Stay local press release “not discussed with me”, says holidaying council leader

Richmondshire council leader Angie Dale.

The leader of Richmondshire District Council says she was unaware a press release — with a message urging people to stay local attributed to her — had been issued while she was on holiday in the Maldives.

Councillor Angie Dale last night spoke publicly for the first time about the incident at a full council meeting.

The councillor attracted headlines after the press release was released in early January while she was on holiday with her husband.

In the statement, the councillor was quoted as asking people not to make unnecessary journeys and to exercise close to their home.

But residents and some fellow councillors accused the councillor of hypocrisy as she was on holiday at the time.

In a statement at last night’s meeting, Cllr Dale said she had chosen not to comment on the issue until now as she felt the meeting was the correct forum to do so.

She added: “During my absence, a statement was attributed to me as leader of this council.

“This was in a multi-agency press release led by Craven District Council with quotes attributed to all lead members, including myself, to reinforce the message from central government to ‘exercise locally’.

“The content of the press release issued was not discussed with me as I was not contactable. However, it was done in the leader’s name, and I would have agreed the content, as I am sure each and everyone of us would.”

Cllr Dale said the impact of the press intrusion on her husband, children’s, parents and family’s privacy had been “absolutely devastating”.

“This to me is totally out of order, and an infringement of not only mine but my husband’s and family’s privacy.

“No one should have to read comments about their parents like my children have read from the trolls on social media.

“This is totally unnecessary and unacceptable and is the lowest form of local politics that I have witnessed since becoming an elected member for Colburn and Richmondshire.

“I would like to add that this was not a last minute booking, but a planned holiday, and my husband and I travelled through legitimate travel corridors following all Government guidelines that were in place to and from our holiday.

“This included paying for PCR Covid19 tests.”

The councillor finished the statement by thanking the “hundreds of people” who had contacted her over the last few weeks offering support and kindness.

In response, Independent councillor Leslie Rowe highlighted that some 500 fixed penalty notices had been handed out over the last month to North Yorkshire residents flouting lockdown rules.

He questioned whether Cllr Dale still thought travelling 5,000 miles to the Indian Ocean was appropriate at a time when the Covid infection rate in Richmondshire was high and when the Maldives were suffering an increase in infections mainly brought in by tourists.

He asked Cllr Dale: “Don’t you think you owe the people of Richmondshire and the members of the district council an apology for making this council the laughing stock of this country?”

Conservative councillor Richard Ormston said Cllr Dales’ holiday had been ill-conceived, but going ahead with it had displayed “arrogance”.

He said: “Still to think she’s in the right just beggars belief. The flak I’ve personally had to take in my ward has been very difficult to deal with knowing she’s in the wrong.”

Another Tory member, Councillor Jimmy Wilson Petch said he accepted Cllr Dales had not breached any rules and was pleased the messages she had sent from the Maldives showed she had enjoyed the trip.

“Good on her, that’s what I say. However, the press release was extremely ill-judged and the timing and the message portrayed especially, because the vast majority of us were trying to keep safe. All I ask is that she recognises the statement was unwise and just an apology for the whole matter and put it to bed.”

Cllr Dales replied that the press release had been issued without her knowledge, but Cllr Wilson Petch responded: “That’s no excuse, you’re the leader.”