That pig-headed, infuriating, argumentative, sulphurous trouble-maker Liz Harvey was perfectly correct in arguing that the bans imposed on her and Andrew Harrison, were unlawful. She said that the process used by Ledbury Town Council to investigate and convict her and Andrew, was grossly unfair. She said that the Council's sanctions also infringed her human rights as an elected councillor.
The High Court judge agreed with her. Mrs Justice Sara Cockerill's judgement, first released in draft appropriately enough on the First of May, is comprehensive and emphatic. Liz Harvey is completely vindicated, while Ledbury Town Council is judged completely wrong since it embarked on its campaign to exclude and silence the two dissident councillors. There is no mitigation; the Council's defense has been obliterated.
So now the town's assorted right wing conformists, the establishment stooges and xenophobic nativists are foaming at the mouth, appalled at what they see as yet another left wing stitch up by outsiders. Hazy on the detail, the reaction of most ordinary people is surprise that the Council was prepared to go all the way on a project that seemed doubtful from the start, given the weight of legal opinion (and common sense) ranged against it.
Of more concern to tax payers is the two hundred thousand pounds of public money that the Gang of Four - Fieldhouse, Crowe, Barnes and Eager - have squirted up the wall on what now emerges as the flimsiest of pretexts. Reading the judgment anybody with the most middling intelligence could not help exclaiming, is that really it?
Advice that dares not speak its name.
The vaunted legal advice was that the Council's case was 'cast iron', 'rock solid', 'as safe as houses' (I quote). It came first from Lynda Wilcox of Herefordshire Association of Local Councils, then the National Association of Local Council's chief legal officer Meera Tharmarajah, then from DF Legal LLP, the local Ledbury solicitors, and finally from the swanky London lawyers of Winkworth Sherwood LLP. Wow: that sounds impressive. Except for over two years, this secret legal advice, the Council's killer card, has remained elusive.
You can imagine the mixture of hilarity and dismay when Harvey's team finally got sight of the Council's defence as its QC, Lisa Busch, revealed its long-awaited 'skeleton' legal argument before the court hearing. It was about as robust as a used kleenex, as convincing as a Bill Clinton stain removing kit.
In poker, there's a particular bluff you can use at the start of a round called a Blind Steal. It's a preemptive move where you bet aggressively straight after the deal even though you have a dead hand. You use your ample financial resources, to convince your opponents that resistance is futile, they might as well drop out at the start. Your confidence blinds them. Military strategists refer to it as shock and awe. I'll give the ladies and gents of the town council's 'Standing Committee' top marks for bluff. Fieldhouse in particular would make a spectacular poker player with her repertoire of diversions, evasions and distraction tactics, and her peerless ability to look you in the eye and lie through her teeth. When her business folds, perhaps poker could be her financial salvation? But who really cares? For now, alongside the other three resigned councillors, Elaine is bobbing helplessly in scalding hot water.
As predicted, this foolish adventure by the four grifters and their saps - Francis, Bradford, Eakin and Manns - means that Ledbury Town Council is now effectively ripped apart. Not only has the Clerk at the centre of the lies - Karen Mitchell - ditched her co-conspirators for a new job in Bromyard, but the temporary stand-in clerk has also resigned. Now the new Deputy Clerk has gone, citing 'personal reasons'. Lastly, the Mayor Fieldhouse joins the stinking, crumpled heap of Eager, Crowe and Barnes on the bench.
This is not to say that their idiot fan club aren't still trying to spin the judgment as simply a 'procedural' error, some kind of minor technicality. Just because Harvey has won the JR, they say, doesn't mean she and Harrison didn't bully the staff. Yes it fucking does.
Reality check: Harvey and Harrison had already been cleared of bullying by the Monitoring Officer at Herefordshire Council two years ago. This judgment finally removes the legally indefensible sanctions imposed on them by hostile political opponents since then. It also means that parish councils everywhere else henceforth must comply with the terms of the Localism Act 2011 and hand over complaints about councillor conduct to their 'principal authority', the county or district council above them. Tin-pot, third-tier councils, like Ledbury's, are not competent in any sense of that word, to investigate councillor conduct. End of.
What now remains is to investigate if criminal maladministration has taken place in the town council. What exactly were the compelling legal opinions which justified the Gang of Four's insistence on taking this dispute all the way to the High Court? Were they within their powers to commit so much money to a legal cause of which the wider Town Council had no knowledge? Was the Standing Committee entitled to pay legal invoices exceeding £80 thousand to Winkworth Sherwood, in full awareness that there were no budgeted funds to cover it? Did they tell lies and misrepresent the situation to fellow councillors? Were crucial committee decisions suppressed and false minutes presented to council?
Now it is time for the police to launch a formal inquiry into these and other questions.
Meanwhile out in the street, the Mmes Crowe and Fieldhouse are still busy cooking up schemes and stratagems. Today they were allegedly spotted at the back door of the council while clerical assistant Mrs Jill Jupp (another ex-mayor's wife) ran around collecting paperwork for them. Were these nomination forms for the forthcoming election? Now it emerges, Keith Francis, the hapless deputy mayor who has eagerly participated in every stage of this unfolding scandal, is trying to argue that he was 'bullied' by Crowe and Eager. I was following orders, he says plaintively.
Another longstanding council waste container, veteran councillor Tony Bradford, champion of the common man, is also claiming that he was bullied into acquiesence by Crowe and her chums. Sympathy for his plight is leavened because at Ledbury's recent irritable Annual Council meeting, Bradford continued to bemoan the awful bullying he was subject to by Harvey, Harrison, me and my 'team'. Has he got a persecution disorder, or does he just say whatever is expedient to make himself look good in the moment, or at least less bad?
Whatever their excuses, Bradford and Francis are as culpably foolish and malign as the other three ringleaders, Crowe, Fieldhouse and Barnes. Here they were prosecuting a ruinous legal campaign against Harvey (and Harrison) for bullying staff, while now claiming they were simultaneously being 'bullied' into going along with the three others; oh, the irony.
Time's up Gentlemen.
Weak, cowardly, craven, morally bankrupt, manipulative, hypocritical, Mr Bradford and Mr Francis: your gutless excuses are nauseating and shameful. Get out of it.
So too, can young Matthew Eakin (another locally famous Lib-Dem) and Andy Manns, these two 'good guys' who eagerly voted for every illegal sanction, every vicious little act on Harvey and Harrison to be imposed, who ignored every protestation that the Council's actions were clearly unfair, who up to last week, have continued to support the bans until the two offending councillors 'begin behaving themselves', who have been regularly popping in and out of Crowe's and Fieldhouse's shops for political instruction. There is a special type of contempt that is reserved for collaborationists. Unless they fess up that is. Being ignored.
Let's just end this by recalling the vile whining of the Nazi war-criminal Adolf Eichmann: I was only following orders.
No. He had a choice. The actions into which he was allegedly 'coerced' were so egregious and unreasonable from a moral and legal point of view, that his defense of 'superior orders' was rejected as impossible.
The Council miscreants always had a choice. They didn't have to do what they did. Their actions were calculated and deliberate. Now they must take the consequences.
I apologise to my readers for my intemperate language and biting opinions. When I have seen justice being done in Ledbury, and the real bullies of this town exposed and judged, my ire may subside. Right now, I'm with the rest of the mob, in wanting to see these shoddy little enemies of democracy, these petty tricksters, these power-thirsty narcissists, dealt with harshly in the court of public opinion. Let them be identified, their behaviour scrutinised and learned from, and then let them be forgotten.
Then we might put this tragedy behind us.