Bid to gag Southend councillors over probe into bribery allegation

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Southend councillors have been told not to speak to the press or comment on social media about calls to investigate top council bosses over a bribery probe.

An email marked private and confidential but seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service was sent to councillors urging them to keep quiet after it emerged that Tory leader, Councillor Tony Cox had called for an investigation into the conduct of council bosses.

The email, sent on Friday by Giles Gilbert, assistant director of legal services at the council, stressed that “appropriate processes are underway” to deal with the matter “in accordance with the council’s constitution and the law”.

It continued: “So as not to prejudice the ongoing processes I must respectfully ask councillors to refrain from commenting on or discussing these matters at this time, including in the press or on social media.

“Further, whilst I fully appreciate we all have a right to hold opinions and to express them – subject to legitimate restrictions prescribed by law – there is also a duty to respect other people’s rights including those under scrutiny at present.”

Cllr Cox made the complaint after discovering a 13-month investigation was launched into his finances when £1,050 was transferred from a bank account owned by the Southend Licenced Taxi Driver Association (SLTDA) to a joint account he holds with his wife.

Cllr Cox called the investigation “unlawful” and refused to declare the money, saying it was unrelated to his role as a councillor and only related to his wife’s financial affairs.

The investigation found there was not enough evidence for the case to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.

A source within the council called the email “outrageous” and said it goes to highlight the “terrible state of affairs within the council”.

The source said: “If you tell councillors to be quiet you’ve got the wrong audience. It is like a cheap injunction without going through the processes to get one.

“When it comes to a big issue like this, people expect elected representatives to step up, not to go quiet.

“People have a right to know what is happening and that this is being dealt with. A statement should be made.”

A council spokesperson said: “A private and confidential email was sent to all councillors on Friday January 31. This was sent as guidance and in the best interests of all parties, so as not to influence or prejudice ongoing processes.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter

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