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West Norfolk councillor Simon Nash appeals tribunal decision in latest instalment in nine-year feud





West Norfolk Council has been hit by yet more rancour after it emerged one of its elected members has been engaged in an extraordinary nine-year feud with its own officials.

Simon Nash sent hundreds of emails to staff at the council accusing them of corruption, fraud and “acting like a dictatorship” as part of a row which began before he was even elected.

The councillor - who sat on the authority's standards committee and investigation and disciplinary committee - has now been reprimanded and recommended to be stripped of some of his council positions after a tribunal found he had broken the council's code of conduct.

West Norfolk Council offices at King's Court on Chapel Street in King's Lynn
West Norfolk Council offices at King's Court on Chapel Street in King's Lynn

But, Mr Nash – who was supported by the council’s own leader at his disciplinary hearing – claims officers have been pursuing a campaign against him because of the “robust” way he has been challenging them.

The councillor, who represents West Winch as an independent, is now planning to appeal the tribunal decision, claiming his human rights were infringed because his representatives were kicked out of the meeting.

Taxi troubles

Cllr Simon Nash
Cllr Simon Nash

Mr Nash first got on the wrong side of the council in 2015, four years before he was elected, when he was put on its ‘persistent complainer’ list and had his emails blocked by officers.

As the owner of a Setchey-based taxi testing station, he became embroiled in a dispute after a taxi driver who used his service was given penalty points for allowing his licenced vehicle to be driven by a mechanic.

Spurred on by a perceived injustice, Mr Nash reportedly sent more than 50 emails to the council in a 10-month period which resulted in his messages being blocked – an act he describes as a “gagging order”.

“Once you are on the list of persistent complainers it is open-ended and there was no ability to appeal it,” added the 52-year-old.

“There needed to be an independent person you could appeal to – it was unfair.”

The fallout due to his deteriorating relationship with the authority meant he lost his licence to service taxis in the district.

“It almost ruined my business,” said Mr Nash.

The matter was taken to the Local Government Ombudsman. In 2018, it ruled Mr Nash had suffered an “injustice” and forced West Norfolk Council to apologise to him.

Fighting from the inside

Following the row, Mr Nash sought to push for change at the council from inside the organisation.

He was elected to represent West Winch in 2019 and he retained this position at the local elections last year.

Despite being a councillor, Mr Nash said he remained on the persistent complainer list.

He pushed for the creation of the investigation and disciplinary committee – a board which has powers to take disciplinary action against senior officers, including the chief executive, and can also recommend proposals to dismiss officials if there has been wrongdoing.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed bringing more transparency and accountability to the council,” he said.

But he says there continued to be bad blood between him and the authority’s officers, and this tension has led to the complaints he received, which relate to conversations he had via email with officials between 2019 and 2021.

“I don’t feel like I have been treated with mutual respect and it seems there has been a backlash against me asking questions – they haven’t liked that.”

Conduct criticism

Following an investigation, Mr Nash was alleged to have failed to comply with the council’s code of conduct for members, breaking several principles in the code; selflessness, objectivity, honesty and integrity, and leadership.

The results of the probe were heard in front of a panel which included an independent person, Amanda Orchard, and three councillors – Barry Ayres, Simon Ring and Alexandra Ware.

They were presented with evidence from a series of email exchanges with officers, in which Mr Nash reportedly compared the council to a “dictatorship” and also accused officers of “corruption, fraud, collusion or gross incompetence.”

Among the complainants included Stuart Dark, former leader of the council.

Cllr Stuart Dark. Picture: West Norfolk Council
Cllr Stuart Dark. Picture: West Norfolk Council

The investigators said they did not consider his actions “malicious” and that his criticism of the council was through genuine concern about how the authority was operating.

According to the hearing report, Mr Nash also stated he felt marginalised, had lost trust in officers and he felt the need to be “robust” in challenging what he perceived as unacceptable behaviour.

However, the investigators concluded his actions fell short of the standards required as a councillor.

Mr Nash has said the evidence they were presented with failed to tell the whole story and that he has 2,000 pages of documents he hoped to present for his defence.

The roots of the complaints have not been disclosed publicly but Mr Nash said some of the issues include the council failing to take enforcement action after a developer breached planning conditions and him being barred from attending a training session.

“The evidence just showed the conclusion of the email discussions and has been taken out of context. I was trying to hold the council to account and highlight wrongdoing and instances where officials and councillors failed to follow its constitution.”

Reprimand

The panel agreed with the findings of the investigation that Mr Nash had broken codes of conduct at the hearing on January 25.

The sanctions he has been given include apologising in writing to the relevant officers and for him to be removed from his standards committee and investigating and disciplinary committee positions.

West Norfolk Council leader Terry Parish. Picture: West Norfolk Council
West Norfolk Council leader Terry Parish. Picture: West Norfolk Council

West Norfolk Council leader Terry Parish was one of three councillors who spoke in his defence, who argued he is a “conscientious and respected” councillor in his ward and it was noted that there may have been “potential underlying motivations” behind some of the complaints.

A fair trial?

Mr Nash continues to protest against the way the hearing was conducted and he says he will make a corporate complaint.

His criticism stems from the panel’s refusal for him to have a ‘McKenzie friend’ present at the hearing – an independent person who provides moral support during court proceedings.

He says this has broken Article 6 of the European Human Rights Act – a right to a fair and public hearing and the Local Government Association’s guidance for standard hearings.

The matter led Mr Nash to storm out of the meeting in response but it continued in his absence.

Simon Nash
Simon Nash

West Norfolk Council has said as it was not a criminal trial and only dealt with low-level sanctions, his right to a ‘McKenzie Friend’ was not relevant and that it was conducted appropriately.

But Mr Nash has argued the saga has brought his name into disrepute and that the allegations against him were serious.

Following the results of the hearing, Mr Nash has likened the debacle to the Post Office scandal.

“People are fed up with institutions not acting properly.

“If you have done something wrong, you should deal with it but like the Post Office, if mistakes are discovered but not dealt with, the problem can snowball.”

It is the latest row to hit the council, which has become known as the county’s most cantankerous after a series of disputes among members that have led to resignations and political upheaval.

“If you have done something wrong, you should deal with it but like the Post Office, if mistakes are discovered but not dealt with, the problem can snowball.”



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