Dear Sir,
Over recent weeks, officers of this Council have been subject to abusive comments, mainly on electronic communications and by telephone. Officers carry out the instructions of councillors and cannot respond in kind to such abuse. If you need to attack anyone, attack me. I am the Leader of the Council/Councillors and, after many years, I am able to respond to genuine concerns, political opportunism and those who have an axe to grind or who have a historic dispute with the Council/Councillors.
As to the shameful and beyond the pale attacks on Councillor Blenkinsopp, I did not support his views on the Santa Tours, but I totally support him in his right to express his views. It is enshrined in our laws as ‘Freedom of Speech’.
Why do I refer to the attacks as shameful and beyond the pale? On Facebook articles there were cartoons and characterisations of Bill. To those who don’t know Bill’s history, here are some bullet points:
• Aged 17 and a promising jockey.
• Involved in a fatal car accident on the way to Ayr races.
• Driver and front passenger killed.
• Bill trapped in burning car.
• Suffered 68% burns to his body – lucky to survive as 40% was usually fatal.
• Five years hospitalised – only suitable pain relief for 1.5 years was morphine.
• Became addicted – gradually weaned off over the next 18 months in hospital.
• Two more years of skin grafts.
• Accident also left him with many other physical health problems.
• Only God and Bill know what mental tortures he has suffered.
He has struggled adversity to live his life. He has been a Town Councillor for 17 years, a County Councillor for 4 years and 12 years as District Councillor. He set up the Aycliffe Branch of MIND and also ran the Cubby for many years.
The Santa Tours are part of the Christmas Festival but only part, it is ‘season of goodwill to all men’. Well, it should be, but as I have already said, there is not much good will to be seen on Facebook.
Finally, I have looked up the law regarding Hate Crime on the Crown Prosecution Service and Citizens’ Advice sites. Here are a few extracts:
‘When someone is hostile to another person because of their disability’.
‘The everyday under-standing of the word hostile, which includes ill will, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike’.
‘When hate incidents become criminal offences, they are known as hate crimes. A criminal offence is something which breaks the law of the land.’
I believe that the humiliating caricatures displayed on Facebook come into that category, so to those who have indulged in Hate Crime against Bill, if there is a knock on your door in the near future, it may not be Santa dressed in red and white, but an officer in blue.
I have Bill’s permission to publish this letter.
Councillor Bob Fleming
Leader of the Council