'Freedom of Speech' Councillor Loses High Court Case

Judge rules Southall blog comments were ' unjustified personal and generic attack'

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A High Court Judge has ruled that comments made by a local councillor about residents in Southall did breach the Council's code of conduct.

Judge Martin McKenna agreed with Ealing Council that the personal blog of Councillor Benjamin Dennehy '' had failed to treat others with respect and had brought the Council and the office of Councillor into disrepute.''

The case was taken to court by Mr Dennehy, of Hanger Hill Ward, who refused to apologise after writing critically about Southall.

He had described it as a 'constant on the public purse' ' home to the worse concentrations of illegal immigrants in the UK' with ' gambling, drinking, drug, prostitution and crime issues unlike many other parts of London'.

Mr Dennehy wrote about the ' largely Indian community who say they deplore this behaviour but yet it is that very same community that harbours and exploits their own people in squalid third world living conditions."

The blog led to complaints and Councillor Dennehy was expelled as a Conservative Councillor.

After an investigation, Ealing Council's Standards Committee found Cllr Dennehy had breached the code of conduct. He was asked not to repeat his comments and to apologise.

Mr Dennehy (UKIP) refused and wanted the High Court to overturn this ruling claiming he had been 'expressing a lawful and legitimate opinion' and went to the High Court to seek a Judicial Review.

However, after hearing representations from Ealing Council and Councillor Dennehy, Judge Mckenna ruled in the council's favour.

He said ''.. the comments about Southall residents were contained in a separate section of the blog from those which raised legitimate topics of political debate. They were not the expression of a political view, but an unjustified personal and generic attack on a section of the public.

''The subjects of the speech were not politicians but ordinary members of the public and, as such, the comments did not attract the higher level of protection applicable to political expressions and the comments would plainly have undermined confidence in local government, the preservation of which is a recognised aim of the Code.''

Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Councillor Gary Malcolm, took the original complaint to Ealing Council and has welcomed the judgement:

“It is a great feeling to know that Councillor Dennehy has been told clearly by the High Court that he was wrong to use the language he did. He still has not made an apology. I hope the court ensures he pays for the time and costs that Ealing paid for its specialist legal advice concerning his misguided actions.''

However, Cllr Dennehy says he can and will now take his case to appeal: '' The fight is not over. I stand by everything I said and the right for people to say it. It's a truly sad moment in our democracy when an elected representative can't tell the truth.

''The truth is this, Southall's community is exploiting its own, it turns a blind eye as thousands suffer and it flouts planning laws that we all have to abide by.

''The knock on effect is criminality that affects all those living there. If we live in country where this can't be said by an elected rep, then God knows why anyone would risk their life trying to get here. I'm ashamed of this ruling, not for me, but our democracy.

''I shall appeal, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.''

21st December 2013