Lyme Regis councillor says she feels ‘distressed and unsafe’ at meetings

Belinda Bawden
Councillor Belinda Bawden

A LYME Regis councillor has said she feels “distressed, embarrassed and unsafe” at council meetings and will not be attending until members’ behaviour is addressed.

Cllr Belinda Bawden made the statement following a public falling-out with Sue Davies, chair of community interest company LymeForward, who accused her of leading a “campaign of victimisation”.

The claims against Cllr Bawden have now been dismissed by Dorset Council’s monitoring officer following a formal complaint.

Ms Davies first made the accusations against Cllr Bawden during a public council meeting in April.

Her comments were made in response to a report in the agenda, written by Cllr Bawden, who was the town council’s representative on LymeForward.

In her report, Cllr Bawden expressed concerns about a “lack of governance” and high turnover of volunteers, staff and directors at LymeForward, which manages the foodbank and is involved in many other projects with the aim of improving local services and the wellbeing of the community.

In response, Ms Davies said she had been the subject of an “unremitting campaign of serious victimisation, intimidation and persecution” by Cllr Bawden since taking over as chair in March 2020.

In April she commented: “This has not only affected my reputation but her actions have also had a grave effect on LymeForward CIC and its ability to function as a Local Area Partnership.

“I have evidence that clearly demonstrates that her actions and behaviour fall well below the standards cited in the Lyme Regis Town Council Code of Conduct for members.”

Mrs Davies then submitted a formal complaint against Cllr Bawden to Dorset Council’s monitoring officer, Jonathan Mair.

‘No evidence of victimisation’

Mr Mair said that both he and the independent person appointed to look at the case had agreed there was “no evidence” of a campaign of victimisation and he would not be referring the complaint for further investigation.

However, Mr Mair did agree with Ms Davies’ concerns that Cllr Bawden should not be the council’s representatives on both LymeForward and Lyme Regis Development Trust, as the independent person had described the two organisations as “appearing to be in competition with each other”, and this could create a conflict of interests.

Speaking during the public forum of this week’s council meeting, Ms Davies read this second part of Mr Mair’s findings, and called for a new council representative for LymeForward, adding: “We have no confidence whatsoever in our nominated representative.”

Cllr Bawden asked Ms Davies to also read the first part of the monitoring officer’s response, which said there was no evidence of victimisation.

Ms Davies refused, saying she had submitted a further complaint to the monitoring officer with regards to this.

The town clerk John Wright said that the monitoring officer could only make recommendations to the town council but it was up to members whether to act on these or not.

He added that he did not think there was a conflict of interests in representing both LymeForward and Lyme Regis Development Trust.

Cllr Cheryl Reynolds argued that the monitoring officer was a well-paid senior officer at Dorset Council and “we should listen to exactly what they say”.

Issues ‘should not be swept under the carpet’

She was supported by new councillor Tara Webb, who added: “It should be paid attention to and not just swept under the carpet because it will just get worse and make this council look bad.”

The town clerk said he “was not trying to sweep anything under the carpet”, but reiterated his view that he did not believe there was a conflict of interest.

Cllr Webb asked: “How can you not when the monitoring officer thinks there is?”

Cllr Bawden said she had no intention of further representing either LymeForward or Lyme Regis Development Trust.

Cllrs Michaela Ellis and Tara Webb were elected to be the council’s representatives for LymeForward, and Cllr Ellis also as the representative of the separate LymeForward Steering Group.

Cllrs Cheryl Reynolds and David Sarson were chosen as representatives for Lyme Regis Development Trust.

Speaking after this week’s meeting, Cllr Bawden said she had been made to feel “distressed, embarrassed and unsafe” at meetings and had asked for urgent attention to be paid to members’ behaviour.

She added: “In the meantime, I have told the mayor and town clerk that I will not be attending council meetings until I have assurance that this will be dealt with quickly and I can attend meetings without being insulted and threatened.”

Cllr Bawden added that she had compiled a detailed report about concerns from LymeForward volunteers, former members of staff and directors, as well as from residents in Lyme who had “heard about the difficulties there”.

This information had been sent to the monitoring officer in light of a second complaint being raised against her.

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