Ernest Hemingway put it another way: the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
Both these pieces of advice should be taken to heart by anyone contemplating involvement with Ledbury Town Council.
At their July meeting discussing the threatened judicial review, Ledbury's town councillors were being asked to agree to have a solicitor look over some legal papers and then write a letter back. What could be more innocuous? Only six thousand pounds...
Town councillor friends tell me that they were repeatedly reassured by Mayor Elaine Fieldhouse that this didn’t mean the Council was actually voting to fight the judicial review. It was simply answering a nasty letter (here it is: the 'Letter Before Claim') from Liz Harvey’s lawyers which warned them to rescind the councillor bans or face legal action.
It was another of those closed sessions, discussing 'confidential business', but you can imagine the scene. In her honeyed tones, Elaine would be smoothing over all the scratchy bits. Everything will be fine she would say nodding vigourously. It will probably all go away amicably after the solicitors have done what they do, a bit of legal ‘toing and froing’. Trust me.
Worried councillors - including Matthew Eakin - wanted to know whether the Council was insured to pay for costs in case it lost. Stand-in clerk, Lynda Wilcox allegedly told them the matter wasn't to do with insurance, or even going to court. It was just a small formality: they'd had a solicitor’s letter and they had to write one back. Interestingly, she didn't commit herself on the insurance question apparently: that'll be a no then?
I won't be divulging my sources but they were multiple. Fieldhouse and Wilcox repeatedly said that by appointing the (unnamed) London law firm, (which Elaine had found from a google search), this did not mean that the Council was actually deciding to fight the judicial review. It was just an exchange of letters, the sort of thing lawyers do all the time. Nothing at all to worry about. It would probably all go away once they’d corresponded. Silly Billys they are, lawyers. Trust us.
In any case, even if it turns out the Council should fight the judicial review, everything would come back to council, ‘stage by stage’, for them to decide upon with all the facts before them.
Credit to young Cllr Matthew Eakin who pressed the Mayor on whether the Council would be consulted on each decision. Oh, yes, said Elaine, at every stage. And so assuaged, a majority of councillors voted for Bob Barnes’ pre-prepared resolution that “Ledbury Town Council engage legal counsel to contest this judicial challenge, with funds from the budget and from reserves, as necessary”.
Excuse me? What was that? Contest this judicial challenge? It seems that some town councillors got more than they bargained for. What they’d just voted for was to spend an unlimited sum (“as necessary”) to fight Liz Harvey right up to the High Court. They were fighting the JR after all.
Thank you and good-night, said Elaine Fieldhouse breezily. Meeting closed. Predictably, there was uproar.
Fast forward a month to the August meeting. Bob Barnes was immediately on his feet again proposing that: “The Town Council take all necessary steps, subject to legal advice, to oppose the judicial review proceedings and to delegate decision-making authority to the standing committee, which will report back to Council.” The ‘Standing Committee’ consists of the mayor and her deputy and the three committee chairs of planning, finance and environment; for the record: Fieldhouse, Francis, Crowe, Barnes and Bradford. Except the last, these are the people who have been running the anti-Harvey/Harrison campaign from the start.
Once again I am told, Eakin was at pains to make sure that that nothing would be agreed by the Standing Committee unless the whole council had been consulted first. Oh yes, said Fieldhouse again, councillors would get to vote on everything. Trust me.
She said the very words: 'vote on everything'. People wrote it down.
The resolution was carried, nine for, five against.
As we have seen, young Matthew is not the sort of person to hide his feelings. So when at the November meeting it was revealed that Standing Committee had no intention of referring key decisions to the town council for agreement, he was extremely vexed.
‘I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back' he said. 'I was assured by the mayor that we would have the chance to vote on everything before any action was taken by the standing committee’ he said angrily.
Town Clerk Karen Mitchell reminded him that this wasn’t in the minutes and they had already been approved as a true record. And Elaine remained silent.
Ah well. Just another mendacious day at the council.