Turmoil engulfs Fort community council

Community councillor Mark Drayton was unanimously booted out of last week's meeting by fellow councillors. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F17 Mark Drayton 2
Community councillor Mark Drayton was unanimously booted out of last week's meeting by fellow councillors. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F17 Mark Drayton 2

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Turmoil engulfed Fort William Inverlochy and Torlundy Community Council’s April meeting last week when several councillors threatened to walk out if one of their number did not stand down after what they alleged was behaviour breaching an agreed code of conduct.

Last Tuesday night’s meeting lasted an hour and a half in total, of which nearly an hour was consumed by the row involving community councillor Mark Drayton.

Chairman Mark Linfield started the meeting by raising an issue concerning the alleged breach of community council’s unreasonable behaviour and action policy.

‘Mark [Drayton] has been sending out emails from himself as a community councillor and he has been copying in both myself and Tricia [Patricia Jordan] as chairman and secretary, in order to validate what he is sending out as looking like it is coming from the community council,’ Mr Linfield told the online session.

At this point Councillor Drayton interrupted calling the comments ‘rubbish’ before being silenced by Councillor Linfield.

Community council chairman Mark Linfield. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F17 Mark Linfield 02
Community council chairman Mark Linfield. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

‘We’ve got the emails, we know where they’ve been sent and we know what’s on them, OK?’ said Councillor Linfield to Councillor Drayton, adding that a number of emails had been sent to a number of the candidates for the local Ward 21 seat in next month’s council elections.

Councillor Drayton interrupted again saying: ‘We can have a subsequent meeting to discuss this when all the information has been circulated.’

But Councillor Linfield said he felt people had seen enough, including previous emails.

He said: ‘We saw previous emails sent to High Life Highland staff. You were asked to stop emailing and to stop using the community council to back up what you were doing, and now there are news releases going out as well.

‘We do have this policy and nobody can dispute that. It was done in September and Highland Council gave us permission to use it in October. In view of this happening yet again and Mark not being an office bearer, as far as I am concerned he has broken the code of unreasonable behaviour and I propose a vote of no confidence in Mark as a community councillor.’

However, Councillor Drayton was unrepentant, telling the meeting at no point had he purported to be speaking on anyone’s behalf other than his own.

‘It’s as simple as chips,’ he added. ‘And it’s just a ridiculous and risible claim. People ‘cc’ in people all the time. I am a community councillor – that’s just a statement of fact.

‘We are bound by the policy in place when we were elected. That’s what we signed up to and that’s what binds us. So you can play with subsequent policy papers all you like, but they have no application – it’s as simple as that. You can try pretending there are but if we end up in court, you’ll lose Mark [Linfield], it’s as simple as that.’

Councillor Linfield responded saying: ‘We can’t work as we are, you are alienating every single person we try to do anything with.

‘High Life Highland won’t work with us – they won’t get involved in things because you’re there. The Chamber of Commerce is edgy about working with us, all the prospective Highland councillors, apart from one who’s not contacted us yet, have been in touch saying they are very wary of what’s happening, that they don’t know what’s going on and that they’re not used to this kind of affront and derogatory comments about them, etc, etc. We’re going to end up not being able to function as a community council if you stay.’

Councillor Drayton admitted to calling one particular council election candidate ‘dense’ but had argued his use of the term’ ignorant’ had simply implied someone not being knowledgeable about a certain topic.

Councillor Jordan then remarked that in her more than 20 years as a community councillor she had never experienced a situation like this one involving Mr Drayton.

‘You bring the community council into disrepute, you sent derogatory remarks to a  number of prospective councillors, you have offended a lady from the Town Team who attended a meeting recently,’ she said, before reading out some of Mr Drayton’s emails to people.

Treasurer Christine MacMaster said she was ‘appalled’ by what she was hearing and had been for some time.

‘We had to come up with that code of conduct because you were representing the community council in a very negative way,’ she commented.

‘You should consider your position. You might not realise you have done anything wrong but this is a new layer of madness and utter contempt for the role you have.

‘The code was to ensure this did not happen again. But you have broken it and I would’ve thought if you had any decency, you would say I am going to step down.

‘This community council is spending way too much time worrying about what Mark Drayton is saying and how he is misrepresenting our views. You don’t have a leg to stand on.’ And she warned: ‘I am definitely going to walk if you don’t step down.’

Councillor Drayton hit back saying he was being ‘ruthless and relentless’ and the reason for that was that the local suicide rate was too high.

‘That is an absolute indictment. Empowered people do not take their own lives,’ he said. ‘The answer is to empower our communities and so I am going to continue being as ruthless in pursuit of that goal for the next one and half years because that is what I promised God I would do.’

But Councillor MacMaster’s comments were echoed by fellow councillors Sara Huxley and Flora McKee, with Councillor McKee also threatening to resign if Councillor Drayton did not.

Community councillors then voted unanimously in support motions of no confidence in Councillor Drayton and to ban him from further meetings for the foreseeable future.

Councillor Drayton, who called for the matter to be referred to Lochaber Area Committee, tried to interrupt proceedings, protesting that the council did not have the authority to ban him but he was cut short and ejected from the online session.

Asked to comment, a Highland Council spokesperson told us: ‘The council is aware of the highly offensive and derogatory comments made by Mr Drayton both by email and online.

‘The council condemns any behaviour of this nature and has written to Mr Drayton reminding him of his responsibilities as an elected member of Fort William, Inverlochy and Torlundy Community Council.

‘The council will be in contact with the chair of the community council to understand the nature of the discussion and the decisions taken by the community council on Tuesday evening.’

​The matter had also been reported to the police and a PoliceScotland spokesperson told us: ‘Officers in Fort William received a report regarding a potentially offensive communication on Thursday March 17.

‘Enquiries were carried out and no criminality established. Suitable advice was provided to all parties involved.’