Tory 'free speech' spat

PUBLISHED: 09:27 18 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:27 18 March 2013

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A prominent 75-year-old political activist has accused East Devon's Conservative leadership of trying to stifle free speech after they suspended her membership.

Janet T Sawyer, of Hamilton Lane, a former town council candidate and member of the Conservative party for 40 years, has been accused of making “derogatory” comments about the Conservative Party at a public meeting.

Lucille Baker, the East Devon Conservatives’ agent, wrote to Miss Sawyer following “complaints” from party members after the January 9 meeting of the Exmouth Residents’ and Traders’ Association (ERATA).

All though the letter from Ms Baker was not specific, Miss Sawyer, a member of ERATA, admits she criticised the “amoral state” of local politics, criticised the development plans by East Devon District Council, and said that they were “money oriented”.

She also said most of the councillors were “amateurs” without a degree in politics or economics.

And after the meeting, when an ERATA member expressed dissatisfaction with the district council’s Tory administration, she said that there were “other parties” they could vote for.

The letter from Ms Baker reads: “The management team has the power to suspend any members of the party whose views or behaviour they feel are inconsistent with the objects of the association. You will be suspended … pending a full and proper hearing.”

But Miss Sawyer, a retired trademark lawyer who joined the party in 1973 and campaigned for former Brent MP and education minister Sir Rhodes Boyson, replied that she that had no intention of “presenting” herself before any “kangaroo court”.

She said: “I dispute that any comments … have been derogatory of the Tory party. Instead they have been directed rather to the deplorable and amoral state of local politics as a whole here in East Devon.”

The letter added that she also would not be allowed to “give offence to any person, including and especially a member of the association”.

Miss Sawyer replied: “How dare you or anyone else seek to control what I say to anyone, let alone at a public meting called by a group of which I am a member.”

She said the problem was the East Devon Tory party and that she would still vote Conservative.

She added: “I plan to continue with my writing and speaking on such subjects, and any further objections you may raise will only serve me as publicity material for the future.”

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