Former Tory faces jail over will charges

A FORMER Ipswich Tory leader today faces a possible jail term after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

A FORMER Ipswich Tory leader today faces a possible jail term after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

Stephen Barker, 59, of The Green, Ashbocking, pleaded guilty to the charge at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday.

The offence, which carries a possible custodial sentence, relates to a will drawn up by George Turner, of Kesgrave, who died at Ipswich Hospital in October 2004 aged 89.

Barker, a former leader of the Tory group at Ipswich Borough Council, previously denied the offence, committed in October 2004, and was due to stand trial on Monday.

The case centred on a will of which Barker was executor and allegations that it had been changed to benefit him and his family.

No details were given in court but they are expected to be outlined during the sentencing hearing on February 7.

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When Mr Turner died he left six nieces and nephews.

He had no children and his family became concerned about his will shortly before he died.

They consulted a firm of solicitors and in November 2005 a police investigation was launched.

Witnesses due to give evidence at Barker's trial visited the court on Wednesday to look around and familiarise themselves with the building.

Barker was leader of the then opposition Conservative group on Ipswich council from 1999 until he was suspended from sitting as a councillor by the Adjudication Panel for England in 2004.

He was suspended for a year in February of that year after being found guilty of treating a senior council officer with disrespect after a two-day hearing.

After Barker's suspension, the Conservatives' strong performance in the local elections of May 2004 enabled the party to form a joint administration with the Liberal Democrats in September of that year.

When he returned to the council chamber, Barker made allegations that the then Tory council leader Dale Jackson had behaved improperly - allegations which caused Mr Jackson to resign as leader and face an Adjudication Panel hearing himself in September of that year.

Mr Jackson was cleared of acting improperly, but over the next few months both men resigned from the Conservative group at the borough and sat as independent councillors.

Barker did not contest his Bixley seat in May's elections.

Council leader Liz Harsant said: “It is very sad to see someone as intelligent as Mr Barker end up in such a situation. I feel sorry for his children.”

Jane Chambers has known Barker since they were at Clifford Road Primary School together more than 50 years ago - although he did not remember her when she joined him on Ipswich council as a Liberal Democrat in 2002.

She said: “I never forgot him - but he didn't recognise me when I got on to the council. I am glad he has done the decent thing and pleaded guilty to the offence. It means there won't have to be a long trial.”

Barker was released from court on unconditional bail.

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