'The right hand doesn't know what the right-wing hand is doing'

East Devon District Council leader, Councilor Paul Arnott. Picture: Paul Arnott

East Devon District Council leader, Paul Arnott - Credit: Archant

On Wednesday, December 8, the Full Council at East Devon District met via zoom, as is now usual.

The agenda included an item about whether we should continue to meet virtually until spring next year.

The Conservative group, following direct orders from the national party, continues to make potty arguments for Full Council – all 60 of us, plus a dozen officers - to meet face to face.

Because the council chamber of the new-ish council building they commissioned when in power is so small that only 16 people can be allowed in it any one time (and the windows don’t open!), such a meeting would have to be held at Westpoint.

It’d involve having all the doors open come snow or rain this winter, and land the council with a hire bill of well over £1,000. 

Yet somehow the Conservatives, infected with the odd mixture of gung-ho, macho and arrogance of the PM and his buddy Jacob Rees Mogg, were still trying to force this really daft idea through.

I can report that they failed, but only after the comedy of a few low-grade speeches proclaiming themselves as the great tribunes of democracy, made literally at the same time as the PM was announcing, "if you can work from home, you should”. The right hand didn’t know what the right-wing hand was doing.

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However, that was not the most important part of the meeting. At Agenda Item One always is 'Public Speaking'. In essence, it is the item when anyone from East Devon can come along and say whatever they wish about the council’s business.

In December 2019, Full Council had anointed a former councillor, John Humphreys, as an Alderman, a constitutional curio which is meant to recognise the long-service of recently retired members.

In August 2021, Humphreys was sent to prison for 21 years for his repeated sexual assaults against two minors. In September 2021, Full Council withdrew his Alderman status.

Frankly, this had to be just the start of the council having a serious look at itself. 

Taking away his being an alderman was scarcely even a gnat bite. At that September 2021 meeting I said I would look further into the matter, and I did.

What I discovered, was horrific. To be very clear, the police in the present day, and the Crown Prosecution, got their man. These historic cases are very hard to prove. They did well.

Last week, though, we heard directly from one of the victims that he had done all he could to report Humphreys vile acts to the police in both 2004 and in 2012

His account of this was read in a statement for him by the ward member for his family in Exmouth, and is available to read online in full. 

His reward for making these reports was for both him and his family to be threatened by the local police, he alleged.

He also could not understand why nobody had done anything about Humphreys carrying on as a councillor beyond 2016, when he was first charged, let alone 2017 when a full file had been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Were we seriously to credit that nobody connected to him politically knew this?

If nobody knew, why was his re-selection as a district councillor stopped by the Conservatives for the May 2019 elections? And why on earth did they then put his name forward to be an Alderman in December 2019?

On hearing his statement, I immediately wrote to the Chief Constable requesting that he refer his force to the Independent Office for Police Conduct with regard to the alleged behaviours by officers towards the victim 2004-15.

I also wrote to the East Devon Conservatives asking if they have launched an enquiry. It hasn’t been a week yet since I wrote and I’ll chase on Thursday.

I’ll let you know.