Two Tories suspended

CONSERVATIVES in Ipswich were today in disarray after the leader of their group on the borough council was suspended for 12 months.Stephen Barker was handed the punishment by the Adjudication Panel of England after it found that he had failed to treat a senior council office with respect and had brought his office into disrepute.

CONSERVATIVES in Ipswich were today in disarray after the leader of their group on the borough council was suspended for 12 months.

Stephen Barker was handed the punishment by the Adjudication Panel of England after it found that he had failed to treat a senior council office with respect and had brought his office into disrepute.

Fellow Tory Gordon Terry was given the same punishment for the same offences.

Their suspension means that the voters of Bixley ward have lost two of their three councillors.

Mr Terry was due to stand for re-election in June - but his initial reaction was that he would not be trying to remain on the authority after his period of suspension.

"It's been taking up an awful lot of my time - I think I've had it now," he said.

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The two councillors were suspended after the Adjudication Panel - an independent body set up to regulate local government conduct under the auspices of the Lord Chancellor's Department - heard they had questioned the impartiality of a senior council official.

They had written a letter to council leader Peter Gardiner and chief executive James Hehir alleging that Sue Arnold, head of strategic planning and regeneration, was behaving like a "political aide" during discussions about the town's new local plan in September 2002.

Their letter said: "Please instruct Mrs Arnold to act pursuant to the protocol; impartial and professional advice would be refreshing.

"Mrs Arnold does not appear to act professionally and impartially. Rather her actions are those of a political aide."

Chief executive James Hehir said in a submission to the panel that Mrs Arnold was an extremely competent officer with a national reputation and an impressive track record on strategic planning and regeneration issues.

While suspending the councillors for 12 months, Adjudication Panel chairman David Laverick also had some harsh words for the borough council.

The panel heard there was no clear procedure under which councillors could raise their concerns about senior officers with the council.

And there had been no investigation of the councillors' allegations about political bias among senior officers.

Today the chairman of the Ipswich Conservative Association, Jeffrey Stansfield - a former senior officer at Suffolk County Council - said many people felt Mr Barker and Mr Terry had been very harshly dealt with.

"We have convened a meeting of the Ipswich Conservative Association for tonight, and the Conservative group at the council - or at least what's left of it - will be meeting on Monday to plan their next move," he said.

"But I have to feel I think yesterday's decision was a disaster for all concerned."

Mr Barker and Mr Terry have 28 days to lodge an appeal with the High Court, and Mr Terry said they would be considering whether to take legal action.

nDo you think the councillors' punishment was harsh? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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