Petworth wallkway protesters turned the issue into a ‘crusade’

Roger Hanauer who launched an attack on the Petworth Society chairman at a full council meeting last night
Roger Hanauer who launched an attack on the Petworth Society chairman at a full council meeting last night

A blistering attack has been launched on chairman of the Petworth Society Peter Jerrome by a leading town councillor in the aftermath of the row over the ‘desecration’ of the Virgin Mary Spring.

It followed an article by Mr Jerrome on the issue in the Petworth Magazine calling for a 17 metre bridge built in front of the spring to be removed.

Vice chairman of the town council Roger Hanauer told fellow town councillors last night (Thursday, June 15): “In this instance Peter’s article has been used as a needle to prick us and I am uncomfortable with that.”

He said that at a meeting with the county council, Mr Jerrome had admitted the religious significance of the bridge, which objectors to the walkway claimed had healing powers and was a place of pilgrimage, was ‘tenuous at best’.

“I feel people have been grossly over exercised by the whole affair and turned this into some kind of crusade,” said Mr Hanauer.

“For him to describe the walkway as ‘desecration’ which I looked up to mean ‘violation of a sacred place’ is nonsense.

“Furthermore his assertion in the Petworth Society magazine that it showed an apparent ‘wilful disregard’ for the town’s ancient traditions’ is, in my view, at best mischief making and at worse it is an outrageous slur on all the agencies involved, ourselves, the national park and the West Sussex County Council.”

He said the town council had agreed to the removal of the walkway because it had not been informed about the design or size of the structure. But he would monitor the state of the footpath by the spring and if there were further problems the issue would be revisited.

Mr Hanauer said he was also ‘shocked’ that county councillor Janet Duncton and leading objector to the building of the walkway, Gordon Stevenson had been interviewed on the issue by BBC Sussex radio before the meeting “which in my view potentially jeopardised the successful outcome of the meeting.”

Town councillors heard several emails had been received on the walkway issue.

Chairman Chris Kemp asked for guidance on responding: “I thought I would be fairly blunt. This issue has been resolved. It was never anything to do with us and the bridge is going to be removed.”

But Michael Peet advised him to refer them to the county council. Holding up the Petworth Magazine, he said: “All the people reading the tripe in this magazine will keep sending letters.”

Mr Jerrome has refused to be drawn into the row over his comments: “Magazine 168 has already become something of a collector’s item but I still have a very limited number of copies for sale to non-members. I would like to thank Petworth Town Council for their continuing interest in the society and their lively interaction with it,” he said.

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