Mayor and councillor swap insults

Accusations and insults were traded between Mayor Hazel Bettison and Councillor Georgina Hill as Berwick Town Council lurched to a new low.

Thursday, 21st April 2016, 07:30 am

The simmering tension between the pair erupted in spectacular fashion at the council’s meeting in the town hall on Monday night.

Earlier this month, Coun Bettison made a code of conduct complaint about Coun Hill’s behaviour at a closed staffing committee meeting.

But Coun Bettison said: “It took a long time to get to that, given what I’ve been subjected to for over three years.

“I work in a prison with hardened criminals and never in my life have I been as frightened as when someone stood up and started effing and blinding at me like a banshee. I was terrified. I thought I was going to be hit.”

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She blamed Coun Hill for the resignations of six councillors and the town clerk.

“They left this council because they could not stand her any more,” she said.

She went on to accuse Coun Hill of ‘sticking a knife in her back’ with comments made on social media.

“As a council, we’re trying to move forward and we will do so with or without Coun Hill,” she continued. “Her reign of terror is ending.”

Coun Hill labelled the speech a ‘character assassination’ which was ‘pathetic, indulgent and a disgrace’.

The row stems from a decision to spend most of the remaining Portas money on a new footpath on the quayside.

Coun Hill, a long-time campaigner for greater transparency in the council’s decision-making process, was unhappy that repeated attempts to get answers were blocked.

She said: “This sort of thing is happening in town councils up and down the country. There is incompetence, amateurism, cronyism and, in the worst case scenario, there is some degree of corruption.

“This started, Mr Mayor, with your failure of leadership because you would not let people speak. All I have asked is for this council to be run properly and democratically.

“You have had a pathetic year as mayor. You have been crap.”

She said the council was not following the Nolan principles of openness on which the code of conduct is based and accused some councillors of relying on others to lead them to decisions.

Earlier in the meeting she said ‘half the council is barely literate’ - sparking a walkout by Coun Gordon McLean.

On her facebook page, Coun Hill said the mayor had made, ‘quite possibly, the most disgraceful speech ever made by the first citizen of Berwick’.

The code of conduct complaint is currently being looked at by the monitoring officer at Northumberland County Council.

Last year, Coun Hill was the subject of a standards committee hearing following complaints made against her by the ex-clerk and a former councillor. The committee ruled that Coun Hill had buillied the clerk, disclosed confidential information and brought the group into disrepute.