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Men jailed for GBH on Taunton man 

Three men were jailed today for a total of more than eight years. Mohammed Nasir, aged 28, from London, Mark Morris, 44, from Taunton and Lee Wallis, 55, from Ilminster were handed the sentences at Bristol Crown Court today.

The men pleaded guilty to a joint charge of grievous bodily harm on Andre Rudkin in his home in Upper High St in Taunton in November 2017.

Police described it as an attack on a vulnerable man. Mr Rudkin, aged 40, was found dead in his home shortly after the attack after taking a fatal drug overdose.

Nasir was jailed for three years, Morris was jailed for two years and 10 months and Wallis was jailed for two years.

DC Paul Austins, of the Regional Major Crime Investigation Team, said: “This was a cowardly, senseless, unprovoked attack on a man in his own home. The assault was connected to county lines drug dealing, and motivated by money. This has been a complex and protracted investigation. The police wish to thank everyone who has helped secure this conviction, particularly those witnesses who gave evidence at court.

The Police all paid tribute to Andre Rudkin’s family, who they described as “dignified and patient in their support.”

Asking the right questions?

The accounts do not tell the whole story. The last draft accounts for Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council have been published. The merged council going forwards should be a very different beast.

Mismanaged

Yes it is now clear the process was mismanaged by the last administration. Having paid out £5.661m already, a Somerset West & Taunton spokesperson told us a further £693k is likely to be paid before the redundancy programme is complete. Worse, we were also told that as of today SWT has 55 vacancies unfilled. That will require further recruitment costs to bring the staff up to a full complement. Where recruitment agents are used, that is likely to cost around 15-20% of each employees first year salary.

Costly process

What we can say right now is that 191 members of staff took redundancy. Of those the four highest packages were: £138,000, £152,000. £196,000, £343,000. The latter is clearly for former Chief Executive Penny James.

However when you read the headline “Former council chief executive handed more than £340,000 in redundancy” it is simply not true. The problem is it makes a great headline. But is not only incorrect, it misses the point.

The package Ms James received comprises a range of items, only part of which are strictly speaking redundancy items. For instance £89,000 was shown as compensation for loss of office, £30,000 in pension contributions.

The key question that has yet to be asked, is were all these payments the contractual minimum required. In other words the council had no choice but to pay the amount because the terms were set out in Ms James’s contract of employment. The new CEO, James Hassett tells us they were.

The accounts clearly show the current CEO is on a similar salary to that paid to Ms James,£115,000. So the real question to ask is how do you get from a £115,000 salary to £343,000 as a severance package? Clearly we know pension and loss of office payments. But does the CEO get the same number of weeks pay in redundancy for every year worked as other employees? And if not why not?

The next key question is this. If the package paid to Ms James was exactly in line with her contract, then presumably Mr Hassett will be on a similar contract. In other words the problem is still with us.

Cautious

Which is perhaps why the new Leader of the Council in her comments to us has been cautious and not made large political capital out of it. She told The Leveller “We have lost more staff than the transformation plan set out to do and I’ve asked the Chief Executive to carry out an audit to look at what went wrong and why. We are hoping the auditors will report publicly on this by the end of the summer. I have always been in support of transformation, because I think that residents need an efficient council to deliver its services. We want to get the services back to where they were before and even better. The staff been through a lot, but hopefully they can see where we’re heading. For me it’s not about the past. We need to make sure residents throughout the area have the best services. It’s about looking forward.”

Her approach seems wise. This is a problem that almost certainly has not gone away. The issue around how senior council executives are remunerated has not been addressed at all in this exercise. Mainly because the new administration can do very little. Contracts that have been signed cannot be easily changed.

The question going forward is will the new administration review and challenge the assumptions in standard employment contracts used for senior staff. On the surface these arrangements appear to be far more generous than those available to those on similar salaries in the private sector.

75 years ago

Today is the 75th anniversary of D Day. This day in 1944 allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy.

We at The Leveller would like to add our own thanks to the men and women who took part in the planning, co-ordination and action to start the liberation of Europe.

Working on a newspaper you cannot help but understand that without their hard work and sacrifice we would not be publishing what we publish today.

Freedom of the press is just one of many freedoms we owe to those who planned, those who fought and those who died. Our fellow countrymen, our allies and members of what we then described as “our empire”.

THANK YOU.

d-day-074

Wells company poll on environment

Wells based climate change consultancy, One Home, have just announced the results of a YouGov poll.  The poll, commissioned to find out attitudes to climate change issues was carried out in April using a sample 2,093 British adults.

Angela Terry founder of One Home is a leading environmental scientist and consumer campaigner, whose mission is to explain global warming and help people make changes that have a big impact. She was overwhelmed by the findings of the poll “These results are incredible. Not only are people more aware of climate change, they are talking about the problems, and more are prepared to put their money where their mouth is by paying higher taxes.”

Among the findings:

46% of Brits have discussed the threat within the last week

78% think climate change poses a threat to future generations.

37% of Brits are willing to back up their concerns with higher taxes to fund measures to decrease Britain’s carbon emissions.

58% support an increase in taxation for the country’s wealthiest 10% to fund measures to decrease Britain’s carbon emissions.

Interestingly although 33% of people living in the UK think climate change does not pose a threat to people currently living here, 74% think climate change poses a threat to people living in other countries.

Angela Terry again “Four in five of those surveyed think climate change poses a threat to future generations of people, and that is huge. We have to make changes now for our children. This is a great start, now we really need to push for big improvements. Policy makers and business needs to step up – and now.”

The poll was commissioned so the publication of results today would be on World Environment Day

A358 – Highways England grilled

The Public Accounts Committee today enjoyed putting the metaphorical thumbscrews on Highways England (HE) boss, Jim O’Sullivan. Anne Marie Morris clearly enjoyed the chance to practise an expression or two of disbelief as Mr O’Sullivan stuttered through a non-explanation as to how HE had managed to come up with a public consultation which offered only one route option for joining the A358 to the M5.

As Chair of the Committee, Meg Hillier weighed in we also learned that the MP for Bridgwater has some interesting ideas. Apparently, according Ms Hillier, these involve spending money on the M5 rather than the A358. She noted “Full project funding (for the A358) is not yet approved. The figures (for the cost) are very vague and Ian Liddell Grainger MP has written to us quite rightly pointing out that Highways England estimate of the real cost of the road is manifestly vague. Anything, and here he quotes, between £250m and £500m is the figure on the HE website.”

She went on relentlessly: Why is the information not clear on your website Mr O’Sullivan?

Isn’t it really fair and right that the public know what the cost is likely to be?

And we’ve got a fairly clear estimate here in an agreed report from the NAO. It was £251m now its £452m. Wouldn’t it be more honest to put the higher figure in now?

Mr Liddell Grainger is not so much in favour of the A358, he’s asking us to ask why you are not investing your precious capital allocation to upgrade the M5?

Or are you planning to do that?

This was becoming deeply uncomfortable for Mr O Sullivan. By the time he was asked about whether the Henlade bypass was funded, all he could offer was “I don’t know.”

Ms Hillier settled for asking him to “write to us about that as we have had some queries from people.

What have we learned? That HE are in a mess. That completion of the A358 is (apparently – though Mr O’Sullivan was far from clear) funded, but it really will cost 80% more than the initial budget. And finally the date for opening the new A358 to traffic moved from summer 2024 to “possibly spring 2025”. All in the course of one conversation.

Appeal to find Vanessa Hodge

Vanessa Hodge 1The Police are appealing to the public for help to find 49-year-old woman Vanessa Hodge.

Vanessa is from Dulverton and was last seen on Wednesday 29 May. The last time anyone heard from her was the following day.

We understand fro the Police that her disappearance is out of character. Her car – a beige Fiat Panda – was found in a car park at Porlock this morning. It had a parking ticket on dated 30 May, so may have been there for some time.

John Finn arrested

Avon & Somerset Police are grateful to everyone who shared their appeal to trace John Finn. Officers wanted to speak to him in connection with an assault in Wells. Police found him earlier today, Monday 3rd June, in the Axbridge area of Somerset.

The 44-year-old was arrested as part of investigations into an incident in which a man in his 20s was assaulted at a house party.

The injured man remains in a stable condition in hospital following the assault in Priory Road, Wells, on Sunday 26 May.

If you can help the ongoing enquiries into this incident, please get in touch throughwww.avonandsomerset.police.uk/contact, or by calling 101, quoting reference 5219116782

Attempted arson of wooden home

Avon & Somerset Police are appealing to the public for help after a serious incident in Minehead. Several packages were set alight and hurled onto the  roof of a wooden bungalow in Glenmore Road, Minehead. The incident happened at about 11.45pm on Friday 31 May.

Thankfully the occupants heard the objects land on the roof and the fire went out before any damage was caused. This could have been a very serious incident. If the occupants had not heard the packages being thrown onto the roof, there could well have been fatalities.

Police believe that flaming packages were thrown from a lane behind the property.

Officers have carried out house to house enquiries in the area and local householders are being given home security advice.

Anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area or who has any other information which could help is asked to get in touch through www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/contact, or by calling 101, quoting reference 5219121255

Begging and drinking in Yeovil

South Somerset District Council are seeking your views on a Public Space Protection Orders for Yeovil. In order to control drinking of alcohol on the street as well as street begging, SSDC want to make two separate Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO). Each nuisance needs its own PSPO.

Before doing so, good practise dictates that they ask your views on the proposals. SSDV believe drinking and begging on the streets of Yeovil constitutes a major public nuisance.

Take Part In The Survey Here:  SSDC survey

The Council wants to make a Public Space Protection Order to make it an offence to fail to stop consuming intoxicating liquor when required to do so by a Police Officer, Police Community Support Officer or an authorised officer from the Council. It would also be an offence to fail to surrender anything in their possession which a Police Officer, Police Community Support Officer or authorised officer from the Council reasonably believes to be intoxicating liquor or a container for intoxicating liquor when required to do so.

In a separate Order, the Council also wants to make it an offence to approach another person either verbally or through action in order to beg from the other person.

The survey runs until 7th July

Help Police find John Finn

Avon &SomersetPoliceare appealing for your help to find a man we want to speak to in connection with an assault in Wells.

John Finn may be in Somerset or possibly the Devon and Cornwall police force area. Aged 44, he is described as a white man of medium to large build, about 6ft 2ins tall with a shaven head. His hair dark brown and he has dark brown eyes. He has a tattoo on his right wrist with the name ‘Alice’ on and a scar on the outside of his right forearm. He has links with the Devon and Cornwall area and searches have already been carried out in the Sidmouth and Cranbrook areas.

They need to contact him about an incident which happened on the Sunday afternoon (26 May) when a man in his 20s was assaulted at a house party in Priory Road in Wells.
The man sustained injuries to the back of his neck and right shoulder blade and remains in a stable condition in hospital.
The Policewould encourage anyone spotting him not to approach him but to call 999 quoting Avon and Somerset Police reference 5219116782

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