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Editor to serve on council he covers after election victory

Neil SpeightAn editor has succeeded in his bid to become a councillor at a local authority he covers.

Thurrock Nub News editor Neil Speight has been elected to Thurrock Council, where he will serve as an Independent councillor for its Stanford-le-Hope West ward.

Neil, pictured, had campaigned with a pledge to bring “honesty, integrity, common sense and accountability” to the council.

He won his seat after receiving 643 votes, ahead of Labour’s Phil Smith on 532, and incumbent Tory Shane Hebb with 511. The turnout was 30.54pc.

Neil  told HTFP: “Sometime in the early hours of Friday morning, amid the welter of trying to cover 15 other seats with running commentary on the Nub News website, I got the welcome moment of taking a turn on the rostrum and receiving a pretty loud cheer from across the room when the result, with a majority of 111, was announced.

“I was asked before the election and I have been asked several times since, how I feel I can do both jobs?

“Well, I found it interesting in the run-up to the vote that someone questioned my ability and suitability to stand and if it was right that a journalist should be a councillor.

“My response then was, given the desperate depths to which Thurrock has sunk in terms of secrecy, deceit and contempt for democracy, I couldn’t think of anyone better than a journalist used to asking deep and complex questions to represent the best interests of residents in Thurrock.

“For the past eight years we have had, both as residents and in the media, a stonewall refusal to answer many vital questions, to curtail freedom of speech and to deny the truth to residents who are now suffering hugely for the failures of the ruling group.

“Thurrock is set for a decade of brutal cuts to services and the whims of an un-elected group of government-installed commissioners – none of whom have any connection with Thurrock and only visit it a few days a week when they pick up paychecks of £1,000+ plus a day.

“I think given my track record of covering local government at close quarters for more than 40 years I am among the best-placed to try and hold them to account in the council chamber. They have already showed a marked reluctance to engage with the press but they have to answer questions at meetings.

“I think even my fiercest critics would look at the election campaign I have just fought and admit I did not at any time abuse my position as an impartial reporter of all things Thurrock and in my coverage of the election. The coverage was fair, honest and accurate.

“And the final answer I would give to anyone who questioned the dual role, is “What can a Thurrock backbench councillor know that shouldn’t be in the public domain?”

“I will not be seeking high office, nor to take part on committees or be part of a scrutiny process that needs to know commercially sensitive information so there should be no clash.

“As a working journalist I am regularly briefed on a great deal of matters – for example simply reading court lists that are supplied to the media alone, or attending court and listening to cases where reporting restrictions are in place.

“If I can be trusted with that knowledge, why, were it to come my way, should I not be trusted with confidential council information?

“And the final rider in the rules and guidance for new councillors that I have just received and read, it is acknowledged that at the end of the day a councillor has a right to breach confidentially if he or she thinks there is an issue that is so serious it is in the public interest to disclose it.

“Judge me not on day five of my tenure as a councillor, but on my record at the end of it.”

The ruling Tory group in Thurrock retained its majority despite losing seats following Thursday’s election.