Two Ashfield councillors fined for canvassing breach
Police investigated the matter after receiving complaints from residents.
Coun Hollis is the deputy leader of Ashfield District Council, and represents the Huthwaite and Brierley ward. He is also the county councillor for Sutton West.
Coun Martin is the portfolio Holder for Streets, Parks and Town Centres and represents the Underwood ward. He is also the county councillor for Selston.
County council elections are due to be held in May, although doubts have been raised as to whether these will go ahead.
However the councillors have said rather than canvassing, they were distributing contact information for people to get in touch with covid-related support such as food banks and vaccinations, rather than political leaflets.
They also said they were distributing the information before the Government clarified that political campaigning was not allowed, so even if the leaflets had been political, it should not have been considered a breach of covid regulations.
The leader of the council, Jason Zadrozny, himself an Ashfield Independent councillor, has said he is considering legal action over the Fixed Penalty Notices.
Coun Hollis said: “I’m just baffled. I wasn’t delivering anything political, I was delivering a calendar that had all the information people need, if they need any medication, all the councils numbers, so it was nothing like ‘Vote for Tom Hollis or Vote for the Ashfield Independents’, it was ‘If you need help call this number’.
“I don’t think the fine is legal. The Government guidance changed on Monday, and when that happened we called round to tell everyone to stop doing it.
“When the Government issued the guidelines we immediately stopped. I don’t agree with it, because you can go and distribute pizza leaflets or anything else, but you can’t deliver anything that criticises the Government. I think that’s wrong, but that’s the rules.
“I just don’t understand why they have issued it. I firmly believe I haven’t broken the rules.”
Neighbourhood Inspector Mark Dickson, district commander for Nottinghamshire Police in the Ashfield area said: “Due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions a decision to ask all political parties to refrain from going door to door to canvas or leaflet voters was taken by the force at the beginning of last month, and this was communicated to all parties by email on January 7.”
The Ashfield Independents say this email said there was ‘no legislation prohibiting leafleting or door knocking’, and that this guidance was not clarified by the Government until after the alleged breaches took place.
Inspector Dickson continued: “While the infection rates are coming down it is still significantly high across our region, especially in areas like Ashfield, and it is imperative we all do what we can to stop the spread of the virus.
“Any individual breaking these rules will face fines of up to £200.
“The rules are very clear that people should stay at home unless they are needing to go out for essentials like food or medicine or taking daily exercise.
“The exemptions to this are where people have to go to work as this cannot be done from home. The Government has made it very clear that door to door canvassing or leafleting was not essential.
“There are a variety of alternative ways of doing this during the pandemic without unnecessarily raising the risk of Covid transmission. This was again re-emphasised by the Cabinet Officeon Monday, January 25.
“We are very grateful for all who are following this advice. Disappointingly we had to respond after a member of the public alerted us to two people deliberately canvassing in the Ashfield area between Saturday, January 23, and Monday, January 25.
“An investigation was conducted to ensure this was canvassing and not handing out only essential support information by volunteers, which would be permitted.
“The leaflets were found to contain political canvassing material and so we took the decision to issue FPNs to the two people involved. This was done via email on Friday, January, 30.
“I hope this demonstrates the very reasonable, independent and proportionate approach that we have taken.
“The rules are there for us all in order that we can continue to help save lives and take the pressure off the NHS.
“It is very important that we all respect the course of natural justice which is now very much underway. “
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