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Councillor criticised after accusing Welsh secretary of ‘whipping up anti-traveller feeling’

Cllr Sara Burch

A SENIOR councillor could face an investigation after she accused the Welsh secretary and another councillor of “whipping up anti-traveller feeling”. 

Monmouthshire County Council has confirmed it has received “several complaints” over a social media comment made by Cllr Sara Burch, who is the Labour cabinet member with responsibility for the council’s ongoing search to find potential Gypsy Traveller sites in the county. 

Cllr Burch, the Labour cabinet member for inclusive and active communities whose responsibilities include housing, has said she “regrets” the statement, which she had posted to social media site Twitter, now known as X. She had shared the comment with a post from the Travelling Ahead campaign group commemorating the Nazi holocaust of Roma and Sinti people. 

In the now deleted post Cllr Burch accused Monmouth Conservative MP, and Welsh secretary, David Davies, and the leader of the council’s independent group, Magor West member Frances Taylor, of stocking anti-traveller prejudice. 

Cllr Frances Taylor is the member for Magor West and leader of the Independent Group on Monmouthshire County Council

It was posted as Cllr Taylor chaired a public meeting at Magor Baptist Church on August 2, attended by Mr Davies, called to discuss the county council’s ongoing consideration of a site Magor, at Langley Close and Dancing Hill in nearby Undy, as potential Gypsy Traveller sites. The cabinet is due to decide in September if it should put the sites forward for a public consultation on whether they should be listed in the replacement local development plan as suitable for potential Gypsy Traveller sites. 

Sharing the tweet from Travelling Ahead Cymru, which marked August 2 as the anniversary of the murder of thousands of Roma and Sinti people held at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Cllr Burch added her own comments, stating: “Shameful that on this day @Frances4Magor and @DavidTCDavies were out whipping up anti-traveller feeling in #magorwithundy in advance of consultation about future sites.” 

A screen shot of post on X, formerly known at Twitter, by Cllr Sara Burch that is subject to complaints (Pic: Supplied)

Mr Davies, who earlier this month learned he would face no police action over leaflets he had distributed during an earlier stage of the council’s consultation on potential Gypsy Traveller sites, defended the meeting. 

He said: “If Cllr Burch had bothered to attend the meeting herself she would have found it to have been full of local people expressing legitimate concerns. There was certainly no ‘hate speech’.” 

Monmouthshire council’s Conservative group leader, Cllr Richard John, has called for Cllr Burch to either resign or be sacked from the Labour-led cabinet over what he called “baseless and malicious accusations”. 

He said: “To link attendance at a public meeting with the extermination of thousands of Roma gypsies during the Holocaust is horrific, but to do so purely for narrow partisan interests is despicable. 

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“This tweet was grossly offensive and I think Cllr Burch’s position as a cabinet member leading the process of identifying Gypsy and Traveller sites is completely untenable. I think she should resign from her role or be sacked by her group leader and have the Labour whip withdrawn pending an investigation.” 

Cllr John, who had also attended the public meeting, said the debate was led in a “professional and sensitive way”. The councillor, who earlier in the process had spoken against the possibility of sites in his Mitchell Troy and Trellech ward being included in the council’s plans, said the search for possible sites should be “conducted in a calm, measured and respectful way and focused on the suitability of sites, access and environmental concerns rather than prejudices”. 

A spokesman for Monmouthshire County Council confirmed it had received “several complaints” about Cllr Burch’s post but said it cannot investigate members’ conduct and is instead referring people to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. 

The spokesman said: “Several complaints have been received from members of the public about the social media post. The council cannot investigate complaints from members of the public about the actions/conduct of councillors. Complainants have been advised to forward their concerns directly to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales who can act on such matters.” 

A spokeswoman for the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales said there is no current investigation and said: “We do not have an open investigation against Cllr Burch at this time.”

In a statement Cllr Burch, who represents the Cantref, Abergavenny ward, said: “I regret the tweet and have deleted it. 

“As formal complaints have been made about it I face a due complaints process.   

“Work is continuing on the selection of sites for public consultation as set out in my statement to cabinet and following the recommendations of the scrutiny committee.”

At the end of July Cllr Burch told the cabinet work to consider the two sites in Undy is ongoing, with a decision on whether to put the sites forward for public consultation due in September, while a council scrutiny committee had recommended none of the sites that had been under consideration were suitable and the council short start over in its search. 

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has contacted Cllr Taylor for comment.