THE chairman of Ledbury Town Council, Nina Shields, has defended a 26 per rise in the precept demand, after revealing that none of the £220,000 paid out following a costly judicial review can ever be recovered for the public purse.

The town council fought and lost a Judicial Review brought against it by Cllr Liz Harvey, and the £220,000 represents the eye-watering costs the council was saddled with afterwards.

But Cllr Shields said the council tax rise was largely a catch-up hoik because town council demands in previous years had not kept track with inflation, although reserves now need to be replenished.

She said: "The rise in precept of 57 pence per week for a Band D property was largely a result of the previous administration choosing over several years, not to increase the precept in line with inflation. It ensures that the council has enough income for the the work needed to be done in the coming year with a modest start to rebuilding reserves."

But the town council has recently shelled out more public money on legal expenses, by hiring a QC to see if any sums related to the judicial review payouts might be claimed back.

The barrister's advice was that this was unlikely.

The Reporter did ask how much it cost to hire the QC, to obtain this advice; but no figure was forthcoming at the time of going to press.

Cllr Shields said: "It’s not in the public domain yet. The discussions and decisions all took place at full council, but in private session. The amount will go on our website in due course but it’s not there yet."

Cllr Shields said of the failed attempt to recover funds: "The council has a duty of care and we needed to ensure that we were not negligent on the one hand by failing to try to recover costs, but not defamatory in any way on the other hand in pursuing this in a way that would bring claims from any individuals.

"The case was extremely complicated because of the number of different sources of advice taken by the previous administration. We were advised to request a case review by Queen’s Counsel and were fortunate that Richard Clayton QC had followed the case and was able to keep costs to a minimum."

But the town council's report on that case review states: "The council is satisfied that Mr Clayton rigorously considered all available options and have reluctantly accepted his advice that there is no realistic prospect of recovering any money."

The report then goes on to say: "The council has now decided to draw a line under this whole unfortunate saga."

Cllr Shields said: "As to drawing a line under all of this, it will very much depend on the make up of the new council in May and how they choose to behave. There has been a legal ruling and the law has been applied.

"If councillors can accept this and move on then yes, they will have succeeded in drawing a line."