Tensions escalate at Hadleigh Town Council after councillor steps down following alleged 'roughing up' comments
The deep divisions at Hadleigh Town Council were on display this week, after a councillor stepped down following an allegation that he had talked of “roughing up” council staff.
Opposing sides in the council and wider Hadleigh community have traded accusations of bullying, in the wake of the resignation of Rickaby Shearly-Sanders on Friday.
The town council publicly released part of an email he had written and accused him of bullying behaviour ahead of a meeting on Thursday, when he faced calls to step down.
In the excerpt released by the council, he is alleged to have written: “Still need to agree with you what is urgent and important – staff – rough them up now.”
Mr Shearly-Sanders, who was elected in 2015, told the Free Press the text quoted was “completely out of context and designed to give a false impression”.
“This has been a very traumatic experience for both my wife and I,” he said.
“Over a period of several years, I have become concerned over a number of issues, and more particularly over the last few months over what appear to be serious failures in structure and processes.
“Throughout this period, my physical and mental resources have been severely challenged and exhausted and, as a result, I have resigned as a town councillor, something in retrospect I may have done hastily.”
Following his resignation, heated disputes between opposing councillors over how the situation was handled spilled online.
It represents the continued unrest at Hadleigh Town Council, following a non-binding public referendum in June, in which voters called on all members to resign, although most have remained.
Mr Shearly-Sanders was among a minority group of members to raise concerns about the council’s conduct in and out of meetings, as well as its handling of publicly-funded projects.
A number of councillors were sharply critical of the language he used in his email, saying it is “not acceptable in this day and age”.
A retired solicitor, he told the Free Press the context of the email was to do with raising questions about issues impacting council staff, which he felt were being ignored.
"There is a dominant grouping on the council, and in our private emails, we refer 'them' and 'they'," he said.
"Due to the lack of a response to us and our inability to get things on to the agenda, our last resort was questions to the mayor at council meetings, which he generally avoids answering or if he does, does not publish his answers.
"All I can do as a lawyer is 'rough them up' with detailed questions which 'they' might find embarrassing and awkward to deal with, especially when the issue is staff.
"This is most important, as we have recently discovered that the mayor and a senior councillor have, without any authority from the council, been conducting discussions relating to staff matters and doing things behind the backs of councillors."
But some councillors accused Mr Shearly-Sanders and those allied with him of harassment and disrespect, and of repeated efforts to disrupt council activities.
Cllr Sue Monks said: “I find it interesting to observe those members of Hadleigh Town Council and some social media followers who do not respect any decision made with the majority of the council.”
Cllr Jane Haylock added: “The situation has been difficult for some months at the town council, due to the refusal of four members to accept the democratic decision and asking for all votes to be recorded.”
But others claimed the authority is trying to avoid scrutiny and accountability, and criticised its treatment of Mr Shearly-Sanders.
Cllr Angela Wiltshere wrote on Facebook: “I suggest anyone talking about a conspiracy should watch any healthy council debate, or even our own Parliament, for an insight into the concept of an opposition.”
Local resident Emma Alison commented: “It always makes me suspicious when snapshots of comments are given with no context.
“It’s at best, I suspect, an attempt to be economical with the truth, and at worst, a blatant attempt to smear the reputation of someone who has stood up for what they believe to be the right thing.”
Richard Hinton, co-founder of the Hadleigh Together community group, said: “The whole pretext of bullying and verbal assault is old news, as anyone who has been to meetings in the last 12 months would have seen this going on, and being directed towards Rickaby and others by the alleged aggrieved in this case.”