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Row in South West Norfolk after James Bagge claims his election posters were removed from roadside

It is Norfolk’s bitterest election contest, pitting a Tory incumbent with plenty of baggage against a former member of the so-called Turnip Taliban who first tried to block her attempt to become an MP 15 years ago.

Now, the battle between Liz Truss and James Bagge in South West Norfolk has turned even uglier, over the mysterious disappearance of campaign posters, allegations of skulduggery and complaints to the council.

Mr Bagge, a disaffected Tory who is standing as an independent, has claimed that his adverts are being removed quicker than he can put them up, while those of his Conservative rival remain untouched.

A Bagge poster by the roadside in South West Norfolk.
A Bagge poster by the roadside in South West Norfolk.

He says he has had several posters taken down just hours after they were put up along roadsides and buildings across the rural constituency, in stark contrast to those of Ms Truss’ which have been in position for almost a fortnight.

While some disappearances remain unexplained, others are known to have been taken down by Conservative-controlled Norfolk County Council’s highways teams.

Mr Bagge, a former high sheriff of Norfolk, suspects Conservative factions at NCC have been involved in reporting the signs for removal, in order to undermine his campaign.

Among those to be taken down by council officials were some put up outside Mr Bagge’s own home, and another at Downham’s Castle Hotel building, which was put up at the request of its owner.

“There are lots of posters up in the county promoting candidates. We are not doing anything different and they are not any bigger,” Mr Bagge said.

“We wonder what is going on here. We seemed to have got somebody rattled.”

He now intends to lodge an official complaint to County Hall asking why his posters seem to be disproportionately targeted.

James Bagge's campaign poster on the former Castle Hotel in Downham Market town centre.
James Bagge's campaign poster on the former Castle Hotel in Downham Market town centre.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said the display of election material on public roads is not permitted and that it will request for any infringing posters to be taken down when identified.

But Mr Bagge claims his posters have been targeted more than those of his rivals and candidates in other Norfolk constituencies.

He has had to collect several banners from a depot after they were taken down by NCC highway teams within a short space of time.

A poster for Ms Truss – which was defaced – remained on a prominent roadside location on a verge near Stoke Ferry for almost a fortnight, Mr Bagge claims.

And several signs promoting James Wild, Conservative candidate for North West Norfolk, have been spotted along the A10 between Lynn and Downham.

While in the Broadland area, there are a number of large signs promoting Conservative Jerome Mayhew on roadsides between Coltishall and Norwich.

One of the Bagge banners that has been removed was put up outside the Castle Hotel building in Downham.

Owner Julian Kerkham said he was “furious” it was taken down and he has since put a new one in a higher spot out of reach from the road.

“I’m very bemused,” he said.

“We attached a banner to fencing within the curtilage of the property momentarily before we put it on the building.

“It was taken down within such a short space of time. It was very odd.

“We have put a new one up much higher now so nobody can reach it.”

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: “We may take more direct action if this could cause a safety issue, for example when material is placed at junctions, or where there are concerns around visibility.”

NCC says a public highway is “not just the road itself, but also the surrounding land, which may include a pavement or a grass verge”.

“While it is sometimes possible to see election material from public roads, it should be away from highways land and not pose any risk to safety,” the spokesman added.

The roots of the bad blood between Mr Bagge and Ms Truss began in 2009 after she was parachuted into the constituency by the national Tory party as one of leader David Cameron’s A-list of priority candidates.

This caused a split in the local party, exacerbated when members learned of her affair with Tory MP Mark Field, which Conservative HQ had failed to inform local members of.

It led to calls from a group including Mr Bagge and his brother Sir Jeremy Bagge, dubbed the ‘Turnip Taliban’ by national commentators, for her de-selection.

But these attempts failed and she has held the seat since.

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