Tamworth Borough Council stands accused of trying to gag elected Councillors over a dispute with Leisure Leagues about the hiring of sports pitches in Tamworth.
In an email provided to Leisure Leagues by several sources the Council’s Assistant Director of Leisure, Sarah McGrandle tells Councillors that it is inappropriate to comment due to the threat of legal action.
The dispute has arisen following the Councils decision to stop Leisure Leagues from playing their matches at Tamworth Enterprise College, even though Leisure Leagues had correctly booked the slots.
Andy Thorley, Head of Media at Leisure Leagues said: “Isn’t it strange that Tamworth Borough Council wants to gag everybody, whilst ourselves, who are not reliant on taxpayers money whatsoever, are prepared to be open, transparent and talk with people”.
In her email to Councillors, Ms. McGrandle also said that the Councillors didn’t need to speak to Leisure Leagues because there was already a channel of communication between Leisure Leagues and the Council which was seeking to address the issues.
Mr Thorley said: “That is simply not true. Since 18th August when she was sent evidence which exposed the Councils malpractice in the hiring of the pitch, she has refused point blank to talk with us. We have left her multiple messages over the past few weeks, and sent emails but she doesn’t even do the courtesy of acknowledging them. Councillors are being fed a line which is simply not the case. Nobody at the Council has picked up the phone and wanted to talk to us for weeks. And Sarah has the audacity to say that there are communication channels open between us and the Council. It beggars belief”.
In the email to Councillors, Ms. McGrandle also states that Leisure Leagues are now telling the Council they intend to conduct interviews for a TV documentary.
Mr Thorley said: “Again, Sarah is being at the very least economical with the truth. We have been asking the Council for an interview for weeks, and Sarah gives the impression that they have only just realised we are doing a documentary and want to conduct interviews. What Sarah fails to say in her email to the Councillors is that we have been blocked at every turn by the Councils leadership when all we wanted was to speak with someone about the allegations that we have discovered, and discuss the malpractice with them”.
“When you are trying to expose of the truth, and uncover malpractice such as we have, and the people with power and responsibility at the centre of it repeatedly keep refusing to engage with you, then I for one, as an investigative journalist, should be able to exercise my democratic right to go and visit those with power and responsibility who are accused of misusing taxpayers money, and ask them serious questions on behalf of the taxpaying public, which they otherwise refuse to answer. Somehow Sarah seems to think that the Council can simply ignore the evidence, stick their head in the sand, say nothing and nothing will ever be exposed”.
The email to councillors also says that the Councillors aren’t allowed to speak because they don’t have all the facts and Councillors are aware that the issues are being looked at by the authority.
Mr Thorley commented: “Well, that’s all right then, shouldn’t it be the elected Councillors who need to know all the facts, and shouldn’t the Council be giving them all the facts? Isn’t it the Councillors who should be scrutinising the Executive, not the Executive gagging the Councillors and keeping the facts from them? It’s the wrong way round”.
Leisure Leagues are producing a dossier which will be sent to all Councillors outlining the main issues and allegations, with supporting evidence.
Mr Thorley said,: “The Council may not wish to be open and transparent, but we certainly will. And we’re not going to go around telling people what they can and cannot say. Our job is to provide the evidence and the facts, and try and get the people in power and responsibility to answer when evidence is presented that malpractice has occurred. Gagging orders are simply not the way forward, and from the communications we had, there are quite a lot of Councillors who think the same way”.
At the end of the email Ms McGrandle advises Councillors, if they have questions, to ask Councillor John Chesworth.
Mr Thorley said: “Councillor Chesworth has made it quite clear to us that, come what may, he will support the Council leadership. He stopped talking to us at the end of July when we first started discovering serious allegations. He wasn’t interested. And he wrote an email to us telling us that even though the Council was disregarding Government policy and proper guidelines for hiring the pitch at the College, as far as he was concerned he was going to back them. And he hasn’t spoken to us since”.
“Ms. McGrandle makes this issue sound as though it were life threatening. In actual fact it is pretty simple. We have simply discovered that the hiring of the pitch at the College has been done in a wildly discriminatory fashion and has not been done in accordance with Tamworth Borough Council policy, to say the least. The Council have been confrontational and antagonistic whilst refusing to talk to us for weeks on end. Of course they don’t want Councillors to talk to us and find out what the truth is. We’re not surprised that Sarah doesn’t want the councillors to know anything, because the facts look awful for the Council”.Back to Blog