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Police tell 'sweargate' South Ribble councillors to sort out their own problems

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Police have warned councillors not to waste their time after one reported another for swearing at him during a heated debate.

The move comes after a Tory member of South Ribble Council called the police claiming a Labour rival had told him to “f*** off” as tempers reached boiling point in a committee meeting.

Acting chief inspector Gary Crowe. Left, top to bottom, Couns Paul Wharton and Ken Jones

Acting chief inspector Gary Crowe. Left, top to bottom, Couns Paul Wharton and Ken Jones

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A letter from a senior officer in Leyland has now been circulated to all 50 councillors on the troubled authority urging them to sort out arguments internally as police resources are seriously stretched.

In future they have been told to resolve grievances through the council’s own standards procedure rather than involve the local constabulary.

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“At a time of austerity, where demand on the police is at unprecedented levels and safeguarding of vulnerable persons is our absolute priority, we would ask professional bodies, including those made up of elected officials, to consider use of internal standards regimes first in matters which relate to standards of professional behaviour,” said the letter from Acting Chief Insp Gary Crowe.

The row erupted during the authority’s licensing committee as members debated relaxing the rules on the maximum age of taxi vehicles.

Labour Coun Ken Jones, who was reported for swearing in the public meeting, later described his rival Coun Paul Wharton’s reaction as “ridiculously over the top.”

And after receiving the police letter warning all members of wasting police time, he declared: “I totally agree.

“Police have far better things to do than muck about with stuff like this. Like everyone I’ve got the letter. It’s absolutely common sense.”

Asked if he would be offering to shake hands with his opposite number on the Tory benches, Coun Jones said: “Absolutely not.”

Coun Wharton, who told police his opponent had also accused him in the meeting of “talking b*****s,” claimed later it was not the first time Coun Jones had been rude to him.

“I just felt it was unacceptable conduct for him to use that sort of language,” he said. “Other members and officers looked upset about his outburst so I reported it to the police.

“Councillors might have disagreements, but we have to behave with decorum.”

When contacted yesterday about the police letter, Coun Wharton added: “In hindsight there may have been a better way to deal with this. However it was not an isolated incident and all councillors should reflect on why they were elected and who they represent and stop these bitter and toxic personal attacks.”

Insp Crowe told members: “Lancashire Constabulary encourages the reporting of crime by any person who feels that they (or a third party) have been a victim of crime, particularly where hate or discriminatory issues have been a factor.

“Where threats, violence or hate crime are factors, then direct reporting to the police will always continue to take primacy, if necessary utilising 999.

“As many members of the council are likely to be aware Lancashire Constabulary was contacted on the 12th September 2018 following an incident which occurred the previous evening during a public meeting at the South Ribble Borough Council Civic Centre.

“Both parties involved have been spoken to by police and a full crime report has been submitted, however no further action is to be taken at this time.

“I understand from Mr David Whelan (the authority’s monitoring officer) that South Ribble Borough Council does have its own internal standards regime and, moving forward, Mr Whelan and I will remain in contact to discuss any matters arising where escalation to the police may be required, or conversely any matters that have been brought to our attention which may be relevant to the standards committee.”

Lancashire’s Police Federation, the bobbies’ union, has backed Insp Crowe’s stance.

“Police resources are at an all-time low, but we have a considerable increase in complex demand,” said chair Rachel Hanley.

“The austerity measures have seen a significant decrease in officers numbers and priorities have to be made when responding and deploying to incidents.

“We often hear of calls made to the police that are completely unnecessary and I would echo Inspector Crowe’s comments in this matter.”