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City council leader quits after regional daily’s exposé

A city council leader has been forced to resign after a 12-month investigation into his conduct by a regional daily.

Over the past year, the Southern Daily Echo published several allegations against Southampton city councillor Richard Williams including verbal abuse and dishonesty.

The series of articles resulted in an official report concluding that Mr Williams has failed to live up to the standards of an elected representative,  but council bosses redacted 62 of the 85 pages before releasing it to the public.

However after  the paper decided to publish some of the redacted information, the councillor finally resigned from all of his posts and stood down from the authority.

Echo editor-in-chief Ian Murray said:  “This was a clear example of a local paper doing its job policing local democracy.

“It was shocking in the end that the council’s legal department attempted to silence us with threats before we published our investigations based on their own report.

“This was a clear matter of public interest. If we had not lifted the lid on this issue then no one else would have revealed what was going on.

“As a lesson in why a free and vibrant local press is needed to scrutinise local democracy I can think of no better example.”

The Southern Daily Echo's splash after the city council leader resigned on Thursday (April 25)

The original story, he said, came from “good solid reporting” by their then-local government correspondent Matt Smith.

It emerged after the council put out press note saying that a cabinet member had resigned on health grounds.

Matt phoned him at home for chat, felt all was not right with the line being put out and eventually managed to get him to admit that it was a cover up – he had wanted to resign in protest against council cuts and Coun Williams had persuaded him to lie.

Added Ian:  “After bluff and bluster the leader came clean that it had been a subterfuge, the matter went for investigation, the report was given to those involved to consider before publication and they were permitted to redact large chunks of what was said – reducing it from 85 pages to a quarter in length.

“Our new political reporter James Franklin sought out a copy of the full report and the paper printed some of the information there yesterday on the day of last night’s special council meeting to discuss the report’s findings. The leader quit at that meeting.”

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  • April 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    How refreshing, after all the stories we’ve seen lately about local government politicians and bureaucrats trying to manage or muzzle the press! It would be interesting to know more about what their legal department tried to do: since it’s illegal for a council to sue for libel, what were they up to? Were they using public money to defend this individual? Please update us.

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