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Daily editor left ‘flabbergasted’ by council chief’s ‘harassment claim

A regional daily editor has hit back after a council leader claimed that the media “enjoy harassing politicians and see it as part of their role.”

The Eastern Daily Press has been seeking a comment from Norfolk Conservative councillor Bill Borrett after anti-hunting activists published a video claiming to show him striking a horse.

Mr Borrett, who resigned as a director of West Norfolk Fox Hounds although police have since decided no crime had been committed, has refused to respond to the paper’s calls.

At a meeting of the council cabinet yesterday, Liberal Democrat Steffan Aquarone asked council leader Andrew Proctor why there had been no public statement on the matter despite the EDP’s repeated requests.

Mr Proctor replied: “I accept that the media enjoy harassing politicians as they see that as part of their role.

“There is little point in commenting on an allegation that has no substance, which has been demonstrated by the relevant bodies taking no action.”

EDP editor Dave Powles, pictured, said in response:  “I’m flabbergasted by Andrew Proctor’s suggestion this newspaper in any way ‘harassed’ his colleague on this matter and that we ‘enjoy’ doing so.

“If a high-ranking local politician such as councillor Borrett is not only accused of such an act, but a video emerges appearing to show the moment in question, it is a matter of massive public interest.

“That is why our reporters picked up the story and then worked their hardest to be as fair and balanced as possible in the process.

“Clearly at this stage the investigation had only just begun, so there was no way of knowing what the outcome would be.

“Our so-called ‘harassment’ amounted to phone calls to both councillors Proctor and Borrett and then a visit to Mr Borrett’s home to see if he wanted to give his side.

“None of these phone calls elicited a response, not even a simple ‘no comment’.

“The alternative is that we simply don’t bother to offer right to reply on such issues, which I’m pretty sure would lead to even stronger complaints from those involved.

“I can’t help but feel that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

The exchange came days after Dave published a lengthy editorial questioning why politicians now seem to routinely ignore media inquiries.

As well as councillor Borrett, Norfolk West MP Liz Truss – Foreign Secretary and a contender to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister – has refused to answer questions from the EDP over the cost of a lunch with a foreign diplomat.

Wrote Dave: “In 20 years of working in this industry I’ve experienced numerous instances where an individual being taken to task over a certain issue, has decided the best way to deal with it, is to simply pretend it isn’t there.

“However, in the last couple of years, this odd occasion has grown to become the norm as far as some of those in very public positions are concerned.

“It appears to have almost become a recognised tactic in fact. If you don’t like the questions you are being asked on a particular issue, then the best course of action is to not bother to answer them.

“It’s important you the readers know we are asking the right questions on your behalf – all too often those involved are not answering them.”