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Wigan election row heading back to court

Coun Steve Jones
Coun Steve Jones

The high-profile dispute between an independent councillor and the town hall’s chief executive, which rocked the borough’s political scene, is heading back to court.

Papers have been served on Wigan Council and its boss Donna Hall for defamation of Bryn opposition member Coun Steve Jones, amid claims of a bullying and harassment campaign.

Donna Hall

Donna Hall

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However, the allegations have been swiftly and vehemently denied by the town hall, who say they will defend them all.

Coun Jones and ex-councillor Gareth Fairhurst took the local authority and Ms Hall to court earlier this year and got a by-election in Bryn quashed as Coun Jones had never actually resigned his seat.

The judgement doled out heavy criticism of the council and Ms Hall, who acts as returning officer for elections, for preparing for a vote while an elected councillor was still in post.

However, despite losing the case, the council has never apologised to Coun Jones.

After repeated attempts to settle the matter Coun Jones and Mr Fairhurst say they have no option but to let a judge hear the details.

Coun Jones said: “This is a last resort. We have given every opportunity to Wigan Council to apologise over its wrongdoing, but unfortunately they don’t want to know.

“A lot of the things they said about me have stuck and as a councillor what I do depends on people’s perspective of me.

“It had a massive impact on my life. I was suffering with depression and anxiety. All we wanted was an apology.

“I couldn’t just leave this. Action has got to be taken and that means going to court.”

The papers supplied by Mr Fairhurst, who previously acted as a McKenzie Friend (a legal term for an assistant to a litigant in court) to Coun Jones in hearings at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, were accepted by the High Court in London earlier this week.

The council has 14 days to decide if it will contest the issue or not, and if it does then a date for a court hearing will have to be fixed.

The papers name both the local authority and Ms Hall separately in case it is decided that her actions under the microscope were taken in the separate role of returning officer.

Mr Fairhurst slammed the town hall for not saying sorry and allowing proceedings to reach this stage.

He said: “We have asked for a public apology and a small donation to a charity of Steve’s choice three times.

“We have been incredibly patient with the council. They have not entertained us.

“Now they are going to waste even more taxpayers’ money on this campaign.”

A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “The papers provided by Mr Fairhurst are not formal legal proceedings.

“They do, however, make a number of baseless allegations against the council, which will be defended if required.”