Downham Market council members scared to walk into town after 'bullying'
The Mayor, Town Clerk and a councillor have spoken out about their experience of bullying within the council following the market trader furore.
Since a town council meeting went viral, some members of the council have been left in fear of stepping out into their home town.
In the clip, Elaine Oliver, the Clerk is seen to be visibly distressed after a resident spoke up in a meeting.
Mrs Oliver, said: "I've had threats and abuse from members of the public, and I've done nothing wrong I do as I'm told by the council, that is my job as a public servant."
Mayor Jenny Groom said: "We are privileged to have such a highly skilled clerk, who has a vision for the town, she has suffered terribly over the last 18 months."
Councillor Becky Hayes, is concerned because her personal details was revealed publicly at the last meeting.
Councillor Jo Woodmin, who has also had personal details revealed on social media, said: "There were members of the public making slit throat gestures at me during the last meeting."
The unions have been contacted regarding the matter, in particular with the conduct of Councillor Doug Lawson on social media.
UNISON Eastern regional organiser Cameron Matthews said: “We've received deeply troubling reports about the hostile environment at Downham Market Town Council and how seriously it's affecting staff safety and wellbeing.
“Some of the abuse has been so severe it’s elicited police involvement.
“We've pushed the council to act urgently to keep its employees safe in accordance with law, but so far it seems powerless to sort this out. The town and borough councils must intervene to stop this escalating further.
“And what makes it all the worse is that it's predominantly women bearing the brunt of this abuse, right in the Equalities Minister's backyard.
"Liz Truss should step in personally to bring an end to this sorry episode in her own constituency.”
The council is currently female led, with a female Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Clerk.
The Lynn News has seen emails where Mr Lawson has used language such as "fruit", a derogatory and outdated term used to describe someone as homosexual, and correspondence saying: "The council should not concern itself with minority groups."
On Facebook Mr Lawson posted a comment which said "minorities should be neutralised", which has been reported to the police by members of the public for hate speech.
In an interview with Mr Lawson he was asked why he made such comments on social media.
He said: "No idea why the notion of neautralising should be offensive to anyone, as it is a common enough concept, as in applying alkaline substances to balance out acidic soil.
"If readers are so badly educated they do not understand this approach they should refrain from commenting. It is not a synonym in the Oxford dictionary for eradicate or exterminate.
"As a society we need to provide opportunities to distract people from negative behaviour.
"Downham Market is blessed with the most incredible facilities."
When asked about the role of social media in the ongoing row he said: "Because of the actions and bent and corrupt faction of the DMTC a certain amount of guerilla warfare via Facebook is necessary to permit the wider West Norfolk audience to have an understanding of that's happening.
"There are types who take offence at nothing at all, these people are known as 'snowflakes'.
"There are others who are alarmed at flies crawling up the wall at different speeds, I am not going to modify my way of doing things just to please these types.
"The treatment of the market traders is appalling and in some parts criminal, there is a very real risk of financial liability as a result of the unlawful and fraudulent activity of some of the councillors."
The town is awash with rumours, some of which concerning the council's finances.
One resident said: "They are hiding the finances and stockpiling money somewhere."
The Lynn News went to the council offices today and requested to see the finance reports from this year, 2020 and 2019.
The Clerk readily supplied the files, which the Lynn News can confirm they were able to see with no contest.
The Lynn News asked for comment on the loss of livelihood and reactions of the public to the recent uproar, to which they said they "could not comment on due to legal proceedings".
A website called downhammarketcouncilaction.co.uk has appeared in the council colours, and is advertised on posters which have been put up around the town.
The website says: "Stand with the community by peacefully engaging with our democratic process - come to the next council meeting and remind them who they work for!
"I'm an upset citizen of Downham Market and I'm troubled by our representatives using their power to silence market traders.
"The Council's response to the valid concerns raised about the town market is apparently to make a jibe, reel off some press release, a lot of smirking and then revoke the trading licence of two long standing market traders."
Ms Groom said about the website: "This web page has nothing to do with the council, even though they have copied our formatting, we don't know who it is."
A meeting was held earlier this week in the market square and the upcoming Full Council Meeting on October 5 is expected to have a high turnout.
Mrs Groom said: "If people are coming they should let us know so we can make provisions for them, we welcome questions always."