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Cllr Sonia Wilcox

A councillor has said Lichfield Live “needs to be stopped” during a meeting of Lichfield District Council.

Cllr Sonia Wilcox made her comments in a debate about Cllr Bernard Brown ahead of a discussion around extending a rule to prevent him from being disqualified.

His position was due to be debated after it emerged he had been unable to attend any meetings.

A Lichfield District Council report to the session last night (14th July) said he was “not able to use IT equipment”.

But after his resignation emerged at the meeting, Cllr Sonia Wilcox criticised independent publisher Lichfield Live after the coverage of the council’s own report. The Conservative member said:

“I hadn’t been on the council for very long and I stood up in the chamber and spoke about Lichfield Live and how they attack councillors and their families.

“I do feel desperately sorry for Cllr Brown. I’ve been reading on my phone all the things that have been said about him on Lichfield Live.

“Part of me thinks some of the things do come from within.

“I have already said before that Lichfield Live is really damning on this council and I feel it really needs to be stopped.”

Cllr Sonia Wilcox, Lichfield District Council

Cllr Wilcox’s Conservative colleague, Cllr Colin Greatorex, said comments made by individuals online were the issue rather than specific publishers.

“It is wrong to cite Lichfield Live as the problem here.

“We have a number of people on social media in a lot of different guises who are not ideal members of our society. It is wrong to criticise a publication such as Lichfield Live – it’s more the individuals.”

Cllr Colin Greatorex, Lichfield District Council

Independent member, Cllr Joanne Grange, said councillors needed to expect their actions to be scrutinised.

“When you put yourself up for election it is right that you are subject to a level of scrutiny.

“Where that scrutiny falls over into offence then it is perfectly possible to block people and not just read it.

“There are a number of things out there that are said about people – we can’t expect people not to look at us and challenge us on what we are doing and how we are doing it.

“That is what we are here for we have to expect that to a certain degree.

“Picking out any part of the media and disagreeing with what it says takes us down the route of not presenting ourself as open and transparent to scrutiny.

“I think it’s dangerous if we start down that route.”

Cllr Joanne Grange, Lichfield District Council

Editor’s note:

We fully reject Cllr Wilcox’s accusations and find her calls for independent media coverage to be “stopped” somewhat ironic given they were made at a meeting where a new engagement strategy focusing on transparency was due to be discussed.

In light of the baseless points made regarding Lichfield Live, we have also asked Lichfield District Council to formally investigate her comments in relation to the local authority’s code of conduct.

Our articles relating to Cllr Brown were based on Lichfield District Council’s own documentation. The report from a cabinet member to the meeting outlined his IT issues, while further follow-up articles were based on formal communications with the local authority regarding whether or not training had been offered to overcome them.

None of this has come from “sources within” – they have come through direct channels which Lichfield District Council will have a record of had Cllr Wilcox carried out even the most basic of checks.

A search through our archives shows that Cllr Wilcox has rarely been mentioned in articles outside of collated results of elections, so it isn’t clear where the personal attacks on her and her family that she also mentioned in the meeting have been made.

We have reported extensively on Cllr Wilcox’s husband during his time as leader of the council – this is not to be unexpected given the seniority of that role, particularly as the period covered things such as the changing shape of council funding and the related issues that caused, as well as the collapse of the Friarsgate scheme.

To not cover the actions and views of a council’s leader would be a bizarre decision by any local news publication.

It appears from the meeting that some other members have confused our articles with comments which readers leave or reply with on social media. Suggesting the silencing of an independent publisher which covers a range of other topics beyond local politics is not the solution, a point Cllr Greatorex correctly made in response to Cllr Wilcox’s words.

We do remove comments on our site where they have crossed a line and would encourage people to let us know if they spot anything which may slip through the net so we can take appropriate action where necessary.

For the past 12 years Lichfield Live has continued to independently shine a light on the actions – good and bad – of local councils, particularly in more recent times when other publications have disappeared from sight or have reduced coverage. We do not apologise for that in any way shape or form and will continue to do so with pride on behalf of residents across Lichfield and Burntwood.

Ross

Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.

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36 Comments

  1. Cllr Brown had attended all meetings up to the lockdown (unlike some other Cllrs) and provision could’ve been organised. On the comments side, a little scrutiny might be advisable – not long ago one poster said he was glad Lichfield was a white city…….

  2. Wow.

    I am utterly speechless….

    How does someone so utterly stupid get to be elected in the first place?

    Thank heavens for Cllr Grange’s more balanced reaction.

  3. As a director of Lichfield Live I obviously have a vested interest, but still I feel I must defend both this website and in particular Ross for his consistently high standards of journalism over many years.
    We seem to have developed an environment, both in this country and internationally, where it is fashionable for people to dismiss journalists and journalism as peddlars of fake news. We have even seen such comments on this site recently in relation to the announcement of mass redundancies for local newspapers operated by Reach.
    Such claims are not only unfounded, they are lazy, misguided and dangerous.
    With more than 30 years experience in journalism and having developed my career on well-established and well-respected local newspapers, I can see huge differences in today’s newspapers compared to the titles I was honoured to work on. But I can also see the excellent, professional and informative journalists who are still out there, still covering the news, still asking the right questions and still shining a light on important issues.
    It is refreshing that both Cllr Greatorex and Cllr Grange spoke out in defence of Lichfield Live. It shows that Cllr Wilcox’s views are not necessarily representative of the elected members in general.
    But her willingness to use her privileged platform to make such an inaccurate and disturbing set of statements is part of a worrying trend. Covering the news is not an attack, particularly when those stories are based solely on reports produced by the council itself.
    Far from being “stopped” (whatever that actually means), Lichfield Live should be enthusiastically supported and applauded for continuing to provide an independent and professional news platform for Lichfield District.

  4. Wow. Just wow. How far is her ward from the real world again? Well done to Lichfield Live for not letting this lie and to those councillors who called b******t on it at the time.

  5. Do I not remember the many cabinet meetings held ‘in camera’ by her husband when leader of the council? The reasons stated were often because of sensitive information. No need to go over the history again we are only the ratepayers, why should we know?
    If councillors find readers comments on this site hard hitting then why do they seldom defend their positions. Contempt for the electorate probably. It would be interesting to know just why they put themselves up for election.
    Perhaps Lichfield Live should stop comments from their readers. As an inclusive aspect of their site it is one of the main attractions. In any case I never met a reporter worth his salt who wanted to suppress free speech. A thing is not untrue because it is expressed clumsily or true just because it is eloquently stated.
    Our District Council is exasperating. Some of the decisions made defy explanation. We should be holding them in respect but for many years now they have engendered different reactions.
    More power to your elbow Lichfield Live. You are our only keeper of the truth. If councillors find this disarming then perhaps they are the ones who should be moving on.

  6. Sounds like she is letting her personal life, and the defence of her husband, affect her contributions.

    Or that she doesn’t understand the difference between comments and articles.

  7. For an elected councillor to stand up and suggest that Lichfield Live should be stopped is a direct threat to democracy and free speech. Britain is not a Stalinist state and a free press is an essential part of our democratic way of life. Clearly Councillor Wilcox is following the Trump playbook of baseless criticism of particular media outlets without looking at the facts and seeking to marginalise them. I would also like the good councillor to point out which laws allows her to ban Lichfield Live from reporting on local democracy? I am glad that this was challenged in the meeting as to let it go would have been worse.

  8. @Paul Groves

    Completely agree with everything you say.

    Without Lichfield Live, an awful lot of the mistakesn and general P-poor performance of LDC would go completely unreported.

    If, as a news provider, those in power want to close you down….you know you’re onto something .

    Personally I think Wilcox should stand down for her comments. They are fundamentally at odds with free speech and Democracy. She’s a disgrace.

  9. Many with health conditions are effectively under house arrest, unable to live normal lives. The coverage of the activities of Lichfield Council and the thoughts of its members, provided by Lichfield Live as practically the only available source, is absolutely vital. Anyone wishing to censor such coverage is, at best, ill-advised and at worst an enemy of democracy.

  10. I’m grateful to Lichfield Live for its reporting. These days it’s so important to scrutinise those elected.
    Seems to me the tories, especially, have got some trumpian types trying to blame the media for their own failings.
    It is a shame people vote for those with this attitude. The country’s in a right mess in so many ways and this Cllr sums up just why.
    Keep going Ross & co, you do a great job!

  11. As a former journalist (declaration of interest) and believer in free speech, I am very disturbed by the comments made by Coun Wilcox. It is the job of a free press to scrutinise our public life and hold our elected representatives to account where appropriate, no matter how inconvenient it may be for the individuals in the spotlight – whatever their background or political persuasion. There seems to be a prevailing attitude at present that journalists are responsible for all of our woes when in fact they are doing an important job in documenting the attitudes and actions of our leaders and the people in our communities. Just because coverage may be worrying or contain inconvenient truths, this does not make it wrong.
    In my experience, Lichfield Live has always been scrupulously fair, impartial and diligent in its coverage of local affairs and is playing a vital role at a time when traditional media outlets no longer have the resources to provide the news coverage that Lichfield (hopefully) deserves.

  12. Complete nonsense from Councillor Wilcox. The cavalier way in which she dismisses this website should cause alarm to her own party and to every single one of us. I deal with media throughout Europe and have the utmost respect for professional journalists doing their job. We need an unbiased media in order to safeguard us all and keep a check on those with power and influence.
    Why would you even consider shutting down an impartial media outlet as being the right answer?

    I currently live in Holland but return “home” to Lichfield regularly. Lichfield Live is the only source of local news I have. More than that, I have come to acknowledge it is the only local news source I can trust as well. That is far too valuable to brazenly dismiss in such an irrational rant, especially one delivered during a council meeting being live streamed!

    Keep up the excellent work and the extremely high standards Lichfield Live. You will always get my support.

  13. Presumably Cllr Mrs Wilcox would prefer some sort of state run journal to make sure that any news articles regarding the local authority are properly vetted first.

    I wish her no harm, but hope she learns to regret her autocratic announcement.

  14. I believe Councillor Wilcox has shown a complete lack of understanding on this matter. To make such accusations which lack any basis shows a complete lack of respect for the quality reporting Lichfield live provide. An apology and resignation should be the next action.

    You should serve only in the public interest, and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person, organisation or group, or any other third party.

  15. Good job Lichfield Live. We have a right for freedom of speech. No councilor has the right to silence our rights – As much as they want it, V for Vendetta will not become reality for our government.

  16. Interesting to see the attendance rate at council meetings for Cllr Wilcox was AT BEST 75%. On some years this has fallen t0 66%!! How is this permitted?? In 2019, Lichfield taxpayers paid £278,000 to its councilors. Surely we should expect more than a 66% attendance rate??

  17. Cllr Wilcox is trying to restore the secretive pattern that her husband developed as leader of the council

    Give her the space to answer, she’s showing herself in a bad light

  18. Let’s not get carried away here. Lichfield Live is a valuable source of information locally but it is not the “only keeper of the truth” as stated above. Every councillor, of whatever political persuasion regardless of whether they of the same political affiliation as the Council leadership, has a duty in my view to “keep the truth” on behalf of their electors and hold his/her council’s leadership to account. We are there as representatives of our communities, elected to speak up on their behalf. Some do, some don’t but that’s what representative democracy is about! It’s all too easy to dismiss or diminish the role of councillors but “keeping the truth” is what many of us do, week in, week out – and of course the public too in the interests of truth-keeping can attend in person or virtually whenever they wish.

  19. Quite clearly Sue Woodward my comment struck a chord with you. Without going through the litany of concerns many hold in the district it must be obvious to you that respect for the council is not what it should be. How is political dogma helping us locally? How does it help when councillors advocate suppression of opinion?
    Many issues appear on this site which cause concern. The Friary, Friarsgate, care home proliferation, over development, lack of facilities. I apologise for starting a well worn litany, sadly there is much more.
    I do appreciate that not all councillors are not self serving, and even that a few are altruistic in their service, but they are collectively judged by their performance and openness, or lack of.
    We all face scrutiny, as you have done with my comment, and this I welcome. No one has a monopoly of intelligence or ideas. It requires an independent arbiter to deliver the facts that otherwise might be suppressed to the people councillors perport to represent. We now only have Lichfield Live to do this. Other than the inpracticality of everyone turning up to meetings what alternative do you suggest.
    I appreciate your contribution. There should be a realisation that new technology and the internet will make direct contact with our representatives the new norm.
    ,

  20. In deference to Cllr Woodward, she is right. There are many elected members, from the leader down, who do excellent work and are rightly recognised here and elsewhere for their work.

    However, as has been made clear in responses to this article here and elsewhere, there is a strong feeling amongst the people of Lichfield District that some councillors do not believe they should be held accountable. The fact that the leader of LDC is atrempting to improve that image is no coincidence.

    Cllr Wilcox’s frankly bizarre remarks are representative of an outdated attitude and staggering arrogance that many in Lichfield District clearly feel still exists within LDC. The resistance from within to Cllr Pullen’s strategy to engage more effectively with the residents shows that there is substance behind that perception.

    Remarks were also made in that meeting that people do not understand the role of councillors. That might be true in some cases, but just as Cllr Woodward does not wish us to generalise about elected members so her colleagues cannot generalise about our knowledge and level of understanding.

    What has been clear for some time given other issues – and reinforced by Cllr Wilcox’s comments and Cllr Pullen’s strategy – is that there are some elected members who do not understand their own role. In particular they fail to grasp that their role is a privilege and they should be held to scrutiny and they should expect to be challenged.

    Lichfield Live is right to defend itself in these circumstances. It is not an over-reaction, it is a clear statement that it will stand up for itself. For many of us, Lichfield Live is our only source of unbiased, impartial, independent and trust-worthy news and information. Whatever our political allegiances none of us would simply take the word of an elected member on anything without wishing to confirm those facts from an independent source. Cllr Woodward would surely expect us to do so on a national level with the current Government, so why shouldn’t we do so locally with the help of Lichfield Live?

  21. Please carry on digging with such crass undemocratic comments Mrs Wilcox. You will dig an even greater hole for only yourself to attempt to climb out of

  22. The comments section of any website can be a little troublesome at times (check the Daily Mail as an example), but I believe in this case it’s not the fault of Lichfield Live. This is the fault of a council which allows Councillors to NOT attend meetings for months on end.

    I was shocked to find that…

    1 – The council have a “6 month rule” which seems to allow Councillors to basically not attend any meetings for half a year.
    2 – The council were quite willing to waive this incredibly weak rule and water it down still further.
    3 – No real attempt had been made by the council to help Cllr Bernard Brown.
    4 – In a world where people use technology more than ever (and stores like John Lewis are closing “brick and mortar” stores because 70% of sales are now online), there’s still a lot of push-back about using it to communicate with constituents.

  23. @Cllr Sue Woodward,

    “Let’s not get carried away”? We have one decent online news provider in Lichfield, and a member of the elected council wants to “shut it down”.

    And you tell us to not get carried away….!

    What planet are you on??

  24. Personally I think this is all shining a light on the very slow and backward procedures of Lichfield District Council. Allowing Councillors just to not turn up to meetings for 6 months must be the tip of some iceberg somewhere.

  25. @Burntwood Bloke….

    Is it true about the 6 month rule?? That’s outrageous!!!!! Wilcox’s attendance rate is pretty poor as it is…….

  26. Just to clarify this point, the six month rule comes via the Local Government Act rather than a specific council.

  27. Ross,

    Even so……can you think of any other paid or non paid role that would tolerate such lax performance? School governor roles (who invest a lot of time for free) have a higher level of expectation than councils do of its councillors. The requirement to run an allotment is more strict than being a councillor, it seems.

    Surely this is in everybody’s interest to change?? How is this policy in any way defensible, as local budgets are squeezed year on year??

  28. Thanks Ross, yes – after looking into this it’s not a Lichfield DC-specific rule but a wider rule which applies to other councils.

    To be honest it needs to be updated.

  29. @Burntwood_Bloke. I think Ross pointing out that rule. Shows, he is not damning on the council. Merely pointing out what is happening locally, in an unbiased way.

    Keep up the good work LL.

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