The Nolan Principles

Selflessness – Integrity – Objectivity – Accountability – Openness – Honesty – Leadership

“Parish councils, we all know, are hotbeds of intrigue, corruption and passion. Those who sit on them, a colourful mixture of oddballs, bullies and idiots.”

It would be unfair to characterise all those who give up their free time to serve on a Parish or Town council as ‘corrupt, bullies or idiots’. Over the years councillors have made a significant contribution to their parish, as a result of a great deal of hard work and dedication and they deserve the thanks and admiration of their parish. Given that there over 10,000 councils and around 80,000 councillors, there will always be some who work to a different agenda than that of their colleagues. It is these councillors who have allowed the name ‘parish council’ and in particular ‘parish councillor’ to be held in such low esteem by the public. But what is important is that many councils and councillors fail to uphold the very principles they agreed to uphold – The Nolan Principles.

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There have been many instances of council meetings becoming a battle ground with councillors finding it hard to see why residents distrust them, and residents seeing councillors on nothing more than an ego trip!

Below are just a few of the troubles that come from Parish and Town Councils – not all the fault of the Council. Residents can and do get irate if they feel that a development or a ‘problem’ nearby is the fault of the council. Nimbyism is rife in all Towns and villages, but it is often antagonised by the cynicism of some of those on the council.

 

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The Hunts Post | Posted 7th March 2014

Clerk jailed for 12 months after stealing more than £50,000

Former Alconbury Parish Council clerk is jailed for 12 months after stealing more than £50,000
A former parish clerk has been jailed for 12 months after stealing more than £50,000 of council money, including funds from its youth group, and gambling it away.

Mum-of-three Joanna Sharp, of Hill Close, Brington, appeared at Peterborough Crown Court for sentencing today (Thursday).

The 28-year-old, who started working for Alconbury Parish Council in October 2009, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to committing fraud by abuse of position as parish clerk by taking money without authorisation and producing false financial documentation.

Prosecuting, Cheryl Williams said Sharp’s fraud came to light in May last year when Lloyds bank contacted parish council chairman Judith Aylott to query a cheque which appeared to have her signature on it. She was shown a further nine cheques which she had supposedly signed.

“Mrs Aylott realised immediately she had not signed the cheques and they must be fraudulent,” said Miss Williams.

When challenged by Mrs Aylott, Sharp admitted she had stolen £10,000 and asked that the matter not be reported to police because she fully intended to repay what had been taken, the court was told.

Miss Williams continued: “When examined, the paperwork appeared to show more money had been taken and financial documents had been tampered with to cover it up.”

Sharp was dismissed by the parish council which contacted police and instigated its own financial investigation.

It revealed that from July 2011 there had been 139 separate fraudulent transactions on an account, totalling £55,893.85. There were seven transactions on another account and Sharp had also made payments to her mother, Mrs Howard, to whom she owed money.

“It appears the defendant managed to manufacture apparent bank statements with the appearance of authenticity,” said Miss Williams, who described the fraud as “sophisticated, persistent, and carried out with a degree of skill and care” to deceive auditors and Mrs Aylott.

She added that the total defrauded was thought to be £65,322.43, but did not include monies repaid by Sharp or salary which she had not been taken.

The money was spent on gambling via online websites such as PokerStars and, while some was repaid, it was a fraction of the total taken.

A visit from bailiffs over mounting debts accrued by her husband had prompted the fraudulent behaviour, said Miss Williams, and matters had “spiralled out of control” when he was made redundant and then could not take up a new job after suffering a heart attack.

Commenting on the impact of Sharp’s actions on the parish council, Miss Williams added: “They gave up their own time for the good of the community so they feel all the more keenly the betrayal of trust which has taken place.

“Work that could have been done on behalf of the community will now be prejudiced because of lack of money.”

Defending Sharp, Miss Katya Saudek said she had taken the money in desperation with the intention of it being a “bridging loan”.

Her relationship with her husband, which has since ended, was described as “very difficult”. “She was subject to control,” said Miss Saudek. “She was not allowed out to see friends and family, he was extremely jealous of her and she ended up finding solace in the computer as the only social outlet she had.”

While her gambling was not an addiction, it was said to be “problematic”.

She could not explain to her husband that his redundancy money was needed to pay off the debts she had built up by stealing from the parish council, said Miss Saudek, and she had to go along with what he wanted to do.

“Miss Sharp is desperately sorry for what she has done and desperately ashamed for what she has done,” said Miss Saudek, who added that her greatest wish was to repay the money.

Sentencing Sharp to 12 months in prison, Recorder Miss Angela Rafferty told her: “Debt and personal financial insecurity is commonplace in these days of recession. That’s not a reason to turn to crime. Many people struggle on honestly and you made no attempt to.

“You have placed yourself in this avoidable position by your dishonest actions.”

Sharp was also ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge.

Commenting on the case, Mrs Aylott said it had been “really tough” not being able to say anything to Alconbury residents.

With court proceedings having concluded, a newsletter is due to be sent to every household in the parish outlining the facts, she added.

“The hardest bit is to have abuse of trust,” she continued. “We are a small village and treated her as family.

“We took years to build up the reserves and she’s taken everything.”

 

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The Leicester Mercury | Posted 13th June 2013

 
Parish councillors forced to resign

A district council has taken control of a chaotic parish council after six members were urged to resign in front of scores of villagers.

Deputy leader of Blaby District Council Tony Greenwood stood before a parish meeting in Kirby Muxloe and offered the panel of six councillors an ultimatum.
He gave them two choices: to allow the continuation of a petition calling for the district’s intervention or to resign on the spot.

Coun Greenwood warned the panel the petition would succeed – and produced six resignation forms from his bag.

The move followed years of failures at the parish council, which were recently brought to light in an Audit Commission report which criticised numerous aspects of its governance.

All six councillors signed that night, leaving only four, who had not attended the meeting.

It means the parish council does not have enough members to make official decisions, leaving the district to assume automatic control.

The next step will see Blaby District Council install a parish authority to run the parish until a by-election is held.

Blaby council leader Councillor Ernie White said: “This situation has brought parish councils into a really bad light.

“It’s almost unheard of for a parish council to act the way it has over the past few years.

“But I’d like to thank Tony (Greenwood) for the work he’s done and now we can look to the future and put Kirby Muxloe’s problems behind us.”

Initially, Blaby District Council will appoint six “non-politically-aligned people” to run the parish, while plans are put in place for a by-election, said Coun White.

“We now need people of good standing and good intent to come forward and take this council forward, and leave the bad times in the past,” he said.

In May, the Audit Commission compiled a damning report which listed a catalogue of failures at Kirby Muxloe Parish Council. Among the findings were evidence of poor record-keeping, missing information about council assets and a failure to show it had paid VAT.

The report’s author, Stephen Warren, also found the council had ignored requests under the Freedom of Information Act and failed to recognise it had any problems.
One of the councillors to resign last week was villager Andrew Bingham.

He said: “We welcome the intervention of Blaby in this matter and we hope the new council appointed by Blaby council sorts out the problems which have been rattling around for a number of years.

“The report from the Audit Commission finally nailed it. Blaby couldn’t ignore it and realised that something had to be done. I was happy to sign the resignation if it means that we will have a properly functioning parish council.”

On June 18, a meeting will be held at Blaby District Council to install six temporary councillors who will oversee matters until a by-election is organised later in the year.

 

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The Daily Mail | Posted 18th December 2014

 
Fight breaks out at parish council meeting after disagreement over sheep grazing rights

  • Meeting at Briercliffe Parish Council had to be abandoned after fight.

  • It is believed that discussions about sheep grazing rights became heated.

  • Lancashire police examining video footage of the incident on Monday night.

  • Police were called to a parish council meeting after a row over sheep grazing turned into a physical fight.

  • Lancashire police have called in video footage of the incident on Monday, at a meeting of the allotments committee of Briercliffe Parish Council.

  • The meeting had to be abandoned after discussions about sheep grazing rights became heated and ‘swear words were exchanged’ before the row spilled outside.

Lancashire Constabulary said it is now investigating possible public order offences.

Councillor Margaret Lishman, who chaired the meeting, said: “The meeting had to be adjourned because a fight broke out between some members of the public.

“The matter is with the police at the present time so it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.”

A police spokeswoman said the matter was under investigation and officers were reviewing video footage of the incident.

She said no arrests had been made, but police were looking into possible public order offences.

Former parish councillor Sarah Seed has been involved in protracted negotiations over grazing land for her sheep Millie, along with fellow councillor Colin Meeks.

She resigned earlier this month along with Coun Meeks, and lodged a standards complaint with Burnley Council.

The scuffle broke out at the meeting between council lengthsman Michael Greenwood, and Mrs Seed’s husband, Jimmy.

Mr Greenwood works as a contractor for the Parish Council, as council lengthsman.

Lengthsmen are employed by parish councils to tend to parts of the village such as commons and village greens, and maintain drainage into fields and public areas.

Mrs Seed said: ‘It started in the community centre.

“There was just a scuffle, nobody really punched anyone else, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other.

“I’m not surprised that a fight broke out.”

“It’s the way they’re treating people in the parish that we disagree with.”

Another member of the public who was at the meeting, Paul Stowell said: “It was fight between a member of the public and the parish council lengthsman.

“The meeting all stopped when it spilled outside and police were called.”

 

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The Daily Mail | Posted 1st October 2013

 
Residents vote to abolish Town Council

Residents have voted in favour of scrapping a town council in South Yorkshire, after its town clerk was jailed for fraud and theft in 2013.

Janet Cooper was jailed for eight years for fraudulent activity, which forced Brierley Town Council to take out £1.3m in loans to deal with the financial implications of the crime.

A vote on the future of the council has now resulted in 983 residents saying it should be scrapped, with only 202 votes for keeping it.

The motion will now be considered by Barnsley Council on 30 July, who must decide if it will fund services currently paid for by the parish precept at a cost of £157,000 per year.

Cllr Sir Stephen Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, said: “Only Barnsley Council can take a decision on this issue but the people of Brierley and Grimethorpe have spoken. I’ll be taking a motion to full council on 30 July recommending that our officers work with Brierley Town Council to produce a report with a strategy, key actions and timetable for the abolition of the town council and civil parish. I expect that this will go to full council in September 2015.”


… and from the Mail Online
 
Town council clerk masterminded £1million scam then started using white stick to claim she was blind and had no memory of offences.

  • Janet Cooper spent the money on holidays and a box at West Ham
  • She claimed to be blind and had no memory when offending came to light
  • She has admitted fraudulently obtaining £700,000 and theft of £300,000
  • She has now been jailed for eight years at Sheffield Crown Court
  • The town council is now £1.3m in debt and has taken out emergency loan

A former town council clerk who masterminded a £1million scam from her office has been jailed for eight years.

Janet Cooper spent the money on Mediterranean cruises, holidays with her husband in Devon, a £21,000 car and a box for council staff for a match at West Ham United.

When the scale of her offending was uncovered she claimed to be blind and said she had no memory of events.

The convicted fraudster – once the subject of a Channel 4 documentary – also carried a white stick and wore black glasses.

After the hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, investigating officer Detective Sergeant Stuart Hall said: “There is no medical evidence to substantiate her blindness or memory loss.”

Cooper was clerk at Brierley Town Council, near Barnsley, for three years.

From the beginning of her time at the council she began pocketing a total of £295,000, which she siphoned off from £695,000 public works loans she dishonestly obtained.

She used the money to go on holiday, buy a new Volvo and offered £375,000 cash on a four-bedroom bungalow, as well as spending £3,500 for a box at West Ham for council staff to see Barnsley play.

She also claimed she was a Channel swimmer and collected sponsorship money.
Sentencing her today to eight years in jail Judge Peter Kelson called Cooper “pathologically dishonest”.

She had previously been jailed for 15 months at Basildon Crown Court in 1999 for theft and false accounting and again, in September, 2003 for three years at Leicester for stealing £800,000 from her then employer.

On her release she lied on her application form and got her £20,000-a-year job at Brierley Town Council.

Her crimes were only uncovered when she went into hospital for a brain tumour operation and a replacement finance officer began investigating.

Four council jobs had to be axed, services cut and 5,000 council taxpayers faced increased charges as a result of her offending.

The town council is now £1.3 million in debt and has had to take out a £480,000 emergency Government-sanctioned loan to pay recurring annual loan charges of £44,000.

It is estimated the current case has cost the state £100,000 in court costs, the police £75,000 to investigate and another £25,000 for the finance officer.

Cooper staged the fraud by forging councillors’ signatures on documents and falsifying the minutes of council meetings to apply for loans.

None of the councillors or other officials had any knowledge of her offending.
She changed her plea to guilty to four counts of fraud and one of theft on the second day of her trial after the prosecution opened the case.

The jury was discharged after returning formal guilty verdicts.

Her only defence was loss of memory but Ian Goldsack, prosecuting, told the court that a number of specialists had examined her and ‘there were doubts to say the least about the truthfulness of her medical condition’.

Cooper, 51, from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, admitted dishonestly abusing her position as council clerk by obtaining loans of £350,000, £152,500 and £66,000 from the Public Works Loan Board and a further loan of £127,000 without authority in 2008 and 2009.

She also admitted theft of £295,296 belonging to Brierley Town Council between November 1, 2006, when she first started and when her service effectively ended on December 31, 2009.

Cooper maintained they were grants but in fact they were loans, said Mr Goldsack, which had serious consequences for the council.

“It has meant significant cuts to services and people losing their jobs and an increase in taxes payable by the local community to try and cover the costs,” he said.

Cheques totaling nearly £300,000 were either drawn or transferred from the council’s bank accounts by Cooper in her own name or that of her husband.
She also falsified a large number of invoices, some from companies which had never traded with the council.

‘When the investigation was underway she has maintained that she has lost her eyesight and she has lost her memory,’ said Mr Goldsack.

Former Mayor of Brierley Patrick Doyle said in a statement that it had been a disaster for the council in a disadvantaged area. “Everyone in the community is a victim of this situation for at least the next 20 years,” he said.

Her barrister Andrew Smith said: “This is a lady with complex psychological and personality issues.”

Judge Kelson told her: “The dishonesty involved was persistent at a time when many in this country are thankful for a job. Your salary wasn’t enough for you and so you deceived your employers in a sophisticated and complex way.”

He went on: “But for your ill-health you would have taken more and more and more.”
Afterwards Det Sgt Hall said: “She would often try and ingratiate herself with other people and appear to be quite generous – but it wasn’t her money.

“There is nothing left in her bank account and there are no assets. It has all been frittered away. Barring the odd holiday or purchase she has not really led a champagne lifestyle.

“She has lied about everything and even her husband is another unwitting victim of the lifestyle she has fabricated.”