Attleborough Town Council's 'Godfather' bullying row costs £114k

By Matt Precey
BBC Look East

image copyrightGeograph/Adrian Cable
image captionThe bullying allegations prompted an apology from Attleborough Town Council

The fall-out from a town council's handling of bullying allegations has left taxpayers with a £114,000 bill.

Attleborough Town Council apologised for how it dealt with two councillors who later took legal action.

They had been accused of intimidating staff at the Norfolk council - claims the authority now says were false - leading to events a union likened to "a scene from the Godfather".

Papers show the money went on legal costs, damages and security.

The BBC understands that the payments were not covered by the council's insurance policies and that the taxpayer has footed the bill.

The council, now under new leadership, said there had been "a systemic failure in the town council to follow the rule of law" at the time.

The Unite union had claimed staff at the council had been harassed over a two-year period.

image copyrightTaila Taylor
image captionA council meeting in February 2020 descended into chaos, with police being called to Attleborough Town Hall

In February 2020 the council voted to remove councillors Taila Taylor and Edward Tyrer, the deputy mayor, from committees.

The motion was subsequently ruled unlawful by a judge after the pair sought a judicial review.

But in a statement last week, the council issued a formal apology to the two councillors, saying the accusations had been "false" and part of a "malicious campaign".

Damages pay-out

A report presented to councillors, seen by the BBC, lists payments made by the authority as the situation escalated over 18 months and the two councillors began defamation proceedings.

Almost £71,000 was spent on the settlement agreement with Ms Taylor and Mr Tyrer, which covered their legal costs and damages.

Ms Taylor received £20,000 in damages, of which half was paid to charity, while Mr Tyrer was paid damages of £7,500.

The legal costs to the council following the judicial review amounted to a further £22,300.

It also paid £600 for security at the town hall when the motion to sanction the councillors was passed.

The remainder of the £114,419 bill was spent on legal fees.

In the report, the council detailed how it had set up a committee to investigate the affair.

It concluded that "it was self-evident that existing policies and procedures were woefully inadequate or simply ignored, and any advice sought from legal professionals or other agencies was distorted or manipulated to conform to pre-determined prejudices or anticipated favourable actions".

image copyrightTaila Taylor
image captionTaila Taylor, pictured, and Edward Tyrer sought a judicial review after the council barred them from committees and running for mayor

Ms Taylor told the BBC: "I'm relieved that the dispute with the council was resolved and that we reached a compromise.

"The agreed amount of damages does not reflect the distress, upset and damage to my reputation, and the sum agreed was less than my solicitor advised me was payable."

She said she would make the £10,000 donation to the Attleborough Neighbourhood Plan Committee, but has yet to decide on the specific project.

Mr Tyrer has also been approached for comment.

In February 2020, a meeting of the council to remove the two councillors from their positions following the bullying allegations was attended by a crowd of people who refused to leave when asked to do so.

An abusive message left on the town hall answer machine containing 27 expletives was reported to the police.

'Refusal to investigate'

Following the council's apology last week, the Unite union said it was "completely justified in standing by our members" over the bullying allegations.

Regional officer Miles Hubbard said: "We note that the complaints of bullying of our members have never been satisfactorily resolved by the town council.

"In fact, the statement issued by the council says they have decided not to even investigate. To refuse to even investigate leaves a stench of political interference which won't go away."

According to the council's latest accounts, its cash balances and reserves for the financial year 2019/2020 amounted to £656,124.

Mayor Phillip Leslie said in a statement on behalf of the town council: "The way the council acted throughout this period was unacceptable and caused huge disruption and distress for specific individuals and the town.

"This was clearly shown when approximately 200 people attended a parish meeting called by members of the public to ask for the councillors at the council to resign and for a review to be carried out into whether the council was following its own internal processes."

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