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Herne Bay councillor charged with corruption

Canterbury city councillor Roger Matthews has been charged with corruption.  The 57-year-old, who represents Greenhill and Eddington ward in Herne Bay, has also been suspended from the Liberal Democrat Group following the shock news.  He is due to appear before magistrates on Thursday, March 26 alongside Herne Bay Golf Club owner Julian Brealy. Matthews said he plans to plead not guilty and will "have his day before judge and jury" at crown court.  

The father-of-two, who has lost his seat on the planning committee as a result of the charge, was arrested last July following an early-morning raid on his home in Beltinge Road.  Both Matthews and 50-year-old Brealy, who lives in Mandarin Lane, Herne Bay, were charged under the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, which relates to the acceptance of gifts and hospitality by councillors.  Speaking outside a council meeting just hours after leaving the police station on Tuesday, Matthews told of his "complete surprise" at being charged.  He said:

"I don't believe I've done anything wrong. I was honestly surprised to be charged and will clear my name in court. I will be pleading my innocence so the case will go to crown court where QCs and barristers will inevitably be involved. Unfortunately the people picking up the bill will be the state. The only people making money out of this are those in the legal profession."

Although not disclosing the exact allegation he faces, self-employed property manager Matthews confirmed it relates to his time on the planning committee. He said:

"I have never favoured anyone in a planning decision and never would. Some people may not be happy with some decision and that's when they start stirring the mud - and mud sticks. I'm not a dishonest man. I may bend at times, but I'm not dishonest. Loads of people have been interviewed by police, both councillors and former councillors. I haven't kept a low-profile . When you start sticking your head above the council parapet people start shooting at you. There are 15 or so members on the planning committee so I don't see how one man's vote or views can affect a decision. To the police I'm just a feather in their cap."

Matthews was elected as a councillor for Herne and Broomfield in 1995 and again in 1999. In 2003 he was elected to represent Greenhill and Eddington after Herne and Broomfield was split in two.  As a result of his suspension from the Liberal Democrat Group, Matthews has lost his seats on the planning, audit and overview and scrutiny committees.  They are due to be reallocated at a council meeting on Thursday, March 19.  Matthews can still represent his ward at full council and Herne Bay member's meetings, but only as an independent councillor.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Alex Perkins said:

"While Cllr Matthews can, if he wishes, remain a city councillor, henceforth he is not and cannot describe himself as a Liberal Democrat and no longer speaks for or represents the Liberal Democrats. He will now face a court to explain his actions and it would therefore be quite wrong for me to make any comment other than to reiterate that Roger has been suspended from the Liberal Democrat Group and from the party. I would urge everyone to remember that being charged with an offence is not the same as being found guilty of one."

Leader of the council Cllr John Gilbey said:

"It is most unfortunate that it has come to this. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. When I've seen Roger over the last few months he has seemed more and more confident, as if the whole thing had blown over or he knew something we didn't. It is my understanding that a lot of people were talked to by police but I wasn't personally interviewed. Roger is entitled to his day in court - and in this country we pride ourselves that anyone charged is innocent until proven guilty."

Brealy, the managing director of Hollamby Estates, Heron Helicopters and Herne Bay Golf Club, spent £1.5 million last year building lagoons to cut the risk of flooding in Herne Bay.  He will appear alongside Matthews at Maidstone Magistrates Court on March 26.  The Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889 states:

  • The acceptance of gifts and/or hospitality by councillors and staff must be treated with extreme caution.
  • On each occasion a judgement must be made between causing offence by refusal and risking improper conduct by acceptance.
  • Gifts offered to a councillor or to staff should be declined if they know or suspect the giver has, or seeks business, with the council.

thisiskent 11th Mar 2009

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