Martin Eager has been hovering in the wings for a few years now, wondering if his bespattered reputation was sufficiently recovered to make a bid for the top job. His friends on the council thought so. All their efforts to get his picture on the front page of the Ledbury Reporter every month must surely now have borne fruit.
Given too the crushing political regime, the sense of triumph coming from the silencing of Cllrs Liz Harvey and Andrew Harrison and the general air of invincibility surrounding Barnes, Crowe, Fieldhouse and Baker, surely now was the time?
Dressed in his best cream linen suit with prepared victory speech tucked in his breast pocket, Martin Eager arrived at the Community Hall in sunny mood. His friends and allies - including council staff - chatted and laughed in a small gaggle. Last year's mayor Debbie Baker, banged her wooden hammer and began. Item one. Election of new mayor. I'd like to propose Cllr Martin Eager. He is a dedicated councillor and works hard for this town. I think he will be an excellent mayor. On cue, Bob Barnes piped up and said firmly, seconded. Is (sic) there any more (sic) nominations, continued Baker.
There was an astonished silence for a few seconds. The sizeable audience and the out-crowd of councillors, took a collective gulp. Liz Harvey got to her feet and said the words that were bouncing around the room like alpha radiation.
'I'd like to hear from Cllr Eager why he's a suitable candidate for mayor having been a convicted wife beater and a self confessed child abuser...' Ooh, disgusting, out of order completely, that is not necessary, just sit down, not convicted... fellow councillors Bob Barnes, Jean Simpson, Annette Crowe, Elaine Fieldhouse erupted in a chorus of rage. Listen here.
Then Eager got to his feet and said: 'How low can you stoop? You are the most repulsive, odious individual I've ever met.' There was applause from councillors. 'Just sit down,' he continued, 'you smelly old cow.' The election happened and was followed by more loud clapping.
Just five councillors voted against: Liz Harvey, Andrew Harrison, Nick Morris, Harrison Wilce and Andrew Warmington. (Noel Roberts and Nina Shields were absent).
Thus began Martin Eager's ill-fated mayorship of five days. The public reaction was swift and savage. Within forty-eight hours, two petitions totalling 550 names had called for his resignation while Facebook went nuclear, attracting attention from the national tabloids. (Articles are being withheld because of legal issues, but no doubt they will emerge).
Local press remained curiously tight-lipped, not a squeak from the Ledbury Reporter until he had resigned on Tuesday. Thanks editor John Wilson for providing such an on-the-pulse independent, local news service that reflects the issues of importance to the Ledbury community etc.
Mayor Eager came and went, but the gang that elected him are still alive and kicking in the Church Street offices of the town council. In recent days there has been frantic activity morning and night. Lawyers in sharp suits have been been coming and going, procured by fellow town councillors, and availing themselves of the town council meeting rooms.
Why all the fuss? As reported previously in this blog, Martin Eager was convicted of assaulting his wife and prosecuted for child molestation. The case collapsed on a technicality and a retrial was aborted due to police doubts that they could marshall sufficient evidence after the collapse of the first trial. The precise circumstances are unknown of course, but it should be remembered that the key witnesses involved were two children and an abused wife. Perhaps they were unwilling to continue their terrifying ordeal.
One thing is certain, Eager was guilty of domestic abuse, while the child molestation case against him remains open. He has not been found not guilty. At the aborted trial it was reported by the police that the girl said that 'he done disgusting things to her', When arrested, 'he recalled an incident when he had drunk too much wine'. He claimed the children had put their hands into his boxer shorts but he stopped them 'when it went too far'. He assured the mother that it was a stupid incident that had got out of hand'. Eager admitted these things. They were not unproven allegations, they formed part of the evidential base provided by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It seems doubtful that they were lying.
It now emerges that Eager is intending to pursue action against anyone who repeats these claims. That means he is taking on about ninety-five percent of Ledbury. Good luck Martin.
Now that Eager has resigned from the mayoral role, the council is hoping that they will have drawn the sting on this affair. However it isn't quite ended in my opinion: I want to hear explanations from his council supporters why they think he was an acceptable choice, and why they should continue as town councillors.
I wrote an open letter to town councillors asking them to explain themselves:
You will by now be aware of the public outrage which has greeted your collective decision to elect Martin Eager as town mayor. It gives absolutely no pleasure to point out to you the damage to the Town Council's credibility and the town’s wider reputation by this election.
It is clear in the minds of most reasonable people that Martin Eager is quite unsuitable to be town mayor. He has a conviction for violent domestic abuse and by his own admission indulged in grossly inappropriate sexual behaviour with two children. It is not libellous to point this out: the testimony at his court appearances is damning. Added to this there are further allegations of even more serious impropriety swirling about the town, which have not been fully investigated. These do not emanate from trouble-makers or gossip mongers, but from the first hand accounts of the alleged victim’s school friends, now adults. I cannot comment on their truthfulness.
Whatever the truth about Eager's past behaviour, it is a matter of record that he has behaved violently towards his wife, for which he was convicted, and admitted to drunken sexual behaviour with minors.
There are those among you, and others in the town, who take a fairly relaxed view of these felonies it seems. It has been said that Eager's alleged sex crimes were never proved, that he was 'set up' by the children and their mother, that his wife was greedy and cynical, a shameless figure who went about gallivanting while her embarrassed husband stayed at home. In short, she deserved what she got.
I am sickened by these comments. There can be no circumstances where it is acceptable for husbands - or wives - to physically abuse their partners or have children grope their genitals. Victim blaming is a common defense used by abusers to justify their heinous behaviour. Nobody asks or deserves to be battered or molested. If you harbour such thoughts about Eager, that he hasn't done anything seriously wrong or deserves a second chance, then your moral compass is seriously askew, and you too are probably unfit for public service.
The town mayor is the figurehead of the town, a position of honour and prestige. What does it say about Ledbury that we elect someone with a criminal record, let alone someone at the centre of such awful allegations?
How can Eager discharge his duties? Children, vulnerable adults, parents, teachers and women would all have reason to object to, or be fearful of his presence at events and functions. Any decent person would.
Since becoming involved with the town council, I have taken an unhappy interest in Eager's behaviour, and his character. The man is wont to intemperate outbursts and fits of rage when he is crossed. His interpersonal skills are woeful. He has made abusive comments about residents of the town calling them 'pigs'. He has called for civil disobedience and incited people to vandalise public property. Why, even at last week's Annual Town Council meeting, he blurted out that a fellow councillor was a 'smelly old cow'. He is a shameless and vindictive troublemaker with a vicious tongue and a foul temper. Never mind being mayor, this man should not be a councillor. His presence is an insult to the Nolan Principles to which you are all bound as elected members.
Debbie Baker: you proposed Eager for mayor and bear the greatest responsibility for this calamity. Your action has not only brought the town council, and our blameless town into disgrace and disrepute, but you have ruined your personal reputation and brought your mayoral term to a disastrous conclusion. You have also threatened a member of the public who was gathering names to call for a parish meeting. Appealing to your better nature, you must apologise unreservedly, and preferably do the decent thing.
Bob Barnes: you seconded Eager's nomination. You are his friend and ally. You have shown yourself to be a treacherous and sometimes dishonest individual, so nobody is surprised by your actions. You will be judged harshly.
Annette Crowe: you have actively supported Eager's bid for town mayor. Your behaviour is particularly hypocritical. When we were on good speaking terms, you castigated Eager for his sordid past and said that he was unfit for public office. You are an unreliable and untrustworthy person.
Elaine Fieldhouse: along with your friend Annette Crowe, you have been manoeuvring for Eager's election and have done your best to discredit anyone who stands in your way. You have routinely told lies about the conduct of people who challenge you. As a recent arrival in Ledbury Town Council, along with Annette Crowe, you have contributed nothing to the town except to sow discord and foment hatred. Your support of Eager, is of a piece with this.
To the others who voted for Eager who should know better, Jayne Roberts, Keith Francis, Tony Bradford, Andy Manns, shame on you too. Your sheer arrogance in thinking that you could get away with this political dodge, shows you to be as cynical and morally bankrupt as the aforementioned.
Finally to Jean Simpson and Matthew Eakin, you are new to town affairs and perhaps because of your ignorance and inexperience, can be partially excused for supporting Eager. It behoves you now to distance yourself and admit that you made an error of judgement, and to apologise to your colleagues and those you serve.
Given your tarnished track record over the last two years, I do not expect any of you to behave honourably in this matter. I understand that you are busy behind the scenes trying to shore up Eager's position, calling in legal advice, believing the furore will blow over, putting out scurrilous misinformation about people who cannot accept your actions. It will not work, none of it.
The whole town is united in opposition to Eager, and now to you.
A parish meeting has been called with the requisite number of signatures. The agenda item is to discuss Martin Eager's suitability for mayor of Ledbury. Even if he resigns in the meantime, the meeting will still take place because the citizens of this town demand to hear your reasons for voting for him. We need to understand why you thought it could possibly have been a good idea for him to be nominated, seconded and elected. We need to hear you apologise, and say how you propose to put the matter right.
The moment of reckoning has come.
Finally, thank you to those councillors who stood against Eager's election: Liz Harvey, Nick Morris, Andrew Warmington, Harrison Wilce, Andrew Harrison. If I have forgotten anybody, my apologies. "
Others may wish to send a message to the councillors who voted for Eager too. Here are their council addresses:
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