Decision on gerrymandering accusation against Havering Council leader behind closed doors

A meeting to decide if Havering Council’s leader is investigated is going ahead behind closed doors, despite two of the panel’s three members being in the leader’s party.

Council leader Cllr Damian White (Con, Squirrels Heath) has been accused of gerrymandering, based on a leaked recording from a private Conservative group meeting held in February.

It is alleged the recording proves Cllr White influenced the borough’s proposed electoral boundary changes for political gain.

A panel of three councillors – Matt Sutton (Con), Ray Best (Con) and Linda Van den Hende (Upminster & Cranham Residents’ Group) – are meeting online now to decide the matter.

They voted unanimously that the meeting should be held in private, excluding both the press and the public.

At the meeting, Cllr Sutton, who proposed the motion, said: “It’s been in the public domain through the media and normally these meetings are not in public.”

The motion was seconded by Cllr Ray Best.

The panel can rule either that the allegation should be investigated further or that it be dropped, with no opportunity for appeal.

A previous meeting to decide the issue, held on October 1, was adjourned after former panel member Cllr Timothy Ryan (Con, Brooklands) was excused on his request.

Cllr Ryan was at the recorded meeting in February and his presence on the panel was widely criticised at the time.

On October 1, he told the committee: “I would like to express a (conflict of) interest of being noted in the transcript and the local newspaper. I would like to excuse myself from this meeting.”

Also at today’s meeting was Newham Council’s monitoring officer Daniel Fenwick, who was appointed to carry out the investigation by Havering Council monitoring officer John Jones.

In the report he prepared for the meeting, Mr Fenwick concluded that the allegations “are sufficiently serious to justify an investigation”.

He added: “It is in the wider interests of the council and its legal duty to uphold the Nolan Principles that an investigation takes place.”

Other individuals present include Cllr Bob Perry (Independent), who leaked the recording before leaving the Conservative Party.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter