Parish council could face court

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LONG Sutton Parish Council could be forced to answer questions about its land holdings and burials or face a court hearing for contempt.

The Freedom of Information Commissioner’s office has given the council a June 19 deadline to back up its claim that requests for information from one of its own members – Coun Julian Browse – are “vexatious”.

If the council’s latest arguments are rejected, the commissioner can direct the parish council to answer his Freedom of Information (FOI) requests within 35 days – or face a court hearing.

Coun Browse’s battle to wring answers out of his own council began last September and sparked FOIs from a Yorkshire-based freedom of information activist who branded the council “an unprofessional, childish mess”.

At the parish council meeting on Thursday, May 24 clerk Karen Treacher said an FOI letter would be discussed in a confidential session – meaning the press and public would be excluded.

Coun Browse asked: “May I ask why that should be confidential? None of the correspondence is labelled as confidential.”

Ms Treacher claimed she was not allowed under the Data Protection Act to name the letter writer.

She said: “Another reason I am taking it into confidence is that there are certain elements that can be observed and used against us in the public and the press, especially as last time the council was reported as childish and unprofessional.”

After that meeting, Coun Browse said he left “in disgust” because he was accused during the confidential business of being there without declaring an interest.

An extraordinary council meeting to discuss the council’s response to a letter from the Freedom of Information Commissioner’s office was held on Wednesday.

Coun Browse described it as “the last chance saloon” for the council, but chairman Coun John Clarey said the council is maintaining its position that his FOIs were vexatious and will send a letter and more evidence to the Freedom of Information Commissioner to back up its case.