Sefton Council probe into claims of intimidation at Southport meeting

Sefton Council probe into claims of intimidation at Southport meeting

Sefton Council is investigating after local park campaigners say they were left feeling bullied and intimidated after attending a Southport Area Committee meeting. 

The Ovington Drive/Kew Woods playground campaigners say they were rounded upon and shouted at by councillors at the meeting and also by its Chair, Cllr Richard Hands. 

The problems apparently began when their own ward councillor, Fred Weavers, responded to a question they had on the meeting’s agenda. 

The Kew Ward residents say he repeatedly pointed his finger at them during his reply and it then escalated when he and several of his fellow Lib-Dem councillors began berating the campaigners.

Diane Thomas, one of the Kew Woods Playground campaigners, said she felt “under attack” for asking a simple question:

“Sefton made a very generous offer to keep the playground open if the Kew Ward Councillors will contribute £20,000 of ward funds to the estimated £50,000 cost of replacing the park equipment. Kew’s councillors have years of unused funds sitting there. I simply asked will they release the funds and if so when but then came under attack for doing so.”

Her fellow campaigner Nat Glennon agreed,

“It was astonishing, one after another those councillors and their colleagues did not just disagree with Diane or attempt to explain, they went for her. The Chair of the meeting was shouting at her until people from the audience told him to stop it. He later apologised claiming he hadn’t meant to do so, it was appalling to watch.”

Sefton Council Leader, Ian Maher, expressed reservations about the news of how the meeting was handled: 

I am very concerned about reports that Ovington park campaigners felt bullied while attending Wednesday’s Southport Area Committee meeting. This is not at all how local democracy should work.”  

Local mum Diane explained:

“It was very intimidating and I fluffed my supplementary question because I wasn’t expecting such an aggressive response. They tried to deny they had misled people during our campaign but we know they have done exactly that. After seeing them wholeheartedly endorsing a cycle path scheme and then treating us in that fashion I’m disgusted by the Kew Ward councillors.”

A petition with 145 signatures for a proposed cycle path was also presented to the meeting by Sea Cadets. It was endorsed by Councillor Weavers and the idea fully supported by his colleagues despite there being no costings available and the land to be used not belonging to the council. 

Ovington Drive park protest.jpg
Ovington Drive park protest

The campaigners though point out that their playground already exists, has a rough estimate of cost, does belong to Sefton and that they have a petition with over 2100 signatures but they could receive no assurance that the ward funds required would be released. 

For Diane it was proof of what they had long suspected:

“We were worried that the Lib-Dem councillors were preferring their own cycle project and just paying lip service to our campaign; after being subjected to what felt like bullying we are more convinced than ever.”

Councillor Weavers and his colleagues told the campaigners that they didn’t have details from Sefton Council regarding the park offer and he insisted that “we’re doing a good job”. 

Sefton accounts show just under £24,000 held in Kew ward funds but Cllr Weavers claimed much of it was earmarked for projects. The ward accounts, however, state that only £1,115 was committed, leaving a balance available of over £22,777.

Norwood Councillor Marianne Welsh challenged him, telling the meeting:

“Kew councillors continually have a massive amount in their pot and they are not spending it in their community.Those children need that playground, they want it and they should have that money.” 

For Nat and Diane, it was an experience never to be repeated:

“I’m glad it was just Diane asking the question and me there for support, I don’t think we’d go back, what’s the point if they treat you like that?” asked Nat Glennon. 

Diane Thomas agreed and also confirmed a complaint had been made:

“Ironically, they were later discussing proposals to close the Southport Area Committee, after being subjected to that I’d say anything else would be preferable. That wasn’t local democracy, it felt like abuse of power.” 

Council leader Ian Maher confirmed that he’d instructed officers to make enquiries:

“The campaigners had questions on the agenda and deserved to be treated with respect, not to be left feeling intimidated and as though they would never wish to return. I have asked council officers to look into this matter and provide me with a full update.”