COUNCIL tax payers are demanding more transparency as the town council considers spending thousands of pounds from the public purse, or through insurance, on a judicial review.

The judicial review, if it happens, will look at the processes followed by the town council in finding two town councillors, Cllr Liz Harvey and Cllr Andrew Harrison, guilty of bullying staff.

These procedures were under employment law; but a separate Code of Conduct investigation, by Herefordshire Council found that neither Cllrs Harvey and Harrison had been in breach of the Code, which covers how councillors must treat others.

At a meeting in the Market House on Tuesday, attended by around 20 Ledbury residents, there were repeated calls from the public seats for more information about the possible legal battle.

But councillors voted to hold their own discussions behind closed doors and voted to exclude members of the public.

Speaking before this happened, Cllr Harvey, who had declared pecuniary interest because she recently instructed her solicitor to submit a "pre-action protocol" letter to the town council, offered to leave if that allowed members of the public to stay.

Cllr Annette Crowe, in proposing to exclude the public said: "I have proposed we go into private session. It is Cllr Harvey who has brought all of these actions to our door and we have to respond.We should not discuss this in front of the other side."

In response, Cllr Harvey said: "All of these people in the room are not the other party. I am. You can talk if I am not in the room."

Earlier Cllr Andrew Warmington had proposed that further discussion should not take in closed session, but this was not upheld

Members of the public did have their say, however, in the section of the agenda allowed for public speech.

One local resident said: "Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and legal reasons to do so. There seems to be an impetus to continue towards this judicial review.

"What arrangements have you made for us as electors to scrutinize what you are going to do before you do it?"

From the chair, Ledbury's mayor, Cllr Elaine Fieldhouse said: "It's a legal matter. It's too early to let out information."

In response the resident said: "Can I express my disappointment at the lack of scrutiny, and that transparency for the public is not wanted?"

Another Ledbury resident asked: "Why is the council so reluctant to communicate with the public?"

And another Ledbury resident asked councillors: "If this case was to be paid out of your personal accounts, would you still rush forward to proceed?"

Cllr Fieldhouse stressed that that mediation could still play a role in helping to resolve the situation.

She said: "To proceed with a judicial review does not mean we dispense with mediation."

Because allegations that staff were bullied by Cllrs Harvey and Harrison "directly affected" Ledbury town clerk, Karen Mitchell, she was not present at the meeting.

Her role as clerk was taken by an employee from the Herefordshire Association of Local Councils (HALC), and questions were raised as to whether this was a proper course of action.

Former town councillor, Richard Hadley said there could be pecuniary interest because the town council had been taking advice from HALC, and insurance money from HALC could end up paying the town council's legal costs.

Cllr Harrison proposed the HALC clerk should not be chairing the meeting, but this was not supported.

Ledbury's mayor, Cllr Fieldhouse said that any insurance, if claimed, would not come from HALC but from the National Association of Local Councils.

Costs could be high. If the matter does finally go to Judicial Review, and if costs are charged to the town council, an estimated £140,000 might have to be paid out.

It is understood that the town council would contest a judicial review if necessary, and a standing committee will have delegated powers to address the issue and will report back to relevant council meetings.