A journalist sacked 32 days after being appointed under the BBC-funded local democracy scheme has claimed he was forced out after a local council objected to his appointment.
Peter Lilley was appointed last month as a local democracy reporter working for the Harrogate Advertiser and BBC, but claims he has now had his contract terminated after the newspaper received a formal complaint from Harrogate Borough Council objecting to his appointment.
Peter, a former editor of the Ripon Gazette who had worked as a freelance in recent years after a career in broadcast journalism, has written to Matthew Barraclough, the BBC’s head of local news partnerships, over his alleged treatment.
He says he is “baffled” as to why he was offered the role and has claimed he was not “fully-supported” by Johnston Press Yorkshire group weeklies editor Jean MacQuarrie, to whom he reported.
In his letter to Matthew, Peter said: “I feel I’ve been very shabbily treated.”
Peter, pictured, claims he was told by Jean on the third day of his employment that his position had “probably become untenable” following a formal complaint from the leader of Harrogate Council, which allegedly strongly objected to his appointment.
Peter, who began his career at the Advertiser in 1977, told HTFP: “I couldn’t believe my ears. I was being told my job was probably untenable because the leader of the local council didn’t approve of it.
“I didn’t apply for the role of local democracy reporter on a whim. I thought about it very carefully, well aware it wouldn’t be popular with everyone as I had previously ruffled feathers at Harrogate Council by persistently pursuing a number of issues through Public Questions and Freedom of Information requests.
“But I thought that’s exactly what the Local Democracy Reporting Service was supposed to be all about; holding councils and other democratic institutions to account.
“Yet I now find myself ousted for trying to pursue that agenda. It doesn’t make sense; and I certainly don’t think I was given a fair chance.”
Peter, whose previous clashes with the council had come in his capacity as a private resident, has also hit out in a series of Twitter posts, claiming Johnston Press had decided he was “far too problematic”.
HTFP understands Peter was still in his probationary period when the decision was made to terminate his two-year contract.
A JP spokesman told HTFP: “It is not appropriate to comment on individuals’ employment status. The Harrogate Local Democracy Reporter role is very important to JP, and we will continue to fulfill our contract.”
Under the scheme, local democracy reporters are employed by regional press groups, with their posts funded by the BBC.
A BBC spokesman said: “The local democracy reporters are employed by contract holders. We can’t comment on third party staffing issues.”
Harrogate Borough Council has declined to comment.