Community group asked to clarify where legal damages paid by council will go

Quiet Sheringham during the first weekend of the second lockdown. The town was one area of north Nor

Quiet Sheringham during the first weekend of the second lockdown. The town was one area of north Norfolk which recorded no new cases last week. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

The founders of a coronavirus support group are being urged to “do the right thing”, following claims they misled the community about who would benefit from a settlement they were awarded following a legal battle with a town council.

Friends Caz New and Jo Powers, who set up Mutual Aid Sheringham (MASh) at the beginning of the pandemic, were paid undisclosed damages after Sheringham Town Council admitted a statement it had made suggested they were under police investigation over a row with a second, council-backed support group.

Under a non-disclosure agreement signed by both parties, neither the council, nor Ms Powers and Ms New are permitted to reveal how much was paid out.

However, while it has been made clear that the cash, as well as legal fees, was awarded to the two women personally - rather than to the MASh group - many of their supporters say they were unaware of this.

Emma White, who was the driving force behind a £50,000 appeal to revamp the town’s main playground, said she felt the community had been misled by an online campaign by MASh for legal fees to fight “slanderous claims”.

“I don’t think it was made clear that this was a private action and that the money awarded wasn’t going into the community,” she said.

“Given that this compensation was paid out of taxpayers' money, I do believe it is in the public’s interest for Mutual Aid Sheringham to disclose exactly how that money will be spent.

"At the heart of this, it was about people needing help, but, instead, this has gone into private bank accounts.”

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A post about the issue shared on Facebook by Mrs White attracted more than 100 comments, with many people demanding that Ms New and Ms Powers use the payout to benefit local families in need.

When asked to confirm whether she and Ms Powers planned to give any of the settlement to MASh, Ms New said they hoped to set up a Community Interest Company (CIC) offering cookery classes, social groups and other activities.

“The litigation process and the subsequent publicity around the case took an immense toll on myself and Jo, and our families,” she said.

“Some of the funds paid to us as individuals will be used to establish our CIC - we can’t say how much as, honestly, we don’t know the full costs of setting up as a regulated body.

“It’s a shame that there’s been so much gossip about this but we will continue doing what we have been doing since March – helping those who need it overcome the challenges caused by Covid-19.”

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