There was much agitation, though I didn’t know it at the time, after I published a salacious list of errors and misdeeds committed by Ledbury Town Councillors and their spouses.
I didn’t name and shame them; I just painted a picture of sleaze and decay. I had been challenged to say why I thought some Ledbury town councillors were ethically compromised, why they might be unfit for office. I did. The knife cut deeper apparently than their public silence imported.
At several Council meetings since, there have been mutterings and derisive dismissals of what I wrote. ‘Pah. I’m supposed to be a witch’ said Jayne Roberts angrily. ‘And I’m a Tory,’ tittered Elaine Fieldhouse. ‘Yes, that was really nasty’, said Jayne Roberts to moans of general agreement from her friends.
As usual when it comes to the majority of Ledbury’s elected decision-makers, they misunderstood what they were reading. So I thought I should put the record straight.
Whether Jayne Roberts is a practising witch, I have no idea. She might be a dabbler in the old religion, and that would be fine. What piques my interest is that she presumed it was herself to whom I was referring when I said that there were at least two Wiccan Town Councillors in Ledbury. Perhaps there are three, or even more; which could, depending on your views, be great for the town, were it not a secret.
This may be why our ardent new vicar, Keith Hilton-Turvey is lately so exercised by the presence of the devil in Ledbury’s body civic. At the last Halloween Festival in New Street, Reverend Keith and some of his church acolytes swept through the cheerful crowds like Salem witch-finders, denouncing customers and stall-holders. Purveyors of face-painting, palm reading and crystal objects were particular targets.
Now young Cllr Matthew Eakin has thrillingly got it into his mind that a town councillor might be running a sex slave racket. I do not know if Eakin’s imaginings are true or not, although I am prepared to say that there is at least one councillor who does enjoy submissive sexual role-play. They have been active around the counties as a ‘pleasure slave’. I mention this because it is another secret.
Many people, like me, may be surprised to learn about a fetish sub-culture with which this councillor has been associated. The fantasy novels of the Chronicles of Counter-Earth by John Norman completely passed me by in the 1970s and 80s. Since then these ‘sword and planet’-genre books have attracted a cult following, not just of the ‘Trekkie’ kind, but in a practical sense. Followers have embraced the philosophy and ways of their fantasy world with varying degrees of application up to and including being shackled in chains for periods and being physically abused. Who knew? Networks, communes and menages of this kind exist throughout the Western world it appears: even in Herefordshire.
The Order of Nature
In this fantasy world of planet Gor, high social status is achieved by men who are real men. Muscles, martial arts and machismo are the ideal. Women fulfill themselves by being helpless and obedient, not questioning their dominating he-men. This is the Gorean ‘order of nature’.
The ritualistic and authoritarian aspects of this behaviour must be appealing to our friend in Ledbury Town Council, for this person is also mixed up in witchcraft, freemasonry, and most alarmingly, has connections to far-right, white supremacist Knights Templar activity, all secret.
There is another councillor who is also into witchcraft and weird sex stuff, also a chum of our Gorean colleague. It was an outraged Annette Crowe who told me a few years back that this person had left a sex tape of himself in congress, primed in his video player. When the kids switched it on to watch cartoons, there was predictable shock and disgust. Annette said that it was ‘appalling’ that children might stumble across such images. Not to be unduly cynical, this incident took place almost two decades ago. There was no #metoo in those days. In her new-found special club of knaves, Annette has let bygone be bygones, even voting for this person, her former sworn enemy, for a council-committee position.
This exhibitionistic councillor has been a longstanding friend of ‘mucky’ Martin Eager, well known around town for his awful conduct towards his family including a conviction for assaulting his wife. As reported in court, his thirteen year old step-daughter told the police that ‘he did disgusting things to me’. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?
We complete this dark circle by recording that a majority of Ledbury Town Councillors, the ones who are currently running things, voted for Eager to be Mayor, and who subsequently defended his reputation, and screamed abuse at Liz Harvey for asking him to explain why he was suitable to be mayor, given his background. Both the sex-slave and the sex-tape councillors were vociferous supporters of Eager, alongside Crowe, Fieldhouse, Simpson and his buddy, Bob Barnes. There didn’t seem to be a jot of conscience among them that this abuser’s past might render him inappropriate to be mayor. It all happened a long time ago, they chorused; can’t people be forgiven?
We arrive at the Freemasons. There are many members of the ‘craft’ who revolve around Ledbury Town Council: councillors, their spouses and the spouses of town council staff, professional advisers. Many are organised into the Eastnor Lodge which has been meeting in Ledbury since the mid 19th century. It has a relatively thriving membership by all accounts, comprising retired professionals, civil servants and police, local landowners, wealthy individuals, local government officials, accountants and solicitors. Like Ledbury’s great and good, many of these men are older than average and strong supporters of the Tory cause. They donate to charity and are dedicated to self improvement through a concentration on the ways of the ‘Great Architect of the Universe’. They also, assiduously, look after their own.
Fraternity. Liberty Not So Much.
Bound by deadly oaths of fraternity, their brotherhood is paramount. They will choose each other for work above others, help each other (and their families) when they are in need, do whatever it takes to look after their mutual interests, always within the law that is, they are quick to add. It takes a special type of conformist to be a mason: the craft is all about rank, obedience and power. It is a finely honed ideological framework invented, protected by, and dedicated to supporting the established order and those in power, wherever that may be. Masons are all around the world and despite their vaunted ethical codes, are not very choosy. Famous brothers included Mugabe, Pinochet and Gadaffi.
Initiates to freemasonry endure hours of quasi-magical, ritualised meetings where long archaic texts of allegorical meaning are learned by rote and incanted with feeling. Swords, bared nipples, blind-folds and rolled up trousers are featured in their long, highly choreographed ceremonies. Membership takes stamina and commitment. In a recent Guardian article, Dawn Foster observes: ‘no-one joins the masons for the handshakes. It must be for the benefits it can bring.’
It is amusing to reflect how these elderly gents, mostly of some standing about town, are upstairs in the Feathers Hotel playing fantasy games revolving around obedience, submission and occult secrets while normal human beings are busy in the bar below chatting and drinking.
Here is their meeting timetable; you might be able to catch them slipping in and out quietly by the back door if you’re lucky.
This is important, since their membership is of the utmost secrecy. We have no idea who they are, unless their membership has been leaked, which is a masonic crime theoretically punishable by death. The Freemasons say they are not a secret society, but a society with secrets. How clever. And yet, it is literally upon their lives that they swear to preserve the anonymity of their masonic brothers from outsiders, whom they call the ‘profane’. They have secret gestures, postures and words which signal to brothers their masonic membership and rank, and if they are ‘in distress, for example when under arrest or in the dock.
What people get up to in their private lives is their business. The problem arises when members of secret networks, which sometimes overlap, enter public life. They are compromised. To whom do they owe ultimate allegiance? Are they open to influence?
The masons here are well represented in Ledbury Town Council. It falls to one man however, a former mayor to pull the strings and bear aloft the grand ceremonial sword of patriotic observance, and vengeance. He is a clandestine protagonist in the council’s bitter quarrel with Liz Harvey and Andrew Harrison, and also in close relations with that other “great architect” of the council bannings, a leading mason’s wife, Lynda Wilcox. Town council staff themselves (called the “the girls in the office” by the elderly gents) are also yolked into the masonic web.
The fraternity also extends pervasively into Herefordshire Council where councillors and council officers, many of them senior, who should maintain distance from each other according to their code, rub shoulders in Lodge meetings and afterwards at dinner. It is telling that Herefordshire Council top-brass have thwarted attempts to introduce a simple code of disclosure for officers and elected and members. If everything is above board, why the reticence?
It has always seemed curious how cohesive Ledbury Town Council is, particularly when one of them happens to be ‘in distress’. Nobody is surprised that the establishment closes ranks when it is threatened. What is striking in Ledbury’s case is both the degree of organisation that underpins their self-defence, but also the audacity of their behaviour. Could the masons be at work, ever so quietly?
Remarkable is the lack of shame by the Mayor, or the Clerk, that so many important matters are kept secret and that lies are told, even in Council meetings. Their minutes are pruned of content to the point of redundancy. The general public is routinely expelled from meetings on spurious grounds of confidentiality. Important meetings (like those for the Neighbourhood Plan or Traffic Management) are not advertised. Items are refused to be put on agendas. Meetings are truncated. Questions are not answered, emails are ignored. Correspondence is suppressed. Money is spent, lots of it, without the permission of the Council and therefore outside of financial regulations.
A comparatively trivial, if instructive case is the Mayor’s Charities. Despite turning over thousands of pounds each year, it is run like an office tea fund. The Clerk denies that the charity fund is a functional part of council business, and yet she herself is a cheque signatory. Town council staff spend many hours of their time supporting it. The Clerk says all the work is done voluntarily by staff in their own time, but this is hard to sustain particularly that there are no time sheets to account for their contribution in kind; the project is woven into the fabric of town council routine and has been for decades. We should keep in mind the name: the Mayor of Ledbury Town Council’s Charity/ies.
Uncoupled deliberately from statutory financial audit nor public accountability, nor open to inspection through Freedom of Information legislation, this mayor’s fund is operated in complete secret. Why? What on earth could be so confidential? It is horrible to contemplate, but without any external oversight, the mayor’s charities fund is wide open to abuse. Who is giving? Who is taking? Its laissez-faire mode of operation does very little to create trust or confidence, in it, in the mayor, or in the council.
But the most awful thing is that they don’t seem to give a hoot what anyone thinks. Why are they so cocky? Why do they think they can get away with such outrageous behaviour?
There are two explanations as to why the Council operates in such a bizarrely furtive manner. Either, it believes arrogantly that the control of knowledge is power, and so the sharing of knowledge and information, is a diminution of its power. Or, people in the Council are up to no good and are concealing decisions and documentation because they are incriminating. Maybe both.
Secrecy is the blood-sugar of the dark beating heart of Ledbury Town Council. Churchill is apposite. To paraphrase: ‘it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma ; but perhaps there is a key. That key is … [self]... interest.’ Elaine Fieldhouse, the current mayor, is perhaps the most sphynx-like of all the councillors; everything she says - or doesn’t say - must be treated with great caution.
The Neighbourhood Plan has become dark matter since the Council took over direct control. Nobody has any idea what is genuinely going to happen next. Mountains of feedback on the draft version of the Plan have seemingly disappeared without trace. Finances are opaque: it has cost a lot, but quite how much is undisclosed. Meetings are not advertised. It is run by a closed group of Annette’s and Elaine’s friends and allies, save one newly elected town councillor. Reportbacks to the Council, much less the public, are minimal.
In others times and places, this would be seen as a scandal and a democratic affront. Not in Ledbury. Sadly, the town council is so consumed with its intrigues and schemes, and with the impending judicial review (JR) it has no brainspace for anything - not even to do anything useful about the catastrophically unplanned building bonanza taking place in the town’s surrounding fields. Vital and urgent to halting this assault is Ledbury’s Neighbourhood Plan, but this it has sunk into obscurity. The Mayor and her confederates are too busy on their wild legal goose-chase - another financial black hole - defending in the High Court, the manifestly unlawful and unfair banning of Cllrs Liz Harvey, and Andrew Harrison.
Not long to wait now - the hearing is on 1 March - but as ever the Council discloses nothing in public - or even in private. Fieldhouse claims in a closed session of the council, that its lawyers say that their case is very strong in defending Harvey’s challenge; she says, or at least strongly implies, that they think the Council will win, and that Liz Harvey will be made to pay all the costs it has incurred. If not, the Council will be able to claim on litigation insurance through Lynda Wilcox.
In what is becoming a regular ironic trope in Council meetings, Cllr Nick Morris asked Fieldhouse if councillors might be allowed to see this reassuring advice. She immediately said, no, it’s legal and confidential. Then after being pressed, said that Cllr Morris should ask the Clerk, Karen Mitchell for it. There were intakes of breath… you mean, Mrs Mitchell has access to all the confidential papers concerning the judicial review? Even though it is her complaints against Harvey and Harrison which are at the centre of the bans?
The disclosure was inadvertent but devastating. The realisation that she had revealed that the Clerk had access to all the advice from the London solicitors, but elected town councillors had seen none of it, caused Fieldhouse to flush momentarily. She normally doesn’t do shame or embarrassment.
In her fleeting disarray, Fieldhouse continued to dig down into the bottom of her unstable pit. Notwithstanding their ‘very strong case’, and ‘firm grounds’, she said the Council would be making a final offer to Harvey to settle out of court. Nearing the end of what had been a dull and lengthy meeting, the council suddenly awoke from its torpor. This time Andrew Harrison came to his feet. ‘And who decides on what that offer will be?’, he asked. She waved her hand airily in a distracting arc. ‘That is for our counsel to decide. We don’t get involved in that’, she said imperiously, as if it were a trivial detail best left to the servants to sort out. There were further collective gulps, even from loyalists.
Of course she knew what the offer was: how else would it have any serious intent, or legal jurisdiction? More secrets, more lies.
Don't Mention It.
In all of these disparate tales, what I have been discussing is secrecy, and its corrosive effects. I am not interested in people’s sexual proclivities, nor their religious or occult leanings all of which I respect. I don’t care that they like dressing up and pretending to be knights, or seers. This said, sexual and physical abuse disturbs me and should be named which is why I continue to bang the drum for Martin Eager’s resignation from public office.
Councillors and public servants who belong to secret networks, or who have shameful secrets, and who would not wish to have aspects of their private lives or the record of their public service exposed, are subject to a Faustian curse. They are compromised. They must cover their tracks continually, distract and dissemble, preempt intrusive questioning by hostility and aggression. They must also conform and do as they are told, on pain of exposure.
Not knowledge: secrets are power. They are corrupted and ensnared by them, and to survive must keep creating more, telling more lies. And sticking together. The web is almost invisible but it is as adhesive as glue