Swaffham mayor ‘should apologise over council tax debt’, says resident

Swaffham Town Council Annual Mayor Making at the Town Hall
New Swaffham Town Mayor Paul Darby with outgoing  Mayor Anne Thorp ANL-161205-081034009
Swaffham Town Council Annual Mayor Making at the Town Hall New Swaffham Town Mayor Paul Darby with outgoing Mayor Anne Thorp ANL-161205-081034009
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A town mayor has been urged to apologise after it was revealed he had been pursued for unpaid council tax.

Paul Darby was told the affair had brought his office as mayor of Swaffham into disrepute by residents at a meeting last night.

But he insisted he had not known about the debt until he was notified of it and suggested that his case should not have been made public.

Mr Darby, who also represents the town at Breckland district council, was one of dozens of representatives from across the region who were named in an investigation into councillors being pursued for council tax arrears last month.

At that stage, he said he had faced financial problems at the time of the debts following redundancy.

And, during Wednesday evening’s town council meeting, he said: “It was an amount I didn’t even know I owed.”

He said he had initially been advised not to make further comment by officials in the district council’s legal departmen and claimed that his name had been wrongly disclosed.

He added that he had already paid his entire council tax bill for the current financial year.

But that wasn’t enough for resident Anne Livesley, who said the town’s people were owed an apology over the affair during the session for public questions and comments.

She said: “I feel trust and respect in this council fall short of what they should be.

“How do we move forward with any level of confidence with the current form of the town council? It’s bringing the council into disrepute.”

Another resident, Tony Dickens, said he sympathised with people who found themselves trying to deal with financial problems.

But he argued that Mr Darby had not lived up to his responsibility of setting an example to the public when he failed to seek professional debt advice.

He said the issue had discredited the civic office and “damaged its dignity.”

He added: “I would like to know why the council think this is acceptable.”

Town clerk Richard Bishop said he had chaired what he described as a “full and frank” discussion of the issue in his capacity as an independent officer, in which a majority decision to prepare a statement had been reached.

He also insisted the case had related to late payment of the tax, rather than non-payment, adding: “There is a big, big difference.”

And councillor Terry Jennison, a former town mayor, said: “Paul has done so much for this town. My loyalty is to him.”

Mr Dickens stressed he was not questioning Mr Darby’s record of service to the town, but simply expressing wider public opinion on the subject.

He said several residents he had spoken to were very angry about it.