17:20 Tuesday 26th November 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: All 39 councillors at Fenland District Council have been threatened with private prosecution. It’s in connection with legal action being taken against the authority by a farmer, who’s trying to claim compensation because they tore down a building he owned. I’m joined on the line now by the Leader of Fenland District Council, Alan Melton. Hi Alan.
ALAN MELTON: Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: Now it’s important to say right at the beginning we can’t go into too many details about the case because ..
ALAN MELTON: Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: … there are legal proceedings pending. But what does this mean in your view for those 39 councillors? Could they actually be personally sued?
ALAN MELTON: Well, let me make it quite clear that I mean I’ve just got home and received my copy of this as well I’m reading it right through, that what councillors should do in fact is to do as I’m going to do is to take it straight to our legal officers. Because actually the legal officers and our insurers they’re actually dealing with it. So the answer to your question is this. That members themselves, whatever Mr Fulcher says in this that I’ve just received, will not be held personally responsible. Because in actual fact our insurers cover all such events.
CHRIS MANN: So your advice to the councillors is to do the same thing.
ALAN MELTON: Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: When did you first hear about the idea of these private prosecutions?
ALAN MELTON: I got several emails from members this morning. We dealt with .. we had a separate email last week which was corporately against Fenland District Council. But this one, as I say, is individual. I was first alerted to it this morning as the postman dropped them on the mat. Immediately made calls to the Chief Executive. He had already had fifteen such calls from worried members, and I immediately followed up by sending an email out to say, look, get these papers to Fenland Hall as soon as you possibly can.
CHRIS MANN: Obviously worrying for all involved.
ALAN MELTON: Well it’s annoying. Quite frankly we’ve been inundated with correspondence over this issue. Most of the councillors don ‘t really know what it’s all about, and the reason I say that is because most of them weren’t involved. I believe it was dealt with through a planning enforcement issue way back in 2006. I can’t personally remember it. I wasn’t a really active councillor as such then. I certainly wasn’t in the Cabinet, or Leader at the time. It’s something I’ve had to pick up since just recently. So I can only let it be dealt with through the proper process, through our legal officers.
CHRIS MANN: Is this the future Alan? This is like America, where people sue first and think later.
ALAN MELTON: Well I certainly hope not, because quite frankly at the end of the day the only people who win out of this sort of situation are the lawyers. And the biggest losers of all are people who actually pay insurance premiums, which in turn is the council tax payer, because we have to pay for insurance ourselves.
CHRIS MANN: Alan, good to talk to you. Thank you. Alan Melton, Leader of Fenland District Council.