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Thanet council votes against motion to declare councillor vacancy for Margate Central

By Jodie Nesling

Thanet councillors have voted down a motion to declare a members' vacancy for Margate Central after the authority controversially disqualified Labour's Ian Venables.

Mr Venables was told he could no longer continue in his councillor role in August after taking up a post with Thanet RISE - a new homelessness team run by a number of agencies, including Thanet District Council.

TDC says it means he is now indirectly employed by the authority and has been disqualified for holding "'paid office or employment or an appointment' which is made or confirmed by the council.

Ian Venables will fight the decision
Ian Venables will fight the decision

But Mr Venables' lawyers have argued that he remains with his current employer, The Forward Trust, a charity supporting those with drug and alcohol addictions.

In a move of cross-party support on Monday night, councillors voted 27 against and 13 in favour of declaring the Margate Central ward vacant amid confusion over the legality and due process surrounding the decision.

Looking flustered, Tim Howes, TDC monitoring officer, reiterated the vote was a matter of procedure, earning bemused response around the chamber as they questioned why a vote would even be necessary.

Councillors had been due to vote on Thursday to declare a vacancy on the council following Mr Venables' dismissal but due to an uproar in the public gallery, the chairman of the council, Cllr David Saunders (Con), adjourned the meeting until Monday night.

A mixture of bemusement and anger dominated Monday's meeting as Cllr Peter Campbell questioned why members not present at the original meeting were then called in to vote.

Labour leader Cllr Iris Johnston demanded to see the solicitor's letter the Labour Party had sent to the council so that councillors could scrutinise the decision.

Councillor Suzanne Brimm, who recently won a court case against the information commissioner, earned a dressing down after telling the Chairman Mr Howes was "not fit for purpose."

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, Ukip, Thanet Independents and Labour voted against the motion.

Council leader and Conservative Bob Bayford put forward a new motion to further adjourn the vote, pending further clarification over Mr Venables' legal position, despite most Thanet Conservatives voting in line with the officer's recommendation.

This was seconded by Cllr Johnston and then agreed.

Chris Wells, Ukip leader, argued coucillors were being kept in the dark.

He questioned Mr Howes, saying: "We have not seen any legal advice, because your legal advice, sir, is in secret."

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