At a ‘private meeting’ last week, the Grantham Charter Trustees decided, as usual, to welcome the Belvoir Hunt to St Peter’s Hill in the town on Boxing Day.
This is a Deepings-based blog and I don’t intend to make a habit of reporting news about Grantham but this week’s decision by the Grantham Charter Trustees is interesting for a few different reasons.
Who are the Charter Trustees?
The Grantham Charter Trustees are the custodians of the mayoral chain of Grantham which would otherwise have become homeless at the abolition of Grantham Borough Council in 1974. The functions of the Council were transferred to South Kesteven District Council but it’s a shame to waste a mayoral chain and a coat of arms and so the Charter Trustees were established to uphold the traditions and reputation of the town. The fourteen Trustees are the SKDC District Councillors who represent Grantham, i.e. two from each of the seven wards.
Why were they meeting in private?
Unlike a proper Town Council, the Grantham Charter Trustees have no website, no proper schedule of meetings, no published agendas and no published minutes (This is my understanding – I would be pleased to be corrected). Given that the Trustees only exist for ‘ceremonial’ purposes, you might be forgiven for thinking this doesn’t really matter. However, if ceremonial functions don’t matter then why have a mayor at all?
The meeting last week was particularly private because the subject matter was quite contentious. The question for discussion was whether or not to issue the traditional invitation to the Belvoir Hunt to assemble at St Peter’s Hill on Boxing Day
For many in and around Grantham, the Boxing Day meet is as much a part of yuletide festivities as roasting nuts or blubbing at a John Lewis advert. Since the fox-hunting ban was introduced in 2004 one might think that it would now be an innocuous event and merely another excuse to pass round the sherry. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the Duke of Rutland’s hounds has reignited public emotion around the event.
What’s wrong with the Belvoir Hunt?
Putting aside the hoary arguments concerning the association of hunting with class, privilege and money, the Belvoir Hunt remains controversial for reasons all of its own.
Earlier this year, senior hunt member George Grant and his son were given 13 month suspended prison sentences for an attack on a hunt monitor which resulted in a broken neck in March 2016. The pair also stole a video cameras and damaged a memory card to cover their tracks. Four other thugs were involved in the attack but neither the Grants nor the Belvoir Hunt have revealed their identities of the masked attackers despite requests by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and others.
In March this year, Head Gamekeeper of the Buckminster Estate was found guilty of charges brought under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act. He was caught on camera, by investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports, with a bag and net outside the disused building the day of the Belvoir Hunt meet. He was on his way to retrieve a fox kept captive in a brick shed since the day before.
In other news, in 2015 the Duke of Rutland’s Belvoir Castle Estate was ‘named and shamed’ for failing to pay the National Minimum Wage to 57 workers.
What happens next?
Each time the Grantham Charter Trustees makes a decision whether or not to invite the Belvoir Hunt into the centre of the town, they should be mindful of their responsibility not only to uphold the traditions of the town but also its reputation. The Trustees, as individuals or as a body corporate, should at least take the opportunity to express disappointment with the behaviour of the hunt and its staff over recent years and to demand that the huntsmen improve their act lest the time-honoured invitation be withdrawn.
Eighteen months ago, South Kesteven Councillors were queueing up to criticise the illegal practice of hare-coursing and demanding action by Lincolnshire Police on the issue (and rightly so) although at the end of the debate they didn’t support Cllr Phil Dilks’ motion to actually do something about it. Shortly afterwards, ‘Operation Galileo‘ was launched which has had a significantly reduced the incidence of hare coursing in Lincolnshire. It is a shame that Councillors aren’t similarly outspoken about illegal foxhunting though not really surprising as some Councillors are active members of local hunts (NB. I am definitely not accusing any Councillors of illegal foxhunting).
Last week’s decision has attracted much criticism from Animal Rights campaigners including a Facebook group named ‘Grantham against Bloodsports’. In response to a string of emotional criticism of the SKDC Councillors I posted the following suggestion that people express their disgust via the ballot box:
With all respect, if you don’t like the way SKDC (and the Grantham Trustees) works then you need to start organising to get rid of them (us?) next May. As an Independent I have been able to achieve small victories and hold up a mirror to the nepotism and secrecy at the Council but when nearly all the Councillors are Tories who toe-the-line on every vote it is difficult to make any impact. At the last Full Council I raised the issue of secret meetings but obviously the Tories voted for the status quo. If you want change then you need to start planning now. I would be happy to help.
A few hours later I received an e-mail from a Conservative Councillor claiming that by posting on Facebook I was: a) aligning myself with people who had threatened fellow Councillors; b) condoning disgusting and vile behaviour; and consequently c) breaching the 7 Nolan Principles.
I take standards of behaviour in public life very seriously and consider the accusation very serious. I utterly refute the allegations and have therefore forward the accusatory e-mail to Senior Officers at SKDC who have agreed to carry out an investigation. I suspect I am the first SKDC Councillor to ask for an investigation of his own behaviour! It happened once before when I was a Market Deeping Town Councillor and I was villified by fellow Councillors for telling a member of the public what was said about her during a public meeting. There were no repercussions then and I doubt very much if there will be any this time either.
Reads like a Private Eye ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column! Keep digging the dirt 🙂
I agree with everything you have wrote.
The Belvoir Hunt are a private company listed at Companies House. Two of their company aims are
1/ Campaign to re-introduce FOX HUNTING
2/ To make money for the private company.
They have been supported by SKDC in the loan of equipment via the Charter Trustees. The Hunt, Charter Trustees and to some extent SKDCy have failed to carry out the normal event planning required by SKDC, because they hide behind the Charter Trustees invite – so no-one takes responsibility.
The tradition fell apart when the Belvoir left Grantham in 1954 to make money elsewhere. They no longer hold hunt balls, point to point which is where the tradition arose from.
As you suggest the assault still has an ongoing police investigation to reveal the identities of 4 men also involved in the assault.
The Grantham Charter Trustees need a rethink for the 21st Century if Grantham wants to be thought of as a progressive town.
As the Charter Trustees are all Elected members of SKDC, then surely they should follow the rules of all Councils. Have you checked with LALC?
Well you would think so but…
Quote from the CT.
“The Charter Trustees are not a Local Authority. They have no responsibility for the operation or provision of Services in the Town of Grantham.” ( Have it on email).
“The Charter Trustees are separate to SKDC and are not governed by the same rules.” ( Have it on email)
‘I am not aware that South Kesteven District Council has any role in the monitoring and compliance of the Charter Trustees.
The Charter Trustees are a separate body of which all Trustees are existing ward Councillors in the Grantham area.
The District Council has authority to investigate complaints about individual members when they are acting in their capacity as Councillors of the District Council.
It is for the Charter Trustees to determine whether the meetings of the Charter Trustees are open to the public. It is not for a district council to interfere with the running or administration of the Charter Trustees. In any event, there must be a distinction between a meeting OF the Charter Trustees and a meeting WITH Charter Trustees. It must be anticipated that individuals and other bodies may ask or be asked to meet with the Charter Trustees and they can meet without it necessarily being a meeting of the Charter Trustees.
I regret that I am unable to be of any further help on this issue.(have the email)
Have these councillors any idea what happens during these hunts? Whatever the hunters’ inrtentions, and one has to be mindful that an unbiased report from ex head of CPS Stephen Wooler, described hunting as ‘business as usual’, animals die in the most barbaric way.
Most think it has been consigned to history where it belongs. This is not a pageant on Boxing Day. It’s the public face of an activity that frequently results in dead foxes, hares and even stags.
So what authority does this ‘secret society’ have to choose what happens in Grantham if they are not an official body? Surely what is or is not allowed wherever in the District should be the responsibility of the District Council not some group of self righteous and self elected persons otherwise those who protest have an equal right to decide this should not happen. If a police presence is required to ensure peace is kept, as I believe has happened in the past, then this body should meet the costs, it should not come out of Council expenditure.
No had a reply from the Police where the cost is borne by the ratepayer. Apparently if no one protested they would not attend so they told me. They are there to keep the peace and control – just like outside football grounds.
The Charter Trustees Regulations 2009 governs Grantham Charter Trustees.
In regard to meetings of Charter Trustees, it states Paragraph 10 of Schedule 12 to the Local Government Act 1972 Act (meetings: location, publicity, etc) shall apply in relation to meetings of charter trustees as it applies in relation to meetings of parish councils.
Therefore the Charter Trustees are obliged to advertise their meetings in the same way as a Parish Council giving 3 clear days notice, when and where it will be helf
I agree with what you state.
However, when they called a closed meeting they have stated it is not a ‘Meeting OF the Charter Trustees’ It was a ‘Meeting WITH the Charter Trustees’ so they did not to advertise the fact. I asked the question ‘have you arranged any meetings open or closed’ on the Monday and was told ‘NO’ However, by Tuesday morning a meeting was arranged for the Wednesday. They posted nothing in the Guildhall because I checked and have an email that says they don’t need to because they claimed a ‘Private’ meeting ‘WITH’ I have the emails
I’ve witnessed similar semantics at Market Deeping Town Council. A few years ago they held some ‘meetings of councillors’ seperately to ‘council meetings’. I don’t believe any records were kept and there is no record of any decisions being acted upon, if any were made. It is my opinion that the Charter Trustees cannot make a decision (e.g. a decision to invite an organisation to the town) without having a constituted meeting. I guess you could ask SKDC to rule whether any decision is ‘ultra vires’.
SKDC have stated if you look further back at 31/10 @ 8.59 pm copied from SKDC reply ,
that they have no power over the Charter Trustees. They can only deal with individual councillors under the Code of Conduct. CT do not answer to SKDC – they answer to no-one. Its a mess.
The Charter Trustees Regulations 2009 also states that :Charter trustees shall be a body to which the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies. Meetings should therefore be open to the public and the press
Absolutely agree. That is the act they are using – old, outdated just like the CT
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It now appears that at the Closed Meeting of the Charter Trustees on 25/10 the CT who had met previously with an individual left the Closed Meeting after the Belvoir Hunts presentation.
He left with illness and the only information used by the Grantham Charter Trustees were a few emails provided previously.
It gets worse. The Belvoir Hunt had two people present their case to the meeting whilst it now appears only a few emails were used to make a decision.
If the CT who fell ill was supposed to provide information and discussion for someone this has obviously failed to happen – all very questionable.
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