New evidence has come to light about how Faversham Town Council conspired to have a pensioner arrested on his birthday...
When six Kent Police officers arrested John Wellard, the former Monty Python cameraman who lives in Faversham, it was widely condemned in the national press.
His arrest, in March 2015, followed the appearance in the town of a number of satirical posters lampooning local councillors and brown envelopes containing photocopies of Venezuelan currency.
At the time, talk of 'brown envelopes' was rife. Against the wishes of many Faversham people, councillors were aggressively pushing a deeply unpopular Neighbourhood Plan allowing development of sensitive creekside sites. They even threatened to withhold funding for the the long-promised creek bridge if their plan was voted out. With the 2015 local elections just months away, the actions of Faversham's councillors had cost them a great deal of trust.
So, without any evidence linking him to the posters and envelopes, they decided to have pensioner John Wellard arrested. On the morning of his 71st birthday.
It is no secret our local councillors were behind John's arrest. One of them, Tom Gates, even admitted it at the time. But little was known about the secret machinations behind it. Until now.
Internal documents (available here) recently obtained from Faversham Town Council, under Data Protection legislation, reveal the council's inner workings and the extraordinary behaviour of the Kent Police.
“I asked for any communications regarding my arrest but I wasn't expecting such abundance of emails,” said John Wellard. “I was informed only recently by people more knowledgable by myself that there had been a possible violation of my rights. Now hopefully the balance will be redressed.”
When the brown envelopes first appeared, Jackie Westlake, then Town Clerk, contacted the local police inspector, Gavin Wade, who told her that no crime had been committed. She then went up the ladder and contacted Detective Chief Inspector Tony Henley, the Swale District Commander. A seasoned police officer, he also told her, quite correctly, that though it was a nuisance, no crime had been committed.
At this point, common sense disappeared.
Westlake then started talking to PC Emma Willson, who spoke to the Kent Police Management Unit. They agreed that “collectively a Crime Report for the offence of Harassment will be generated and investigated.”
Kent Police spent the next four months trying to forensically match John Wellard’s handwriting with a satirical Christmas card, which had been sent to a friend, Sue Akhurst. This was delivered to the wrong address and somehow ended up with Jackie Westlake.
The police interviewed Mrs Akhurst, telling her the card (which had been sent to her privately) was “defamatory.”
Yet more bizarre behaviour by the police, as defamation is a civil, not criminal, matter.
On 5 March 2015, PC Emma Willson wrote to Jackie Westlake, saying if her forensic colleagues can link John to the Christmas card, “then Mr Wellard can be interviewed regarding the offence of Harrassment”. Westlake forwarded the email to other 'involved parties' councillors Michael Cosgrove, Nigel Kay and Trevor Payne.
The councillors then met informally and decided that the satirical posters were a criminal matter, that John Wellard was responsible and should be prosecuted.
The police duly obliged.
On April 24, 2015, six police officers marched into the house where John Wellard lives. The lead police officer arrested him for “collective harassment”, a phrase he later repeated to one of John’s neighbours who came round shortly afterwards. There is no charge of “collective harassment” in English law.
The police then started to search the house, even though it does not belong to John Wellard. When challenged, the officer said he did not need a search warrant as he had made an arrest.
Police officers are entitled to search premises without a warrant, but an inspector has to authorize the search beforehand and can only do so if he or she has reasonable grounds. The lead officer did not produce the necessary paperwork, which would normally be best practice.
There is no provision in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), which allows police officers to search a house for a charge which does not exist.
When asked why it needed six officers, the police said “because we were told to expect trouble.” Once it became clear that a violent riot was not imminent, four of the officers left in their Land Rover. John Wellard was then told he would have to go to the police station.
At this moment, Monty Python became Keystone Kops. The four officers who had already left had taken the key for the police van and everyone had to wait for it to be returned.
Once they got to the station, the police behaviour became even more bizarre.
They did not take John Wellard to the custody officer as required, but instead took him to an interview room which stunk of skunk weed. He answered “No comment” and was released over an hour later. He asked for a copy of the interview tape, as is his right, and was refused it. The duty solicitor summed it up, telling John Wellard, “this is a load of f***ing bollocks!”
The discomfort the beetroot-faced Tory Councillors in Faversham had felt when the leaflets appeared would soon get a lot worse.
Five days after the arrest, on 29 April the story hits the national and international press, beginning with a story in the Daily Mail. John Wellard’s quote, borrowed from the Pythons, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” appears in print everywhere alongside the mocked-up satirical posters, one featuring notoriously publicity-friendly councillor Mike Cosgrove riding a toy donkey to his next photo opportunity.
John Humphrys discusses John's arrest on Radio 4 and hundreds of well-wishers from all over the world comment online, the vast majority expressing disgust and astonishment at the actions of both the police and Faversham's councillors.
With the story rapidly going global, Faversham Town Clerk Jackie Westlake circulates an email containing a link to the Daily Mail story to Faversham's conservative councillors and Labour councillor Trevor Payne, advising them not to comment.
Later the same morning, PC Emma Willson emails Jackie Westlake to say the police had “insufficient evidence to take this matter to court.”
Which begs the question: if there was insufficient evidence to charge John Wellard five days after his arrest, what reasonable grounds were there to arrest him in the first place – and on his birthday?
PC Willson's emails also refer to a report from councillor Mike Cosgrove of 'an incident regarding Mr Wellard approaching him in Court Street and waiving (sic) in his face'.
Yes, you did read that correctly. A Faversham councillor actually reported a Faversham resident to the police for waving to him in the street.
Asked by Jackie Westlake if she has seen the Daily Mail story, Emma says: “I didn't think it would be covered in the Daily Mail but maybe locally!”
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, least of all Kent Police it seems.
The following day, April 30, sees another flurry of activity. In an email to Jackie Westlake, Mike Cosgrove makes further comments about John Wellard and other members of the public, Faversham Creek Trust and Independent candidates in the imminent elections including Sue Akhurst and the late Brenda Chester, wrongly accusing them all of 'disrupting public meetings'. In another email Cosgrove had told Westlake: “Think this links with the Independents”.
Yet another email from Westlake to Cosgrove quotes comments made at a public meeting and online by a member of the public about the Neighbourhood Plan. Faversham Town Council has the legal status of a parish council. Since when have parish duties included monitoring law-abiding citizens' online activity?
Just who was harassing who here? The case law on harassment is clear. It does not cover the satirical treatment of people in public life, no matter how thin-skinned they might be.
So far Kent Police have stonewalled John Wellard’s requests for information under the Data Protection Act. At the time of going to press, he is pursuing his application.
“It was an interesting birthday, albeit alarming,” said John. “Despite the Python-esque aspects to the behaviour of the council and police, the subtext is sinister and leaves a lot of serious questions unanswered.”
The Faversham Eye will report as new information emerges...
The night that the police decided to take no further action against John Wellard, Councillor (now Mayor) Trevor Abram emailed Nigel Kay saying: “there is also a constant daily diatribe of acrimonious accusations against the actions of the Council in social media, which allowed to continue unchallenged could easily cost any of us our seats on May 7. We must not let this continue.”
Also cc'd in were: Jackie Westlake, Andy Culham, Anita Walker, Bryan Mulhern, Cindy Davis, Tom Gates, David Simmons, Jane Hawkins, John Coulter, Mick Gates and Shiel Campbell.