Brighton tenant rep threatened with eviction over Nazi claim

Posted On 07 Mar 2013 at 9:41 pm

A tenant rep is being threatened with eviction by Brighton and Hove City Council after he passed on critical comments.

John Melson, 74, of Lavender Street, Brighton, has been told that he has to vacate his flat by Monday 1 April because he called council officials Nazis.

Mr Melson denied the claim and said that he had merely passed on feedback from tenants as one of their representatives.

He said that he was sensitive to the word Nazi in part because members of his family had been murdered during the Holocaust.

He added that the false claim was being used to try to silence him after he wrote a critical letter on behalf of the High Rise Action Group, which represents council tenants.

The letter was written after the High Rise Action Group meeting on Tuesday 4 December and at the group’s request.

The letter urged new council chief executive Penny Thompson to ask auditors to investigate the council’s housing management.

Mr Melson received a letter dated Monday 17 December from head of housing Jugal Sharma which accused him of likening council officials to Nazis and fascists.

Penny Thompson

The letter said: “Expressing these deeply offensive views in a public arena is a very serious matter.”

It added that he was in breach of his tenancy agreement and that it “could also constitute a criminal act”.

A notice seeking possession of Mr Melson’s flat was issued on Thursday 28 February by Annabel Tate, an anti-social behaviour housing officer.

She wrote to Mr Melson: “On 20 November 2012 during a phone conversation with Rachel Chasseaud you stated words to the effect that you and other residents were so full of hatred for certain council officers that you were thinking of getting your swastikas out and hanging them out of your windows and that you thought that these officers were behaving like fascists and Nazis.”

In Mr Sharma’s letter a week before Christmas Mr Melson was accused of using language which was “alarming, inappropriate and offensive” and “inflammatory”.

Mr Sharma wrote: “Such a statement would be extremely offensive to anyone who is Jewish or from another group who were targeted by the Nazi regime, who may have lost relatives in the Holocaust or who have experienced another fascist regime or indeed any kind of bigotry.

“Further to this, to liken council officers to Nazis and fascists is also offensive and disproportionate to any complaint you or other residents might have.

“This not only completely trivialises the experiences of people who really have suffered as the result of a Nazi or fascist regime, it is also disrespectful to council officers.”

Mr Sharma’s letter was sent less than a fortnight after Mr Melson wrote to the new chief executive on behalf of the High Rise Action Group: “The group is conscious there are significant failures by the chair of housing and housing management to consider the best interests of the council’s housing stock, of best value for money and the best interests of the council and the council’s tenants and leaseholders.”

In reply to Mr Sharma, Mr Melson wrote: “I am shocked and offended to have received a letter on 17 December 2012 from the director of housing alleging that I called council officers Nazis.

“I have never held or stated as my personal opinion that council officers either collectively or individually are Nazis.

“As a tenants’ representative I have had the disturbing obligation to inform officers that among the feedback I was receiving from some members of the community were comments such as ‘council officers are behaving like Nazis’ and ‘soon we’ll have to fly swastika flags’.

“Having had family murdered in the Holocaust and grown close to a relative who, until her death in 1954, had survived Ravensbruck, I am sensitive to the word Nazi.

“I did not assume that the speakers meant it in the literal sense that it had in the 1930-40s, but more as an expression of a general sense of frustration, exclusion and feeling bullied through their inability to get what they feel are satisfactory answers from officers.”

Mr Melson said that Mr Sharma and housing officer Becky Purnell had been present at the High Rise Action Group meeting when he shared the feedback.

He wrote: “High Rise Action Group meetings are governed by the (council’s) Code of Conduct so I am concerned that no one, particularly officer Purnell, director of housing Jugal Sharma or either of the two councillors present at the meeting made any form of protest at the time if I had breached the Code of Conduct.

“I feel the complaints resulted from the High Rise Action Group’s request for an audit investigation into housing management and reinforce the perception among senior tenants’ representatives that notices of seeking possession are being used to silence us if we raise our voices and challenge the council’s actions or ask ‘too many’ questions.”

Two councillors were also present at the meeting, Garry Peltzer Dunn and Steph Powell. Neither has complained about Mr Melson’s remarks.

Mr Melson said that he would go to court to contest the council’s attempt to evict him.

 

  1. Valerie Paynter Reply

    I was at the HRAG meeting where Mr. Melson spoke. It was meant to have been an officer-free meeting with only Head of Housing, Mr Jugal Sharma, attending along with invited Councillors, in order to facilitate a free-speech feedback session as there were some concerns. That was how it was put to me. What I understood would be happening. So I was very surprised to see the officer in attendance, with no remit for being there.

    Cllr Stephanie Powell attended, as did Cllr Garry Peltzer-Dunn. Neither Cllr showed any concern when Mr. Melson relayed the comments he had had from tenants…and his words above reflect how I recall things. Cllr Peltzer-Dunn was concerned by other remarks concerning fellow councillors not in attendance but not these.

    The officer making the complaint against Mr. Melson should not even have been in attendance at the meeting where he made his remarks.

    At the end of an HMCSC pre-meeting in December, a while after that fateful HRAG meeting, the officer concerned, who I only later learned had gone to superiors to formally complain, approached with another officer and engaged me on the subject of what Mr. Melson had said. I was asked what I thought about his remarks. I asked why the officer had attended and was told this officer had gone privately to the Chair to ask to come along and he had agreed.

    This was surely questionable and disrespectful behaviour on that officer’s part in seeking (successfully) to over-ride the fact that it was intended to be a residents-only meeting with the INVITED Head of Housing and Councillors. Did Mr. Sharma, the Head of Housing, know she would be attending? I do wonder. She should have been told by him not to come.

    I thought at the time that it was provocative and rather confontational for the officer to have gatecrashed in this way.

  2. George Coombs Reply

    I am sure there is a lot in what Valerie Paynter has said -brighton and hove council seem to be something of law unto themselves-to give just one example, I emailed the head of sheltered housing over a month ago to give feedback on the recently received report by the chartered institute of housing, feedback that I was givn to understand was asked for-my efforts were not even acnowledged-the kind of behaviour valerie descibes leaves one wondering where the council gets some of its staff from and what training, if any, they receive….I could go on in this vein…..

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