I am feeling a little like the Grand Old Duke of York who marched his men to
the top of the hill and marched them down again but until I have a copy of a
certain document in my hands I am unwilling to go into too much detail about the
Councillor Fothergill libel case except to say it definitely happened and she definitely lost.
The bundle of papers sent to the press failed to reach me and it apparently failed to reach the newspapers too. It was a huge attachment sent from Dehli.
The principal plaintiff had a busy day yesterday and did not find the time to assemble a new pack. Today he has some other business to attend to so the probability is that a copy of the agreement reached in Court will not be available until tomorrow.
I am in receipt of documentation from both sides of the argument and they are to some extent contradictory so it is important to get things absolutely right before putting anything more in the public domain. Meanwhile the following is a slightly edited version of what I had planned to say yesterday.
After the long slow build up this blog may seem something of an anti-climax but BiB will be cautious about what can be revealed until it is known how - and if - the press will handle the Maxine Fothergill libel case.
It will be deeply troubling to Councillor Fothergill and BiB must tread the tightrope between not making that situation worse and providing solid facts. News reporting is a fact of life and is a pillar of our democracy.
Firstly it is important to say that recent events have nothing to do with Councillor Maxine Fothergill’s appearance before Bexley Council’s Code of Conduct Committee in December 2015 and them judging that “Councillor Fothergill’s actions could be perceived by an ordinary member of the public, as conferring an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for herself, her family, friends or close associates”.
In practice a member of the public could conceive nothing because they were excluded from the hearing and Bexley Council stonewalled every enquiry as to what Councillor Fothergill was supposed to have done but the gossip machine and a few documentary leaks made it clear that she had purchased a bungalow from an elderly lady she came across while out canvassing. If a fair price was paid, and subsequent enquiries revealed that it was not seriously out of line with the market, what could be wrong with that?
It was left to three residents - the usual BiB team at the time - to make their own enquiries as to how that transaction could become a serious complaint and in doing so they met two of Maxine Fothergill’s business associates and made contact with a third. We were shown some extremely fat files of documents relating to AMAX Estates (Councillor Fothergill’s business) which were said to reveal various business practices of which her associates very strongly disapproved.
Neither I nor Mick Barnbrook who was with me are property professionals and we found the papers difficult to follow. They shed no light on why Maxine Fothergill had been disciplined by Bexley Council so we drifted away from her business associates with only very occasional contact thereafter.
A combination of Bexley Council’s silence and the evidence that was discovered later pointed to Councillor Fothergill having been the victim of a revenge attack by more senior Conservatives.
Just one part of those fat files were easily understood by Mick and me; an AMAX employee, Hayley Warnes, had been reported to the police for fraud. We could see no justification for it and after around 15 months under arrest and investigation by CID officers, the police came to the same conclusion.
Although there is rather more to the libel case than that it was part of what led to it. Hayley Warnes has already been paid £40,000 damages and her new employer £30,000. The legal fees will be in excess of £280,000.
Conflicting advice has been received over whether or not Councillor Fothergill was insured against such losses.
Along with other news outlets, BiB has been included in the plaintiffs’ publicity material but alongside them this blog is just a minnow. The story has links to the borough of Bexley in addition to the obvious one and to let the subject go unreported might appear to be a dereliction of duty. I have a natural sympathy with people who are arrested on the basis of false evidence at the request of any Councillor.
There will be further reports once certain documents are received and digested.