Cllr Harkin defiant over throwing protester out of meeting
9:06am Thursday 28th February 2013 in News
BOLTON’S mayor will not apologise for throwing a member of the public out of a crunch full council meeting — despite unions contacting the borough’s solicitor.
The meeting to approve this year’s budget, council tax rise and more than £43 million worth of cuts was interrupted twice after the mayor, Cllr Guy Harkin, was forced to halt proceedings because of disruption in the public gallery.
Unions had organised a protest outside the Town Hall and some members then entered the gallery to watch the meeting.
The mayor — in his ceremonial role as chairman of the meeting — began by saying disruptions would not be tolerated and that he would clear the public gallery if necessary.
A shout of “get on with it” led to him adjourning the meeting for five minutes.
Several minutes later, another shout saw Cllr Harkin identify the Bolton Libraries campaigner, Tom Hanley, as the alleged source — and he was told to leave. Several voices were heard to shout “it wasn’t Tom Hanley” and, in scenes reminiscent of the film Spartacus, a woman shouted “I’m Tom Hanley”.
Cllr Harkin then ordered the public gallery to be cleared and police were called after two people refused to move.
Mr Hanley — who denies he was the person shouting — said he had refused to leave until he received an apology.
He was persuaded by council leader Cllr Cliff Morris, who said the Mayor would allow the public back in if he left.
Unison branch Secretary Bernadette Gallagher said: “We have to question whether one person should have the right to clear the gallery just because one person made a fairly innocuous comment about the need to get on with business.”
GMB Convenor Sean Warren added: “Our members are angry. Some of the Mayor’s comments were personal and focussed on an individual, which is wrong.”
A Bolton Council spokeswoman said: “In this case, a member of the public was preventing council business from being carried out and was asked to leave by the mayor.
“When other members of the public continued to shout, interrupt and prevent the meeting from continuing, he ordered the gallery to be cleared.”
Tom Hanley denied he shouted the remark.
He said: “I stayed behind to wait for an apology. I’m still waiting for an apology now.”
Cllr Harkin said: “I’ve known Tom Hanley for 55 years. I went to school with him and I know his voice. He was caught bang to rights. There’s no question of an apology.”
Local government legal expert Peter Keith-Lucas, a partner at law firm Bevan Brittan, said: “A council’s standing orders do provide for the chairman to exclude disruptive members of the public. As a courtesy, the chairman will normally issue a warning at least once.
“If the chairman can identify an individual and just exclude him or her, he can then leave the rest of the public in place. But if that disruption spreads, he can then clear the gallery.”
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