Stafford election result recount call is dropped
Petitioners have dropped their call for a Stafford Borough Council election recount, four months after the vote.
The election result in the Haywood and Hixon ward was called into question following the May ballot by four petitioners, including a newly-elected councillor and a former member who lost his seat.
Independent candidate Brendan McKeown polled the most votes – 733 – and the second seat in the ward was won by Conservative Alexander Brown with 655. But Conservative colleague Alan Perkins – who was fighting to keep his seat in the Haywood and Hixon ward – lost out by just 37 votes.
Labour candidates Suzanne O’Farrell and Mick Kelly gained 310 and 286 votes respectively. There were also 42 rejected ballot papers and the voter turnout was recorded as 35.14 per cent.
Councillor Brown, Mr Perkins, former Stafford Borough Council member and voter Jean Tabernor and another voter went on to call for a recount after claiming some votes may not have been recorded. A petition on behalf of the four voters was presented to the High Court.
Earlier this month the matter was back before the court – but this time with a request to be withdrawn.
The application for withdrawal, which was published in the Haywood and Hixon ward, stated: “For the reasons Identified in our petition (and supporting documents) we had a concern that an error may have occurred in the local election to the Haywood and Hixon Ward of Stafford. This related to the local elections which took place on 2 May 2019.
“Since our petition was Issued, we have engaged with Stafford Borough Council (through Its solicitors) about the petition. We are informed, and believe, that Stafford Borough Council’s systems for vote counting have been Investigated and a robust system exists. Further, we are informed, and believe, that the successful candidate (Councillor McKeown) considered that the vote was accurate, given his knowledge of the constituency.
“Further, and without Intending any political comment, unusual patterns of voting were noted in these local elections, nationally, owing to a national Issue of some Importance.
“In the circumstances, we are satisfied that the matters Identified In our petition no longer need to be pursued. Accordingly, we request permission to withdraw the petition on the terms set out In our draft order. These terms are agreed by the respondents.”
Mr Perkins said: “We did a deal with Stafford Borough Council that they would pay costs if we withdrew. The cost of the case was going to be thousands and we just couldn’t afford it.
“We could see the technicality of opposition arising. Should we lose we would have had to pay a lot of money – I think it could have been six figures if it had gone on long enough.
“It will still cost the authority but it will only be minimal.”
It is believed the cost to the council is a four-figure sum. The matter is being dealt with by insurers and the authority is not paying the petitioners’ costs.
There has not been a petition of this kind calling for a vote recount for at least 20 years at Stafford Borough Council.
Council spokesman Will Conaghan said: “We are pleased that the petitioners have withdrawn their petition.”
Councillor McKeown said: “I am and always was duly elected. I couldn’t see for a moment how you could possibly lose between 200 and 400 ballot papers in full view of everyone who was there – not just the counters but the candidates and the other people around and about.
“There must have been a dozen people at any one time watching the ballots being stuck onto the templates and cross-referenced. They’re all counted up at the beginning and cross-referenced at the end.
“At the back of my mind it was always there, but at the front of my mind I never doubted it for one moment. But you never know – stranger things have happened.
“It went to High Court with leave to withdraw the application and petition and that was granted by the judge. The application has now ceased.
“I’m pleased it’s out of the way. Now we can all move forward and get on with doing the job we were elected for across the borough.”