Devon

Torridge Council accused of 'Big Brother' security

A Devon council has been accused of using Big Brother-style monitoring after police and security staff were used to marshal a public meeting.

About 150 people wanted to attend the Torridge Council planning meeting.

Only 35 people were allowed in at a time during different debates, with police present.

The council said security "contributed to a calm environment", following reports of trouble at a previous meeting.

'Middle-aged protesters'

The planning committee meeting, last Thursday, was discussing several applications including a business centre at Holsworthy and three wind turbines.

Attendee Penny Mills said: "We were greeted at the door by police and security guards.

"People had their bags searched. I've never had a bag searched going to the local council."

"All the police and security were in the meeting. It was like Big Brother was watching you, and it was very uncomfortable."

Peter Hine said he observed five police officers and three security guards.

He said: "You're not dealing with militant people. We're dealing with - essentially - middle-aged protesters who are intelligent and articulate, and that's as far their demonstrations will go."

'Assault' claim

The council said that 150 people attending such a meeting was "most unusual", and it realised a few days before there could be an issue with crowds as fire regulations meant its committee room could only accommodate 50 people.

Police and security staff got people in and out as different applications were being discussed so people could be in the room "at the right time to listen to the application they were interested in", it said.

It added: "There has been an allegation that a planning applicant for a wind turbine was assaulted by protesters at the last meeting."

The leader of the council, Conservative Barry Parsons, said: "We have a responsibilities as a council.

"One of the ultimate responsibilities is that people are safe, and secondly that we ensure sound decision making."

The council said there was not enough time to re-advertise the meeting for another venue, as it had to give at least one week's notice.

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