Monday, April 20, 2009

Summary of judgement in case of Councillor Steve Hurst



The first three paragraphs outlined the nature of the appeal and the broad background of the May 2007 Council Elections. They give the sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which the court had to consider. The two issues being a) whether it had been proved that Mr Hurst was responsible for distributing the leaflet in question to houses on the Woodlands Estate (Belle Vale), and if so proved, b) whether the leaflet offends against Section 110 of the Act.

Para 4.

‘Stephen Hurst was a Liberal Democrat councillor and Chief Whip. It is alleged that on the 2nd May 2007 he was distributing offensive/derogatory leaflets about Mr and Mrs Walton which purported to come from The United Socialist Party and did not contain details of the printer/publisher. The respondents say this was a tactical ploy in the sense that by attacking the character of Mrs Walton and her husband he was trying to dissuade people from voting for the Labour Party who were the main opposition. In fact the leaflet says “Vote TUSP”, and the respondents say the leaflet was also intended to turn people against that party with the result that they would ultimately vote Liberal Democrat. If the respondents are right then any right thinking person would agree that this is an unscrupulous and devious form of electioneering.’

Judge Brown then outlined the evidence in detail for a further 14 paragraphs, and in paragraph 8 stated that ‘the court is mindful that Mr Hurst is of impeccable character in that he has no previous convictions, has worked for the Fire Service for 25 years and has served as a local councillor. The court has been provided with evidence of his many qualities and attributes and it is very important that in coming to our decision we give considerable weight to his good character.’

Mr Hurst told the court he had found the leaflets and had them in his hand when he was involved in a scuffle with Mr Walton and his sons. He reported that incident to the police on the evening of 2nd May 2007 but the police log shows he did not report finding the offensive leaflets before that, nor did he mention them on 26th May when he provided a witness statement. Judge Brown said ‘Not to mention finding the leaflets both on the 2nd May and then some three weeks later when he had time to think about it is in our judgement very surprising.”

He continued later; ‘We have carefully considered mr Hurst’s evidence and have at the front of our minds the fact that the respondents must prove the matter so that we are sure but in our judgement it stretches the bounds of credibility that Mr Hurst just happened to find the offensive leaflets and had them in his hand when at the same time someone else wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a t-shirt was delivering these leaflets on the same estate ….’

‘In these circumstances we are sure that Mr Hurst was the person distributing the offensive leaflets and the second question is whether the leaflets offend Section 110 of the Act.’

The Judge then quoted from the case of DPP v Luft and DPP V Duffield (1977) A.C. 962 which is a decision of the House of Lords. He quoted directly from Lord Diplock in some detail and included from page 983 of his judgement as follows:-

“My Lords, where there are more than two candidates for a constituency, to persuade electors not to vote for one of those candidates in order to prevent his being elected must have the effect of improving the collective prospects of success of the other candidates though it may be uncertain which one of them may benefit most. So in anyone sophisticated enough politically to want to intermeddle in a parliamentary election at all, an intention to prevent the election of one candidate will involve also an intention to improve the chances of success of the remaining candidate if there is only one, or of the other of the remaining candidates if there is more than one, although the person so intending may be indifferent as to which one will be successful.”

In conclusion Judge Brown said, ‘Here the intention was to manipulate the electorate by getting them not to vote for the Labour candidate on the principle that ‘mud sticks’ and to get them not to vote for the TUSP on the basis that they would find the use of these tactics offensive. Therefore in this clever and devious way the purpose was to get them to support one of the other party’s and we heard that was the Liberal Democrats. This was a very close election and as the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrats on Merseyside this sort of conduct by Mr Hurst brings considerable discredit on his party and local politicians in general. At a time when politicians are under the spotlight for their probity this was dirty tactics of the worst kind and in our judgement a very serious matter. We have no hesitation in concluding that the leaflet offends against Section 110 of the Act and we are satisfied the appeal against conviction should be dismissed.’


scouseboy said...

He has quite rightly been banged to rights.
Perhaps the most damning comment of the judge was "bringing considerable discredit on his party."
The judge went on to link his behaviour with politicians in general. I disagree with that statement, there are good people (and bad)in all parties on Liverpool city council...Thankfully a lot more good than bad.

Anonymous said...

Lord Diplock - a name I haven't heard in years. Ah, the Uni memories!!