1 February 2015

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Newspaper accused of ‘hounding out’ absent councillor

A council leader has accused a weekly newspaper of hounding one of his colleagues out of office.

Lincolnshire county councillor Sara Cliff resigned earlier this month after the Lincolnshire Echo highlighted her poor attendance at council meetings.

Ms Cliff, who also works as a Methodist minister, attended 19 out of a possible 52 council meetings between June 2009 and the start of this year.

The Echo published the story on its front page under the headline:  “How a Lincolnshire councillor got £23k for going to 19 meetings in 3 years.”

Tory councillor Ms Cliff, who had previously moved 120 miles away to Soham in Cambridgeshire as a result of a new church posting and had also been seriously ill during 2010, resigned the following week blaming “press hostility” for her decision.

And the Echo’s coverage of the story has since come under attack from the council leader, Martin Hill.

In a letter to editor Steve Fletcher, he wrote:  “I am very disappointed at the way Councillor Sara Cliff has been portrayed in your front page/page 9 feature in last week’s Echo.

“When Sara was posted to Soham by the Methodist church she was keen to carry on with her councillor duties and representing the people of Lincoln East.

“As a reverend her responsibilities involve constant support for people in need and many other parish duties. She is no less committed than many other councillors who have day jobs and find it equally difficult to attend all council meetings.

“There is a wider issue here that if working people are going to be hounded out of elected office on the basis of misrepresentation, it is a sad day for the health of democracy in this country.”

Steve has now published a reply in which he strongly defended the paper’s treatment of the story.

He wrote:  “The issue of Ms Cliff’s attendance was raised by residents of her own council ward. They say they had hardly seen her since she moved away for work reasons.

“It is concerning that the leader of Lincolnshire’s biggest local authority feels it’s appropriate to suggest this story represents “a sad day for the health of democracy in this country”.

“One of the basic missions of the media is to hold  government to account. That is why the freedom of the press is such an integral part of our democracy.”


  1. Ratman

    Well said, Steve Fletcher. The woman should have resigned from the council as soon as she moved away.

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  2. Rob

    Westminster Council has had a member who lived in the US for many years while still claiming his allowance. Just saying.

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  3. hmmmm

    Newspapers holding those in authority to account is right and proper. But since Leveson everyone thinks they are being hard done by, hounded or stalked in some way.
    This paper did everything right and should be applauded. The council leader’s comment sum up the arrogance of the ruling classes at the moment know they feel the media is on a backfoot.
    Rest assured despite all this negative press about the media we shall still hold them to account.

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  4. ends, Yorkshire

    “Press hostility” “hounded out of office” “a sad day for democracy” – why does everyone talk like they’re a witness at Leveson!

    Councillor not doing a proper job, paper highlights it, councillor quits. Job done.

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  5. nochance, Yorkshire

    £23k for attending 19 meetings in three years? A lot of journalists would wish they got that for the countless council meetings they attended! If journalists turned up to 19 out of 52 meetings we’d be out on our ears too.

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  6. Fresh Coriander

    Sure the Echo editor doesn’t need me to say it, but I’m going to anyway: job well done.

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