A week before the postponed judicial review, a ‘review panel’ was held to decide if Andrew Harrison’s banning from town council duties should continue.
While the affirmative outcome was foregone, Andrew and accompanying fellow councillor Nina Shields were much surprised by their treatment.
Previous reviews have consisted of mainly hostile, fellow town councillors (the crux of the judicial review). To make things look better in court, the council was advised by its eminent legal counsel, Ms Lisa Busch QC, that in reviewing Andrew’s behaviour, the panel should include two ‘independent’ persons, alongside two town councillors, and an ‘independent’ clerk (ie, not Lynda Wilcox). To make it even ‘fairer’, all the evidence presented to the panel should be provided in advance. This would enable Andrew Harrison to consider his response.
The town council’s very own Queen’s Counsel will be frustrated to learn that it didn’t go to plan. The aggrieved clerk, Karen Mitchell, said she would not submit her written evidence against Andrew Harrison in advance, in case he published it online. Andrew went into the review without knowing what he had done wrong, or what he should do in future to escape a ban.
The review panel was perfunctory. On entering, Andrew was told by chairman, Cllr Fred Clarke, Mayor of Bromyard, that he had ten minutes. While Andrew spoke, former police officer and freemason, Fred spent a lot of time looking at his watch impatiently and sighing heavily, a psychological trick he had learned softening up villains in the interview room. At the appointed moment, Right Said Fred: time’s up, snapping his file shut and sweeping imperiously out of the room.
What happened next is less clear. The review panel went into conference and at some point gave a report to the town council’s Standing Committee.
At the next full council meeting, the Standing Committee’s recommendation was for Cllr Harrison’s ban to continue. They claimed that they were acting ‘within the principles’ of the report from the review panel.
This is classic ‘easterly beast’ phraseology, full of portent, and meaning the clear opposite of what it says. Translated into plain English, the Standing Committee had completely ignored the Review Panel’s recommendations. When Andrew asked to see the report into his conduct, he was told it was ‘confidential’.
Panel members, including local curate, the Reverend Tony Hodder, have signed legal confidentiality statements and claim that they are sworn to secrecy on all aspects of the review panel and its outcomes.
Could the priest offer theological guidance on whether the eighth commandment allows you to turn a blind eye to injustice, the one that says 'thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour'? Exactly how serious are sins of omission? When you have put yourself into a situation where injustice is likely to occur and damage to an innocent party is clear, do you have a duty speak up for the victim? These are interesting moral philosophical questions.
Let’s recap. The judicial review is in part, challenging Ledbury Town Council’s procedural unfairness in the way that it banned two councillors. The Council are arguing strongly that the bannings, which were clearly called ‘sanctions’ in the May 2017 minutes, were scrupulously fair. Now, after counsel advice, the word ‘sanctions’ has been substituted for ‘protective measures’, far more defensible they believe. Meanwhile, the claimed ‘even fairer’ process was not only botched, but was ultimately ignored by the Standing Committee presidium of Crowe, Fieldhouse, Barnes, Francis and Bradford.
You have to smile at the London lawyer’s innocence that Ledbury Town Council would ever conduct itself in a judicious fashion. Their frustration will soon dissipate when the next dollop of cash from Ledbury pings into the coffers of Winkworth Sherwood Ltd.
Who cares if the town council is doing its damnedest to lose the judicial review? Not the lawyers, nor the town councillors, it’s not their money they’re squirting up the wall. All told, the ‘fight Harvey’ legal bill now tops £100 thousand.
Charades anyone? Or perhaps a game of consequences?