A potential future councillor was ‘surprised and concerned’ to learn that Horsham District Council asked for letters he sent to the County Times to be released to them.
Two weeks ago HDC’s press office contacted the paper and asked the County Times to release letters Jonathan Dancer, a prominent opponent of the North Horsham development, had written in connection with the plans.
This week Mr Dancer, who is a member of the Horsham Conservative Association and branch treasurer for Holbrook and has indicated a preference to be considered as a Conservative candidate in the ward of Roffey North in May, has asked why he had been singled out for an ‘individual investigation’.
He said: “I was quite surprised because it seems a strange request. In a way it’s quite intimidating when it happens. I have made my views known in various places on the North Horsham development and I spoke out at the EIP and that’s not easy.”
Asked who had instructed the press office to obtain the letters and why, Tom Crowley, chief executive at HDC, said: “It is part of the job of the HDC communications team to monitor the media to see if anything appears there that requires a response.
“It was noted that Mr Dancer had very recently been quoted in an article in the WSCT following the HDPF hearing and the department was asked if he had written or spoken in a similar way before and if we had responded to any of the points raised.”
Following a second request from the County Times for a fuller response, Mr Crowley added: “In addition to our communications team we also have a cabinet member for communications and this is currently Cllr [Helena] Croft.
“Discussing if the subject of an article or a topic raised by an individual in a letter or comment to the media has arisen on previous occasions and what happened, if anything, at those times, is a normal part of the communications team’s work with the cabinet member.”
no similar requests
The County Times said they had no record of ever receiving a similar request, to which Mr Crowley said: “In this case an enquiry to the County Times as to whether there had been previous correspondence was made by a relatively inexperienced member of staff.
“I do not know whether we have made such approaches to you in the past. Reaction to anything that appears in the media could be either short or long term depending on its nature.”
But Mr Dancer said: “I would like to know what the official nature of the enquiry is, and am I the only person? Is it my point of view that’s of interest to the entire communications team?
“It does not make sense to me. I do not believe I said anything in any of my letters that is any different to others.
“There’s nothing unique in my point of view or any of my letters that would warrant an individual investigation. This is what this is.
“I would not feel at ease if I had been singling out a member of the public in this way unless I had grounds.”
He said that procedures are designed to ensure that party political matters are kept separate from official government matters.
The Horsham resident of 20 years has also signed up to the County Times Free Speech Charter.
He added: “I think people who elect officials have a right to expect transparency and expect their voice to be heard and I think it’s critical and I think that’s what democracy is.”
He said he would ‘love to make a difference in Horsham and give something back’, and was hoping to be selected to stand for Roffey North.
He described himself as always having been a Conservative, and felt the North Horsham scheme was not a party-political matter with opponents across the political spectrum.
“Since I got involved and understood the issues and the audit trial behind the North Horsham development there’s been a lack of transparency and that’s quite obvious and this looks like an example of that,” he added.
“It was an official request, that makes it concerning. If it’s an official council request I would like to know what discussions have been had that has motivated them to make such an enquiry.”
In a statement to the County Times Mrs Croft (Con, Roffey North) and deputy leader said: “A full description of how the HDC communications dept and the communications portfolio operates has already been provided to you by the CEO.
“With regard to your other points about Mr Dancer, it is open to any member of a Conservative Association to put their name forward to the party to stand in an election and in a particular location.
“You have made a statement that he wishes to stand in North Horsham at the forthcoming district council election. You do not give the source of such information, which would be confidential within the Association.
“In fact the first I heard of it was when the CEO received your email as I was not informed of anything about it by my Association until several days later.”
The editor of the County Times refused to release Mr Dancer’s letters to the council.