Eastleigh’s MP Mims Davies caused a stir at a council meeting last Thursday ( 18 October) after she accused the Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, Keith House and Cabinet member Tonia Craig – who also both sit as Bursledon Parish Councillors – of a making ‘a grave error of judgement’ in opposing the introduction of background checks for staff, councillors and volunteers at the Lowford Community Centre; checks she believes could have revealed that the former Chair of the Parish mark McCormick had been the subject of a police enquiry into child sex allegations in 2002 prior to his election to the parish Council.
Two weeks ago McCormick was jailed for a total of 17 years after admitting his guilt to a catalogue of sex offences against vulnerable youngsters, offences that included the rape of a 16 year-old.
In 2016 the Bursledon and District Community Association (BDCA) – the charity that manages the Lowford Community Centre – became involved in a bitter dispute with the Parish Council over the introduction of background checks. It was revealed during McCormick’s trial that while he was actively opposing the introduction of background checks in his role as Chair of the Parish Council, he had also been advertising on ‘hook up’ sex sites looking for youngsters interested in ‘daddy and son’ role play.
Davies, who is a Junior Minister for Wales, and had previously been a BDCA trustee in favour of the introduction of DBS checks, made her remarks as she was addressing the council from the public gallery as part of a public participation session on the proposed Local Plan. She started by making a number of comments regarding the plan’s process but then began to read from a prepared statement “in the public interest” in which she said she believed that Councillors House and Craig had made “a grave error of judgement” in not supporting the introduction of safeguarding checks.
The MP was quickly stopped by the Mayor, Bruce Tennent who told her any remarks should be “related to the local plan.” Davies responded “Mr Mayor, I understand you may want me to stop asking questions, but there are victims of a sex abuser in the community who want answers” adding “it’s not a good look for this council if I’m not allowed to finish my comments” but the Mayor insisted “please stick to the point, this is nothing to do with the plan.”
The Leader of the Conservative group Cllr Judith Grajewski, intervened to say there was a precedent for members speaking on ‘any matter they wished’ but the monitoring officer told Cllr Grajewski that the MP was not a member and was therefore not privileged to do so.
Nevertheless Mims Davies continued “No sympathy or concern has been expressed or shown by this Council, who is the principle authority” Another point of order was then raised by Cllr Paul Bicknell who complained that the issue the MP was raising was not on the agenda. The Mayor finally told Davies”
“Mims we are only taking comments on the local plan. We are happy to take the comments you are making to us at another time but this is not the place.”
Before returning to her seat the MP reiterated that she wanted the opportunity to ask urgent questions on behalf of McCormick’s victims. In a written statement handed to Eastleigh News the MP alleged that Burseldon Parish Council had spent £18,000 of public money to try and stop the checks.
At the end of the public participation session Councillor Keith House responded to the MP’s comments by saying she had ‘disrespectful’ to the Mayor adding “I have never, ever known such a rude and arrogant member of Parliament.”
Earlier this week Cllr House told Eastleigh News he believed Mims Davies should have raised her concerns with Bursledon Parish Council as Eastleigh Borough Council are not responsible for what happens there and that although both he and Cllr Craig were also Bursledon Parish Councillors, they are not officers of the parish council and couldn’t answer on its behalf.
Cllr House added that the parish councillors had known nothing about McCormick’s past offending and had been shocked by his arrest but had not commented publicly on police advice. The councillor said he believed McCormick would have passed a DBS check as he had no previous convictions and that Parish and Borough councillors were not routinely DBS checked as their roles do not include unsupervised contact with children as part of their duties.
Eastleigh’s MP has told Eastleigh News she is still pursuing her enquiries on behalf of McCormick’s victims.