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Banned Warrington councillor says questions will not 'go away quietly'
7:20am Thursday 5th December 2013 in News
A COUNCILLOR who was asked to leave a council meeting by police officers called to the Town Hall says his questions will not ‘go away quietly’.
Clr Kevin Bennett (LAB - Fairfield and Howley) was ejected from the meeting on Monday night after the Mayor of Warrington Clr Peter Carey objected to his suggestion that a secret handshake had seen a previous question by him struck off the council list.
All councillors except Clr Jan Davidson (LAB - Westbrook) and Liberal Democrat councillors voted for him to leave the meeting after the meeting was adjourned when Clr Bennett did not stop talking.
But in an hour long stand off he refused to leave the room - which led to the Mayor calling in the police.
Clr Bennett, who was previously suspended by Labour for voting against its own budget, said: “The Mayor gave no explanation why I should leave and therefore I remained in my seat and exercised my right to peaceful protest.
“Some Labour and Lib Dem councillors voted against his suggestion to evict me. In the end, the Mayor turned the meeting into a circus by calling the police on the grounds that his authority was being challenged. After a meeting with the police and the council solicitor, the police asked me to leave, which I did peacefully.
“This makes a laughing stock of our council, and politicises the role of the Mayor. While this smokescreen was being generated, there were serious questions which the leader failed to answer about his recent conduct.
“These questions will not just go away quietly and I will continue to ask them.”
The row had been escualting after the last full council meeting when Clr Bennett had his question about living wages removed from the previous meeting.
E-mails sent by council officers showed the council leader Clr Terry O’Neill being advised not to have the question struck off.
Clr O’Neill had called for the question to go because Clr Bennett had not followed party guidelines by submitting the question to the Labour Group.
Speaking at the meeting Clr O’Neill said: “I want to make it clear I took the decision. My decision was based soley on our political protocol.”
He also added officers had advised him otherwise and had taken the decision as the council leader and the issue would be sent to the constitutional committee to be examined.
A Warrington Labour Group spokesman added: "This Labour administration is appalled by the actions and slanderous comments of suspended Clr Kevin Bennett and we call on him to apologise to the police, council officers, the people of Warrington and especially the residents of his ward, Fairfield and Howley.
“However, we are also disgusted at the implicit encouragement Clr Bennett received from the Lib Dems at last night's Town Hall meeting who refused to vote to have him expelled for disrespecting the Mayor and being rude to others in a public meeting.”
THE town’s Liberal Democrats hit out after the full counci meeting which saw Clr Kevin Bennett removed.
Lib Dem Group leader Clr Ian Marks said: “In an extraordinary personal statement to the council, the Labour leader admitted that he had demanded the question be removed because Clr Bennett had not followed Labour’s ‘agreed political protocol’. He did this despite being strongly advised by the council’s legal officer that the question was legitimate and it was a breach of the council’s constitution to strike it out.
“In a parliamentary democracy, it is fundamental that elected politicians are bound by constitutional rules which must take precedence over party political protocols. To abandon this principle is a slippery slope which it is dangerous to go down.”
Deputy Lib Dem leader Clr Bob Barr added: “Sadly the council leader failed to answer questions about why he had ignored legal advice or which section of the constitution gave him powers to censor legitimate questions from elected councillors.
“If the ruling group can change the constitution to make their own party rules prevail, what is to stop them banning questions from opposition parties or the public in future?”