Councillor calls police after second councillor denies two other councillors’ access to a castle. Confused? Probably
PUBLISHED: 16:30 21 July 2020
© Terry Harris
Police were called to Wisbech Castle yesterday (Monday) by a town councillor after another town councillor refused entry to two other town councillors trying to gain access.
Councillor Steve Tierney, chairman of the castle working committee, told police there were “individuals waiting outside” trying to intimidate volunteers.
The “individuals” were fellow town councillors Dave Patrick and Philip Wing attempting a fact-finding tour.
A police spokesman said: “We were called at about 10:30am today (July 20) by a councillor concerned about the behaviour of two people outside the castle in Wisbech.
“Officers attended the location on their routine patrols but there was nobody there and no evidence a crime had been committed.”
The episode has provoked a minor constitutional row after Cllr Patrick and Cllr Wing believe a legal right of entry has been denied them.
Both claim that as town councillors they have a right to visit the castle, which is leased to Wisbech Town Council by Cambridgeshire County Council.
Cllr David Patrick said he and Cllr Philip Wing had tried to arrange the visit through town clerk Terry Jordan.
“As a town councillor I have every right to inspect council property to satisfy that things are in proper order,” said Cllr Patrick.
Cllr Patrick says that when Mr Jordan rang the castle, he was told by fellow councillor Dave Topgood, the voluntary caretaker, “that he was denying myself and Cllr Wing access on the grounds that the castle was closed to the public and presently a building site”
Cllr Patrick said that when they were told they were being denied access, both left and went home.
He said he wanted to visit the castle to check if there is “unauthorised residential occupation of the council’s community building”.
Cllr Tierney alleged on the Wisbech Castle that the two visiting councillors had forced him to send his volunteers home for the day.
“We have individuals waiting outside at the various castle gates, apparently prepared to camp outside all day waiting for our volunteers to come and go,” he wrote.
“It is very intimidating behaviour which appears to have been calculated for that purpose.
“We have a wedding to prepare for and important work to be doing, but volunteers cannot be expected to deal with this sort of constant intimidation, so work has had to come to a halt while this is going on.
“It is a threatening and bullying way to behave. We are reporting it to the police”.
He later posted his thanks to the police “who turned up to make sure our volunteers could leave the castle without being intimidated or harassed.
“It was peaceful and nothing happened as the individuals had moved off but you never know what might have happened if not for the exposure of their behaviour, so the support was welcome”.
The row follows the revelation that Cllr Topgood has been ‘sofa surfing’ during the coronavirus lockdown, often staying overnight at the castle.
Cllr Topgood surrendered the tenancy of his housing association flat at the beginning of the year and, according to a council colleague, a subsequent move ‘fell through’.
Since then Cllr Topgood, who is a Wisbech town and Fenland district councillor, has effectively been of no fixed abode, although on Monday he changed his address on the register of interests which all councillors are legally obliged to file with the councils of which they are members. He has since listed a c/o address in Tydd St Giles.
Wisbech town council leader Samantha Hoy said she was aware he had been “staying with friends” and there was no problem with him staying overnight at the castle.
“Yes, he has been staying with various people – where do you live?” she said. “What upsets me is that even if he was living at the castle, he has saved hundreds and hundreds of hours by the work he voluntarily puts in there”
Cllr Hoy led the campaign to acquire the lease of the castle on behalf of the town council from the county council.
She said the town council had spent only a fraction of the money it might otherwise have needed had it not been for Cllr Topgood and other volunteers.
Cllr Tierney, chairman of the castle committee, said Cllr Topgood had stored his belongings in his garage and now planned to move to a new address in August.
“Dave was given permission to stay at the castle as voluntary caretaker for security purposes,” he said. “Nothing has changed.
“Unfortunately, his move earlier in the year fell through and he has been staying with friends and at the castle.”
Cllr Hoy said the castle was not suitable for anything other than an occasional overnight stay as it had limited facilities and no shower or bath.
But the explanations have failed to satisfy opposition Cllr Patrick.
“During lockdown there would have been absolutely no reason for anyone to have to spend time staying at the castle,” he said.
“There were no functions or events where night cover was required and besides that a state-of-the-art security system is installed.”
He added: “The truth is that David Topgood has been given a grace and favour for some considerable time –and that is simply not acceptable.”
Cllr Topgood has not responded to phone calls for comment.
Cllr Topgood was elected unopposed to Fenland District Council last year for Staithe ward. As a district councillor he receives an annual allowance of £4,770 and an additional £1,637 a year for chairing the conduct committee.
During an address to the castle working group on Monday evening Cllr Tierney criticised the “outright onslaught” of Cllr Topgood.
“A volunteer who has done absolutely nothing wrong,” said Cllr Tierney.
He said Cllr Topgood had every right to stay overnight at the castle on occasions and it was his call when he did so.
“It is none of your business Cllr David Patrick whether our volunteers choose to move house, or stay in other people’s houses,” he said.
“If you think a law has been broken phone the police.”
And he said that Cllr Patrick had no right to enter the castle and his rights, in this instance, were the same as everyone else’s in this respect.
“Your behaviour was both intimidating and harassing,” he said.
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