No council apology in Petworth ‘confidential matter’ row

Petworth Town Council chairman Chris Kemp PICTURE BY KATE SHEMILT
Petworth Town Council chairman Chris Kemp PICTURE BY KATE SHEMILT

BELEAGUERED former Petworth Town Council clerk Jean Huggett failed to get the public apology she wanted from an unrepentant council.

Former town council clerk Mrs Huggett asked for a public apology from the town council, claiming they had accused her of fraud and had tried to shut down her Southern Water account.

Former chairman of finance and vice-chairman of the council Gordon Allan addressed the council at its meeting last Thursday. He called for an apology to be made to Mrs Huggett.

Mr Allan said: “Isn’t it about time we all tried to bring this to an end? The clerk has always maintained she did not sign cheques.

“How many cheques were identified as signed by the clerk? All minutes suitably signed and dated are in 
the office.

“Perhaps in your apology letter you can confirm these records were present and in order. The sooner this is done, the better for everyone.

“The discussion should go on in the public domain, not behind closed doors.”

The council also discussed a letter to Jean regarding the ‘council’s position’.

Chairman of Petworth Town Council Chris Kemp said: “There is a drafted letter which is still moving around. This is not an agenda item so I will not be discussing it this evening. I’m not satisfied I want to put my signature on it. I think it’s unfair that our clerk isn’t in the loop. It’s a letter from this council but it’s unfair that our clerk is unsure what is going on.

“It’s not a private matter, it’s a council matter and she needs to be copied in.”

Despite his comments at the meeting, in a statement to the Observer afterwards, the chairman said: “Petworth Town Council has not publicly commented on this issue as it is a private and confidential matter between Mrs Huggett, the council and Southern Water. Petworth Town Council has actively considered the privacy of its previous clerk in this matter by responding to her correspondence directly and confidentially and has continued to honour its duty as an ex-employer to refrain from bringing this into the public domain.

“Petworth Town Council has never accused Mrs Huggett of fraud or theft.

“As a consequence of the council’s concerns, Southern Water has now fully investigated the matter and apologised to both Mrs Huggett and the council for their administrative errors.”