'Like a little Hitler' - Fury as row breaks out at council meeting

Councillors Jane James and Mark Taylor had a heated exchange at a Tuesday meeting.

The explosive comments were made at a meeting of Thetford Town Council on Tuesday, September 28. Pictured: Councillor Jane James (top right) and councillor Mark Taylor (bottom right). - Credit: Emily Thomson/Thetford Town Council/Sonya Duncan

There were furious scenes at a town council meeting as a councillor branded its deputy mayor a "little Hitler".

Thetford town councillor Mark Taylor had been arguing with deputy mayor Jane James, who was chairing the authority's meeting on Tuesday evening.

Although town council meetings usually hear reports from the local district and county councillors, clerk Tina Cunnell said at the meeting she had forgotten to add an item for those reports to the meeting’s agenda. 

Ms James said that because it wasn’t on the agenda, the item couldn’t be discussed.

“We’ll have to cram in two sets of reports into one session,” said Ms James, referring to the next full council meeting in October.  

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But Mr Taylor said he had “comments to make to the district and county councillors which are very, very important".

Norfolk County Councillor for Thetford East, Jane James.

Deputy mayor Jane James - Credit: Emily Thomson

Asked to sit down, Mr Taylor refused, and a heated exchange between him and Ms James broke out. 

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“Councillor Taylor, will you please sit down, you are disrupting the running of the meeting,” said Ms James, before threatening to invoke the standing orders for disorderly conduct in a meeting. 

Mr Taylor said: “I’m starting to smell corruption off you now, chair.”

Ms James then progressed to the next agenda item, and Mr Taylor packed up his things before turning to the camera live-streaming the meeting and saying: “We’re being closed down by the chair.”

Amid Mr Taylor’s monologue to camera, Ms James could be heard saying: “Perhaps if you’d read the papers in advance, you might have noticed the omission and dealt with it.”

He told Ms James: “It is totally out of order, and I will be putting in a complaint against you.”

Thetford Town Councillor Mark Taylor has called for "open air" council meetings in Kings House garde

Councillor Mark Taylor - Credit: Thetford Town Council

Storming out, Mr Taylor said: “I tell you what, you’re like a little Hitler.”

Ms James responded: “Jawohl, mein Führer. Good night.”

Asked on Wednesday whether her response could have been unnecessarily inflammatory, Ms James said: “In reflection, potentially yes, but also, it was a flippant off-the-cuff remark, which I regret, to be honest.”

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Taylor said he found it unreasonable that he was unable to put questions to the district and county councillors.

“In effect what we had was a typing error,” said Mr Taylor. 

“At the start of a meeting, we have apologies, and we have 15 minutes [of questions] from the public.

“Now, if for some reason, we’d missed out 15 minutes from the public, and apologies, are you telling me that we wouldn’t do that, because it wasn’t on the agenda?"

Anger in the parishes

The argument in Thetford comes just weeks after similar chaotic scenes at a meeting of Downham Market Town Council.

In that incident, police were called after a member of the public accused the council and town clerk of ruining the town's market.

In February of this year, Handforth parish clerk Jackie Weaver was catapulted to the status of household name after ejecting disruptive councillors from the council’s Zoom call. 

While it may seem as if these angry incidents are becoming more common, technology has played a significant role in sharing and amplifying them. 

Although councils were forced by a high court ruling to resume in-person meetings in May, part of the pandemic’s legacy has been councils continuing to record and livestream their meetings. 

With these meetings now available on YouTube, it has also meant gaffes, barbed remarks and full-on arguments have been broadcast across the world, where they would previously have been confined to council chambers and town halls. 

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