“This is a serious allegation. I struggle to see any justification to delete emails from a public record.” MP hits out in latest twist of parish council email saga

A Norfolk MP is calling for an investigation into evidence said to suggest a senior public official advised a parish clerk to delete emails from her council computer.

A meeting of Hickling Parish Council heard that Nick Baker, strategic director at North Norfolk District Council, made the suggestion in an email to Shirley Sainsbury - then clerk to Hickling council - at a time when he was a parish councillor.

A subsequent examination of the computer found 3,000 emails had been deleted although some were later recovered, including the one sent by Mr Baker on his work email, a packed Methodist Church hall was told.

Mr Baker and Mrs Sainsbury were and remain trustees of the village hall charity which is involved in a bitter legal dispute with the current parish council which took over from the previous administration - largely composed of trustees - in May last year.

Parish council chairman Sandra Clarke invited parishioners to inspect Mr Baker's email sent on May 31 last year prior to Mrs Sainsbury leaving the council and handing the computer over to a new clerk.

She said after taking over as chairman she had constantly been asking Mrs Sainsbury for documents relating to the hall project, including advice from the council's solicitor, but to no avail.

She had only been able to access certain documents by going directly to the solicitor for his copies.

Most Read

Mrs Clarke said it was then she realised other documents might be missing and an examination of the computer found the emails had been deleted and a file shredder installed.

Mr Baker's email suggested to Mrs Sainsbury that 'you may want to review your IT situation' following the separation of parish council and hall charity business after the election.

He wrote: 'I am not sure if your PC at home is yours or the parish council's. If the latter you may want to wipe all charity stuff off it.'

Mr Baker added that he had seen too many people screwed by employers regarding the use of computers for non-work business.

Mrs Sainsbury replies the same morning: 'Yes, I have already started the process but thanks anyway.'

Mrs Clarke told the meeting that the loss of emails meant they had been unable to process two recent Freedom of Information requests from parishioners.

The latest allegations follow an escalating row which has seen the hall charity sue the parish council for about �110,000. The parish council has counter-sued for the return of �200,000 it has already paid towards the hall, Hickling Barn, which opened in January.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said of the email revelation: 'This is a serious allegation and there appears to be clear evidence. Clearly North Norfolk council has got to investigate this. I struggle to see any justification to delete emails from a public record.'

On the wider dispute between the council and charity, he said there were a lot of well-intentioned people on both sides and a way had to be found of resolving it.

Mrs Sainsbury is on holiday but her husband Brian insisted she had only cleaned the computer to make things tidy - all parish council emails had been reinstated and only her private ones had been permanently deleted.

Mr Baker was unavailable for comment despite several attempts to contact him by the EDP.

A spokesman for North Norfolk council said: 'The council takes any allegations of misconduct very seriously. If there is any proven wrong-doing by an employee, it has appropriate procedures in place that will be followed.'

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter