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Vandalism at home of gay row councillor
Published 03/02/14

VANDALS who targeted the home of beleaguered councillor David Silvester have been condemned by police.

Three youngsters threw eggs at the house in Luker Avenue, Henley, and hung a gay pride banner on the wall.

It followed comments made by the 73-year-old town councillor in which he blamed the recent storms and floods on the legalisation of gay marriage.

Police are investigating this week’s incident and have been handed photographs and a note that were delivered anonymously to the Henley Standard.

Insp Mark Harling, head of Henley police, said: “This is pointless behaviour and not the type of activity that is going to be taken seriously in a sensitive debate of this kind.

“It wastes everybody’s time and could worry those people who live in the area or are the subject of the behaviour.”

The photographs show a teenage boy and girl in black clothes and with their hoods up unfurling the multi-coloured banner, which says “Don’t rain on our parade” on the front wall of the house where Cllr Silvester lives with his wife Irene.

The pair then ran off while another girl, wearing a grey hooded top, appears to throw eggs at the house.

An anonymous handwritten note sent with the photographs says: “A group of students, in protest of the homophobic remarks made by the UKIP counsellor (sic) David Silvester, hang a gay pride banner outside his house while throwing eggs at the walls. The banner states, ‘Don’t rain on our parade’.”

Insp Harling said it would be hard to identify the trio with so many students attending both Gillotts School and The Henley College. “My sense is that the handwriting is not going to be traceable,” he said.

The vandals were also criticised by Henley MP John Howell who said: “It’s legitimate for protesters to call for David Silvester to rethink his position, which I’ve also done, but it’s quite another to try to intimidate him in this particular way.”

Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “While I don’t agree with David’s views, it is not the correct way of going about things to throw eggs and put up banners at his house, which is intimidation.

“There are legitimate ways of protesting, like holding up banners outside the town hall. Going round to people’s houses should not be encouraged.” Sarah Butcher, who has collected more than 23,000 signatures on an online petition calling for Cllr Silvester to resign, said: “I wouldn’t condone vandalism in any way, shape or form.

“This sounds like it’s just kids mucking about but that’s really sad.”

She added: “I’ve been criticised for not allowing him freedom of speech and I’ve been called names on Facebook, which is unfair as well.”

Mrs Butcher, 40, of Belle Vue Road, Henley, organised a peaceful demonstration outside the town hall after Cllr Silvester made his comments in a letter to the Henley Standard two weeks ago.

Another protest was staged on Thursday last week by students belonging to The Henley College Amnesty International youth group.

College principal Tom Espley said: “We think the best way of expressing opinions is by either writing to the Henley Standard or by having a peaceful protest, which our students took part in.

“We would certainly not support any physical activity such as throwing eggs at a house. We would deal with any students who took part in anything like that.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Silvester has come in for more criticism after refusing to resign from the council. More readers have written to the Henley Standard in protest at his comments, although some have also defended him personally, saying he is a kind man.

In his letter, Cllr Silvester accused Prime Minister David Cameron of acting “arrogantly against the Gospel” and causing the nation to be “beset by serious storms and floods” by passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. Despite being criticised locally and nationally, he stood by his comments and refused to apologise.

The former Conservative councillor is now standing as an independent having been suspended by UKIP to whom he defected last year in protest at the same-sex marriage legislation.

Mrs Butcher, who plans to present her petition to him at the next full council meeting, said: “I’m hoping that we can appeal to his better nature and he will take the feelings of people into account.

“He seems insistent on not standing down or apologising. I know UKIP have suspended him but there seems to be no other way to remove him from the council.

“He only had about 700 votes at the last election but we’ve got nearly 25,000 people saying they want him out and a lot of them come from Henley and the surrounding area.

“I hope he will accept that he’s not really wanted anymore and has lost a lot of respect.”

Mrs Butcher, an account director who is married with two children and whose brother Steve Terry owns Yeuk skate shop in Friday Street, said she was aware of the work Cllr Silvester had done in the community, including for the Henley Skate Park Initative.

She said: “He’s done some great stuff and I don’t want to vilify him because he’s got a wife and children but he has upset quite a few members of our community.

“That’s not acceptable as a representative of the town. I totally believe in freedom of speech but words have consequences and the overwhelming feeling is he can’t represent us.”

Henley Town Council said it had received 12 complaints and passed them on to South Oxfordshire District Council’s monitoring officer, who will decide whether Cllr Silvester should be investigated for a possible breach of the councillors’ code of conduct.

The town council has called an extraordinary meeting at the town hall on Tuesday at 7pm when members will discuss the views expressed by Cllr Silvester. There will also be an opportunity for the public to speak.

Cllr Silvester declined to comment.

Ken Arlett, the leader of UKIP’s Henley branch, has accused John Howell of being a “hypocrite”. Mr Arlett, a former town councillor and Mayor, who lives in Elizabeth Road, said: “Mr Howell said you should love your neighbour but when he was parading David around two-and-a-half years ago trying to get him elected on the town and district councils, I thought that was a neighbour he loved.”

Published 03/02/14

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