Friday brief: Questions remain about legality of Wellingborough Walks tree felling
Plus a Northants police sergeant faces accusations of acting inappropriately towards junior female colleagues and much more.
It’s Friday and here’s our usual round up of some news stories from across the week. There’s some police force news, local politics and another terrible review after the tragic baby of a child. There’s also an update on the tree situation at Wellingborough Walks.
The county also now has a local democracy reporter - Nathan Briant, who is reporting on the county’s two unitary councils. We’ll regularly be featuring Nathan’s reports in our Friday brief.
Next week we are planning to report from the trial of primary school teacher Fiona Beal, who is accused of murdering her partner Nicholas Billingham last March.
The trial starts on Monday and technology willing, we intend to live tweet from the first days of the trial, so if you don’t currently follow us and want to follow the court proceedings our twitter handle is @nnjournalism
NN Journal has been told by North Northamptonshire Council that the fateful meeting which saw developer Vistry Group decide to pause the tree felling was not minuted.
We asked to see the council’s minutes from the meeting held at its in Wellingborough seven days ago, but have been told no minutes were taken. NNC leader Jason Smithers was at the meeting in an official capacity along with the unitary council’s chief executive Rob Bridge, MP Peter Bone and people from Vistry Group.
There are many unanswered questions about the matter, which so far has seen 15 historic lime trees trees felled this month in preparation for infrastructure works for the town’s Stanton Cross development. Residents were able to hold back the felling for some days, but some were arrested for aggravated trespass for refusing to move off the road when asked by Northamptonshire police.
The council has not put into the public domain any written evidence about permissions given to the developer to cut down the trees, and the developer has not made public any evidence either.
Police, who arrested residents, but refused to intervene in the tree felling, have removed from their social media a post which said activity of the developer was ‘lawful’ and instead replaced it with a statement which said the force would ‘remain impartial in delivering our core policing responsibilities.’
Last night more than 200 people gathered at the Wellingborough Town Council meeting held to discuss the lime trees. Despite requests from the town council, no one from the authority or from the developer was present to answer questions. Unitary council leader Jason Smithers sent along a statement as did the developer which said it would carry out a public consultation. However how and when was not given.
After the meeting Cllr Val Anslow who has been a key part of the action to stop the felling said Cllr Smithers statement 'abdicated all responsibility’ and said ‘they can’t pretend it has nothing to do with them’. Cllr Anslow has also put in a complaint to the Conservative police and crime commissioner Stephen Mold as she did not think the police were impartial when they were dealing with the protests.
A resident who attended told us they thought the blame was being put on the former borough council (which approved the development back in 2015) but said many of the former borough councillors are now town councillors and unitary councillors.
Cllr Graham Lawman, who is the chair of the town council, plus the unitary executive member for highways, was not present at last night’s meeting.
Agencies missed chance to intervene in pandemic baby death
Agencies across Northamptonshire failed to piece together risks posed to a baby who died after her mother smothered them while she was asleep, a report found. The baby was only weeks old when they died in June 2020 after co-sleeping in a double bed with their mother, who had drunk heavily and taken cocaine the night before.
The baby’s father, described as a “prolific” domestic abuser, was in prison for all of their life. Their mother had been staying with her own mother but fell out over her drinking and was staying at a friend’s home when the baby died. The mother and the friend had drunk five litres of alcohol between them in the hours before it happened.
A report by former senior police officer Russell Wate on behalf of the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership, found professionals across a range of agencies should assess the impact of parents’ behaviour on children ‘more robustly’. They should also give more consideration to parents’ alcohol misuse and unsafe sleeping arrangements.
Dr Wate found professionals worried ‘too much’ about the mother’s needs and not enough about how she could affect the baby. His report also found there was an ‘over optimism’ about the mother’s drinking. Despite having a ‘significant history’ of alcohol misuse, her own reporting that she was not drinking ‘appeared to be accepted’ at face value rather than any further investigation being carried out.
Northamptonshire Police also missed two chances to issue police protection notices (PPNs), referral forms highlighting concerns for a vulnerable child, in dealings they had with the baby’s mother before and after their birth. It had earlier submitted a PPN. A force spokesperson said an officer involved was given further training and advice.
The East Midlands Ambulance Service had contact with the mother a few weeks before the baby’s death. A paramedic gave advice after they noticed a pillow had been propped across the baby’s Moses basket to block out light getting into it. But the mother was ‘aggressive and hostile’ while drunk.
The crew correctly completed a safeguarding referral following the incident but only included the mother’s first name. As a result, the referral could not be progressed. By the time all of the relevant information was received weeks later, the baby had died.
Dr Wate also found Covid-19 had an impact on the way the case was handled. Meetings were affected and the mother was able to avoid some face-to-face meetings. A campaign to highlight safer sleeping is already under way across Northamptonshire.
Yvonne Higgins, chief nursing officer at Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board, said:
“Our condolences remain with [the baby’s] family at this very difficult time.
“As part of the review the organisation has looked at improving processes when potential child protection concerns are identified following attendance at an address, including when concerns are identified for a child who is not normally resident at that address,” she said.
“This case should act as a reminder to parents and wider families about the risks of co-sleeping, especially when alcohol and substances are involved. We have been working collectively with partners to develop and run a safer sleeping campaign to raise awareness of these risks and encourage safer sleeping practices for babies.”
The Northamptonshire Police spokesperson said:
“Significant force-wide training has been completed since then and PPN numbers submitted by police have increased hugely as a result. There were 17,610 PPNs submitted by police officers in 2020-21, rising to 23,455 in 2021-22 and 25,312 in the year to date.”
(Nathan Briant reporting)
News in brief
A Northants police sergeant will face a misconduct hearing this morning for inappropriate behaviour towards junior female colleagues.
Richard Hall, a response supervisor based in Wellingborough, is accused of a number of incidents between December 2019 and January last year in which the force says he breached standards of professional behaviour.
Allegations against him include licking a female colleague’s face at a Christmas party and telling another officer he was tempted to slap her bottom.
The gross disciplinary hearing will take place at Wootton Hall.
The number of West Northamptonshire councillors could be cut by nearly a fifth if proposals get the go-ahead.
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) has recommended West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) should be cut to 76 members, down from the current 93.
The LGBCE is reviewing WNC’s ward boundaries with the hope that each councillor will represent roughly the same number of people and that they can be effective. A consultation, which opened on Tuesday, will close on Monday, May 15. Final recommendations will be made in August ahead of elections in 2025.
The last electoral review for the area took place in 2013 and the current ward boundaries are based on arrangements made for the former Northamptonshire County Council. WNC’s councillors are currently organised into 31 wards.
The new recommendations suggest WNC should have 35 wards. They would be broken up into seven one-councillor wards, 15 two-councillor wards and 13 three-councillor wards. Previous recommendations had suggested WNC should have 77 councillors but that has been sliced by one.
To view the LGBCE’s proposals, visit its website at: https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/node/36573 (Nathan Briant reporting)
The Labour Party has picked its candidate for the Northampton South constituency at the next general election. Mike Reader, who works in the construction industry and lives in Northampton, was selected by members at a meeting on Sunday.
He said he will fight for a “greener, more prosperous, fairer future for Northampton”. The constituency’s current Conservative MP, Andrew Lewer, beat Labour councillor Gareth Eales by 4,600 votes at the 2019 general election, reports Nathan Briant.
Mr Lewer has held the seat since he won it in 2017. His confirmation meeting with his constituency party for the next general election has not yet taken place.
Labour last held the seat between 1997 and 2005, when Tony Clarke was the MP. It is unclear when the next general election will be held but it needs to take place by January 2025.
The Liberal Democrats selected Jill Hope as its candidate last year. She contested the seat for the party in 2017 and 2019, coming fourth and third respectively.
A former councillor between 1999 and 2007, she also stood for the Lib Dems at general elections in 2001, 2005 and 2010 and a by-election in Corby in 2012.
(Nathian Briant reporting)
🎨 Artist Greg Orrom Swan will be at Fermyn Woods tomorrow as part of his alchemical forestry workshop. Go along to the free event from 10am to discover some of the hidden symbols of the forest.
✎A doodle cafe is happening tomorrow and Sunday in Corby town centre (in the shop opposite Bewiched) from 10am to midday and 2pm to 4pm . Kids can go along for free.
🍲 Bite Street NN is on at the county cricket ground, Abington, Northampton today and tomorrow from 5.30pm to 9.30pm.
Look out for our weekend culture email which we’ll be sending to you tomorrow.
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