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Saturday, 04 July 2015

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No further action taken against councillor accused of prejudice

NO further action will be taken against a senior Copeland councillor who was accused of making “prejudicial” comments against the disabled community.

apology: Alistair Norwood

However, the group that made the complaint against Alistair Norwood – the deputy leader of Copeland’s Conservative group – is not satisfied and has now appealed the decision.

The Millom-based South Copeland Disability Group (SCDG) lodged the complaint with Copeland Council after comments by Coun Norwood in a newspaper article debating the introduction of a new system to manage benefits paid to disabled people.

In it, Coun Norwood, who represents Whitehaven’s Hillcrest ward, suggested, according to the complainant, that many of those claiming benefits are doing so fraudulently.

They were particularly incensed with Coun Norwood’s comments that those claiming are on a taxpayer-funded “gravy train” and “run around in their government-funded mobility cars”.

An assessment panel met to examine the complaint and found that Coun Norwood’s remarks “would be likely to constitute a breach of the council’s code of conduct by bringing his office as a councillor, or the authority of which is a member, into disrepute”.

However, they ruled that an article that appeared in The Whitehaven News, in which Coun Norwood extended his “unreserved apologies” and accepted that the “clumsy language used to articulate his position caused offence”, is sufficient and a full investigation will not take place.

The SCDG has now appealed the decision and requested that the matter goes to a review panel.

Gary Jackson, chairman of SCDG, said: “Since the disabled community has been made aware of the decision, my phone has hardly stopped ringing with people wanting to register their sheer dismay that the complaint has been treated so lightly.

“Mostly feel really upset and badly let down by a borough council that is supposed to uphold their right to enjoy fairness, equality and tolerance the same as any other group in the community.

“The panel’s decision reveals that Copeland Borough Council is seriously out of touch with its disabled community on the issue of disability discrimination.

“It is more than a little disappointing to learn that a public figure seems able to make such ill-considered remarks and cause such distress providing they say sorry afterwards.

“Such remarks have real life consequences for disabled people as they then find themselves personally challenged on their disability by complete strangers, as I was myself a couple of weeks ago.

“This can be terribly upsetting, especially for anyone still coming to terms with their disability.”

In reacting to the original complaint, Coun Norwood told The Whitehaven News: “There has been three times growth in the number of people claiming [1.1 million in 1992 and 3.2 million in 2012], and I stand by my – and my government’s – opinion that the criteria needs to be reassessed.

“However, I do accept that the clumsy language I have used to articulate this position has caused offence.

“I categorically do not believe that two-thirds of people are claiming fraudulently. It was not my intention to imply that and the last thing I wanted to do was to upset anyone.”


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