‘Better than telly’ row at Bembridge council meeting ends in police call out

A packed parish council meeting saw the police called on an 83-year-old man who delivered a speech in a row over “financial negligence” and the future of a local fish shop.

Police were called to a Bembridge Parish Council (BPC) meeting on Tuesday (July 17) in Bembridge Village Hall at around 7.10pm after an ex-parish councillor called the council “financially incompetent”.

Alexander Hopkinson-Woolley, an ex-BPC councillor and former teacher, berated the parish council for a number of issues concerning what he called, “financial neglect” and “incompetent neglect”.

His speech formed part of an argument that has been going on since May 2016 between parishioners and council members over the future of Captain Stan’s Fish Store in 5/7 High Street, Bembridge.

BPC own 5/7 High Street which houses public toilets, Captain Stan’s and the former BPC chambers.

The 83-year-old said in his speech that the BPC had been collecting money for years to maintain the public toilets but had “spent nothing”.

Alexander Hopkinson-Woolley after the Bembridge Parish Council meeting
Alexander Hopkinson-Woolley after the Bembridge Parish Council meeting – Photo by Joe Burn

He said: “Our public conveniences are an example of incompetent neglect. But wait a moment, the council put £10,000 onto the precept to refurbish them.”

Mr Hopkinson-Woolley said the council has “been taking money under false pretences”.

He continued: “That is dishonesty. And failing to fill agreements is financial irresponsibility.

“We then have a poll estimate cost of £3000 – the actual cost was less than half. The majority of councillors are financially incompetent.”

Mr Hopkinson-Woolley was cut off by council members and something of a furore erupted in the village hall.

The poll he is referring to was introduced at the annual BPC meeting on May 29, it asked the following question: “Do you want Bembridge Parish Council to sell 5/7 High Street – Yes or No”?

On June 28 the parish voted “No” overwhelmingly, with 602 votes against the sale, to 231 for it.

The parish poll cost £1,370.30 and the recent uncontested election fee was £167.76, Isle of Wight Council documents seen by IW Observer show.

The poll came after a 1300 name petition against the sale of 5/7 High Street in January 2017.

The petition preceded an independent political group being set up, named Open Bembridge,  whose campaign run in the May 2017 elections saw 10 out of 12 Open Bembridge councillors elected.

Mr Hopkinson-Woolley delivering his speech - photo by Joe Burn
Mr Hopkinson-Woolley delivering his speech – photo by Joe Burn

Police called

BPC chairman, Cllr Keith Fagan then asked Mr Hopkinson-Woolley to “leave the hall” and called the police.

Cllr Fagan said to Mr Hopkinson-Woolley: “Perhaps I should release the transcripts of your emails to me, relating to other councillors on this parish [council]?”

Mr Hopkinson-Woolley cut off the chairman, he shouted: “You want to sell 5/7 High Street to hide the financial incompetence and dishonesty of the council. You’re hoping that selling it will bury your failures and incompetence.”

Cllr Mike Curtis outside his shop, Captain Stan’s in Bembridge, which is at the centre of the dispute – photo by Joe Burn

Mr Fagan invited the ex-councillor to prove any of that information.

Mr Hopkinson-Woolley finished his speech with a question: “How are you going to improve the financial competence of the staff and finance committee when you exclude the one person who has real competence to help?”

He was referring to Cllr Alasdair Steane, representing Open Bembridge, who Mr Hopkinson-Woolley says is regularly excluded by other councillors.

Most people in the hall clapped as Mr Hopkinson-Woolley finished his speech and he thanked the crowd.

The council then suspended the meeting, stating Mr Hopkinson-Woolley must leave before it would continue, the majority of the councillors then left the main room in the village hall and the 83-year-old asked the gathering if they would like him to leave.

A show of hands displayed a large majority of people wanted him to stay.

Show of hands to keep Mr Hopkinson-Woolley in the hall – photo by Joe Burn

As the councillors left the room, local resident Gay Allen, 61, said : “That’s it, run away. They’ll do it in secrecy anyway so might as well disappear.”

Another resident, Ann Smith, 73, laughed as she said: “Better than telly any night.”

Mrs Allen added: “The trouble is you vote people on to do a [a job], and then they turncoat. Then you suddenly find you have only got two councillors who will actually support what we are all voting them to do.”

The hall after the majority of councillors left – photo by Joe Burn

Mr Hopkinson-Woolley then said he would leave the hall if the sale of 5/7 was “withdrawn from the intention to sell, then I should be very happy to leave”.

The police did not show up before the meeting was “abandoned” by Cllr Fagan who briefly reappeared to tell the hall it was over.

Cllr Tommy Millington and Spike Hughes outside the village hall
Cllr Tommy Millington and Spike Hughes outside the village hall

After the meeting, Cllr Tommy Millington, said: “I just want say that I was elected last year to try and do a good job for the village, I just wanted to get on with it.

“What would I do differently? I’d let everyone speak, I’d answer everyone’s questions fairly, and put some real people on there, ones that weren’t loaded with money.”

Spike Hughes’ business was evicted from 5/7 High Street by BPC in April, 2017, shortly before the council decided to sell the building again.

He said: “They’re just not democratic at all. They don’t listen to the village , it’s their own little clique and they’ve got their own agenda, and I think they don’t need the money – they’re miss using our money and I think they just need to listen to the people really. It’s totally undemocratic, they are just pushing us out constantly.”

Cllr Fagan and Bembridge Parish Council have been asked for comment.

A spokesman for Hampshire Constabulary said: “Officers were called just after 7.10pm to Bembridge Village Hall, High Street, Bembridge.

“It was reported that a man was causing a disturbance during a council meeting.

“The man left before police arrived. The matter is under investigation.”