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Mass resignation at Downham Market council citing 'homophobic' 'racist' and 'misogynistic abuse' among reasons

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A shock mass resignation was announced tonight including the town's clerk and Mayor.

Following the resignation of councillors Rachel Hepworth and Josie Radcliffe earlier this month, six more councillors have joined their ranks.

Councillors Elizabeth Hendry,Willow Woodmin,Simon De Costa, Becky Hayes,Jo Woodwin and Alan Pickering announced in a statement read by the mayor Jenny Groom amid empty seats that they will resign that evening.

DMTC meeting October 5 Credit Steven Hewitt (51984910)
DMTC meeting October 5 Credit Steven Hewitt (51984910)

The councillors said: "We have witnessed the harassment of the town clerk, who is a hard working and loyal member of the council.

"We will not stand by and collude with the misogynistic, racist and homophobic abuse that has been taking place on social media.

"We have fought so hard to make the running of this council legal and transparent, as well as diverse. We can not stand by as they show such contempt for the electorate, it has no place in the community.

DMTC meeting October 5 Credit Steven Hewitt (51983761)
DMTC meeting October 5 Credit Steven Hewitt (51983761)

"We filed a complaint against Councillor Lawson in 2020 and it doesn't appear to have been sorted out.

"This council will now be represented by mostly retired men over the age of 50."

Councillor Doug Lawson Credit Steven Hewitt (51983729)
Councillor Doug Lawson Credit Steven Hewitt (51983729)

The Mayor said that Elaine Oliver, the former clerk, had left to "pursue other opportunities".

The Deputy Mayor Jackie Westrop then announced her own resignation, a move that she said "devastated" her after seven years on the council.

She said: "In the last two years this council has lost 16 excellent and dedicated councillors due to bullying. I do not take this decision lightly however the last two years have been mired with fake accusations against the clerk by members of this council.

"This has been done by social media, email and direct messaging. The majority of the people who have resigned have been women, and Liz Truss our MP and equalities minister seems to support an approach that does not support the role of women in government.

"I did not become a councillor to be spat on, abused on social media.

"The councillors seem to be refusing the siren call of good governance. I can not serve this council with the same passion I once had."

Mayor Jenny Groom then came forward with another blow, saying that she herself would resign.

Councillor Tony Leach asked if he could say something and Ms Groom replied "No."

She has served as mayor twice during her time with the council.

She said: "In 1991 I joined the council to make a difference to help and support the community and at that time there was only two women on a council of 18. Women were underrepresented and since then it was increased to four and made it's way to eight women.

"For the last two years a councillor has ignored the code of conduct and waged a campaign of bullying to trash the clerk and council's reputation via the spreading of misinformation.

"Now a charity, the Swan Youth Project, has distanced itself from the toxic environment of the council and people who would like to stand for the council are reluctant to do so.

"For 30 years I've engaged with councillors through honest agreement and now found myself in an environment filled with back-biting and bullying I have grave concerns about good governance and transparency going forward.

"I must now step down and resign completely as of this moment."

After the statement was read Ms Groom and Ms Westrop collected their bags and walked out of the room, leaving behind a half empty hall.

Councillor Pegg took over the meeting.

He said: "Councillor Westrop said the campaign against Doug Lawson has taken two years to sort out.

"I was accused of bullying and harassment and anyone that knows me, knows that isn't the truth.

"I was found exonerated of all charges, it was all trumped up, I never bullied anyone. You all know my background, and I hope I can sit here tonight with an honest heart."

Mr Lawson asked if he could have a copy of the statement of libel, to which the clerk said "Yes you can I have it here."

A member of the public said:"For the last two years the council has attacked me personally, I'm a woman so it's not a gender thing. If it wasn't for the people of Downham I wouldn't have survived. Don't play the victim, everyone knows who the victims are it's everyone in this town who has suffered. Jenny and the others they know what they did to me and they should be ashamed of themselves. The people of Downham know."

This was met with applause from councillors.

Councillor Lawson has been contacted for comment regarding the allegations.

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