Spoof note causes Tory boss resignation

FORMER Ipswich Tory boss Dale Jackson today said he resigned as the town's leader because of a spoof letter to another Conservative councillor's daughter.

FORMER Ipswich Tory boss Dale Jackson today said he resigned as the town's leader because of a spoof letter to another Conservative councillor's daughter.

Mr Jackson, who has courted controversy in the past, was asked to stand down as leader of the town's borough council on Friday amid claims about the letter.

Today, he also admitted he may have sent other light-hearted notes to fellow councillors as a joke.

The letter at the heart of the current furore was sent more than two years ago to Natalie Barker, whose father is Stephen Barker, another ex-Ipswich Tory party boss. It is now the subject of a complaint to the government's standards watchdog.

Mr Jackson said: "My group met on Good Friday and felt it was right that I resigned and I abide by the majority.

"They between them discussed it and they are in the right as a group. They asked me to resign and I accepted it. I said from Wednesday whatever decision they came to I would abide by it.

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"I wasn't present at the meeting and got a call from the ward group chairman, councillor (David) Hale, to let me know.

"I'm not particularly happy because it hasn't become formal yet, but you have to abide by the group."

The Evening Star broke the story of Mr Jackson's resignation on Saturday after council chief executive James Hehir made a complaint to the Standards Board for England.

When contacted, Mr Hehir confirmed Mr Barker had made him aware of the existence of the letter at the centre of the furore, but declined to comment further.

Mr Jackson said: "James Hehir is just doing his job he feels he needs to send it to the Standards Board. It's all very childish.

"It was Stephen Barker who brought attention to a letter I sent to his daughter.

"I know what I did and it was a spoof letter, but I don't want to go into detail. It wouldn't be fair.

"I was very friendly with the whole family and I used to go round to the home and to the theatre with them. I used to walk with Natalie and took her to Armistice Day. I used to call her Natalia."

Mr Jackson said he and Mr Barker's wife had even attended Spanish lessons together at Suffolk College, where he is learning the language as he has a Cuban fiancée.

Mr Barker's daughter was aged around 15 or 16 and a pupil at Ipswich High School when the letter was written more than two years ago.

Its existence has emerged after Mr Barker was reinstated to the council following his own suspension for bringing the council into disrepute.

Mr Jackson said: "I think it is bizarre he has kept the letter. It was really meant to wind him up as much as her and it was taking the rise out of me really.

"I don't know if she kept the letter and gave it to him - it's not a love letter, it's a joke."

Asked about the in-party row Mr Jackson added: "You couldn't make it up could you - you don't need to watch TV."

He said he was not prepared to change his personality because of his position. He also stressed he would not be stepping down as a ward councillor for Castle Hill because it was up to the electorate to decide whether he remained in his position.

He said he could not comment on the content of the letter until after the Standards Board investigation but said he had sent other letters to councillors in the past as a joke.

Mr Jackson contacted the Standards Board on Thursday to discover whether they had received the complaint against him and was told they would let him know if they would pursue the complaint within 10-14 days.

Deputy council leader Liz Harsant has taken over as acting leader of the council until her group can elect a new leader at its annual general meeting which takes place just after May's county and general elections.

When contacted over the weekend, Mr Barker refused to elaborate on why he brought Mr Jackson's letter to Mr Hehir's attention.

Mr Barker said: "I have got no comment. This is a complaint by the chief executive and subject to an investigation by the Standards Board. The chief executive has a letter which he is unhappy with."