A UKIP councillor who was given a suspended prison sentence for arson on Friday (March 14) will not be ousted by Rushmoor Borough Council, but could still be told to resign by his party.
Councillor Malcolm Small, who represents West Heath in Farnborough, received a 12-week prison sentence suspended for two years at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court last Friday after burning clothes belonging to his wife Kim Van Opdorp on February 4.
This was triggered by a row over their attendance at the mayor’s Valentine’s Ball. Small, 48, took what he described as a ‘handful’ of clothes from his wife's wardrobe, including the dress she planned to wear to the ball and his own tuxedo, and burnt them in the back garden of his home in Brewers Close.
According to the Local Government Act, Small would have been automatically removed from the council if his prison sentence exceeded three months but his sentence falls short of this by a week, so the council has no powers to remove him,
A disciplinary tribunal is due to be held this week by senior UKIP members to decide whether Small will be forced to surrender his seat and trigger a by-election. However, he retains the support of many within the party.
The court heard how Small had ‘seen red’ after the argument and now regretted his actions. He was told to pay £85 court costs and an £80 victim surcharge. A two-year restraining order was also passed, forbidding him from contacting his now estranged wife.
The council’s Conservative leader Peter Moyle repeated his call for Small to resign over the ‘serious’ offence.
“Surely he has got to ask himself if there will be any more irrational behaviour that would make him unsuitable to be a councillor,” he said. “I think he should give some serious thought to whether he has the right temperament and will make the right decisions in the future.”
Rushmoor’s Labour leader Alex Crawford agreed that Small should resign, saying: “It would be better for him to be out of the public eye. In a sense it would save any further embarrassment.”
'I feel sorry for him'
Small’s fellow UKIP and West Heath member councillor Mark Staplehurst maintained that the offence had been ‘blown out of proportion’, arguing that their party meant it received more attention.
He stressed that Small was also a victim of a troubled marriage, and had been put through ‘a living hell’ because of one mistake.
“I feel sorry for him,” he said. “I think he does a good job as a ward councillor so I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and kick a man when he’s down.
“I have told him I’m disappointed with him but I have sought guidance from UKIP head office and the chairman has said he totally supports Malcolm.
“Yes it’s something he shouldn’t have done, but it’s not as bad as people are saying.”
Small, who runs a business selling hot dogs in Farnborough, breached his bail conditions, imposed when he admitted the arson charge on February 20 at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court, by contacting his wife.
He was then made to wear an electronic tag and a curfew was put in place forbidding him from leaving his home between 7pm and 7am daily.
In Basingstoke last week, the magistrates were told he was seeking help for bi-polar disorder and excessive drinking as he accepted he had issues he needed to address.
He also has one previous conviction for assault.
The curfew, and a condition that he live and sleep each night at his home address, will be electronically monitored.
The curfew will not impact on any scheduled public council meetings that he is required to attend.
Small declined to comment when approached by the News & Mail, but in his personal blog he described the arson offence as ‘very minor’.
He said his marriage had been difficult and that he burnt only a few items of clothing as a statement of his intent not to attend the ball.
He said: “Yes I shouldn’t have done it, but who could ever expect such an overreaction? You judge if it has been blown out of all proportion or not.
“I need help and support, not to be electronically tagged and continually ridiculed, picked on or bullied."