War of words forces apology in Brentwood

Town Hall protests in Brentwood
Image caption Town Hall sell-off plans sparked protests in Brentwood

Politicians in Brentwood appear to be punching below the belt.

Just days after an explosive row over the sale of the Town Hall which saw rebellions and tantrums (more on those later), the Conservatives have been forced to deliver a very public apology for libelling the Liberal Democrat Group leader.

In an unusual move, it has agreed to deliver leaflets which contain a grovelling apology to 8,500 homes in the borough.

It all centres on a leaflet put out by the party last July which accused the Lib Dems and their leader David Kendall of misleading residents and "peddling dishonest propaganda".

'Inappropriate content'

"We hereby advise that such allegations were in fact false and were wrongly made for political gain," it says.

"We apologise unreservedly to Cllr Kendall for the inappropriate content of the leaflet and for any distress caused to him."

Mr Kendall has just reached an out of court settlement with the Conservatives over the allegations. The party agreed to pay him damages of £4,000 and to issue the public apology.

"We're all used to political knock-about stuff but there are times when people cross the line," says Councillor Kendall.

"We thought enough was enough and decided to take action on this."

Public apologies

The chairman of the local Conservative Association says he accepts the allegations were wrong.

Image caption Cllr Kendall has reached an out of court settlement over the allegations

Frank Kenny said: "We actually thought that we could win the case but were advised that it could run into costs of £50,000-£60,000.

"We live in a claims culture but that won't stop us speaking out in the future when we believe that the Liberal Democrats are wrong."

Parties don't often put out leaflets apologising to their opponents.

But this is not the first time it's happened in Brentwood, and guess what... three years ago, two Liberal Democrats, including the aforementioned Councillor Kendall, were forced to pay damages to the Conservatives after libelling one of their councillors.

It appears what's sauce for the goose...

No love lost

It's clear that there's no love lost between the Tories and Lib Dems in Brentwood.

Last year the Conservatives reported a Liberal Democrat councillor to the Standards Board - he was cleared.

"Most of the time politics is quite civil," says Cllr Kendall, "but occasionally things do get out of hand".

The seat of Eric Pickles and the former stomping ground of Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, the council was recently rocked by a proposal to sell the Town Hall.

The plan was thrown out after 11 Tories on the Conservative-run council rebelled.

Brandon Lewis' sister - Cheralyn Lewis, a councillor herself, complained that she had been bullied by her party.

Her father Ken has resigned from his local branch in protest in yet more political upheaval in the town.

Quite what the fair people of Brentwood make of all these shenanigans is a matter of conjecture but it's unlikely to inspire confidence in the political process or the people that represent them.