The foul-mouthed e-mail that resulted in EdenCouncil chairman quitting

Date: Friday 24th February 2017
Kevin Beaty
Kevin Beaty

EDEN Council chairman Mike Tonkin called the authority’s executive “lying b******s” in one of a number of strongly-worded e-mails which led to his shock resignation, the Herald can reveal.

Mike Tonkin
Mike Tonkin

The text of the e-mails — seen this week by the newspaper — have exposed his furious row with the Tory leadership over Penrith Football Club which culminated in him stepping down.

Mr. Tonkin, an Independent councillor for Morland, accused high-ranking councillors of evasiveness in a dispute about the Frenchfield Stadium, where the council is landlord.

“I have viewed the leader, executive and most Conservative members as a big disappointment — lacking in ability, character and judgement,” wrote Mr. Tonkin, a club season ticket holder.

He threatened to use a speech on his retirement as chairman, which was due in May, to go public on his concerns about the executive evading questions.

Mr. Tonkin’s e-mails have shed new light on his sudden resignation as council chairman on 31st January, which the council played down in a press release issued the following day.

Mr. Tonkin, aged 77, of Sleagill, said: “I resigned for two reasons. Firstly for showing disproportionate interest on behalf of the football club and secondly because I used intemperate language towards the leader and executive for which I have apologised in writing.”

He explained that he had stepped down as chairman and written apologies to the executive. As a result, he said he does not have to face a code of conduct hearing.

Mr. Tonkin, a former player for Penrith, said he regretted the language he had used but that he had tried to act in the best interests of the club.

The e-mails show that he was “boiling” after finding out that the executive had staged an “informal meeting” where possible council help for the football club was discussed.

There is no suggestion any councillor broke the law.

His e-mails say he “stormed” into the office of chief executive Robin Hooper ahead of the full council meeting on 12th January and “demanded” to know the “truth” about an “informal” meeting of the six-strong executive.

Mr. Hooper confirmed the football club had been discussed but said when he had asked the executive what action he should take on it, “they said none,” Mr. Tonkin wrote.

Matters then came to a head at the council meeting when the chamber was told that “no decision” had been taken over the football club. Council leader Kevin Beaty (Con, Skelton) agreed to attend a meeting with club officials.

Mr. Tonkin’s e-mails suggest that after the council meeting he “tore” into the council leader and the situation became so heated that one eyewitness thought he was going to hit 50-year-old Mr. Beaty.

Eden Council is landlord of the Frenchfield Stadium where there have been well-documented problems about the pitch and fears about the 123-year-old club’s long-term viability. The club moved to the out-of-town stadium in 2009 from its traditional home at Southend Road in order to make way for the New Squares shopping centre development.

Eden Council describes the holder of the chairmanship as “the first citizen of Eden”. The ceremonial role attracts a special allowance of £600 alongside the £3,597 all Eden councillors can claim.

Mr. Tonkin was elected in 2015 and again in 2016. He was due to hand back the chains in May but the council announced his resignation on 1st February. Chief executive Mr. Hooper said in the press release Mr. Tonkin had resigned to be “free” to be an “advocate” for Penrith Football Club.

Council leader Mr. Beaty described Mr. Tonkin’s e-mails as “nasty” and said it was worse that they were sent behind people’s backs, and had particularly upset executive members Elaine Martin (Con, Hesket) and Lesley Grisedale (Con, Hesket).

Mr. Beaty said he was surprised by Mr. Tonkin’s comments as the chairman had always been nice to his face and not raised any problems.

Every member of the executive complained about the chairman’s controversial e-mails and asked for a retraction, except Gordon Nicolson (Con, Lazonby).

The council leader confirmed the football club had asked the authority for financial help but that no decision had been made at the informal executive meeting which he referred to as a “discussion”. The executive needed more information before it could help, which was why he had agreed to meet with club officials.

The meeting was held informally because the discussion covered financial affairs at the club which could not be disclosed before the public, he added.

He said the council was now actively looking into what it could to do to help the club but had to be careful when using public money because it had to ensure many taxpayers of Eden would benefit from it.

“There was no official decision made and there’s no secrecy,” said Mr. Beaty. “I would call out to the local community to also help Penrith Football Club — they need sponsors and people to support the team week in, week out,” he said.

Eden Council said there had been a “discussion” about the football club not a “report”. It declined to confirm that Mr. Tonkin’s resignation was due to his e-mails and said that was a matter for him.

Informal meetings are an opportunity for “informal discussions, briefings and information sharing to take place between members and officers of the council,” it said.

Commenting this week, Mike Eyles, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said informal meetings should not take place.

“The meetings are plainly not open to public and the press to attend. I don’t like secret meetings and think it goes against the constitution, especially if decisions are being made,” he said.