Southwark Labour has remained quiet over claims that a councillor was pushed out of her position after her husband wrote a scathing letter to the News about council housing officers.
Claire Maugham announced her surprise resignation last week, less than a year after being elected with the most votes out of any Chaucer ward candidate.
A political source told the News that Claire had faced unbearable pressure from the Labour hierarchy after her husband wrote a letter slamming officers involved in AA v Southwark, the High Court case that found the council had unlawfully evicted a resident.
In his December 11 letter to the News, Jolyon Maugham said: “The whole appalling episode – misbehaviour by junior officers and mishandling of the incident by their management – gives the very clear impression to this reader of a council that is defiantly determined not to learn from its mistakes.”
Cllr Maugham’s official resignation statement, in which she said the decision was “not an easy one”, failed to give an explicit reason for stepping down so abruptly. She said: “I have loved and learned so much from every moment of this last year. I am very proud of what I, Karl Eastham and Vijay Luthra have accomplished for residents in Chaucer ward, from action on night time disturbances on the Rockingham to preserving the peace of Trinity Church Square.”
She also gave her backing to Cllr Neil Coyle’s Parliamentary election bid and pledged to continue serving the community through Labour activism and as a school governor.
Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, Leader of Southwark Lib Dems, found this statement unsatisfying.
She said: “It’s outrageous that Labour are letting local people down without even giving a reason. The Leader of the Council must be honest. The people of Chaucer ward are owed an explanation as to why someone they turned out to vote for is standing down after less than a year.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Ben Johnson, who served alongside Cllr Maugham in the housing scrutiny committee, was saddened to lose someone who was “excellent at holding people accountable.”
He said: “She was a very effective member of the housing scrutiny committee, particularly on the AA case. Her enquiring mind and effective scrutiny will be missed.”
When contacted for a response, Southwark Labour referred the News to the statements already made by Cllr Maugham and Council Leader Peter John, neither of which offer a direct explanation. The by-election to find her replacement will be held on the same day as May’s general election.
See below for Jolyon Maugham’s controversial letter to the News:
Readers of Southwark News will have been alarmed by the case of AA v Southwark in which the High Court found that a number of officers in the Housing Department of the Council had given evidence that was “self-evidently untrue” and “singularly misleading”. And that they had participated in a deliberate cover up to hide their wrong-doing.
Those who pay Council tax – and those in Council housing who rely on Southwark Housing to operate properly – will be rightly shocked to learn that those officers remain in post.
But mistakes are made. We can have confidence that these mistakes have been learned from, right?
Wrong. The response from Southwark’s Strategic Director of Housing, Gerri Scott (reported in Southwark News, 27 November) demonstrates that a casual disregard for truth and the rule of the law is not merely the preserve of junior officers.
In her report to Housing Scrutiny Committee, she asserts that “the trial itself was unjust”. This is a strange allegation from a Department that will have spent tens of thousands of pounds in costs and which instructed a QC – all against a litigant in person.
However more worrying still is her complacent assertion that major findings of the High Court were “clearly wrong” (although not wrong enough, apparently, to justify an appeal).
I have practised as a barrister for 15 years and I cannot recall another instance in which a public official has shown such a disregard for a decision of the High Court. Indeed, one might well conclude that Ms Scott’s contempt for the rule of law closely mirrors that displayed by her officers who, as the High Court found, acted in a “flagrantly unlawful” manner.
And as to the officers’ truthfulness? Here, too, Ms Scott falls short when it comes to demonstrating the right kind of leadership. Her report to the Housing Scrutiny Committee reports that Southwark “acted with fairness” in “contributing £5,0000 for Mr AA to obtain independent legal advice.” However, this £5,000 was paid by order of the High Court – well after the hearing was over – and appears to have been compensation for the destruction by Southwark of Mr AA’s possessions. Not remotely, as she suggests, as some generous act to help Mr AA with legal advice.
The whole appalling episode – misbehaviour by junior officers and mishandling of the incident by their management – gives the very clear impression to this reader of a Council that is defiantly determined not to learn from its mistakes.