Councillors almost come to blows in clash after meeting

Photo courtesy of BBC Derby
Photo courtesy of BBC Derby

Two councillors had to be pulled apart after nearly coming to blows following a meeting of Erewash Borough Council on Thursday.

Labour councillor John Booth and Conservative Steve Bilbie had to be separated after an argument spilled out into the car park of Ilkeston Town Hall.

The fracas came about after Mr Booth occupied the mayor’s seat following the controversial adjournment of a full council meeting.

Mr Booth claimed he was called a “monkey” by Tory councillor Kevin Miller – who later insisted to the Derby Telegraph: “I absolutely did not.”

Mr Bilbie was not available for comment.

Mr Booth said: “I thought what happened was wrong.

“When the meeting had finished I went outside to Councillor Kevin Miller to question what was said.

“My parents came out of the meeting and had a word with him and asked why he said that.

“Councillor Miller apologised to my mum for calling me a monkey.

“In the meantime, Councillor Bilbie, who was at the side of me, was pointing his finger under my nose. I asked him ‘do you mind not pointing your finger under my nose?’

“He said I was being disrespectful to the mayor for wanting to carry on the meeting and I said: ‘Look, you are being disrespectful to me now.’

“And as soon as I said that, Councillor Bilbie was right in my face and said ‘what are you going to do about it?’ speaking through his teeth. He was trying to be aggressive. I said pardon?

“He said something and I got irate. I stood back, took my jacket off and he did not do anything and backed down.

“He was being threatening towards me.”

But Mr Miller said: “I apologised to his mum [fellow Labour councillor Michelle Booth] for the trouble caused because I felt sorry for her for the way things had gone.

“We [the Conservative group] acted in our normal dignified manner. Outside the meeting I saw nothing at all.”

Asked whether the behaviour of the councillors was “professional”, Mr Booth said: “It’s not professional but at the same time people expect us to have a voice as a councillor. You have to make a decision on the spot.”

The heated exchanges that resulted in the argument came about after the meeting was controversially halted.

The Mayor of Erewash, Councillor Kewal Singh Athwal, adjourned the meeting after the Labour group had insisted that the minutes of a previous meeting should be changed.

Leader of the Labour group Councillor Alex Phillips had asked that the minutes of the appointments panel be altered to show that Labour councillors had decided to not be part of the meeting.

They said they had taken legal advice over procedural rules which they felt had not been followed.

Mr Phillips told the meeting: “There had been serious serious concerns about the process. On taking independent legal advice we decided not to be part of the meeting.”

Council chief executive Jeremy Jaroszek told the mayor that it would not be possible for minutes to be changed by the council as they were not at the meeting to see what had happened.

Mr Athwal told the meeting: “In light of what has happened and questioning the legal advice of my officers today, I adjourn the meeting to another time and place.”

At this point the mayor and the other officers walked up and left the meeting along with the Conservative group.

It was at that point that Mr Booth took the seat that had been vacated by the mayor, loudly banging the gavel.

Leader of Erewash Borough Council and the Conservative group Chris Corbett said: “I think there was a storm in a teacup. From the very little I saw, there was a little bit of an argument between a couple of councillors but I don’t think it amounted to anything.

“I think Councillor John Booth and his father were trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.”