Ice-cream war takes new twist

Karl Watkin MBE
Karl Watkin MBE

A leading businessman has fired off a formal complaint over what he says is the ongoing harrassment of a trader by a parish council.

Karl Watkin MBE said he took an interest in Helen Smith’s case after hearing how Alnmouth Parish Council had fought to have her ice-cream van banned from the village.

Mrs Smith’s application for a street-trading licence was turned down by Northumberland County Council in June, based on road-safety concerns raised by the parish. However, that was overturned on appeal a fortnight ago, when county highways officers withdrew their own objections.

But the 56-year-old former North East Businessman of the Year says he was stunned to personally witness one parish councillor ‘stalking’ Mrs Smith when she finally resumed trading at her old pitch on Riverside Road on Saturday.

Mr Watkin said: “I had gone up to Alnmouth for the day to walk the dog and decided to pay Mrs Smith’s van a visit. I noticed somebody in a car, parked on double-yellow lines, taking photographs of her.

“It was Coun Pat Murphy, who was particularly vocal at the appeal hearing, which I also attended. What he was doing was nothing short of intimidating and harrassing Mrs Smith.

“I went across and asked him what he was doing and why he was parked on the double-yellow lines. He said he was entitled to park there.

“It just enraged me, especially since he and his fellow parish councillors were so vociferous about road safety and there he was obstructing the traffic.”

Mr Watkin, who lives near Longframlington, has subsequently filed complaints with the Local Government Ombudsman and the county council.

But Coun Murphy – who holds a Blue Badge as a disabled driver – strongly denied there had been any harrassment.

“There was a lot of traffic on Saturday so I decided to take some photos,” he said. “As a parish councillor, I’m responsible for highways. We have a lot of problems with traffic in Alnmouth, of which Mrs Smith is just one.

“I was not making the traffic situation worse. There was still room for vehicles to get past.This is all about traffic safety.”

Vice-chairman John Hobbis said: “If someone wants to pursue a complaint against the parish council, then we will have to defend ourselves.”