Tuesday, 20 November 2007


Those of you who follow this site will know that I have an aversion to the regurgitating of large chunks of newspaper articles. My yard stick is always “if it’s worth reading, get out there and buy the paper yourself”. However, I’m going to break the rule and reprint in its entirety David MacLean’s article in today’s Shields Gazette covering “The Case Of The Missing Ballot Papers”.

Containing a hidden element of humour, it is astoundingly factual and damn well written. Provincial journalism is alive and well!

The thought of Council officials going through the rubbish at Middlefield’s tickles me to the core. I hope they claimed any out of pocket costs, and I expect to see these figures on ward Councillors election expenses returns!

If only this had been known, can you imagine what we could have thrown out that day for the poor blighters to wade through?

On an editorial front, “That Was The Week That Was” has had its thunder stolen, because even with a classical satirical slant, this whole scenario cannot be improved upon.

Read the article and enjoy, but don’t ignore the sheer implausibility of the Councils account!
Well done the Gazette!

Desperate search in skip for lost votes
David MacLean

A FRANTIC search for hundreds of missing votes led to an election official wading through a waste paper skip, court documents have revealed.

Senior council officers also joined the search in the basement of South Shields Town Hall following the 'disappearance' of 18 ballot boxes after May's local elections in South Tyneside.As revealed by the www.shieldsgazette.com yesterday, police are now carrying out an inquiry.Under election law, the authority has a duty to retain votes for 12 months.It is believed almost 800 votes were rejected – one in every 36 postal votes cast in the borough – then disappeared.

The details emerged as local businessman Ahmed Khan failed in a legal challenge to examine 62 rejected ballot papers from last year's Beacon and Bents election, which he lost by 33 votes to Coun Audrey McMillan.At Newcastle County Court last week, a judge rejected his application for access to the votes.

A statement filed by Russ Cochrane, South Tyneside Council's deputy returning officer, revealed details of the search for the missing postal votes.On the morning of May 23, two weeks after the votes were found to be missing, he went to the Middlefields depot in South Shields.There, he hunted through the council's waste paper skip, but said he found nothing.He said that returning officer Brian Scott and regeneration and resources executive director David Slater also helped in a search of the basement in the town hall, where the rejected votes had been kept in a corridor.However, all that could be found of the 18 ballot boxes was one lid.Mr Cochrane came to the conclusion that a casual porter disposed of the documents by mistake, although the porter denies this.

The papers also claim that some council officers knew the rejected votes were missing as early as the afternoon of May 8, yet it was October 22 before the council revealed that fact, following legal action from Mr Khan.He even received a letter from solicitors Sharpe Pritchard, acting on behalf of the council, on November 7, which asked him to sign a joint statement with Mrs McMillan and the returning officer, preventing him from making further comments. He refused.

Council bosses have put the missing votes down to a "mistake" and vowed to put steps in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.But Mr Khan said: "The council are directly elected by members of the public, we get a chance every three years to give our verdict on how well each councillor is doing their job.If we can't put our faith into the electoral system, then the whole system becomes pointless."

Independent councillor Jane Branley said: "This is no longer an issue just associated with the local election in Beacon and Bents – all of the rejected postal votes for the entire borough have disappeared.In the public interest, all of the details of this story must be made known."

No comments: