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Guildford Alderman Gordon Bridger is making an official complaint against the Council Leader, Tony Rooth, and his Deputy, Stephen Mansbridge, claiming they have breached the Guildford Borough Council Members’ Code of Conduct.
This follows their decision to stand by an ‘all-party’ letter of complaint sent to The Guildford Dragon NEWS (TGDN) last month over our coverage of the sudden departure of the Strategic Director, Jim Miles and his wife, a particular situation that still remains to be explained to the taxpayers and voters. The letter demanded that its contents be published in full, outlining allegations against TGDN.
A week later, TGDN was asked by Steven Gerrard, the interim head of legal services not to publish the letter. Why the sudden U-turn? Councillors Dave Goodwin (Lib Dem Group Leader) and Angela Gunning (Lab Group Leader) had withdrawn their support for the letter after TGDN produced email evidence of journalistic integrity, proving that proper checks had in fact been made prior to publication of the Miles’ articles. The letter also referred to readers’ letters published by TGDN, including from Alderman Bridger. The Alderman, a Liberal Democrat who has served honourably as a councillor and the Town Mayor, remains angry about the way he was described by the councillors in this letter.
TGDN refused to publish the letter, but it has been circulated widely (not by TGDN), including to all serving councillors at GBC. Alderman Bridger says he has been advised by legal counsel that the description of him in it ‘was undoubtedly defamatory’ and that he had grounds to claim damages. He has referred the matter to Martyn Brake, the council officer designated ‘Monitoring Officer’, who deals with matters relating to the GBC ‘Members’ Code of Conduct’.
A further twist in the tale is question of whether any legal defence and court costs of Cllrs Rooth and Mansbridge should be paid for by public funds, from council tax money paid by Guildford residents. Steven Gerrard is said to have written that the GBC would ‘defend them’.
The status of the letter of complaint to TGDN is questionable because it was sent as an unheaded letter attached to an email. Alderman Bridger says he wrote to Mr Brake: ‘I am advised that the letter [the original letter of complaint to TGDN] was not sent out under Council-headed paper and therefore should not be regarded as one authorised by the Council. It was a “political” letter for which the signatories must be held responsible …. It follows therefore that they will need to pay for their own defence.’
To maintain TGDN’s standards of fair play and story balance, Cllrs Rooth and Mansbridge were invited to comment. No comment has been received from them but Martyn Brake, Acting Monitoring Officer, to whom the enquiry was directed said: “We can confirm that we have received a complaint from Mr Bridger. While this is being processed, it is inappropriate for us to comment any further.”