A former Hartlepool councillor has failed in his High Court attempt to have the result of the May 2021 election for Fens and Greatham Ward declared void.
Instead, Bob Buchan now faces legal costs of more than £48,000 having missed out on becoming one of three councillors elected to the ward. Mr Buchan who previously represented the Independent Union on the borough had Initially lost out to Labour’s Jennifer Elliott by 609 votes to 619.
He claimed his personal integrity had been attacked after a letter had been sent out to voters accusing him of voting for a controversial housing development at Hill View, Greatham. This meant, he argued, the majority margin of only 10 votes won by Cllr Elliott was unsafe.
But Mr Buchan protested he wasn’t even at the meeting to vote. He had in fact, voted against a previous application for the development in July 2020. Mr Buchan said while he was against the Greatham development, he was in “favour of more affordable and social housing”.
He did, however, appoint an Independent Union councillor colleague, John Tennant, as a substitute for the January planning meeting, who voted in favour of the plans.
Councillor Elliott did not deny accusing Mr Buchan of voting for the development. On her Facebook page she posted: “An honest mistake has been hijacked and used to deny the will of local people, attack and frustrate local democracy and waste thousands of pounds of public money.”
She went on: “Mr Buchan did not vote for the development, but he did endorse the decision online. The fact is, he failed to attend the meeting where the decision was made but the substitute sent in his place did vote for it. He did not raise any issue until the election was over and it was too late to address it.”
Sarah Sackman, defending, argued the letter was making a “political” rather than “personal” point around Mr Buchan.
She said: “The statement was quite obviously political in nature and that’s precisely how the ordinary readers receiving the letter in Greatham and Fens ward would have understood it.”
Judge Philip Kramer ruled however, Cllr Elliott’s letter referred to Mr Buchan’s “political conduct and character” rather than a “personal” attack and rejected Mr Buchan’s claim.
The court action has dominated Cllr Elliott’s first few months in the role. Ironically, because of a Boundaries Commission review, the Fens and Greatham ward will have another election in May this year. It’s possible however, Mr Buchan could stand again and because of growing sympathy over his legal costs could win back his seat.
Cllr Elliott also said on her Facebook page” “I am very pleased with the court’s ruling. I am looking forward to focusing on what really matters – fighting for the residents of Fens and Greatham.
“They put their trust in me and I have been returning that trust since May. I have worked hard to fight for local people and rise above a campaign of abuse, dirty tricks and stunts by Mr Buchan and his supporters, including some ‘independent’ councillors and local Conservatives.”
Cllr Elliott’s legal team submitted an account for legal costs of just under £79,000, while the judge ordered Mr Buchan to pay them just over £48,000. Mr Buchan meanwhile claimed he had kept his own legal costs down to £3,500.
Mr Buchan explained he would have to seek the support of family and friends to raise the money for the defence’s bill.