Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Councillor rejects inquiry criticism

A COUNCIL leader has rebuffed claims that an independent investigation into the authority’s conduct was worthless.

A report published by Richard Lingard in August cleared Wokingham Borough Council of maladministration over advice it gave to the owner at Hare Hatch Sheeplands.

The council had taken enforcement action against the plant nursery for breaching the green belt and extending a café and play area unlawfully.

But there were claims of maladministration after a number of court cases in which judges were critical of the council’s conduct.

Last year, owner Rob Scott was awarded £68,000 from the council following its botched attempt to prosecute him after the Appeal Court ruled that he had no case to answer.

At the council’s executive meeting last month, Philip Meadowcroft, from Wargrave, said the investigation should be redone. 

He said: “In the opinion of a Reading Crown Court judge, particular councillors and officials committed abuse of power in the course of bringing the case to court, rendering the case against Hare Hatch Sheeplands unfair and unjust. The trial accordingly collapsed.

“The Lingard report has openly, disrespectfully and unlawfully challenged and rejected the opinions of both the crown court and the Court of Appeal. Lingard has declared that the courts were wrong to find that the council unjustly and unfairly induced Mr Scott to withdraw a crucial appeal. It is simply not permissible for Lingard to challenge and discredit the courts’ rulings. As a result, the report has discredited itself and lacks any merit.”

He also asked whether council leader John Halsall would consider resigning.

Councilor Halsall, who is also a Wargrave parish councillor, replied: “I do not accept that the Lingard report shold be scrapped.

“You make some serious allegations about Mr Lingard’s independence and state that his report is unlawful, both of which the council would strongly refute.

“The two tasks he undertook for the council were entirely separate from each other and stood alone. In reaching his conclusions on the Hare Hatch matter, he placed no reliance on his conclusions in relation to the earlier matter.”

Mr Scott has said he was “disappointed” with the outcome of the investigation, but wanted to have a constructive relationship with the council.

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