Sunday, 17 December 2017

Mayor refuses to apologise to rivals after leaflets spat

A ROW has broken out over claims that the Henley Conservatives distributed promotional leaflets during the town’s Poppy Appeal launch.

The Tories are demanding an apology from Mayor Kellie Hinton after refuting her accusation that two of its councillors were handing out surveys in Market Place on Saturday morning.

But Councillor Hinton, a member of the town council’s ruling Henley Residents’ Group, has refused, insisting that two members of the public were presented with a leaflet during the event.

She claimed a man had complained to her after being given a copy of the survey, which asks residents for their priorities, their opinion of public services and how they had voted in this year’s general election.

He said he was offended as he believed it was inappropriate for political parties to campaign at the event.

In a preface signed by Henley town councillor Julian Brookes and Frank Browne, chairman of Henley Conservatives, the leaflet said the survey was “part of our ongoing commitment to keeping in touch with the local community and ensuring we have a good understanding of the issues that truly matter to you”.

Councillor Hinton said Councillor Brookes and fellow Conservative town councillor Sara Abey were present at the launch and carrying clipboards and a pile of the surveys, as were a number of volunteers.

Later that day, she posted from the Mayor’s official Twitter account: “I can only apologise to the public for the councillors who used the Poppy Appeal this morning to hand out political leaflets. Terrible!”

In subsequent tweets, she accused the councillors by name, prompting more criticism from fellow HRG councillors Ian Reissmann and Sarah Miller.

The Conservatives insisted their volunteers were carrying the leaflets in order to give them out door-to-door after the appeal launch. They pointed out that Cllr Brookes, a former Royal Navy submarine commander, and Cllr Abey are both members of the Royal British Legion.

The two councillors said: “Councillor Hinton’s claim is blatantly untrue and we take great exception to her statement, which we categorically deny. At no time did either of us give, or attempt to give, any literature of any description to anyone before, during or after the Poppy Appeal launch.

“We are both members of the Royal British Legion and have the greatest respect for the remarkable work they do for past and present members of the British armed forces. Their aims, and that of the Poppy Appeal, have particular resonance for us.

“For the Mayor to make such unwarranted accusations on the official Mayoral Twitter account belittles our town’s mayoral office. We expect better. For Councillors Reissmann and Miller to chime in is using the Poppy Appeal for political point-scoring.

“We request an official, public Mayoral apology and more dignified behaviour in future.”

Mr Browne said: “Our intention was to deliver those leaflets in the St Andrew’s Road area later that morning. We attended the launch to show our support but I have spoken to everyone who was present and am satisfied that no leaflets were given out.

“I’m afraid I simply don’t believe the Mayor’s claim and think it’s very sad as she works hard and has, in general, done a lot of good for the town.

“I find her behaviour extraordinary and think she should rise above this sort of thing.”

Councillor Hinton said: “I think it was bad timing and a misunderstanding on their part, though perhaps there was also a misunderstanding on my part as I initially thought they were giving the leaflets to all and sundry.

“However, one person complained to me and I still think it’s wrong to give any leaflets out as there’s a time and a place for it. It’s a bit of a non-issue and I’m not apologising for my comments.

“I am satisfied that it was a genuine mistake and am aware that no councillor would wish to offend people in this way. Had nobody complained to me, I would perhaps have dealt with the situation differently and more discreetly.”

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