Pendle Council faces £22,000 bill after election declaration fault, ‘dishonourable shenanigans’ and court challenge

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Pendle Council faces a £22,000 bill after a wrong result was declared at a Nelson Town Council election count in May, leading to a court hearing and now conflicting allegations of poor behaviour against different political parties.

The election saw Patricia Hannah-Wood mistakenly declared the winner at Bradley West ward by a returning officer. She later stepped down.

In the summer, a judge ruled that Conservative Julie Green was the real winner and could take up her town council seat. She had received 65 more votes than Ms Hannah-Wood.

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Pendle Council apologised for the mistake and said lessons were learnt. But the financial cost of the error and alleged reactions by different political parties were raised at a full council meeting. The allegations came during a revenue and capital budget financial report.

Pendle Council. Nelson Town Hall. Pic: Robbie MacDonald LDR.Pendle Council. Nelson Town Hall. Pic: Robbie MacDonald LDR.
Pendle Council. Nelson Town Hall. Pic: Robbie MacDonald LDR.

Looking at the report, Conservative Coun. Martyn Stone said: “I have an observation about paragraph 11, with reference to one-off costs regarding Nelson Town Council elections.

“It’s interesting because both parties in the [borough council] administration claim to be guardians of financial rectitude but there is a claim for £22,000.

“How has that come about because in Marsden West it was clear the Conservative candidate had reached the most votes? Everybody could see that clearly.

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“Unfortunately, there was a mistake. But that could have easily been rectified. There was no need for legal moves, had the Labour Party done the honourable thing to resign and the Conservatives got the seat. This £22,000, which residents will bear, is due to dishonourable shenanigans on the day.”

The quarterly report stated: “Following the local election in May this year, a petitioner’s claim was brought against the council to reverse the outcome of the parish elections for Nelson Town Council.

“The cost of the petitioners claim was £22,500 and this was borne by the council as a cost of the election. This was as advised by King’s Counsel [a barrister], namely that the council had a statutory obligation to pay the petitioner’s costs and that no decision (by the executive or council) was required to meet a lawful obligation.

“The council’s costs will be covered by its insurers. Petitioners costs are not insurable and will be funded by council reserves. The impact of this is reflected in the figures included in the report.”

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Lib-Dem Coun. David Whipp, deputy leader of Pendle Council, said: “Coun. Stone has said the £22,000 of expenditure was due to Labour shenanigans. But the bill is entirely due to the Conservatives going to the election court to challenge the result.

“The result was wrong and it was not the fault of a politician. It was the fault of the announcement by the returning officer. It’s a matter of law that we had to pay it. Even if a result is read-out wrongly, the result is the result. Once it is announced, that is the result.”

Describing how events after the election error may have unfolded, Coun. Whipp added: “The councillor who was elected would have been required not to take up the position, and there would have been six months before the post was declared vacant.”

Labour borough councillors did not comment on Coun. Stone’s allegations about their party and the Nelson count issues.

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