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Councillor's court appearance 'blown out of proportion'

UKIP leader in Rushmoor defends councillor who admitted an arson charge last month

UKIP's Cllr Malcolm Small

The leader of the local UK Independence Party group has said the case of a Rushmoor councillor who appeared in court facing arson charges has been "blown out of proportion", amid calls for his resignation.

UKIP’s councillor Malcolm Small, who represents the West Heath ward on the borough council, admitted one count of arson at Aldershot Magistrates' Court on February 20.

He admitted burning items of clothing belonging to Kim Van Opdorp at his home in Brewers Close on February 4.

The case has been adjourned and he will appear for sentencing on March 14 at Basingstoke Magistrates' Court.

Cllr Small was elected to the council for a three-year term in May 2012.

Cllr Mark Staplehurst, leader of the local UKIP group who also represents the West Heath ward, said he thought his colleague's position as a council member would be uncertain until after sentencing.

However, Cllr Peter Moyle, leader of the authority, thinks differently, saying: "My personal view is he should resign now, he has already admitted the crime and this is a serious and significant crime.

“These are actions by someone holding a responsible position. The crime has been admitted, so I think he should go and people would see that is the correct course of action.”

If Cllr Small receives a custodial or suspended prison sentence from the court, he will automatically have to step down from the council according to the constitution - but if he does not get a jail term it will be down to Cllr Staplehurst to decide whether to call for a by-election or for Cllr Small to resign.

Cllr Staplehurst said: “He spoke to me and I said the stories that are going round at the moment make him out to be the villain, but no-one’s actually listening to his side of the story so at the moment I would rather wait.

“At the end of the day what disappoints me is it has been blown out of proportion. If someone said to me 'is that the basis for someone to resign?', well it isn’t because it’s a private dispute.

“People are making assumptions based on one side of the story, I wasn’t there when whatever happened but he really seems to care about it.”

Since appearing in court Cllr Small said he was considering stepping down from council.

He said: “I would not want to air my washing on the line, I’m very down at the moment.

“I enjoy my job but I may have to step down and I feel that’s so wrong when I enjoy helping people."

Cllr Small will be due to stand for re-election next year when his current term ends.

Cllr Staplehurst added: "I certainly don't want a by-election for something that isn't necessary. If he decides he wants to go, that's his choice.

"He said to me he would offer his resignation if he felt he was damaging the name of UKIP and I said it's not.

"If the sentence is custodial I think that's really sending out the wrong message as I think the police should have better things to do."

If Cllr Small does step down, Cllr Staplehurst will be the only remaining UKIP councillor in the borough as Cllr Steve Smith, who was elected in 2008, defected to Labour in May last year.

However, Cllr Staplehurst said he was not worried about the effect the matter could have on UKIP's image.

He said: "I've got a lot of supporters and if, and it’s a very big if, Malcolm does find himself in a position where he has no choice but to resign, then I will have incredibly good candidates ready to stand.

"[The Conservatives] think they are going to pick votes up by slating other UKIP members and I don't worry about what I'm going to do if I'm on my own as I'm used to it.

"I just get on with it, as long as I provide my services to residents and they are happy then I'm quite happy.”

 
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