Former Upwell councillor 'devastated' following five-year ban from public office
A former borough councillor has been banned from holding public office for five years after admitting gaining a false signature on an electoral form.
David Pope, of Small Lode, Upwell, was also fined more than £3,500 for the offence, which took place ahead of the West Norfolk Council elections in May.
Lynn's Magistrates Court heard this morning that Pope, 75, had been a borough councillor for 16 years, representing the Upwell and Delph ward, and a parish councillor for 25 years.
Ahead of the May elections, Pope, at this time an Independent candidate having been deselected by the local Conservative group, needed eight 'assenters' – voters in the ward – to sign his electoral nomination form.
The court was told Pope had wanted a man he had known all his life, Derek Gooch, to be an assenter, but when he arrived at his home, Mr Gooch was not present, and so instead his son, Simon, signed it on his father's behalf.
However, the court also heard that, when questioned, Mr Gooch Jnr said he could not remember signing the form.
Jonathan Eales, mitigating, said his client was "sufficiently concerned" about the situation to check and returned the following two days in a bid to speak to Mr Gooch Snr, but he was still not there.
The form was subsequently submitted. "Of course he had no idea that he was committing an offence or the consequences that might come from that simple action," Mr Eales added.
Pope was elected as councillor for the ward, but after his form was scrutinised by Conservative agent for the area, Ian Sherwood, the offence was reported to the police. Mr Gooch Snr told police that he had not signed the form.
Pope stood down as borough councillor earlier this month, after being charged with the offence.
Mr Eales said: "He is an upstanding member of his local community where he has lived all his life, he is a pillar of society."
"He has spent 75 years working, living and serving the local community, and serving it well, he's proud of countless projects he has been involved with, he's spoken to me about the health centre car park, which he was instrumental in, in Upwell," he added.
"His whole reason to be was to do good for the local community, and he can't do it anymore, and in such tragic circumstances."
Pope had received "a good deal of support" from residents during the case, who "feel some sympathy", Mr Eales said.
Sentencing Pope, chair of the bench Pat Isbill said they were dealing with a "serious offence, but an unusual one".
Magistrates banned Pope from holding public office for five years and ordered him to pay a total of £3,566 in fines and costs.
After the hearing, Pope said: "I'm devastated, because that's left a big hole in my life."
"Locally, it's been positive, I've had lots of support. When I tell them what I have done, they are flabbergasted it's come to this," he added.
"I shall miss it."
Asked if he might return to politics after the ban, in five years' time, he said: "Considering I shall be in my early 80s by then, if I can get a couple of walking sticks, I might try again."