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Weekly hits out at council’s ‘Stasi-like’ investigation into source of story

A weekly newspaper has hit out at a council’s “Stasi-like” investigation into the source of a story it ran.

HTFP reported earlier this month how Maidstone Borough Council had been critcised after a meeting about the building of thousands of new homes was held in secret, even though the Kent Messenger had already revealed a number of the sites earmarked for development in November last year.

The Messenger ran a follow-up on the issue in its 6 June edition, revealing that speculative talks had been held about a site in the Kent countryside near Maidstone, which could take between 2,500 and 5,000 homes.

As a result, the council launched an investigation into the source of the leak, with an email from its head of legal partnership Patricia Narebor outlining everyone at the meeting, including councillors and officers, would be individually interviewed.

KM secret

Her email added: “The interests of third parties and the council would be compromised by the release of information at that stage, together with breaching the council’s contractual obligation.

“As such it was in the public interest not to release the information at that stage. Confirmation was provided that the information would be released to the public at the formal consultation stage.”

On its front page the following week, pictured above, the Messenger reported pressure was mounting for the details of the meeting to be made public, although the authority’s leader Martin Cox told the paper he he stood by his actions and the subsequent investigation.

Messenger news editor Mary Graham told HTFP: “Everyone in Maidstone should be very worried about these developments. As we said before the public seem to be very low down on the consideration list.

“We fail to understand why the council seems to think people will not be able to cope with understanding these housing talks are at a very early stage. Unless of course, this is more about suppressing any opposition and keeping developers on-side until the council’s managed ‘formal consultation stage’ can begin. It has been an accepted part of democracy that elected councillors will often speak about the big issues of the day they feel concerned about.

“We find the language emerging from the authority is deeply troubling in suggesting this process is now ‘a leak of confidential information’ and subsequently everyone at that meeting can expect an interrogation. Since when did we live in a Stasi-like state?

“Quite simply the public has a right to be involved in every stage of this housing process and a healthy debate of the issue is in the best interests of democracy.”

HTFP has approached the council for a comment.


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  • June 24, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    This is the sort of story about which we should all be worried. These are public servants who have assumed the mantle of being the public’s masters, and too many local papers have abandoned their responsibility to inform the public of what their servants are capable.
    All praise to KM.

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  • June 24, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    It would be useful to understand what redundancy terms are being offered these days. Are they still paying three weeks per year of service up to a year’s salary? A £2,500 enhancement isn’t particularly meaningful.

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  • June 25, 2019 at 10:48 am

    What is all this about? Surely these days, Freedom of Information requires that all council business be made (openly) available to members of the public? If l were the person who has “leaked” (I put this in quotes as this word is usually used pejoratively to suggest a misdemeanour) the said information, I wouldn’t be cowering in a corner, I’d be telling the council leader that prosecutions may be pending if he/she didn’t pipe down! And then l would put it in the hands of the police anyway!
    As has been stated in a comment above, modern elected representatives – from parish councils up to the House of Commons – no longer see themselves as our salaried public servants, but as our masters. As John Wayne might have said, “To hell with that!”. British politics is in a real mess at the moment, with our democracy – bravely fought for over centuries – is in urgent need of reform. There is a suggestion of various unpleasant undertones in this case, and it could do with public investigation.
    As a wider thought: impeachment of public servants and imprisonment where appropriate should be standard practice. Why isn’t it happening? We have convicted criminals serving (for lack of a better word) in the House of Commons, for heaven’s sake!

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