Hatfield Town Council attempts legal action after social media criticism

PUBLISHED: 18:12 18 August 2017

Hatfield Town Council is attempting legal action. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hatfield Town Council is attempting legal action. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Hatfield Town Council is attempting legal action against at least one member of the public, citing defamation.

The town council has sought legal advice from Barker Austin and instructed the solicitors to act on its behalf after it was heavily criticised on social media.

In one hand-delivered letter to a member of the public, Barker Austin states: “We act for Hatfield Town Council.

“We have seen various Facebook postings purportedly emanating from you in a closed group of approximately 1,000 members entitled ‘We are Hatfield Too’.

“The council take a very serious view of its content.”

The letter demands that posts to the Facebook group are withdrawn by this member of the public and an apology issued within seven days.

It demands that the recipient of the letter leaves the Facebook group and posts no further statements about the council in any medium either directly or indirectly.

The fourth demand is that the recipient pays £750 plus VAT “as a contribution to their [the council’s] costs of dealing with this matter”.

Prior to the letter, deputy leader of the town council Phil Knott posted a statement on the ‘We are Hatfield Too’ group on behalf of the council warning that legal advice had been sought.

He wrote: “Some comments regarding Hatfield Town Council have gone beyond opinion and fact.

“Direct allegations have been made regarding corruption.

“We have sought legal advice and our solicitors have confirmed the comments are defamatory.

“We request that any evidence of corruption and any other wrongdoing is presented to Hatfield Town Council, so that the relevant authorities can be brought in to investigate.”

After photos of the threatening legal letter were posted to the ‘We are Hatfield Too’ group, members of the group expressed their shock and outrage.

When the Welwyn Hatfield Times asked town council clerk Carrie Lloyd how much the council had spent on legal fees and how many threatening letters had been delivered to members of the public, she declined to answer.

She has instead referred this paper to the council’s solicitors.

In recent weeks, the Welwyn Hatfield Times has reported on Hatfield Town Council being accused of paying architects to look into a major housing development and football stadium for Birchwood Playing Fields – which the leadership declined to deny.

Ms Lloyd also refused to reveal how much in total had been spent exploring the scheme, instead claiming that the council was not required to do so under the Freedom of Information Act.

The council’s latest move to attempt legal action against a member of the public is an unusual step for a local authority.

In 1992, the House of Lords’ decision in the case of Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers ruled that a local authority may not sue for defamation.

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