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Bexley Council - Still a bit Bonkers

The lies of councillor Cheryl Bacon

This page was updated on 5th March 2014. Click for updated copy

Cheryl BaconCouncillor Cheryl Bacon is a liar. I know she is because I saw what happened after Nicholas Dowling asked her if he could audio record the Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting on 19th June 2013 and I have compared those events with Bacon’s written account which describes widespread disorder in the public gallery.

I also know that Bexley council has been unable to produce any witnesses to support Bacon’s description of the public disorder. The council managed to find four people who were said to support Bacon but an analysis of their words show they have done no such thing. One has since said that he was not aware he had made a statement and another has written that the words attributed to him were ‘doctored’ in the council’s legal department.

The attempt to audio record the meeting was spurred by the Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, who had decreed just a few days earlier that residents should be free to report on and record council meetings but Bexley council had set its face against it. Its deputy leader Colin Campbell has been on BBC 1 television proclaiming that anyone can make a recording so long as permission is sought beforehand but the council has admitted that permission has never been granted. (†)

On the evening of the 19th June, Cheryl Bacon’s mistake was not her decision to hold a public meeting in ‘Closed Session’ (her words) - which was unlawful - but to decide that her get out of jail free card was to lie about and libel five members of the public by asserting that they were disrupting her meeting in a variety of ways.

The fateful meeting was attended by six members of the public, Michael Barnbrook, Elwyn Bryant, Nicholas Dowling, Peter Gussman, Danny Hackett and Malcolm Knight. All of them regular attendees at council meetings, Danny being the Labour party’s candidate for the 2014 council election in Bexley’s Lesnes Abbey ward.

Nicholas Dowling’s request to audio record the meeting was immediately refused by chairman Cheryl Bacon. Her husband councillor Gareth Bacon, the cabinet member who Mrs. Bacon is paid £8,800 a year to scrutinise, called out that if Nicholas attempted to record the meeting he would be ejected.

Nicholas resumed his seat in the public gallery clutching his recorder in one hand and Eric Pickles’ guidance in the other. Believing Nicholas was recording the meeting, councillor Cheryl Bacon adjourned the meeting. It is a pity that no recording was being made, its existence may have persuaded Bacon that embarking on the course she chose was unwise.

The first 20 minutes of the meeting was a quiet stand off. Cheryl Bacon repeated her position several times, on one occasion approaching Nicholas to make it more forcibly and Nicholas quoted from the government guidance paper. No member of the public joined in, nor - apart from husband Gareth - did any councillor say anything of note.

At about 19:50 the doorman was asked to call the police and he reported back that it could be up to an hour before they showed up. Cheryl Bacon adjourned the meeting until 20:15 and when the situation had not been resolved by then announced that the meeting was to be taken into Closed Session in another room. Despite requests from the public present, none were allowed in. This is an offence against the Local Government Act 1972.
No closure
Council chamberAbout ten minutes later two police officers arrived to find five members of the public still sitting in the public chamber both amused and a little bemused. They asked what the five planned to do - Danny Hackett had left the chamber a minute or two earlier - and Malcolm Knight said everyone was going to go home and that is what happened. The police were very friendly and later confirmed to the press that no offence had been committed.

No councillor or council officer accompanied the police. One female council officer had remained in the chamber clearing papers etc. for a few minutes after the Closed Session began but she left before the police arrived.

Excluding members of the public from a public council meeting is nearly always against the law. Arguably councillor Cheryl Bacon might have been able to exclude Nicholas Dowling but not those who had merely watched the events unfold.

Messrs. Bryant, Barnbrook and Gussman put in complaints over the following days. Malcolm Knight did so only after discovering that the council was accusing him of misbehaviour in the council chamber and Mr. Hackett wrote directly to the council’s Head of Legal, Mr. Alabi. Nearly six months later none of those complaints have been properly investigated provoking only a torrent of lies from Bexley council.

According to councillor Cheryl Bacon, or more pedantically the note written by Bexley’s Legal Department after interviewing Bacon, Malcolm Knight was sitting with a group alongside Mr. Dowling, Mr. Barnbrook, Mr. Bryant and another person. This is untrue. Malcolm Knight was sitting alone at a table away from the others. The council officer John Adams confirmed it in his statement.

“Several members of the public were shouting out” according to Bacon. This is another of her lies, no other witness whether from the council or the public confirms Bacon’s assertion. “There was a lot of commotion” is totally untrue as is “Mr. Dowling, Mr. Barnbrook, Mr. Bryant, Mr. Knight and another person continued to call out and waving (sic) papers”.
Councillor Bacon goes on to say that she addressed the entire group which is an essential part of her defence against illegally excluding the public from her meeting. She did no such thing. She spoke to Mr. Dowling who was seeking permission to record the meeting but to no one else. Once again, no witness has come forward to confirm Bacon’s version of events. “The group was not prepared to sit quietly”, is another of Bacon’s lies when in reality at least four members of the public present (out of six) said absolutely nothing at all.

After a 30 minute adjournment “there was more shouting from the gallery. The group were (sic) not going to stop calling out”. All untrue and not supported by any witness.

Mr. Barnbrook is singled out for special attention. He “shouted to Cheryl Bacon”. He did not. He calmly and politely asked to be allowed into the reconvened meeting. Bacon on her own admission ignored him.

Almost six months after councillor Cheryl Bacon’s illegal closure of her meeting no one’s complaint has reached a conclusion. Perhaps that is not surprising.

Councillor witnesses to the events, appalled by Bacon’s lies have come forward offering support. Bexley council must know that councillor Bacon has been exposed as a liar devoid of common sense. If she had simply admitted an error of judgment, an over-reaction on the night, there would be little cause for complaint, certainly nothing much could have been done about it.

Instead Bacon decided to lie her way out of the situation which is what Bexley’s Conservative councillors must be instructed to do. Now she will be facing an allegation of Misconduct in Public Office for conspiring with others, notably Mrs. Lynn Tyler and Mr. Nick Hollier, who will be accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice. viz. they refused requests to carry out a proper investigation. At present no one at Bexley council has been prepared to do anything but accept the word of councillor Cheryl Bacon in defence of herself. No one else, within the council or without, has bee prepared to confirm the shouting and remonstrating which she has invented.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon has shown herself to be a liar interested only in preserving her own skin.

Index to other references to this shameful episode.

† This policy was relaxed on 6th November 2013.

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