Leicester

Rutland Council to fund legal action against UKIP members

Councillors Richard Gale, David Richardson and Nicholas Wainwright
Image caption UKIP councillors Richard Gale, David Richardson and Nicholas Wainwright were previously known as the Rutland Anti-Corruption Group

A council has agreed to fund any legal action its officers take against three councillors for alleged defamation.

Rutland County Council voted on Monday to back several officers against UKIP councillors Richard Gale, David Richardson and Nicholas Wainwright.

They are alleged to have made defamatory statements on a website and harassed staff in a series of emails.

The men, who were previously independent councillors, said they would seek legal advice.

In January the council voted to set aside £90,000 for legal bills in action against the three councillors who previously called themselves the Rutland Anti-Corruption Group.

But the House of Lords, which debated the decision, said the council could not sue for defamation itself, despite advice from solicitors in a commissioned report.

'Unequivocal retraction'

On Monday, in a special meeting in Oakham, the Conservative-controlled council decided it would meet legal bills incurred by senior officers if they chose to take action.

Officers estimated it could cost the council, one of the smallest local authorities in the country, £150,000.

But the council's leader, Roger Begy, said: "I don't know how much this is going to cost, nobody will at this particular stage.

"What we are looking to do, we will bring this back to councillors before we spend any money at all and we will bring it back on a regular basis.

"This is not a blank cheque for the lawyers."

He added he hoped it would never come to court and asked the men to either prove their accusations of corruption or apologise and retract the statements.

He said that if it did come to court, the cost of the action would be less than compensating staff who felt the accusations prevented them from getting a new job.

The UKIP members have asked for more time to consider the demand by Rutland County Council to "refrain from further defamatory statements and allegations and provide a full and unequivocal retraction and apology".

They have maintained they have done nothing wrong, insisting they need to ask difficult questions to carry out their jobs.

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