INSURANCE to protect Ledbury Town Council's reserves from being drained, following a judicial review, may not effectively have been in place, after all.

Mystery still surrounds the question as to whether or not the town council was ever effectively indemnified against eye-watering losses: while it was taking legal advice from the Herefordshire Association of Local Councils (HALC) and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).

There were claims from town councillors, prior to the judicial review, that the council's actions in fighting the high court battle were indemnified, because the council was taking advice from HALC and NALC.

But not a penny of insurance has been paid to the town council by HALC or NALC; council reserves have been drained to pay the legal bills of £220,000, and the council's council tax demand rose this year by a massive and unprecedented 26 per cent.

The judicial review was brought against the town council by Cllr Liz Harvey after she was wrongfully sanctioned from speaking and voting in town council committee meetings, following accusations she had bullied staff. She was cleared of these accusations, prior to the judicial review, by an independent Code of Conduct review.

This was carried out by Herefordshire Council.

But with HALC and NALC advice, the town council believed, wrongly, it was on solid ground in contesting the judicial review.

The chairman of Ledbury Town Council, Cllr Nina Shields, said many attempts had been made to claim insurance from HALC in particular.

She said: "Unfortunately despite repeated telephone calls, e-mails and letters, HALC declined to respond to us at all. Within our requests we asked for the contact details of HALC’s insurers to be provided in the event that they did not want to deal with us directly. That got no response either. Personally I found this very strange. To me, the obvious way forward was to put us in direct contact with their insurers. It did make me wonder if there was, in fact, any insurance, but I have no evidence on this one way or the other."

Since then, a barrister has told the town council that it is unlikely that any of the costs can be claimed back from any organisation or individual.

There were conflicting reports, prior to the judicial review, as to which body - HALC or NALC or both - was offering indemnified advice.

At a town council meeting of August 2017, the then mayor, Cllr Elaine Fieldhouse said that any insurance, if claimed, would not come from HALC but from NALC.

NALC was contacted this week for a comment, but nothing had come back by the time of going to press.

HALC was also asked for a comment; but Lynda Wilcox, the

chief executive of HALC said: "As a membership organisation, it would not be appropriate for HALC to discuss matters related to individual member parish councils."

However, the fall-out from the judicial review outcome has had consequences for both HALC and NALC.

Hereford City Council has decided not to renew its membership of NALC and HALC, with effect from this month.

Speaking last summer, when the decision was made, Eign Hill ward councillor Jim Kenyon said the Ledbury judicial review outcome had "a big bearing" on the city council’s decision.

He said: “I never had much faith in HALC but after the judicial review they lost all confidence."