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Thanet council meeting abandoned as protestors challenge removal of Ian Venables as councillor

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

A council meeting was cut short after supporters shouted from the public gallery in protest at a councillor being sacked from his position due to an alleged conflict of interest.

Protesters refused to leave Thanet District Council last night in support of former councillor Ian Venables (Lab).

He was removed as the councillor representing Margate Central last month after accepting a job which involves working with the council's team tackling homelessness.

Thanet council claims he was disqualified because he is working indirectly for the local authority but his lawyers argue his employer continues to be The Forward Trust, a charity which helps people with drug and alcohol dependence.

Councillors were due to vote 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.

Cllr Iris Johnston called for the item on the agenda to be removed due to the ongoing legal dispute between Mr Venables and the council.

She said: "This item should be withdrawn. We are walking up a very dangerous path as councillors if we support this.

Protestors at Thanet District Council last night
Protestors at Thanet District Council last night

"The lawyers are locked in battle on this one.

"Cllr Venables is working for the Foward Trust, not this council, and this is a total misinformation.

"Our solicitor has advised this report is full of errors."

Supporters of the Labour councilllor claim Mr Venables was nominated for the role of helping rough sleepers due to his 25 years' experience with the drug and alcohol service.

Cllr Johnston claims Mr Venables sought advice before taking the role as to whether this affects his elected post.

A legal officer told the council how the decision was not about the dismissal but a "statutory" procedure.

Protestors at Thanet District Council last night
Protestors at Thanet District Council last night

She said the council has "no choice in the matter, it has to declare the vacancy" but added Mr Venables can appeal his dismissal.

Cllr Bill Hayton (Ind) argued Mr Venables signed a declaration form when he joined.

County councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) said: "The public were angered at a democratically elected councillor being forced out of his position by an unelected officer who has obviously made a grave mistake.

"The fact that it is in the legal hands of the solicitors, we would say wait until we get independent legal advice before we can innocent councillor chucked out by undemocratic means."

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