Originally granted by the High Court in October 2014, the gagging injunction prevents Driver from publishing or disseminating documents about the controversial Ramsgate Pleasurama development site which include reports produced by lawyers Pinsent Mason and property consultants Strutt and Parker.
Driver, who due to legal aid changes, was forced to represent himself at the High Court argued that widespread concern about the stalled Pleasurama development and its long-term blighting of Ramsgate’s seafront, meant that there was an overwhelming public interest in allowing the publication of the documents. TDC’s barrister, Wayne Beglan, disagreed, claiming that the release of the documents could have jeopardised negotiations which were then taking place between TDC and building contractors Cardy about the development and sale of the Pleasurama site. The Court ruled against Driver.
Said Driver, “negotiations between Cardy and TDC over the development and sale of the Pleasurama site were completed on 20th July 2016 when Cardy purchased the freehold of the Pleasurama site for £3.515 million from the Council. On hearing this news I immediately contacted the council requesting that I be released from the injunction as there was no longer a legal justification to continue it.
I was astonished to receive a reply from the Council’s legal officer, Colin Evans yesterday (Tuesday 30 August) saying that the documents remain confidential because their disclosure would be prejudicial both to the interests of the Council and Thanet residents. Moreover if the information were to become public it could prejudice the Council in its commercial dealings and negotiations. If the information was released there could be a detrimental effect on the Council.
Now that the freehold of the Pleasurama site has been sold, with the cash safely in the council’s bank, and now that negotiations with Cardy have been concluded I am at a loss to see how Thanet Council’s commercial dealings could be jeopardised by allowing the publication of the documents. I think that the real reason for withholding the documents is that their publication will cause serious embarrassment to top council bosses and politicians. This is all about watching arses and protecting reputations instead of being open and honest with the public about how the Pleasurama development was mismanaged”.
Driver says he will be contacting South Thanet MP Craig MacKinlay and Council Leader Chris Wells to request that the decision not to release him from the injunction be urgently reviewed. He is also seeking advice about taking legal action or complaining to the local government Ombudsman because he claims that his right to free expression is now being unlawfully fettered by Thanet Council’s refusal to release him from the gagging injunction.
It is believed that Driver is the only councillor in legal history to be subject to a gagging injunction by the council he was democratically elected to oversee. Driver claims that the Council’s former Monitoring Officer told him that the decision to secure the gagging injunction was approved by “very senior” members of Thanet Council’s ruling Labour Cabinet, which at that time was led by Iris Johnston.
Thanet South MP Craig MacKinlay, who is supporting Driver in his fight against the injunction said in a letter submitted to the judge at a cost hearing that “the fact that an elected councillor in exercise of his of his own judgment in what should brought into the public domain in the interest of his electors was then subject to effectively a “muzzling action” by the very council upon which he serves, at public expense, is highly questionable and raises important constitutional issues as to the basis and rights of elected representatives”
Driver has now had a £23,000 charging order, plus 8% statutory annual interest placed on his family home by Thanet Council to cover the costs of the High Court hearing. The father of 3, who was forced to give up work almost 3 years ago to become a carer for one his daughters who is disabled said he is paying back the debt at £80 per month but that the repayment does not cover the interest and the debt is becoming bigger and bigger. He will be publishing an account and short video of how and why the injunction was secured against him in the next couple of months and will be linking this to a crowdfunding appeal which he hopes will help him clear what he described as a “politically motivated debt aimed at silencing me and punishing my family who have done no wrong”