Scout leaders resign after political leaflet row

Scouts flag (stock image)
Scouts flag (stock image)

A political row has erupted after an election candidate was accused of being responsible for shutting down a village Scouts’ group for distributing leaflets for another candidate.

It can also be revealed that police have been forced to step in and investigate after comments were made on social media which appeared to name the councillor responsible for the complaint - who has since ‘categorically denied’ making the complaint.

The bizarre situation, in Marshchapel, developed after the local Scout group delivered a political candidate’s leaflets in exchange for one year’s free use of a community allotment to grow vegetables, to later be used to run a soup kitchen.

On social media, scout leader Matt Whall said that he - and others - were stepping down after admitting that doing so was a genuine error on their part, as the Scouts are a non-political organisation.

Mr Whall posted on a Marshchapel community Facebook page: “I did not ask the Scouts to distribute leaflets for political gain or promotion, but did something purely with the motive to provide an enriching opportunity for the young people in the group. It was an error on my part.

“As a consequence of this, coupled with a total lack of support for our leaders from The Scout Association itself and their approach in dealing with the complaint, all the other leaders have independently decided that they no longer wish to continue in their roles.”

Mr Whall added that the Marshchapel branch of the Scouts and Cubs would close with immediate effect, although this has been disputed by a spokesman from the Scout Association headquarters - who told the Leader that a local volunteer support team is working to ‘minimise the impact to the young people in the Scout Group’.

The Scout Association spokesman, Simon Carter, said: “We can confirm that a complaint was made to Lincolnshire Scouts about the 1st Marshchapel Scout Group delivering information for a candidate in the upcoming local election.

“Following this complaint, the local volunteer manager spoke with the Group Scout Leader of the Scout Group concerned and it was clear this was a genuine error on behalf of the group and one they have apologised for.

“In accordance with Scouting’s rules the matter was reported to the Charity Commission by the local volunteer manager.

“Subsequently the Group Scout Leader of the 1st Marshchapel Scout Group submitted his resignation after taking full responsibility for the incident.

“Other volunteers have also since resigned. No volunteers have been asked to leave the Scout Movement because of this incident.

“The local volunteer support team is working to put in place support to minimise the impact to the young people in the Scout Group.”

Part of Mr Whall’s resignation statement on Facebook made reference to the fact that somebody had made a formal complaint on the grounds of the Scouts’ activity being ‘against policy and also a safeguarding risk’.

Although Mr Whall did not name the person who made the complaint in his Facebook post, a small number of people posted replies in which one particular election candidate for the area was accused of making the complaint maliciously.

The Leader contacted the candidate in question, who said they had heard about the leaflet situation - but they categorically denied making a formal complaint.

The candidate has contacted Lincolnshire Police regarding what they call the ‘smears’ and accusations on social media, and the police are now investigating the situation under the Representation of the Peoples Act.

A police spokesman said: “We have received a report and we are investigating this.

“At this time, we would take this opportunity to remind people that under the Representation of the Peoples Act, there is an offence under the following.”

Section 106 - False statements as to candidates:

(1)A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which — (a) before or during an election, (b) for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election, — makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, the statement to be true.

The Louth Leader has not seen, nor been provided with, any firm evidence that the accused council candidate did indeed make the formal complaint.

The candidate - who we are not naming while the police investigation is active - said: “Smear campaigns have no place in local elections.

“We are all here to do the best for the community.

“I have no wish to see children deprived of this much-needed club (The Scouts) in the countryside.”

• The local Scout leaders did not wish to comment further when contacted by the Leader.