Harrogate Lib Dem leader reveals legal 'threats' from Conservative council leader and MP

The leader of Harrogate's Liberal Democrats has revealed she received legal "threats" from the area's council leader and MP over alleged defamatory statements.
Councillor Richard Cooper and councillor Pat Marsh clashed at Wednesday's meeting.Councillor Richard Cooper and councillor Pat Marsh clashed at Wednesday's meeting.
Councillor Richard Cooper and councillor Pat Marsh clashed at Wednesday's meeting.

Councillor Pat Marsh said one letter from lawyers representing Conservative council leader Richard Cooper included demands for £5,000.

It related to claims she made that councillor Cooper was not "direct in condemning" the former North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott who resigned last October over comments he made on the murder of Sarah Everard.

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At a Harrogate Borough Council meeting that month, councillor Cooper said Mr Allott's previous comments that women needed to be "streetwise" were "very, very wrong."

Councillor Cooper then repeated his remarks, saying there was "no credible defence" for what Mr Allott said.

In an email sent to several media outlets after this, councillor Marsh claimed "councillor Cooper's response did not lead to a direct condemnation".

Meanwhile, another letter from lawyers representing Conservative MP Andrew Jones demanded an apology from councillor Marsh. This related to comments she made that a resident had become "caught up" in a "web" of problems because councillor Cooper is employed by Mr Jones.

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At a council meeting last night, councillor Marsh said she believed the letters amounted to "harassment".

She said: "I would like to make the chamber aware of two recent legal letters which I felt were threatening - I had one from councillor Cooper and Andrew Jones MP.

"The legal letter from councillor Cooper went on so far as to demand £5,000 from me personally.

"These letters made me feel extremely stressed - I considered them harassment and they forced me to seek legal advice to defend myself."

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In response, councillor Cooper said: "I'm afraid if you say something that is libellous and a lie, then you can expect legal activity.

"I've had it in my various roles going back as far as 1996."

The revelations came during last night's meeting as councillor Cooper made calls for a "positive and constructive" local election campaign ahead of elections to the new North Yorkshire Council on 5 May.

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However, the meeting soon turned sour with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats trading blows on several issues, from their records on attending meetings to claims made in their campaign material.

Later in the meeting, councillor Cooper, who is not standing in the elections, said: "I'm not going to get into this tit for tat.

"I tried to do something nice to enable us all to say to the people who will be elected - there will be some Liberal Democrats, some Conservatives - good luck to you, fight for all of us.

"I wish that could have been reciprocated in a rather less hostile way.

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"Nonetheless, the sentiments expressed stand and, I believe, irrespective of the comments made, they stand for all of us."

Councillor Cooper added: "We have worked together on the vast majority of things this council does well over the eight years that I've been leader.

"We agree on 99% of things but on the 1% of things we don't agree about, we can make a hell of a lot of noise."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter