Liberal Democrat, Labour and Brentwood First councillors have joined together to call for action over Conservative Cllr Chris Hossack's comments regarding the night time economy and asked for a councillor who understands the issues affecting Brentwood at night to take over the working party from him.
The following letter, signed by Councillors Aspinell, Chilvers, Le Surf, Lloyd, Morrissey and Quirk, was sent to the Mayor of Brentwood, Cllr Madeline Henwood, and deposited at Brentwood Town Hall today:
Dear Madam Mayor
Urgent Business: Comments from Cllr Chris Hossack regarding night time economy
The undersigned members request a meeting of the council to deal with the following as an item of urgent business and to consider its consequences in accordance with bringing the council into disrepute (Constitution Clause 1.3.4 applies (any five members of the Council [may call a meeting] if they have signed a requisition presented to the Mayor of the Council…).
However, as we have an Extraordinary Council meeting on Wednesday 11th September 2013, of which the agenda has not yet been published, we request that this be added to that agenda in order to save the taxpayer money.
The urgent matter is outlined thus:
On Wednesday 14th August 2013, a number of quotes attributed to Cllr Chris Hossack appeared in the Brentwood Gazette in his capacity as lead member of the Night Time Economy Working Group for Brentwood leading to us believe that he is not the right person to lead this working group.
His comments and the narrative were, but not restricted to:
We object to his comments for these reasons:
1. The inference that a female is asking for it (i.e. to be sexually attacked or mistreated) because of the way she chooses to dress is wrong, outdated and inappropriate in the extreme. Victim Supporti and The National Studentii are just some of the organisations that have condemned Cllr Hossack's views saying, correctly, that it is the perpetrator that is the cause of such a crime and not the victim. It is wrong for a representative of the people to make this sort of comment and lay blame on victims.
2. The fact that such attacks - on men and women - are very rare in Brentwood and are not the issues that have been prevalent in the night time economy (these, for the record, have been anti-social behaviour, noise, litter and urination in the streets) shows a total misunderstanding of town centre issues, perhaps because Cllr Hossack is not a town-centre councillor.
3. Cllr Hossack gave these statements in his capacity as Night Time Economy Working Party Chair and, yet, he did not follow the communications protocol or seek advice from the proper officer of Brentwood Council. (Obviously, if he had given the statement as a Conservative councillor it would have been a different matter, but this was not the capacity in which this was made. Nor did he make this statement as a town centre councillor commenting on issues raised with him in his ward work as he represents Hutton East). It is also disappointing that only this particular suggestion was given to the press in an attempt, it would seem, to grab headlines for the Tory administration before policy had been decided by the members Brentwood Council and, therefore, resulting in the council having to retract elements of the statement and field media questions, eating into limited officer resources.
4. This will now over-shadow any attempts to provide a "safe" environment for those who need it and, we feel, there were other options available that could have been discussed and only then released to the press as the work of the group.
5. It damages the reputation of our taxi trade. We feel that many taxi drivers have, or would, try to help if someone was in distress and needed assistance and we feel this is insulting to them.
6. We object to Cllr Hossack's comments attacking one individual - a former member of the cast of "The Only Way Is Essex". Although views on #TOWIE are mixed, we cannot deny that they have assisted the town's economy since it began, opened new businesses in empty shops and attracted other businesses and tourist trade to town. With Brentwood being mentioned in national TV advertising, it has put us on the map in many ways.
7. Cllr Hossack, also in an attempt to grab headlines, informed the Brentwood Gazette that there was "money set aside" for this project. It has been confirmed by officers that this is not the case, but this has already caused considerable damage.
8. The comments have made Brentwood, and the members of Brentwood council, a laughing stock on a global scale with them being carried quite extensively in the national press (The Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph), ITV, Channel 5 and as far away as Australian news - all with very negative comment on the "meat market" comments made by Cllr Hossack.
The consequence of the above means that Cllr Hossack's position as the chair of the working party is now untenable and we feel that he should be relieved of this position with immediate effect and replaced with a councillor who has a working knowledge of the town centre and its issues. Also we note (at the time of writing) a total absence of comment or support for Cllr Hossack by his leader or deputy leader and thus we have to surmise that he does not now have their backing and, in any case, we hope they are considering the actions that should be taken.
Cllr Hossack's behaviour has ultimately brought the council into disrepute and action needs to be taken to repair Brentwood's reputation by replacing Cllr Hossack in this role and taking any other steps deemed appropriate, such as a referral to the standards committee.
The councillors now await a response.
i A spokesman for Victim Support said: "It must always be remembered that a victim is just that. It should never be suggested that a victim makes themselves open to crime because of what they wear or how they act.
ii Cutting taxi fare for women teetering in heels is not going to discourage sexual attacks, but it will place the onus on women to adopt methods to avoid assault and is therefore subtly supporting the idea that they're to blame for it.