A councillor has resigned in response to a former planning chair refusing to step down after she admitted illegally altering her listed property.
Wealden District councillor Barby Dashwood-Morris, 70, was last week fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 costs at Brighton Magistrates Court after making ‘irreversible changes’ to her 14th century Hellingly house.
She was prosecuted by her own council and pleaded guilty to six charges of causing works to be executed without obtaining the proper consent.
In a meeting of Hellingly Parish Council last night (Wednesday), a statement from cllr Dashwood-Morris was read out.
Upon hearing she would not resign over the matter, councillor Gary Hopcraft resigned instead and asked other members to do the same to trigger an election.
He said, “I want to make a statement, as a result of a recent criminal case involving one of our councillors which has brought our parish council and our planning committee into disrepute and compromised the integrity of councillors.
“It is my view that the councillor has a moral obligation to resign from council. But it is only if all the councillors resign from this council that an election can be held. On that basis I’m going to start that by tendering my resignation.”
Speaking to this newspaper, the councillor said, “I believe she has a moral duty to the electorate to resign.
“The fact that when she became a councillor she must have found out what she had done was in breach of planning laws – why did she not hold up her hands then?
“She appears on the finance committee. She has brought the council into disrepute and compromised the integrity of the councillors. It’s morally wrong.”
But council chairman David White in the meeting defended cllr Dashwood-Morris, who was not present.
He said, “I can say that unless you were at the hearing and unless you heard all the evidence, it’s very easy to jump to conclusions and it is very easy to take account of what is reported in the press.
“I think it is time that we actually sat back and took a mature view and make a considered judgment when we know the full outcome.
“If there’s to be an appeal, we may find that the appeal against sentencing is actually watered down. We’re only halfway through it. It’s like judging a football match when you’ve only got to half time.”
Cllr White, who is also a Wealden District councillor, said he would raise a question about the circumstances surrounding the case.
He continued, “All I can say is that these are offences that took place between 1997 and 2003/4. I didn’t attend the hearing so I didn’t hear the evidence that the judge heard, but she says quite clearly on several occasions that she sought building approval that she had building conservation officers looking at the building throughout.
“It is not a case of someone going ahead recklessly or not aware of it. She clearly was aware of the need to involve these officers.
“Let me give you one of the examples I gave one of my councillors. If I’m driving at 70mph in a 30 mile zone, and there’s nobody around I’m guilty of an offence.
“Now, I can be charged with that offence of driving at 70mph. When it comes to mitigation I might put forward the fact that I’m rushing a sick child to hospital. Therefore, yes I committed an offence but there are mitigating circumstances.
“Let’s have a fair trial and not trial by media. We can all be on the wrong end of this. I’m a firm believer in fair justice and hearing people on both sides because otherwise we end up with mob rule.”