Mayhem at Maldon District Council

An ex-council leader’s husband left an altercation with a councillor with a black eye in a video uploaded to YouTube, a wave of shocking abuse towards councillors and staff, and police called twice.

These are some of the key events which have left Maldon District Council leader and deputy no choice but to step down from their top jobs.

The dramatic saga in the Essex district started with a fiery council meeting that had to be abandoned two weeks ago, but has since led to “daily” harassment and threats targeted at council employees including someone walking past the authority’s HQ and calling staff a “w*****”.

The district council wants to draw a line under past events, and has launched a new campaign with other Essex authorities in response to ongoing attacks against its staff.

And all this happened in the same county which weeks before, saw one of its MPs brutally killed while doing his job.

In the following feature, the LDRS explains what has happened over the last few months and how a tense situation has escalated to the actions now needed.

The investigation

After complaints of a “targeted campaign” of “sustained vindictive behaviour” made by the council’s corporate leadership team in June 2021, an independent barrister was appointed by the Monitoring Officer to investigate Independent councillor for Heybridge Chrisy Morris, according to a report.

In July, his report concluded that Cllr Morris had brought the council into disrepute by “attempting to publicly undermine and humiliate” one council officer, “publicly taunting and haranguing” another, and by attempting to “undermine and publicly discredit” the investigation itself.

Cllr Morris disputes these findings.

In September, the Joint Standards Committee met to discuss the findings of that investigation, and an additional investigation detailing complaints by other councillors.

In a sign of things to come, the meeting contained a series of heated exchanges and protestations against the allegations.

Nonetheless, the committee unanimously agreed the findings of the investigations, stating Cllr Morris had made “serious breaches of the code of conduct”.

It then agreed to restrict his access to IT and emails until May 2022, recommended to the full council that he was removed from all committees and working groups for the next municipal year, and offered him training on conflict management.

The full council meeting

Two months later, the full council finally convened. First up for discussion were the sanctions recommended by the Joint Standards Committee.

But the November 4 meeting was abandoned after only half an hour due to an outburst by Cllr Morris.

He quickly began to interject,  shouting “point of order” over the other councillors, often through a megaphone he had brought with him.

Despite a unanimous vote that “the member be no longer heard”, Cllr Morris did not stop.

He said at the meeting: “I have every right to speak here, I’ve been elected.

“I’ve been elected. This is democracy. You might not like me but you’ve got to listen to me.”

Eventually the police were called. An officer told him he was “breaching the peace”, but still he did not leave..

After a short spell in private session, councillors stood up and walked out of the meeting in protest, unable to continue with their business.

Despite the outburst, the council managed to vote on agreeing the Joint Standard Committee recommendations, banning him from appearing on committees and working groups until May 2023.

The meeting has been compared to an online Handforth Parish Council meeting which went viral earlier this year.

The video

The dust had barely settled from subsequent coverage in the national press and on television before the next development.

Only two days later, a video emerged on social media which appeared to show Barrie Stamp, the husband of then-council leader Wendy Stamp (Independent Group, Burnham-on-Crouch North), in an altercation with Cllr Morris.

In the video, the two men can be heard shouting and swearing while the camera shakes.

Mr Stamp appeared to come away from the scuffle with a black eye.

Essex Police confirmed officers were called to a premises in Maldon Road, Langford, at 11.30am on November 6, and that a man was voluntarily interviewed.

When approached about the altercation, Cllr Stamp gave no comment, citing the police investigation as the reason.

Cllr Morris confirmed he had filmed the video and posted it on his YouTube channel the same day.

The fallout and abuse

On November 11, Cllrs Stamp and Nunn announced their resignations via a public statement on the council’s website, citing “daily episodes of abuse and threats of violence” being received by staff as the reason.

Cllr Stamp said in the statement: “By stepping down, I am taking the right steps to ensure what this Council and its staff have been subjected to in recent weeks stops.”

A spokesperson for the council said incidents had spanned months, but had increased over recent weeks and days.

Abuse had taken place in person, in addition to a series angry phone calls and threats on social media.

According to the spokesperson, examples included a person approaching the council offices and calling a member of staff a “w*****” and a phone call in which staff were called “a shower of c****”.

Threats of violence on social media included a statement directed at a member of staff saying “hang the b****”, and another where a member of the public offered to come to the council and “put a knee in her back and pin her to the floor”.

Enough is enough’

The council have since launched ‘Enough is Enough’, a public campaign reaching out to other local authorities and blue light services in Essex to encourage a zero tolerance attitude towards hate crime at work.

An open letter condemning the behaviour was also signed by 25 councillors, including Cllrs Stamp and Nunn but also Cll Richard Siddall (Independent Group, Great Totham), who is due to be appointed leader designate, and opposition leader Penny Channer (Con, Mayland).

Cllr Siddall said that officers did not have the same opportunity to respond to harassment as councillors, and can be seen as “an easy target”.

He said: “We really want the public to engage with us in a positive manner and where possible to deal with the council and deal with our staff in a positive and respectful and constructive way.”

Several Essex councils including Southend-on-Sea, the district which experienced the killing of MP Sir David Amess last month, have taken to social media to support the campaign.

Head of paid service, Richard Holmes, said in a statement: “It is a serious offence causing significant harm and distress to our staff and we have a genuine concern for their wellbeing and safety and have taken steps to ensure their safety is a priority.

“Nobody in any workplace should experience what our staff have been subjected to, it is as simple as that.

“Enough is enough.

“We welcome the support and concern we have already received and ask all local authorities and blue light services to take part in this campaign.”

The next full council meeting is scheduled for December 16.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter

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