Trainees turn a 'dictatorial' mayor into front-page news

Gazette: splashed mayor’s response on front page

Trainee reporters Hannah Chapman and Marie Carter found themselves at the centre of a local council row that ended with the town mayor being branded a dictator in a front-page splash.

The two graduates of Darlington College work for the weekly Holderness Gazette and were covering a  Withernsea Town Council meeting at which a debate was expected about local businessman’s threat to close down his amusement arcades because of a lack of council support.

However, town mayor Keith Hardcastle decided to eject the reporters from the meeting.

The reporters stood their ground and said that they didn’t think the matter warranted being held in private – and that they would only leave if the appropriate resolutions were passed.

Hardcastle refused protestations by fellow councillors to hold a vote, saying: "It is my prerogative, my decision to take this meeting in private. We don’t need to take a vote on that. I’ve argued the toss before about this and it’s my decision."

The Gazette duo opted to leave, but the mayor was confronted by editor Neil Speight afterwards.

Speight said: "The mayor acknowledged that he was flying in the face of the law, but refused to apologise or give details of what was discussed."

In response to Speight’s allegations that he was being dictatorial and censoring public debate, he offered a response that the Gazette then splashed on the front page: "Yes, I’m being dictatorial, but I will censor what councillors can or can’t say to the press and in public. I don’t want my councillors slandering people in the chamber or saying things that they should not."

Speight has already had one run-in with the mayor this year, when his complaints of being misquoted and misreported were not upheld by the Press Complaints Commission.

He said: "All credit to the girls for standing their ground and knowing their rights. In the end they did the right thing by walking away but thereby allowing this whole matter, and the mayor’s unreasonable, belligerent and unlawful practices, to be forced very publicly into the open."

The strongly worded front page is the latest in a series of local issues into which the paid-for weekly paper has thrown itself. Under the new ownership of independent publisher Brian Adcock, Speight arrived as editor in May and rekindled a partnership with another new appointee, managing director Ian Woodcock. The two had worked together at nearby Yorkshire Regional Newspapers in the Nineties.

The Withernsea-based Gazette had an average pagination of 16 when they arrived. They are now publishing editiobs of 40 and 44 pages.

The Gazette is a rival to YRN and Northcliffe’s Hull-based operation.

By Jean Morgan

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