A UKIP candidate has spoke of his deep shame after making sexually explicit comments about well-known female columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
John Leathley, 23, who hopes to represent Sedgefield , and who is also standing for Stockton Borough Council in the Hardwick area, was communicating with other young Ukip members on Facebook last November when he made sexually explicit remarks about the centre-left journalist.
Mr Leathley apologised in a statement issued through Ukip, saying:
“I would like to apologise unreservedly to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
“I read what I wrote now, I am shocked by them and am appalled and deeply ashamed of my words.
“The comments were made during a private conversation in the evening clearly were never meant to be publicly released, and they should never have been said.
“I am very sorry and regret deeply being so coarse, it is out of character but no more excusable for that.”
The Durham University student had previously declined to apologise in the university’s student newspaper, stating:
“I have no comment to make other than this is the work of an individual who is taking comments from a private conversation between a group of friends dated months ago in a malicious attempt to tarnish my name and reputation.”
“If this is what people who go into public life are going to be like then God help us. I saw the apology and of course I’m not going to give any credence to it at all.
“You don’t apologise because you are found out. Was he drunk? If he wasn’t, then what he said was absolutely appalling. It’s sexist, it’s racist, it’s violent.”
Source – Durham Times, 06 May 2015
Community leaders have condemned controversial TV programme Benefits Street for openly shows drug dealing and substance abuse in Stockton.
The show, which was filmed in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate follows on from the first series which made stars of some of the inhabitants of Birmingham‘s James Turner Street but was described by some critics as “poverty porn“.
Among the residents introduced in the first Stockton episode is Neil Maxwell who is shown bagging up cannabis, smoking the drug and taking pills before a court appearance.
The Northern Echo reported in March that Maxwell and his brother Robert were jailed for a double stabbing after one of them was accused of stealing money and tobacco from a neighbour. Both admitted unlawful wounding and Neil Maxwell was locked up for two years and three months.
The 36-year-old, who told the film crew he has taken “early retirement” from a life of crime after a string of convictions, said he claimed benefits because he suffers from memory loss.
In one scene, he is seen spending his benefits money to top up his tan at a local sunbed salon.
Kieran Smith, from Love Productions which makes the show, said they had followed “strict guidelines” about filming illegal activity.
“We filmed with Maxwell for quite a long period of time and he was very clear about the potential repercussions about his behaviour and what might happen to him.”
Mr Smith said the show was “not glorying in his behaviour” and was “quite an honest account of what his life is like.”
But Cllr Bob Cook, the leader of Stockton Borough Council, Labour, condemned the programme makers. He said:
“Why wasn’t this reported to the police? If there’s a crime the police should be told, that would responsible.”
> I suspect the police will know about it all by now ! I dont think they are dealing with a criminal mastermind here.
Cllr Cook accepted that there was poverty in Stockton but argued the programme was unlikely to give a fair portrayal of the town. He said:
“There is deprivation in Stockton but we also have some of the most affluent areas in the country and it is one of the best areas of the country to start a business.”
A father has accused a local authority of “demanding money with menaces” after his daughter was unexpectedly hit with a council tax demand and given seven days to pay – or face court action.
Alan Thompson’s daughter Naomi was left in tears after receiving the letter from Stockton Borough Council.
At the time the single working mother, who receives housing benefit as she is on a low income, was in the process of having her claim re-assessed by the council due to a change of circumstances.
The 34-year-old was told to pay three separate sums totalling £474.72 with the council claiming she had been overpaid going back to December 2011. Panicking as she could not afford it, the money was paid by Mr Thompson on his debit card.
However after an investigation the council later determined Ms Thompson in fact only owed £23 and the rest of the money was refunded.
During her correspondence with the council Ms Thompson, of Elmwood Road, Eaglescliffe, received a letter containing 29 pages of calculations which her father, a former bank manager, said left them both flummoxed.
Mr Thompson, who lives in Middleton-in-Teesdale, was prompted to contact The Northern Echo to explain the situation his daughter had faced after reading a recent report about councils’ increasing use of bailiffs to chase council tax debts.
“At the time her account was under assessment so we assumed there was no case to answer until it had been verified what she did owe.
“One of the amounts demanded we did not even know about and when we asked for information on it they could not give us it.
“The staff I met also admitted they did not understand the system they were working with. There are some serious discrepancies here and I suspect lots of people may be getting a raw deal.”
Under the legislation governing council tax collection when a bill is issued in respect of a previous financial year, payment is due in full, rather than in instalments, and the recovery process can move straight to a final notice without the requirement to issue a reminder first.
Mrs Thompson said:
“I have no faith in Stockton Council, but these kind of errors seem to be happening all over.
“Fortunately I am in a situation where I have got people I can turn to, but a lot of people don’t, or they will just pay the money no questions asked.”
A Stockton Council spokesman said:
“Our collection policy is designed to be fair and consistent.
“People’s specific circumstances are also taken into account when details are provided to us.”
Source – Northern Echo, 13 Apr 2015
A union official has criticised a Labour council for putting 11 experienced health trainers out of a job after it chose a private company over the existing NHS provider.
The decision by Stockton Borough Council to award the contract to provide health trainer services to the private Leeds-based company More Life in preference to the existing providers – a team of 11 health trainers employed by the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust – means the NHS in the North-East is facing a redundancy bill for more than £200,000.
But the council defended its actions describing the NHS bid for the contract as “very poor” and stressing that the authority was heavily investing in a new family weight management service.
In 2005 the North-East was among the first areas in the country to benefit from NHS personal trainers.
But since public health budgets were switched from the NHS to local councils some contracts have been awarded to private companies.
More Life’s website says the company delivers weight management and health improvement programmes to individuals, families, local communities and within workplaces and has an impressive track record.
It was founded by Professor Paul Gately, one of the UK’s most respected experts in obesity and nutrition
“We are determined to get clear answers from Stockton Council and the trust as to why this has happened and why our members are facing redundancy instead of transferring to the new provider. It’s simply not right and we need to get to the bottom of this quickly. “
Stockton Borough Council’s director of public health, Peter Kelly, said:
“The Stockton Health and Wellbeing board has commissioned a new service for children and family weight management investing £1.4 million over the next three years and in addition to this is also currently investing nearly £200,000 per year in services for adults. North Tees and Hartlepool Trust was one of the bidders for the new service but the quality of its submission was very poor.”
Source – Northern Echo, 27 Mar 2015
The word on the street was “This is Stockton-on-Tees” as thousands of residents attempted the world’s biggest game of Chinese Whispers to bolster the town’s image before a controversial Channel 4 documentary is broadcast.
Over two days ‘The Loudest Whisper’ will spread the message at some of the borough’s beauty spots including Infinity Bridge, Preston Park Museum and Grounds, and Wynyard Hall.
The ‘Psst…’ (Positively Stockton-on-Tees) Campaign was launched after filming for the Benefits Street series started last year which, it is feared, will negatively portray residents living in Kingston Road in the deprived Tilery area.
The first series, based in Birmingham, was branded ‘poverty porn’, however the hit show’s producers insisted it was about ‘giving a voice’ to a little known section of society.
World champion Stockton sprinter Richard Kilty demonstrated his pride for his home town by starting the “This is Stockton-on-Tees” whisper with more than 200 pupils at North Shore Academy, near Kingston Street, before 800 people passed it on over Infinity Bridge.
The message was then spread around 300 teenagers on their lunch break at Stockton Sixth Form College before it was put on ice at the Billingham Forum skating rink.
The makers of Benefit Street, Love Productions, said on its website about the documentary:
“It’s a place where residents face challenges such as bringing up children in poverty, low levels of education and training, drug and alcohol dependency, and crime. But it also has a strong sense of community, where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way.”
Mike McGrother, frontman of the Wildcats of Kilkenny who masterminded the ambitious Psst…event with Stockton Borough Council, said:
“The nature of a Chinese Whisper reminds us that a message can be manipulated, but we are choosing to remind people of how a positive message can bring a community together.
Phil Mulhaire who produced the spectacle, added:
“This is a light-hearted response to the Benefit Street programme because people feel it will not a true reflection, that its people are not feckless, this is to show the other side.”
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Mar 2015
A councillor is being investigated by his own party for failing to pay his council tax.
Andrew Sherris, Conservative councillor for Yarm and Kirklevington on Stockton Borough Council, was suspended by his party on Monday pending an investigation into “financial irregularities”.
It is understood Cllr Sherris was in arrears with his council tax on a second property he owns.
Last night he said the matter was “confidential” and it is in the hands of the council’s solicitor.
The bill is now believed to have been sorted out, but the Conservative Party is pressing ahead with its investigation.
Stockton Borough Council refused to confirm whether Cllr Sherris had any tax bill issues last night, saying it was confidential, citing the Data Protection Act.
It has previously said he is not under investigation by the council itself.
Ben Houchen, leader of the Conservative Group on Stockton Borough Council, launched the investigation on Monday and suspended Cllr Sherris, saying his behaviour had fallen below the standard expected of an elected Conservative councillor.
Councillors in arrears with council tax by more than two months are not allowed to vote on the precept. When councillors voted on the rise in council tax last week Cllr Sherris was absent – but said that he was on holiday at the time.
He said yesterday he believed the investigation was an ‘unjustified attack‘ and was a move to discredit him ahead of the elections. His support of fellow former Conservative councillor Mark Chatburn, who defected to Ukip, had “not been well received” by his party, he said.
He added: “I will be standing as an independent councillor in the coming elections in May, putting local people first, as always, ahead of party politics.”
Cllr Houchen, who is also chairman of Stockton Conservative Association, said if the allegations were true he “would not be acting in the best interests of residents not to take action”.
An impassioned debate over claims that strict sanctions on benefits claimants are causing severe poverty ended with Stockton Borough Council passing a motion criticising Government policy.
The motion called for a review of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ (DWP) sanctions where benefits claimants, including those on Job Seekers Allowance, who miss an appointment or is late can be left without any money at all for five to six weeks.
Several councillors speaking at the authority’s full council meeting said they had examples of where the policy was being used “unfairly” while deputy leader Jim Beall branded it as a “deliberate, cynical measure” to alter the unemployment statistics.
However Conservative councillor Andrew Stephenson argued against the motion saying the sanctions helped people back to work.
The motion concluded:
“The Council resolves to write to our MPs requesting that they raise this deplorable situation with the responsible Minister urging an immediate review of national policy and guidance on sanctioning.”
Council leader Bob Cook told of a case where a young man got a letter informing him of a morning appointment but didn’t receive it until the afternoon and lost his benefit.
Meanwhile Cllr Norma Stephenson said she knew of 19 families on the Hardwick estate who had been sanctioned while Cllr Barry Woodhouse cited the case of a Billingham resident who lost her disability benefit for having zero points, only for a review to say she had 33 points.
Cllr Eileen Johnson said she had a friend working for the DWP who told her staff had been in tears “because they can’t bear what they are doing.”
> But they carry on doing it nevertheless…
Cllr Norma Wilburn said she had heard a national story on the radio about an amputee who had lost his benefit because he couldn’t answer the phone. She said: “This seems like a coordinated attack on the vulnerable. This is evil.”
Cllr Mark Chatburn, Ukip, said the policy was “deliberate” and “the epitome of nasty.“
> This from the representive of a party who’s members have called for the unemployed to be denied the vote and banned from owning cars.
The motion was passed and Stockton’s two MPs, Alex Cunningham, Labour, and James Wharton, Conservative, will be contacted by the council.
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Jan 2015
Plans to put a more positive spin on a North-East town ahead of the airing of the next series of Channel 4’s Benefits Street are underway.
TV company Love Productions chose Kingston Street in Stockton to film its second series of the popular Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall show, dubbed by some as “poverty porn“.
The next series is expected to air in March and Stockton Borough Council says it is expecting a less-than-flattering portrayal of the town.
Now businesses are throwing their weight behind a campaign to shine a positive light on Stockton.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign has a website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up for people to share photographs, videos and stories about the area.
Now, thanks to donations from local businesses, the best submissions will be rewarded in a monthly prize giveaway, the first of which is afternoon tea for four at Wynyard Hall.
Council leader Bob Cook said:
“We came up with this campaign to create a space where people can share their views on what they love about Stockton-on-Tees and we’ve been delighted with the response so far.
Mike McGrother, Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman, said:
“What has been lovely about the response so far is the overwhelming reaction from across the borough – and beyond.
“We may not have the revenues and reach of Love Productions – but what we will do in response is a much ‘lovelier’ production all round.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit:
or follow the campaign on Twitter @positivelySOT
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Jan 2015
It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.
And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.
Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bible’ Wisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.
Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.
Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.
“It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.
“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.
“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”
Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.
> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ? Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.
And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.
“It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.
In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.
There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.
Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.
As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.
“They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.
“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”
The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.
Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.
> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.
Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.
Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.
Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.
In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.
Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.
To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.
> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.
“He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.”
Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”
He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.
“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.”
* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.
> Sounds like another “intellectual” telling people what they should be doing.
People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.
Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire. If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014
Plans to save more than £40,000 a year of tax-payers money by changing the way a Tees council operates have been agreed in principle.
Stockton Borough Council announced it would make £40,000 savings by restructuring its cabinet and scrutiny committee arrangements.
The council has a target of saving £130,000 a year in efficiencies, a total of 15 per cent, and has previously frozen councillors’ £9,300 annual allowance for two years, saving more than £10,000.
The decision to reduce the number of cabinet portfolio holders from nine to seven and scrutiny committees from seven to five was taken by the cabinet on Thursday but the plans will not be finalised until next year.
Cutting the cabinet posts will save £24,100 a year and cutting the scrutiny committees will save £20,100 a year.
Council leader Councillor Bob Cook, said:
“Councillors work extremely hard for their communities but, at a time when we are examining all budgets across the council to make savings it is right for us to look at the money which is being spent on special responsibility allowances.”
Under the new arrangements the portfolios of corporate management and finance and housing and community safety could be removed and merged with existing portfolios.
• The leader taking on responsibility for corporate management & finance
• The cabinet member for access & communities also having responsibility for community safety
• The cabinet member for the environment also having responsibility for the housing portfolio
If approved by full council, the changes to the scrutiny committee system would see the housing and community safety, arts, leisure and culture, corporate & social inclusion, environment and regeneration and transport committees deleted and replaced with people and place committees.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 Oct 2014