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HELP estoppeled in its tracks?

AFTER the HELP-dominated Letchworth town council lost the employment tribunal case brought by former staff members, many have been wondering what the term 'estoppel' means.    
  Eight months before the case was heard, the judge said that estoppel might apply. This would have stopped HELP from withholding payments from its staff: the council would have been 'estopped' from denying its liability. 
   In commercial agreements, when a person makes a promise and intends the other person to rely on the promise, the first person is stopped from denying that promise later.  
   That applies even if the person making the promise did not mean to make it, or if it was a mistake, or if they should not have made the promise in the first place. 
   In law, the fact the council has held elections and new people were in charge is immaterial. Staff contracts are with the council, not individual councillors.
   Estoppel should have been taken seriously. It means that even if the previous administration had been in the wrong (which they were not) the staff would still have succeeded in their case.
   Defendants using their own money would have carefully considered the risk of continuing to defend the case at that point; they would certainly make sure they fully assessed the risk, and that anyone else who was going to be responsible for the decision understood it.
  It might be argued that estoppel is a difficult concept to grasp, although it is relatively straightforward if explained properly. But any lawyer would – or should – understand it.
Cllr George Ritchie
   The only witness for the council was former HELP chairman George Ritchie – who is a lawyer. Ritchie was in court in January to hear what the judge said about estoppel. He made a report to the council’s personnel committee in February. 
   Ritchie’s report did not advise the council that the judge had raised estoppel. Ritchie did not set out that estoppel might operate or explain what it might mean.
   In his report, Ritchie also told his colleagues that the council had applied for costs. He did not advise the council that costs are very rarely awarded in employment tribunals. Making an application for costs carries absolutely no assurance whatsoever that the application will succeed. That was not explained in Ritchie’s report either.
   He stated that witness statements were struck out. That was queried at the council meeting in March by Town Council Supporter Sue Johnson. As a result of her intervention, the relevant orders were circulated to all council members. 
   They make it clear that there was no order for strike-out. The first HELP resignation came two days after the order was circulated to the councillors.
   The council minutes record that the decision to continue to fight the case was taken on the basis of  Ritchie’s report.  

HELP running scared?

A SCATHING reaction to backdoor efforts by Letchworth's ruling HELP group to bring down the council are being reported by the Comet newspaper here and here.
   No-one should be surprised. Over the last few months, HELP has lost all credibility because of its outrageous treatment of the six former female members of staff.
   The council reneged on staff contracts, and HELP supporters sent them abusive emails and hacked the old councils website with pornographic images. Now running scared, HELP is seeking to force the issue rather than face being kicked out of office.
   That's because townspeople are increasingly warming to the idea of a positive council that works in partnership with the Heritage Foundation to support and promote the town – which HELP has singularly failed to do.
   The only thing HELP has managed to do is lose hundred of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money, most of it spent on lawyers and none of it on community projects.
   Instead of risking another election, HELP is now looking for any underhand method it can find to thwart the democratic process: that's because it only narrowly won the last election – in most of the seats the voting split was 48-52% on a turnout of just 38% – and it fears a severe kicking next time round.

Has Bryan Ellis fled to Azkaban?

WHERE is Letchworth town councillor Bryan Ellis?
  Although he has sold his house and moved to an unknown destination, his defenestration has yet to be confirmed. The only resignation announced formally thus far is that of Jackie Angell in Grange ward. Jackie is the second Grange councillor to quit HELP.
  Some are keen to pursue a 'Harry Potter line' with HELP, given Ellis's links with JK Rowling's charitable foundation. His ties with Letchworth's Heritage Foundation, when it was run by you know who (himself also, mercifully, now history), are better known.
Missing – Cllr Bryan Ellis
  As Death Eaters go, which one is he – Crabbe? Goyle? Malfoy, perhaps? One thing is for certain – he no longer lives in Manor Park (the house has been sold), and clerk/HELP Cllr Ian Mantle will not reveal his new address. Maybe he's in Azkaban..?
  Clearly, Ellis cannot continue to serve as a councillor – which is to say, he can hardly carry on being what he never properly was. Whatever, it is time for him and the other HELP councillors to follow Jackie's example and abandon HELP and its brainless, self-defeating vendetta.
  As we said before, we have a councillor who isn't a councillor and a council that won't act as a council – HELP!

Two HELP councillors down and out — how many more to go?

WE REPORTED last week that Cllr Bryan Ellis was under pressure to quit the council after HELP's disastrous management of the employment tribunal against former staff. He has finally gone!
  In fact, two HELP councillors have now resigned, although the (HELP) clerk has yet to release details. Last year, they kept secret the resignation of a Grange councillor and appointed one of their own placemen. It is not democratic, not fair — and fits perfectly with previous actions of this outrageous regime.
  Cllr Ellis chaired the top policy and resources committee — the same one that made the staff redundant. Thus he had no choice but to finally bow to public pressure, and resign. He also works for J K Rowlings' charitable foundation, which has been forced to fend off requests for comment from the national press.

Fair Trade carol service

THIS year's Fair Trade Carol Service for Letchworth will be held at Letchworth Free Church on Tuesday 6th December at 7:00pm - 8:00pm. All welcome, families and children. Followed by Fair Trade refreshments.

Council scandal: rumours of HELP resignation!

THERE are rumours that a member of the HELP group on Letchworth Council has resigned. This follows the damning ruling of the employment tribunal that has left their reputation in tatters.
  The tribunal said that six former employees had been unfairly treated by the HELP group since they took over the council.
  It noted that they had not been treated fairly and noted how the staff had been subjected to verbal  and emailed abuse and how supporters of the HELP group had waved sticks at them and reduced staff to tears.
  Many of the more moderate members of HELP are said to now be ashamed of their association with such tactics and the ruling and could now be seeking to dissassociate themselves from it.

Mounting calls for HELP's councillor Bryan Ellis to resign

HELP Cllr Bryan Ellis is facing an uncertain future tonight as a growing number of figures are calling for him to resign from the council.
  He chaired the council committee that has admitted having spent over £50,000 on lawyers so as to avoid paying staff.
  The revelations are damning as the 6 female staff  revealed that Cllr Ellis and others refused their offers to go for arbitration  and go to ACAS.
  Instead the council chose to set the metaphorical dogs on the women and hired a barrister who describes himself as a 'rotweiller in court'.
  Cllr Ellis who was chairman of the council's policy and resources committee accepted a recommendation in February from Cllr George Ritchie (who is a solicitor for British Telecom) that they should pursue the women if they lost for all costs.
  The judge of course ruled that the women were totally justified in their claim and noted that they had been verbally abused by HELP members and had had sticks waved at them and the women were often reduced to tears by these tactics.

Sacked council staff say: politics should have been kept out of it

Letter from former council staff to the Comet in an effect to correct disinformation circulated by HELP councillors.

Sir — We write to correct misinformation about the recent tribunal.
  Despite reports, the case was not about redundancy pay. In November 2009, five months after taking over the council, HELP Chairman George Ritchie recommended redundancy pay, telling the council payments were less than 1/3rd of the maximum they could pay and were less than £75,000 in total. The council agreed to his recommendation and we accepted it.
  The case was about a temporary promise to give us 12 months notice - not notice pay. HELP were elected in June 2009 but claimed they could ignore the clause because the previous administration was “irrational”.
  HELP sought to keep us in post by promising (twice) that if we stayed to work for them until they decided to make us redundant they would give us a loyalty bonus of 3 months.
  Eventually, after we had worked for them for 5 months they gave us 3 months notice but withheld the bonus until we signed a compromise agreement. By law, when an employer imposes a compromise agreement an independent solicitor has to be brought in to give staff advice.

Dispute over council's legal costs

Reprinted from thecomet.net

A NON-SPENDING council has revealed it has incurred legal costs of more than £60,000 since taking office in June 2009, although the figure is much higher according to a former councillor.
   The Comet asked Letchworth Garden City Council to provide details of legal costs it has paid out in the last two and a half years after an employment tribunal concerning changes to contracts found in the favour of former staff last month.
   The council, in which 22 of the 24 councillors represent the Help Eliminate Letchworth Parish council (HELP) and wish to dissolve the authority, said legal fees amounted to almost £65,000.
Around £50,000 relates to tribunal costs, with further fees attributed to an ongoing dispute with a former solicitor over a decision to exercise a break clause in their office lease.
   Letchworth GC resident Derek Hodgson, a councillor under the former administration, said from his correspondance with responsible financial officer Cllr Peter Groves and clerk Ian Mantle that the figure actually tops the £100,000 mark.
   “The numbers are all from correspondence with the council, I didn’t just come up with that number. I don’t know how they’re twisting this to make £60,000.”

According to HELP all community spending is a waste

Letters in this weeks Comet and Advertiser remain critical of HELP's role not just in the recent tribunals but also in how they have run the council. Last week a HELP supporter wrote a letter claiming that the previous council had done nothing of benefit. This is the response to that.

I see from the letters from HELP last week that they are trying to move the discussion away from their shameful treatment of staff to a general one about the old council and have made up some fantasy figures about past council spending. HELP disagreed with every penny spent. Every penny spent on helping the Salvation army, helping fund the dial-a-ride service, funding a community police officer, running family fun days, operating trips for pensioners, providing support for allotment holders or funding for community groups in the Jackmans, the Grange and on the Westbury, to them this was a waste. They oppose our plans for spending in Wilbury.
   They disagreed with the idea of setting up community gardens in these areas or buying new play equipment or football posts, but we helped to do it anyway.
   We ran football tournaments and training for children and supported children’s rugby and the scouts or support for local schools. Each school got a grant to help promote citizenship and the Letchworth story. This to them was wrong.

Time to remember

This Sunday Council’s up and down the country will be holding remembrance day services and laying wreaths.
   For all community leaders it is the greatest honour the lay a wreath on behalf of the people of their town.
   There is a special covenant, an unwritten promise, between the people of this country and their soldiers. It says if you fight for us, we will look after you and your families. By wearing a poppy we are all individually honouring that covenant. After the Great War money was used to help widows left with young children living in poverty.
   My own grandfather was brought up with poppy money. It helped put food on the table and clothes on his back. The money is still used to fight poverty and is used to tackle disability. Indeed in our own town of Letchworth I am told that the British Legion made disbursements of some £90,000 in 2008.
   I consider Remembrance Sunday to be more than just a symbolic gesture of remembering old conflicts, but to be also acknowledging and helping too those who are still making the sacrifice.
   Recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown us the very high human cost of conflict, and it is clear that that the work of The Royal British Legion is needed now more than ever.

Olympics to come to Letchworth!

The Olympic torch with pass through Letchworth in July on its way from Cambridge to Luton. It is fantastic news for everyone and will no doubt be a day to remember.

Hopefully the schools will organise themselves so that school children can watch the torch as it passes through.

Have HELP actually read the tribunal judgement?

As the HELP group on Letchworth's town council slide into crisis and denial having lost their court case against former staff, Philip Ross, former Town Mayor and chairman of the council gives his commentary on the current scandal with HELP.

It seems that the HELP group just can’t accept they are wrong or take responsibility for their actions, like their old Scottish leader who has left them rudderless.  I may post a copy of the judgement to them as it seems they haven’t read it. 
  The judge found that the old council acted reasonably, fairly and responsibility in difficult circumstances, running the usual services and policies of a council and took proper advice and behaved like responsible councillors and treated staff with respect. Whereas he described HELP as ‘unattractive’ and logged how they had reduced staff to tears with physical and verbal threats and general abusive behaviour.
  It is true that HELP got advice to fight their case – eventually. They had to troop around several solicitors before they could find one who was prepared to say what they wanted. Hard to find I am sure, especially given that the solicitor they appointed for the staff felt that the compromise agreement (and gaging clause) they wanted staff to sign was so unreasonable that he advised them not to.

Town centre consultation - have your say

Have your say on the town centre redevelopment.

The new management at the Heritage Foundation have carried a real and proper consultation into how the town centre should be redeveloped.

They are seeking feedback from residents for their views.

We like the mention too of town wide wifi as an option. We also like the commitment to community involvement and adoption of green policies.

to get involved and read the options goto : http://www.thenextsteps.co.uk/

FEEDBACK : HELP silent - what they should say sorry for

A resident has sent us this post about the court hearing :

Reading the Judge’s report on the nasty actions of the Help people, who took over our     town council against the staff and their total lack of probity, surely townspeople can expect them to show some decency and resign.

It takes nasty people to seek to destroy our former town council from carrying out its good work for the community and disadvantaged people within it.  Now their appauling treatment of the staff has been revealed in this verdict.

When can we expect an explanation from some Councillors? Would Councillor Heaton their IT expert comment on how the Council’s web site was hacked into and ponographic material put on it, and the vicious comments made to staff?

A comment from Councillor Ritchie whose Helpless formation and handling of the case and refusal to advise going to ACAS for free has proved to be pathetically inadequate and comment on how he continually misrepresented the proceedings by informing fellow councillors that the case was going well for them and that various actions by the former staff had been ‘struck out by the judge’

A comment from Councillor Mantle the Clerk to the Council explaining why as proper financial officer and advisor to the Council (within the Clerk’s role) he has allowed them to spend approx £200,000 in legal fees the payments that now have to be made to the staff and any claims they may make for costs and losses and compensation for their appalling treatment as confirmed by the judge.

A comment from Councillor Groves (responsible for the Council’s financial affairs) on why his self styled non-spending Council looks like squandering approx £200,000 of the townspeople money whilst in office so far and perhaps more if the staff are awarded costs.  Why also are the figures spent on legal fees hidden in ‘contingencies’ to mask the outrageous sums.  In fact the sum due to the staff originally was just over £20,000,

A comment from Councillor Greener on statements that “the council would go to every court in the land until they got the answer they wanted and failing that to Strasbourg and the people of Letchworth would pay for it”!

 Now comments from all councillors on why the £200,000 should not be paid by all 22 of the HELP councillors instead of townspeople due to their negligence, mishandling and failure to carry out adequate risk assessment as will have be to be explained to the district Auditor and why they should nw resign for failing to provide value for money to taxpayers and to act properly and with integrity in the use of tax payers money as expected by the district Auditor.

They were charged with not wasting townspeople money when voted into office and have now wasted more that the previous council would ever have spent on community services.

HELP turned down ACAS offer

At last Cllr Lovett chairman of the helpless town council has made public statements in an attempt to improve some sort of standing for the council in the community after the shellacking they suffered when losing the tribunal case against their staff.
   They carried out a vicious campaign against the staff from the day they were elected. Cllr Greener is on record as stating that he didn’t care if they spent every penny in the bank and had to ask the NHDC for more to enable them to take the case to the European Court in Strasbourg.
   The Helpless town council are needing a miracle to overcome their total loss of credibility in the town. Cllr Lovett has already lost any brownie points by saying that they took legal advice before going to the tribunal for a decision. He didn’t mention that they had approached four different legal practices before taking any legal action.

Respect and Congratulations for Letchworth's town council staff

Philip Ross, former Town Mayor, praises and congratulates the six women who have won their employment tribunal.

I would like to write to add my congratulations and record my respect to the women who have won their employment tribunal against the HELP-run Letchworth Town Council. The case was always about how the women had been treated not just in their contracts but in their every day work under these people.

Employment judge slams 'unattractive' HELP-run council

The following was written by someone closely associated with the previous Letchworth Town Council, which lost office after a mendacious and concerted campaign by the HELP group, which now holds 22 of the 24 seats.

THE NEWS is out – and it is good news. Good has triumphed, and justice has prevailed. Six former female community staff of Letchworth Town Council have won their employment tribunal case. 
  This crisis for the council, led by solicitor George Ritchie, will prove an embarrassment not just for them but also for the town.Not only has the case gone against them, but it has revealed the dark, murky and spiteful workings of the HELP group. 
  We understand that all that the six women had originally asked for was that their previous agreements and contracts were honoured, and when this was rejected asked for the help of ACAS.   
  HELP refused. Instead, they told the women to sign a compromise agreement with clauses  that were so unreasonable that the solicitor paid for by HELP advised the staff not to sign it. They would have been gagged while HELP would be free to make any claims they liked. 
  Ritchie and HELP refused to amend it when asked, and instead threatened the staff with costs if they took it to an employment tribunal. In their political opinion the staff were not entitled to anything,  and they  threw the financial and institutional weight of council into supporting that position. A council supporter even heard Cllr Greener say they would fight staff in every  court in the land, regardless of the cost. 
  But the judge at the employment tribunal has said the complete opposite, stating that former councillors carefully considered the position, and the position taken by HELP was extremely 'unattractive'.

Remember when

We had an attractive roundabout  in the Town Centre ( Christmas tree in December ) and traffic flowed freely? Ah well,that's progress for you!


Recently Hertfordshire Highways resurfaced a section of road in
Pixmore Way. This apparently necessitated some "on the spot"
calculations. Unfortunately, perhaps due to a paper shortage, the
footpath was used instead. Now, if my child or yours had done this,
they would probably have been prosecuted for vandalism! Why are
Hertfordshire Highways exempt from the law?

Letchworths hidden Gems

Sierra 1- Pc Stamp's (actor Graham Cole's) car from The Bill.

Sierra1 featured in the opening sequences of The Bill for many years-seen weaving through traffic with siren blaring and blue lights flashing. Its long time driver,Pc Tony Stamp (Graham Cole) was a regular and popular character who appeared in the series for 25 years and was sacked in acrimonious circumstances in 2009.

Bad press – what bad press?

Apparently oblivious to the recent bad press, a "worker" relaxes while he watches his colleagues trimming trees in Howard Garden this week (the garden is still closed and no progress to be seen) When are we getting our Park and Gardens back?  


The entire committee of the Friends of Howard Park and Gardens has resigned. We understand that members' views were not being taken into account, and they were not being allowed to make any meaningful contribution to the project. See post here
  ...and the work goes on!

Councillor rights an injustice

Sue Johnson, who represents Wilbury Ward on Letchworth Town Council, reports on how she successfully pressurised Hertfordshire police to investigate and subsequently quash a Caution given to a young Letchworth girl. She highlights the invaluable role an elected councillor can play in fighting injustice.

FOR THE past eighteen months it’s been possible to get a criminal record for life without ever being tried in a court of law or formally convicted of any crime. How? By accepting a police caution.
  Most people believe, reasonably, that a caution is precisely that: a warning that being in a similar situation in the future might have severe repercussions.
  But they are wrong. Because since October 2009, all police cautions remain on record for 99 years – and will be disclosed to prospective employers on Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.
  This means that if you have one you may be unable to get a job working in education, health or care settings – or even helping out at your child’s school. You may also be denied credit and detained at airports.
  In English criminal courts, the prosecution must prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. But cautions can be issued on the subjective judgement of individual police officers in the absence of any legal advice or representation for recipients.
  They are issued at the time of arrest, possibly without a sufficient review of the evidence or any supporting information, and often after the subject has been held for a considerable time in the cells.
  A common complaint is that Cautions or ‘out of court disposals’ as they are called put the police in the position of judge and jury, opening the door for decisions resulting from poor judgement or abuse of the system.
  In law, before every decision to charge, whether or not the case is to be heard in Court, there are conditions which must be met:    There must be enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction in court; an admission of guilt; a clear understanding of the significance of a caution; and informed consent.
Once applied, because a Caution amounts to an admission of guilt, it can be cited as a criminal record at any time in the future.

Case histories
But I can confirm from my own experience that these conditions are not always applied, resulting in people’s lives being unjustly blighted. And to make matters worse, such cautions will only be removed in exceptional circumstances, including unlawful arrest or where there is insufficient evidence that the alleged offence was actually committed.
  This year I have been involved in two such cases. One is still ongoing, and in the other the caution was successfully removed.  In that case, I acted on behalf of a young Letchworth woman who was given a caution for ‘battery’ shortly after her eighteenth birthday. Her ‘crime’ was that, after being stalked and harassed by an ex-boyfriend, she had physically pushed him away. He had not fallen, or been bruised or hurt in any way. There was absolutely no physical evidence to support his allegation.
  But this young woman was later stopped in her car, taken to a local police station, charged and detained in a police cell for six hours.
  At three o’clock in the morning, frightened and cold, she was offered a formal caution, and told that if she refuse she would be taken to court.  This despite the complete absence of any evidence other than the young man’s word that she had committed the alleged offence.
  She believed there was nothing she could do or say in her own defence. It was the middle of the night, she was in the middle of her A-levels, and she just wanted to go home.
  Protesting her innocence, she accepted the caution – not as an admission of guilt which this is regarded in law,  but as an acceptance of punishment, which although undeserved she could not see how she could avoid.
  Getting it removed was not easy.  First I had to battle with police at the most senior level in order to get them to instigate an investigation.   It finally took the active support of the Parliamentary Liaison Officer and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) before a formal investigation was ordered.   
  Once in place, it is to the credit of Hertfordshire Police that there was a very thorough examination of the circumstances in which this caution had been applied.  Background information was requested and explored, all parties were re interviewed and taped information was re examined.  As a result the caution was removed on the grounds that no offence had been committed.   
  This young woman is now a young professional qualified to enter the medical field – but she may never have been able to get a job if this caution had remained in place.
  I believe that my success in getting justice was entirely down to my being a town councillor. As plain Sue Johnson, I would likely have been ignored. As Councillor Sue Johnson I got responses, even from the office of the Home Secretary.
  My role as councillor opened doors. My letters received swift responses. My phone calls were returned. People talked to me. And, most importantly, they listened.
  For me, this is what being a town councillor is all about. Supporting townspeople when they need help, and providing access to what is the first tier of government – the town council.
Twitter @LTCSueJ

Gardens bomb site: what next?

Paul Ross, one of two independent councillors on Letchworth Town Council, laments the lengthy delays bedeviling the Howard Park redevelopment project.

THE HOWARD Park redevelopment seems to be going nowhere fast – and it’s now time to ask: is this due to inefficiency, complacency or both?
  The completion date has just been put back to Spring 2012, and at the present rate of progress this could well be the summer of that year.
  The park now resembles a bomb site – a mountain of soil and rubble, holes and trenches everywhere and a load of half-completed mini-projects.
  The workforce appears to consist of just six men, who only become animated at knocking-off time and often seem to be missing altogether for long periods of time.
  There seems to be no good reason for this abysmal state of affairs. After all, the weather has been great for the last nine months, and I'm sure that a company like UPM Uphill could provide a much larger workforce.
  The other section of the works, Howard Garden, is a different matter altogether. Little or no work has happened here for weeks now, and what has been done is far from satisfactory.
  The new car park, which serves both the social and bowls clubs, is fine, as is the garden and lawn between the club houses and the bowling green.
  But why have two well-established hedges were removed? To allow the general public a better sight of the bowlers in action? I can’t imagine crowds of people will flock to take advantage of this! It will merely gives easy access for vandals.
  Meanwhile, just beyond the bowling green is a very small brook, often dry, which has been partially excavated to create a ‘wetland’ area. Beside it is a large mound of earth covered in weeds.
  Moving on, the old Charles Ball Memorial Garden, known locally as the ‘sunken garden’, has been filled in. Seems a shame, given that this was a very attractive feature until NHDC cut its maintenance budget.
  There is also a new footbridge linking the garden to Rusby Mead. Assuming that Herts district council ever give the go ahead for the new entrance, this will also be an easy access for scrap-meal thieves targeting the yet-to-be-erected statue of Sappho, the ancient Greek poet.
  No-one will give a date for the re-opening of these gardens, and our increasingly out-of-touch and arrogant district council is doing nothing to reassure the good citizens of Letchworth.
  It's time to make your feeling to be known, not only on this issue, but on all the other local ‘improvements’ that have big question marks hanging over them.
  These include the Brotherhood Hall, the Town Hall, the old Grammar School building and the town centre.
  The LGC forum is your platform – please use it.
Twitter @LGCPaulR