‘We didn’t think it was right to allow the public in'

First published in Oxford

COUNCILLORS who voted to bar the press from a standards hearing into comments allegedly made by Lord Mayor Alan Armitage have broken their silence.

Standards committee members Gwynneth Royce, Mike Gotch, James Fry and Dick Wolff voted to exclude the press and public from Wednesday’s meeting at the Town Hall.

It emerged yesterday that Labour Councillor Susanna Pressel also joined their vote.

Since the meeting, three have contacted the Oxford Mail by email to explain why.

Ms Pressel, who represents the Jericho and Osney ward, said: “With great regret I decided to vote against allowing the press in because Jeremy [Thomas, the council’s head of legal] said that if we let you in, we couldn’t say no to anyone else, eg any member of the public.”

Lib Dem Mike Gotch, councillor for Wolvercote, said: “Difficult balance and consequent decision for all of us but I will not comment further.”

James Fry, another Labour councillor, who represents the North ward, said: “The reason we voted to hold it in private was because we were informed that if we allowed press to attend the hearing, then we were obliged to allow members of the public to attend as well, and then the safeguards required to protect the identities of the children involved in the case would have been impossible to enforce.”

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Despite being approached by the Oxford Mail, Mr Wolff failed to respond and Ms Royce declined to comment.

The meeting was adjourned for five weeks after Mr Armitage, who is accused of making inappropriate comments to a schoolgirl at an event in Oxford last June, announced he wanted to contest the conclusion of the investigation.

Comments (8)

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9:40am Fri 18 Jan 13

A Scroat says...

Pressel - “With great regret I decided to vote against allowing the press in because Jeremy said that if we let you in, we couldn’t say no to anyone else, eg any member of the public.” It is with great regret that I, and my family, being members of the public, will NEVER vote for you again. Presumably being an ex-mayor it keeps you in the gang.
Pressel - “With great regret I decided to vote against allowing the press in because Jeremy [Thomas, the council’s head of legal] said that if we let you in, we couldn’t say no to anyone else, eg any member of the public.” It is with great regret that I, and my family, being members of the public, will NEVER vote for you again. Presumably being an ex-mayor it keeps you in the gang. A Scroat
  • Score: 0

10:40am Fri 18 Jan 13

Joe Chapman says...

Since when has this city been answerable to The Oxford Mail? Please stop playing politics and stick to reporting.
Since when has this city been answerable to The Oxford Mail? Please stop playing politics and stick to reporting. Joe Chapman
  • Score: 0

10:48am Fri 18 Jan 13

Sandy Wimpole-Smythe says...

Joe Chapman wrote:
Since when has this city been answerable to The Oxford Mail? Please stop playing politics and stick to reporting.
Your right the city is not answerable to the Oxford Mail.

Elected representatives are however answerable to the electorate and the Oxford Mail simply reports what we have a right to know.
[quote][p][bold]Joe Chapman[/bold] wrote: Since when has this city been answerable to The Oxford Mail? Please stop playing politics and stick to reporting.[/p][/quote]Your right the city is not answerable to the Oxford Mail. Elected representatives are however answerable to the electorate and the Oxford Mail simply reports what we have a right to know. Sandy Wimpole-Smythe
  • Score: 0

11:12am Fri 18 Jan 13

Tom Cranmer says...

I think the right decision was made; the press do not have a different legal status from you and I (despite what the national tabloid's believe!), so there would be child protection and anonymity concerns. The hearing is not in the public interest, the hearing's findings will be in the public interest. The distinction between "public interest" and "interesting to the public" appears to have been confused.
I think the right decision was made; the press do not have a different legal status from you and I (despite what the national tabloid's believe!), so there would be child protection and anonymity concerns. The hearing is not in the public interest, the hearing's findings will be in the public interest. The distinction between "public interest" and "interesting to the public" appears to have been confused. Tom Cranmer
  • Score: 0

12:08pm Fri 18 Jan 13

Abingdon Neil says...

I strongly believe in the freedom of the press to report and that Council business should be conducted in public.

In this case however, where the need to protect the identity of a schoolchild giving evidence is concerned, I think the councillors concerned made the right decision.
I strongly believe in the freedom of the press to report and that Council business should be conducted in public. In this case however, where the need to protect the identity of a schoolchild giving evidence is concerned, I think the councillors concerned made the right decision. Abingdon Neil
  • Score: 0

12:35pm Fri 18 Jan 13

Dick Wolff says...

for the record, Freddie Whittaker claims I have "failed to respond". Freddie has not attempted to contact me -- or if he has, he has the wrong number. I have no missed calls or messages on my phone which has been on me, and switched on, the whole time, except yesterday (Thursday) when I was conducting a funeral.

I have no problem about explaining why the decision to exclude the press at this point was permissible and advisable, though regrettable. (Cllr Dick Wolff)
for the record, Freddie Whittaker claims I have "failed to respond". Freddie has not attempted to contact me -- or if he has, he has the wrong number. I have no missed calls or messages on my phone which has been on me, and switched on, the whole time, except yesterday (Thursday) when I was conducting a funeral. I have no problem about explaining why the decision to exclude the press at this point was permissible and advisable, though regrettable. (Cllr Dick Wolff) Dick Wolff
  • Score: 0

2:55pm Fri 18 Jan 13

Grunden Skip says...

Tom Cranmer wrote:
I think the right decision was made; the press do not have a different legal status from you and I (despite what the national tabloid's believe!), so there would be child protection and anonymity concerns. The hearing is not in the public interest, the hearing's findings will be in the public interest. The distinction between "public interest" and "interesting to the public" appears to have been confused.
Actually Tom they do. As in When a sporting event is ordered to be played behind closed doors. No members of the public are admitted, yet the press still are. In this case I see no reason why the press couldn't be admitted and the public still barred. At least that way the hearing would still be in the public domain as it would be publicly reported, and still maintain the privacy of the alleged girls involved. But to be honest if it was anything even remotely serious then the police would be involved.
[quote][p][bold]Tom Cranmer[/bold] wrote: I think the right decision was made; the press do not have a different legal status from you and I (despite what the national tabloid's believe!), so there would be child protection and anonymity concerns. The hearing is not in the public interest, the hearing's findings will be in the public interest. The distinction between "public interest" and "interesting to the public" appears to have been confused.[/p][/quote]Actually Tom they do. As in When a sporting event is ordered to be played behind closed doors. No members of the public are admitted, yet the press still are. In this case I see no reason why the press couldn't be admitted and the public still barred. At least that way the hearing would still be in the public domain as it would be publicly reported, and still maintain the privacy of the alleged girls involved. But to be honest if it was anything even remotely serious then the police would be involved. Grunden Skip
  • Score: 0

11:56pm Fri 18 Jan 13

Myron Blatz says...

The ongoing secrecy and speculation behind Cllr Armitage's Hearing is not good for City Council, grim for Oxford's LibDems, and awful for the minor in question and her Family. While members of the public and council tax payers might wish to know the facts and the truth, having newspapers trying to invoke Press Freedom as some 'god-given right' doesn't exactly help matters - though as the News of the World used to prove before its long-overdue demise, sensationalism usually helps to sell more newspapers. A difficult call, Oxford Mail.
The ongoing secrecy and speculation behind Cllr Armitage's Hearing is not good for City Council, grim for Oxford's LibDems, and awful for the minor in question and her Family. While members of the public and council tax payers might wish to know the facts and the truth, having newspapers trying to invoke Press Freedom as some 'god-given right' doesn't exactly help matters - though as the News of the World used to prove before its long-overdue demise, sensationalism usually helps to sell more newspapers. A difficult call, Oxford Mail. Myron Blatz
  • Score: 0

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