Ten Labour councillors (including a former BNP organiser) from Britain’s most racially divided borough – Blackburn with Darwen –  have been cleared by a major standards inquiry of malpractice over the controversial approval of proposals for a Muslim prayer room in Beardwood.

The 11-month probe by an independent investigator exonerated all of them, including planning committee chairman Jim Smith, “of conduct bringing the councillor or council into disrepute”. Smith a hard-line left-winger represents Mill Hill ward, which was once won by the BNP in a by-election in 2002.
Beardwood was once a well sought after place to live in Blackburn by the white middle class, but over recent years has become more and more enriched. The Conservatives hold all three local ward (Beardwood with Lammack) seats which include local Tory leader Michael J. Lee.
However one-third of the ward’s population (according to the 2011 Census) is now Asian.  Though 62.6% of the ward remains White, the electoral writing is on the wall for local Tories, especially if Labour is able to mobilise the Muslim vote.
Local government consultant Mike Dudfield said borough Labour leader Kate Hollern’s intervention over the application to transform the car park of the former Beardwood Garden Centre, on Preston New Road, into an Islamic religious centre in 2011 involved nothing “inappropriate”.
Several of the 12 local complainants said the report failed to properly examine their concerns.

Cllr Jim Smith – new hard left ally of former BNP organiser

The permission has since been declared invalid because the council owns a small part of the land, now to be auctioned before the process can be started again.

In December 2011, the plans were recommended for refusal by officers, but councillors voted 10 to five to grant permission creating a storm of complaints from local White people.
Blackburn with Darwen council standards committee launched an investigation and will consider Mr Dudfield’s report next Thursday.
It found no evidence to support allegations the councillors had “predetermined” their decision in a Labour group meeting or wilfully ignored for political reasons the officers’ recommendation to refuse because of fears about parking, traffic and overdevelopment.
The ten councillors involved are Jim Smith, Parvaiz Akhtar, Eileen Entwistle, Brian Taylor, Zamir Khan, Suleman Khonat, Carl Nuttall, Phil Riley, Abdul Rehman and Trevor Maxfield (the former Blackburn BNP organiser).
According to Cllr. Smith, Cllr. Maxfield had a “road to Damascus” type conversion three years ago, when he quit nationalism to join the Labour Party.
Several complainants rejected the conclusions in letters to Mr Dudfield with Barbara Stillman a local Jewish women, claiming “clear evidence of a predetermined decision” and accusing the report of portraying Beardwood residents as “paranoid, delusional and racist”.

Cllr Maxfield with former allies in the For Darwen Party

Mr Dudfield highlighted a legal difference between predisposition and pre-determination and found no evidence Cllr. Hollern or a Labour group meeting made the decision before the planning meeting.

Accepting objectors believed “collusion was taking place”, Mr Dudfield added the majority of the committee getting a decision wrong did not prove any malpractice.

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