Fewer protesters than expected turn out to object to chief executive’s payoff

Fewer people than expected people turned up at the Market Cross in Lerwick on Saturday to protest against the £250,000 payoff for chief executive David Clark to leave Shetland Islands Council after less than nine months.

Organisers had anticipated a larger turnout than on Monday when a march from the Market Cross was joined by around 120 people. But only around 50 people joined organisers Kathy Greaves, a community councillor, and retired Lerwick businessman Ian Inkster at the latest demonstration. They want Sandy Cluness to stand down as convener and all councillors to quit and subject themselves to by-elections.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Friday that police have sent a report to the procurator fiscal after looking again at allegations that Mr Clark threatened councillor Jonathan Wills with violence in a phone call in September last year.

Lerwick CID re-opened the inquiry last week in light of new evidence and interviewed several witnesses from the council and elsewhere. It will now be up to fiscal Duncan Mackenzie to decide whether the case should proceed to court.

Northern Constabulary dropped its earlier inquiry into the accusations from Dr Wills less than a week after he reported the matter on 10th September 2009. Mr Clark took a holiday while the council investigated the claims under the direction of a Cosla appointee. He was allowed to return to work after the council concluded there was insufficient evidence against Mr Clark.

Many of those attending the Saturday’s demonstration were also present at Monday’s event. Mrs Greaves, however, was unperturbed. In a statement read out to those gathered she criticised the council for its poor decisions since the last election was held in 2007.

“We are all gathered here today for the same reason, to be united in our vote of no confidence in our council,” she said. “There have been so many mistakes made, so much wilful waste of our money over the years. It must stop now.

“The past few months’ series of embarrassments at the Town Hall have been the final straw for the people of Shetland. Trust and confidence in the council are at an all time low and Shetland’s reputation has suffered.

“At the local elections almost three years ago we were promised fairness, openness and accountability. Because of these promises we put Shetland’s future in the hands of those councillors who were elected.

“Because those promises have not been kept to, we are rallying here today expressing our democratic desire for change. A few of our councillors have our trust, but until they all resign and stand again for re-election, the council will not gain the trust of the people of Shetland. Those who do not pass scrutiny should not be re-elected.”

She criticised comments made by Cosla president Pat Watters, who said on Friday that the payoff made to Mr Clark offered the best value to the council.

“I don’t know how he can say that. It’s unbelievable Mr Watters could say such a thing. We find it quite insulting.”

She said she had been encouraged by the response to Monday’s demonstration, and had received messages of support from all over the isles and beyond.

“People have been following what has been going on in the media, because this affects the whole of Shetland.”

The demonstration was short-lived. However Mrs Greaves said she planned to unite with a selection of fellow demonstrators and meet the council to put their concerns directly to the authority.

She said she hoped to secure the support of isles MP Alastair Carmichael and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott.

A new website is also being planned which will allow disgruntled voters to register their comments.

Meanwhile, protesters attending the demonstration said they had been particularly annoyed by comments made by Mr Cluness on BBC Radio Shetland when he said demonstrations were not the right way for people to put their points across.

One commented: “Mr Cluness’ remark that it wasn’t appropriate to march was nothing short of impertinent. How dare he tell us we can’t walk or march? I think it’s appalling.”

Meanwhile West Side minister Tom McIntyre said Shetland’s reputation had been damaged by recent events.

“I feel so sad for Shetland. My family live down south and they are watching this and saying ‘what’s going on up there’?

“They [the council] are showing themselves to be inept at running their affairs. I try to promote Shetland as a beautiful place but the way in which the council is carrying out its affairs does not show it in a good light at all.”


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