Email received from Mr Nyack at the Office of the Electoral Commissioner:
To: Mark Nyack
What other suggestions do you have when the Returning Officer herself was the offender? This is surely obvious in my account of what took place at the count? As one of my voters said recently, you appear to have all the power and effectiveness of a chocolate teaapot.
From: Mark Nyack
Sent: Thu, 12 May, 2011 12:56:33
Subject: Helen Pender
Dear Helen Pender,
Thank you for your email to the Electoral Commission.
The Commission does not have the power to investigate allegations of offences occurring at the Count. If you believe an offence has been committed, you should contact the Returning Officer at your local authority and outline your concerns.
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From: Helen Pender [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: 09 May 2011 11:38
To: Midlands Inbox
Subject: Complaint Oakham South West Five recounts Rutland County Council local election 6 May 2011
Dear Sir / Madam
I am formally lodging a complaint about the count / five recounts for Oakham South West, a full account of which follows at the end of this email.
I should like my complaint investigated outside the Midlands area to ensure that those involved are not able to influence the outcome of this complaint.
Original - sent to the Electoral Commissioner 10th May 2011:
I began to take an interest in the race for second place in Oakham South West after about two or three recounts.
The table, where the recount was taking place, was surrounded by Conservatives, including Cllr Roger Begy, the Conservative Agent – whose name I don’t know, Cllr Terry King, Cllr K Bull, as well as a smartly dressed, pristine, Conservative candidate from Ketton who had won her Conservative seat uncontested. The myth that party allegiances do not have any bearing in Rutland County Council’s local Government was finally put to rest by this gathering of Conservatives at the counting table.
Peter Jones, a Conservative, was one of the candidates, but I had to double back to find out who the other candidate for second place might be. I was told it was someone called Richardson. Stupidly, the name meant nothing to me, but it seems he is an Independent and had no one observing at the counting table on his behalf. Both Peter Jones and Mr Richardson were absent from the count.
I wandered back over to the table where the recount was taking place. Roger Begy, both hands planted palms down on the counting table, with elbows akimbo as he leant in towards the counting officer, was a difficult obstruction to overcome, however I did manage to slip through that hurdle. Having found a place all the Conservatives asked me to leave the table, saying: ‘You are not the candidate, you are not the agent, you shouldn’t be here.’
Remarkably, Mrs Helen Briggs, the Returning Officer, then came over and repeated that mantra, ‘You are not the candidate or the agent, you shouldn’t be here.’ She went on to say that as the Returning Officer she was in charge and I should leave my observation post. One should of course obey a lawful instruction by the Returning Officer.
This was an unlawful order. I would submit that this intervention to support the Conservatives’ ridiculous instruction to me, by The Returning Officer, Mrs Briggs, needs a thorough investigation.
With all the Conservative people on my side of the table asking me to leave and the Returning Officer, on the other side of the table, also asking me to leave, I had no choice but to point out that there were at least four people representing the interests of Peter Jones on my side of the table and one of me representing the interests of Richardson, a man I didn’t know. (Although when he turned up he said that he’d thought we’d met in the Wheatsheaf, but I couldn’t clearly remember doing so, although his face did seem vaguely familiar) I also pointed out that all candidates at the count not only had a duty to themselves, but also had a duty to observe the proceedings on behalf of others, to ensure a free and fair election. This shouldn’t have needed saying, least of all to any Returning Officer.
Then quite stupendously the Conservative Agent said he was: Only here to observe a fair election,’ so implying he was not representing Conservative Peter Jones’ interests!
For the Returning Officer to seek to exclude the only non-Conservative from the counting table was so breathtakingly outside the scope of her statutory duty, that I went over to beg Cllr Richard Gale to come to the counting table too. Cllr Richard Gale seems to play a fairly straight bat.
He came over in time to see that there was a ten vote discrepancy on the reconciliation of votes. (276 – 286 – between pencilled count on the tally sheet for both Jones and Richardson and votes counted on the table for both candidates, yet the final vote for both candidates was double this??? – 277 & 279. Jones’ votes on the pencilled tally sheet were far fewer than Richardson’s.) Before the reconciliation was made Helen Briggs ordered the votes to be taken from the counting table. I was speechless and paralysed for a couple of minutes.
Turning to one of the women counters I asked: ‘Is that correct the unreconciled votes have been removed from the table?’
To which she replied: ‘I couldn’t possibly say.’
With the votes back on a large overloaded desk in the roped off staff area, at the southern end of the Council Chamber, I asked Cllr Gale to get Richardson to the Count. He rang Richardson’s number and handed me the phone. ‘Mr Richardson, you don’t know me, but my name’s Helen. Where the bloody hell are you?’ I said. Everyone could hear me as, I am told, Joyce Lucas mimed a double-handed pot stirring in her chair at the Western end of the room. ‘I am at the Count,’ I continued, ‘and your unreconciled votes have just left the table with an unreconciled 10 vote discrepancy. You have to get over here now, I can’t represent your interests, I am not your agent and I won’t be able to examine the spoiled voting papers.’ (276 – 286 discrepancy between the marked pencilled tally sheet to number of votes counted. This was for both Jones and Richardson. However the final vote was 277 and 279, so I really don’t understand what was being counted in this 276 – 286 vote/tally sheet count. Clearly all the votes were not on the table at this point.)
This discrepancy was never reconciled or explained to me as an observer. Nor did I see it resolved.
Cllr Richard Gale then gave the phone to Cllr Roger Begy. Begy looked like an embarrassed schoolboy as he giggled nervously into the phone and promptly gave the phone to Cllr Gale mid sentence. By handing me the phone Cllr Gale had given me the opportunity to allow Mr Pook to overhear what was going on and my less than dulcet tones informed the room what was happening. The intimidating Conservatives posse began to melt away. I felt they knew they had been rumbled.
Throughout the count the policemen present sat in an eastern recess of the count and hardly moved from their seats. At no time did a policeman venture out from their chairs at the eastern end of the room towards the count for Oakham South West at the western end of the room. It would be nice to have a summary, from all the officers who attended, of what their instructions were for the count on Thursday 6th May.
Furthermore, before the unreconciled votes left the table there had been a nine vote bundle in which voters had voted for both Richardson and Jones. When the votes were brought back to the table there were now eleven voting papers in that pile. Curiouser and curiouser.
During the next recount I noticed that the Conservative Agent began leafing desperately through the 11 vote bundle. Prompting me to say: ‘Excuse me sir, but you are not meant to touch the voting papers.’ At which point the counter nodded her agreement. Why did the counters not have the confidence to issue this instruction themselves? Were they too intimidated to do so? Should one, as a rank amateur, have needed to say this to a qualified Agent for a major political party?
Both the Agent and Roger Begy should be admonished for repeatedly touching voting papers. For the Conservative Agent to pull the bundle of eleven votes towards himself and begin leafing through it, using both hands, is surely a major infraction,
Mr Begy had jabbed his finger at the papers, on more than one occasion, in a rather intimidating fashion as he leant over the counting table with both hands openly resting, palms down, on the table. I felt his stance and finger jabbing was designed to intimidate the counting staff. The fact that counting staff did not have the confidence to tell the Conservative observers that they shouldn’t be touching the votes at all was indicative that they might have been intimidated.
Richard Gale then spotted that one of the voting papers in the eleven vote bundle for both candidates had one vote for Richardson and one vote for the person above Jones on the voting paper. That vote was removed and placed in Richardson’s pile. As the votes were removed from the table again, the chic Conservative woman from Ketton said, ‘That means there’s another discrepancy so we’ll have to have another recount.’
To which I replied, ‘But it’s clear that one vote was placed in the wrong pile, so that discrepancy is fully explained.’
Through the day Mr Pook sat at a desk at the back of the roped off staff area behind a desk in a recess at the southern end of the Council Chamber. To his right was a large desk (about four small tables planted together) which was full of papers and it could not easily be seen what was going on there when the voting papers were regularly returned to this large desk, which appeared to belong to Mrs Briggs, to the right of Mr Pook in the roped off staffing area.
In front of Mr Pook was another table with a ballot box on it. Most remarkably a pile of votes, placed on this table, in the roped off staff area was found, by Mr Pook, on this table, obscured from sight of the observers, behind a ballot box.
A pile of these votes was returned to Mrs Briggs’ desk to the right of Mr Pook from the desk in front of Mr Pook. Now all the votes were back on the Returning Officer’s large desk, out of plain sight in the recess of the roped off Staff area in the recess at the southern end of the Council Chamber.
Furthermore the lack of reconciliation (276 – 286) discrepancy between the pencilled sheet and voting papers was never explained to me as I watched the unreconciled votes leave the counting table.
Mr Richardson finally appeared. He’d been coaching a Rugby Club in Stamford. The votes were brought back to the table once again and this time they were recounted very very carefully. The counters seated at the table behaved impeccably throughout despite grabs and stabs at the voting papers by Conservatives as the desperate Conservatives sought to verify what the counters had ascertained.
This last recount appeared to be properly done. However the infractions I observed of the Conservative Agent, Roger Begy and most of all the Returning Officer, Mrs Helen Briggs, led me to conclude that up to that point something decidedly odd had gone on. In my view Mrs Briggs does not have sufficient probity to fully understand her role and I do not have faith in her conducting her duties adequately as a Returning Officer in any future election. Nor does she have the intellect to conduct a vote with any degree of finesse. Having observed her at the counting of the postal votes the night before, 10pm 5th May, she clearly relied on Mr Pook’s greater knowledge of voting procedures. I would submit Mrs Helen Briggs was less than professional and at times behaved like a partial amateur. Her determination to order me away from the counting table is ample evidence that although she was clear that she was the Returning Officer, she was unclear as to the legal niceties of her role. In short she sought to intimidate me and was absolutely ignorant of the fact that she misbehaved.
Finally the announcement was made – my apologies but the spelling of names may be wrong: ‘Joanna Burrows (Lib Dem) 178 votes, Alfred Dewis 266 votes, Joanna Figgis 285 votes, James Harrison 139 votes, Peter Jones 277 votes, Philips (Lib Dem) 131 votes, Richardson 279. 14 spoilt papers and a turn out of 48.41%’
Various Conservatives, who had said they would stay for the counting of the Parish votes, then high tailed it out of the room and into their cars.
• Mr Begy should not have placed both hands on the counting table and jabbed his finger at votes as he did so.
• The Conservative Agent should not have leafed through votes with both hands.
• I should not have been instructed to leave the table by the Conservative Agent and Mr Roger Begy.
• The unreconciled pencilled tally sheet for both Jones and Richardson should not have left the counting table before it was reconciled.
• I should not have been ordered to leave the counting table by the Returning Officer.
I should like an investigation made into the conduct of Mr Roger Begy; the Conservative Agent and the Returning Officer Mrs Helen Briggs for their conduct during the recounts for Oakham South West on Thursday 6th May.
Helen Briggs, Local Election, Rutland County Council, Roger Begy, Richard Gale, Richardson, Rutland, Oakham, Conservatives, Helen Pender, Multum in Parvo, Peter Jones, Martin Brookes
AND THAT POSTER CAMPAIGN
I drove Martin Brookes, Candidate for Greetham, to Greetham Ward on several occasions and found posters maligning Martin Brookes strewn in public places, one within yards of Roger Begy’s home on Greetham High Street. The most vile accusations were thrown at Martin Brookes on these posters throughout the campaign. One would have thought this was not a very clever thing to do in a two horse race. Wouldn’t one?
At a planning meeting 48 hours before the election Martin Brookes was able to ask his opponent, Mr Begy why he hadn’t taken steps to distance himself from these posters. What was Begy’s reply? ‘I don’t read your blog.’ An imaginative non sequitur!
The first posters were black and white, stapled or drawing pinned to bus stops, wooden poles, fences and most worrying of all in the official Parish notice board in Clipsham. Some of the staples matched those staples on the poster for the Air Ambulance. At Clipsham, on the first occasion we spotted the notice, we thought we might remove it. But this is an official Parish notice board. We decided instead to track down the Parish Clerk and found the Parish Clerk for Clipsham mowing his lawn. We took him to his notice board. He rapidly read the poster and asked whether any of the accusations were true, picking out one particular accusation. I must commend the Parish Clerk for his speed-reading of a document he said he’d not seen before. No doubt Clipsham have a very able and erudite public servant in their midst. What a treasure he must be.
As usual Martin Brookes wittered on at length in a convoluted explanation. Eventually I summed up more succinctly and the Parish Clerk said ‘Well I don’t understand it. There are a lot of funny things going on.’ I am not sure but did I sense a degree of disappointment in the Parish Clerk’s face when I offered my explanation?
We were satisfied that no more posters would appear in the Official Parish notice board in Clipsham. How wrong we were. New coloured posters slightly amended were issued during the week of the election and wonder of wonders there, skewed with just one drawing pin, in the official Clipsham Parish notice board was a new poster! This new poster, presumably in a vicarious distancing of Roger Begy from the poster, proclaimed: “This poster produced by ‘The Friends of Greetham Ward’. It is NOT produced by the RCC, OTC, The Conservatives. The Cabbie nor any individual Society thus accused by Mr Bookes to date.” Well that certainly makes it clear who produced it. Doesn’t it?
However my congratulations go to a user of one of the bus stops in Greetham who had torn down the leaflet. This was found flapping in the hedge at the first bus stop in Greetham. A deep thank you goes to the upright citizen whose sense of fair play led him/her to tear this poster down.
BBC Radio Leicester appeared at the Count in Oakham on 6th May. I bumped into them as they returned from a coffee break and showed them one of the latest anonymous leaflets, which Martin Brookes had removed and cut out his photograph, using the top part as his own election poster. The reporter immediately said ‘Are you Helen?’ Hardly anyone reads my blog, she had clearly been briefed by someone. Who had briefed her and why? She wasn’t prepared to say.
She asked for a copy, so I went to the library and, only having a 20p piece, made two copies. One of which I handed to BBC Radio Leicester. They opened the boot of their radio car and fiddled with a couple of switches, turning off their equipment as one reporter sat reading the leaflet in the back of her radio car. The mike was placed in the boot, but I was not interviewed. Despite this I began to suspect that I was being surreptitiously recorded. Isn’t it amazing how paranoid one can become when faced with an anonymous campaign?
They asked who was behind this campaign. My reply was that I didn’t know but it was funny that the poster had been issued in an area in which there were only two candidates. They asked whom I might suspect. I pointed out that these people hide behind their anonymity, but said that they behaved like terrorist cells, the campaign is coordinated and yet each anonymous cell appears to be acting autonomously and separately. (However I have no doubt that the 42 followers of http://davescab.blogspot.com/@oakham@rutland would be a fair point to start in lining up the possible suspects.)
What I didn’t say was that living through this onslaught of anonymous tweets, blogs, postings and posters is a little like living in a third world country with a despotic and dubious band of autocrats determined to silence any voice of opposition. Shenanigans in the Kingdom of Swaziland sometimes pale into insignificance beside the Kingdom of Rutland.
Like my childhood home, Rutland appears determined to silence any opposition. In Swaziland the opposition is regularly locked up and false accusations levelled at political opponents. The newspapers in Swaziland are prevented from reporting anything but censored news. Whereas in Rutland…
Rumour has it that the new editor of one of our local newspapers is a Conservative who tried to stand for election but was prevented from doing so since she had only just moved back into the area and did not satisfy the residential requirements for prospective candidates. If what Cllr Gene Plews tells me is true, this is only interesting as a litmus test of the political allegiance of our local press.
The only independent and free press would seem to be our blogs. At least one of which has been hacked. A local lady I bumped into recently said: ‘You have to stop otherwise they will destroy you. Your blogs and your emails will be changed. You just can’t win.’ She was clearly upset.
The problem as I see it is – if I stop they will just grind me into the ground silently. Whether I blog and use email or take a vow of omerta, I will be silenced. Better by far to go out attempting, however vainly, to speak out, than to be silenced by fear of intimidation, which will continue come what may. Martin Brookes said he received an offer to arrange financial help from Cllr Terry King yesterday, (16 May) which he has now posted on his blog.
In the face of a despotic regime one should always struggle, however vainly, to speak out before one segues into oblivion. In the despotic Democratic Republic of Rutland let’s hope that we can find others with the courage to ensure that eventually the miscreants are traced and brought to justice.
Helen Briggs, Roger Begy, Rutland County Council, Roger Begy, Richard Gale, Greetham, Parish Clerk, Rutland, Oakham, Conservatives, Helen Pender, Gene Plews, Martin Brookes