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Ruling says 'no impropriety' took place at Clewer North by-election

The council leader’s political enthusiasm ‘got the better of him’ at a by-election but no ‘impropriety’ took place, it has been decided.

The East Berkshire Liberal Democrats made an official complaint about the conduct of the Royal Borough’s returning officer Alison Alexander and council leader Cllr Simon Dudley following the Clewer North by-election in May.

Independent candidate Wisdom Da Costa won the seat for the West Windsor Residents Association, seeing off competition from Conservative candidate Lars Swann, Labour’s Michael Boyle and Amy Tisi of the Liberal Democrats.

But Mr Da Costa’s victory came after two recounts which included the discovery of a bundle of votes for the Liberal Democrats in the wrong pile.

Richard Coe, treasurer of the East Berkshire Liberal Democrats, has since written to the council’s head of law and governance Mary Kilner to complain.

In his letter, seen by the Express, Mr Coe says: “The returning officer allowed a large number of additional attendees from the Conservative Party to remain at the count, many wearing rosettes identifying their party allegiance.”

He added that council leader Simon Dudley was allowed to wander around in the counting area with only ‘half-hearted’ attempts being made by Ms Alexander to remove him.

Each candidate had been told that they could only bring themselves, one election agent, one counting agent and a guest to the count. Despite this, several Conservative councillors were allowed to stay at the Clewer Youth and Community Centre while votes were counted, he said.

Responding to the complaint, Mary Kilner said: “I do not believe that there was any impropriety on the evening of the count in the Clewer North by-election and I believe that the election team members acted with all due propriety and adherence to the rules.

“I believe Cllr Dudley’s political enthusiasm and support for the Conservative candidate got the better of him on the night.”

She added “I believe that the returning officer was placed in an extremely difficult position but I do not accept the allegations that she made no attempt, or indeed, half-hearted attempts to ensure that Cllr Dudley moved away from the counting tables.”

A complaint against Cllr Dudley was upheld for not observing count rules and the leader was asked to apologise to Ms Alexander for not following her requests.

Mr Coe says he has now lodged a complaint with the Electoral Commission.

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  • Helen Price

    10:10, 16 October 2017

    When the Returning Officer's (Alison Alexander) boss is Cllr Dudley (ie he conducts her performance appraisal and interacts with her every day) then no wonder she is put in an "extremely difficult position". I know no more than is in this article but it appears she did not ensure the rules were followed in allowing so many additional Conservative followers to attend the count, and not being forceful enough in ensuring Cllr Dudley did not wander into areas he was not permitted to. However I assume she gets paid an additional allowance for this responsibility so if she finds it "difficult" maybe someone else should have this role. Perhaps there should be a system where the Returning Officer is NOT a RBWM officer.

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