The Conservative leader of a Derbyshire council has been suspended and resigned from his party after emails exposing a private agreement between him and a tourist attraction over a homeless Gypsy family were uncovered.
An article from the Local Democracy Reporting Service detailing the private promises and agreement between Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of Derbyshire Dales District Council, its chief executive, Paul Wilson, and the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath was published on March 7.
The LDRS can now confirm that one day after the article detailing emails between Cllr Purdy, Mr Wilson and the Heights of Abraham, on March 8, Cllr Purdy was suspended by his group before he chose to resign completely.
This comes less than two months before the district council election in which every seat on the authority will be up for grabs and the Conservatives will be hoping to retain control of the authority.
Now they will undertake that challenge with an interim leader, Conservative Cllr Sue Hobson, who has been deputy leader of the authority since her election in May 2019, representing the Chatsworth ward.
Cllr Hobson also holds a seat on Derbyshire County Council, as of May 2021, representing the Derwent Valley ward and serving as cabinet support member for strategic leadership, culture, tourism and climate change.
The private agreement aimed to restrict the amount of time a homeless Gypsy family – their chosen ethnicity – could stay on the Matlock Bath station coach park and was shown in emails between the three parties, and the council’s monitoring officer, James McLaughlin, last October and November.
Cllr Purdy had said in one email “a promise is a promise” and in another said that he and Mr Wilson had given a “written commitment” to the tourist attraction. Neither of these were publicly dicslosed.
The council has owed a legal duty to accommodate this specific family for years and continues to fail to assign them a permanent site to live on.
A statement from the Derbyshire Dales Conservative Association, issued yesterday (March 9), says: “On March 8, Cllr Garry Purdy was suspended from the Derbyshire Dales Conservative Association pending an internal investigation into his conduct.
“Before this process could be concluded, Cllr Purdy resigned from the Conservative Party.
“The acting Conservative leader of the district council is now Cllr Susan Hobson who is looking forward to the local elections with a positive, transparent, and common-sense plan to support residents.”
Cllr Hobson, when approached for comment, said: “It would be be inappropriate for me to comment other than to say that I welcome a robust and thorough investigation into this matter. I now want to focus on my council work supporting the residents of the Derbyshire Dales”
The LDRS approached Cllr Purdy for comment and he said: “I am making no comment at present until I have taken legal advice.”
A statement from Sarah Dines, Derbyshire Dales’ Conservative MP was also released by the district’s Tory association, saying: “‘It would be inappropriate of me to discuss Cllr Purdy’s suspension from the party as he chose to resign rather than go through the investigative process.
“What I can say, is that I am really excited and pleased that Cllr Hobson is working, with the short time left before the election, to inject enthusiasm and positivity into the council that I believe our voters want to see.
“In the ward she represents, Cllr Hobson is known for constantly being out and about, rolling up her sleeves and getting the job done and I know she will approach being leader of the Conservative group at the council in the exact same way.
“I know it is a difficult time for a lot of people, but we also have a lot to be positive about too. Large amounts of government money has been provided to support fantastic projects like the Ashbourne Reborn (over £13 million) the plans to improve the centre of Matlock with the support from the Conservative Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund (£400,000) and support for businesses during the pandemic.
“These projects are on the horizon and will be a reality thanks to Conservative action.”
The Derbyshire Dales District Council Conservative Group also issued a statement, in which it insinuates it is aware of facts which were missing from the LDRS article, but also says an investigation will reveal the facts of the issue, and would not say which facts, if any, were not included.
It makes no mention of Cllr Purdy’s suspension, only his decision to resign from the group.
It says: “As you may know there was an article this week as a result of various FOI requests to the district council.
“The full facts are still under investigation.
“The article made various points but with not all facts included.
“Consequently, and not to embarrass the good work of the council, members and officers Cllr Purdy took the position to resign.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank Cllr Purdy for all his hard work as member for Masson Ward since 2007, and also as leader of our group and as leader of the council in this term where we have faced significant challenges.
“At a meeting of the Conservative Group this morning (March 9) Councillor Susan Hobson was elected group leader and Councillor Stuart Lees deputy leader.
“Further statements will be made when a thorough investigation has taken place.”
The LDRS article on the private agreement Cllr Purdy was involved in included a pledge from Cllr Purdy that he may consider his position should the “promise” be broken.
However, he had said he would not be resigning, commenting “well you make threats sometimes don’t you”.
He had admitted he had made a promise but stressed repeatedly that a promise is not a “deal”.
Cllr Purdy had said he would not be standing for re-election in May and would be making his reasons clear when he is no longer a councillor.
He also commented that there was “anger, fury and nastiness” wherever the council looked to place Travellers and that “I don’t like the way Travellers live, I don’t like the lifestyle”, which included “defecating in public” saying he often thought to himself “thank God I wasn’t born into this situation”.
Ms Dines had said the issue had raised “serious questions” about Cllr Purdy and council officers and said “transparency and good governance” must be seen to be upheld.
The council itself had issued a statement which appeared to distance the authority from Cllr Purdy, referring to comments from councillors as “comments, not decisions”.
A spokesperson repeated that “no agreements or deals” had been made by the council to the Heights of Abraham – despite emails detailing the involvement of the authority’s elected leader and its chief executive.
A statement issued by the council late last year, from Cllr Purdy had denied “any kind of deal”.
The spokesperson would not say if the council could or should be held responsible for issuing statements on behalf of its leader.
They also would not say if a council leader making a statement on behalf of a council was in fact them representing the authority, even if that statement was issued by the council itself.
The Conservative Party are currently in control of the district council and is supported in their administration through a number of independent councillors, including former Tories.
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