Ipswich: Council U-turn as Star man’s ban lifted after revealing Andrea Hill’s �12k coaching sessions

IPSWICH: The row over Star reporter Paul Geater’s “no comment” sanction took a new twist today after a bizarre U-turn by bosses at Suffolk County Council.

Mr Geater, who has worked as local government correspondent for the Star since 1994, was told he was banned from the council following his exclusive story about chief executive Andrea Hill’s �12,000 sessions with a training guru.

Mr Geater was told on Friday by a senior press officer that the council was no longer prepared to work with him and would meet his future requests for information with “no comment”.

The move was condemned by MPs and provoked a vibrant debate on the Star’s website, but council chiefs have bizarrely claimed the ban never existed.

In an open letter to readers of the Evening Star, county council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: “It has never been suggested that Mr Geater is banned from Endeavour House or, for that matter, any other Council building.

“The communications team will deal with enquiries from Mr Geater as appropriate, as they have always done.”

The council’s head of communications Simon Higgins added: “Paul is not banned, I have been disappointed in the line he continually takes and his failure to engage with and understand the issues.

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“However he is not banned from Endeavour House, we have not stipulated no comment from now on and we will deal with his enquiries as appropriate.”

Following Mr Geater’s ban the Star submitted ten questions to Suffolk County Council’s press office.

In response, Mr Higgins said he could answer the following questions. Question 8: Who ordered the ban on Suffolk County Council comment being given to Paul Geater?

Mr Higgins said: “Paul Geater is not banned from Endeavour House or any other Council building and there is no order to issue ‘no comment’ to all enquiries – we will deal with his enquiries as appropriate.

Question 9: Did the chief executive know of the ban before it existed? He said: “No because there is no ban.”

Question 10: Did the council leader, Jeremy Pembroke know of the ban, before or after it was issued? He said: “No because there is no ban.”

Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover said: “I’m pleased the county council has seen sense, but why Paul Geater was told he was banned from getting comments is beyond me.”

Mr Geater said: “I didn’t say they said I’d been banned from Endeavour House.

“The county council, in a very clear conversation I had with senior press officer Andrew St Ledger, told me quite categorically that any further requests for information would elicit a “no comment.”

“It was made clear to me by Mr St Ledger that this was personal to me. It did not affect other journalists working for the Evening Star and East Anglian.

“The conversation was seared on my brain because I have never had anything like this happen before in nearly 30 years of working in journalism and I made notes from it soon afterwards – after I had reported it to the editors of both of the newspapers I write for.

“I am astonished by this statement – which I see comes from head of communications Simon Higgins, not Mr St Ledger, but I am delighted if it means they will continue to deal with me on a query-by-query basis.

“I am also delighted to see that council leader Jeremy Pembroke recognises the vital role that the media has in covering the debate about future council services and I look forward to continue working closely with him.”