Bescot factory campaigners call for election re-run
A campaign group fighting a proposed factory on Bescot sidings is calling for the election in Friar Park ward to be declared null and void and re-run.
The group is calling for the re-run after alleging that election rules were broken at the Woods Methodist Church polling station.
But both Sandwell Council and the police say there are no grounds for a by-election.
The People of Wednesbury Say No to Network Rail group backed independent candidate Wayne Trinder in a four-way fight for the council seat. The group is battling proposals to build a concrete sleeper factory on disused railway sidings in Bescot.
Mr Trinder came second with 562 votes to Labour’s Karen Simms, who won with 719. But the group has now called for a re-run of the election, claiming Mr Trinder’s nominated polling agent was not allowed to witness ballot boxes being sealed before voting commenced at 7am on election day.
Ballot boxes should be sealed shorty before polling stations open but when Mr Trinder’s representative arrived at 6.40am she was told it had already happened.
The group is also claiming another candidate broke election rules when she later entered the church wearing a T-shirt with her name and party motif printed on it.
Carol White, a member of the campaign group, said a letter of complaint sent that day to Sandwell’s returning officer, Jan Britton, was only acknowledged the next day after the results had been declared.
Mrs White added the group has now sent an official election maleficence form to the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police asking him to investigate their complaints.
She said: “What should happen now is the poll should be declared null and void and either the seat remains empty or they do a mini-election.”
But Sandwell Council has said that although the boxes were sealed early it did not make voting null and void.
Jan Britton, Sandwell’s chief executive and returning officer, said: “We have received a complaint about the recent local election in the Friar Park Ward. There is no reason to conclude that the election result was flawed.
“The complaint concerned the sealing of the ballot box in one polling station, one of four in the Friar Park Ward.
“It appears that the ballot box was sealed at some time between 6.40am and 6.50am in the presence of the Presiding Officer and Polling Clerks as witnesses.
“The box should not have been sealed until a few minutes before the polls opened at 7am – ten or fifteen minutes later.
“Candidates and their agents in local elections are allowed to witness ballot boxes being sealed. On this occasion, the agent representing Mr Trinder was unable to do so, because the ballot box had already been sealed before they arrived at the polling station.
“The purpose of sealing the ballot box is to ensure that only votes can be placed in the ballot box and nothing else can be put in or taken out of the ballot box until the seals are removed when the box arrives at the place where the votes are to be counted.
“While the sealing of the ballot box slightly earlier than it should have been is unfortunate and contrary to the training given to polling station staff, there is no evidence that renders the result of the election unsafe.
“As Returning Officer, I have given advice to the complainant on the legal process for challenging the results of an election, which involves raising an electoral petition in the High Court.”
As spokesperson for West Midlands Police said election laws had not been broken.
“West Midlands Police received an electoral malpractice complaint that was submitted via Sandwell Local Authority and the Chief Constable’s Office.
“The complaint was reviewed accordingly and there have been no breaches of electoral law identified.
“Officers from the Economic Crime Unit have updated the complainants and are liaising with the local authority.”