Councillors may be 'prosecuted for a Facebook like' in Tesco planning row

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Apr 5 23:29:49 BST 2014

‘Are we in North Korea?’: Kent councillors hit 
out at police after questioning under caution 
over controversial plans for a new Tesco


Tory councillor Dr Simon Moores hosts a blog in 
which the supermarket scheme was discussed – and 
ended up risking prosecution for harassment

WITHNALL  -  Monday 24 February 2014
Police have been accused of turning Kent into “a 
forgotten corner of North Korea” after stepping 
into the middle of an online row over plans to build a new Tesco in Margate.
Three local Conservative Party councillors have 
been questioned under caution, officers 
scrutinised pages of blog posts, Twitter feeds 
and Facebook messages and there are even claims 
that the local Police and Crime Commissioner became involved.
The extraordinary row surrounded plans to build 
an 82,000 sq ft branch of Tesco near the seafront 
in the seaside town. While it has been opposed 
for years by local business owners – and even the 
high street guru Mary Portas – it has been 
supported by those who say it will bring new jobs and attract more shoppers.
The row seemed like it was over when the 
communities minister Eric Pickles gave Tesco the 
green light last year – but that decision has 
been challenged in the High Court.
But now, Dr Simon Moores has said he, Mick 
Tomlinson and a third Tory councillor have been 
questioned by police under caution for conspiracy to harass.
They have been the subject of a complaint from 
Louise Oldfield, a Yorkshire-born owner of a 
boutique bed and breakfast in the town who 
the Tesco development. She says she has received 
“threats of assault” over the years she has battled the supermarket plans.
Writing on 
his<> blog 
Thanet Life – one of the forums where the online 
row has played out – Dr Moores explained: 
“Apparently, it’s alleged that together with two 
other council colleagues, I have somehow 
conspired to harass the worthy lady owner of a 
Margate B+B, by making untrue and defamatory 
comments damaging to her reputation and business.”
Those who support the 
to Tesco” campaign left comments under stories on 
Dr Moores' blog, some of which could have been 
regarded as offensive to Ms Oldfield.
Dr Moores said police officers also showed him 
the Facebook page of Mr Tomlinson, a former mayor 
of Margate, who “chided” Ms Oldfield for 
“exaggerating the size and position of the proposed Tesco”.
The third councillor, who has not been named, was 
reportedly questioned by police for “Liking” that comment on Facebook.
Dr Moores said it was extraordinary that these 
three pieces of evidence were the basis upon 
which they were questioned under caution.
He wrote: “You might be forgiven for wondering 
if, overnight, Thanet had been revealed as a 
forgotten corner of North Korea with a simple 
'ticked' opinion perceived as a criminal offence?”
The councillor also claims on his blog that 
“strong circumstantial evidence” points to police 
only taking an interest in the row after the 
intervention of Kent Police and Crime 
Commissioner Ann Barnes, who denies any involvement.
While arguments over the Tesco plans will no 
doubt continue, it is now up to the Crown 
Prosecution Service as to what happens next with the harassment investigation.
In the meantime, Dr Moores told the Guardian: 
“Should someone feel offended or even harassed by 
anything you might have innocently published, 
watch out, because the police may come knocking on your door.”
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