeal Charity

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

All Our Yesterdays - Poppygate Part One

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.'

All Our Yesterdays - Poppygate Part Two

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:

"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 highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com or just sending in a comment to this site using your real name.  This article will then be amended.

08 October 2016

David Lamb appointed by DALC to its Executive Committee

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)

Telephone helpline

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."