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Restraining order for letter-writer
Updated 9:46am Friday 6th June 2014 in News
A MAN has been handed a restraining order after bombarding Basildon Council officials with letters.
Steve Barratt, of Lower Park Road, Wickford, was found guilty of harassment after a six-month campaign directed at former council leader Tony Ball, chief executive Bala Mahendren and the authority’s lawyer Lorraine Browne.
Barratt, 53, was handed a £420 fine and a three-year restraining order, banning him from contacting any of them.
The order also prohibits him from publishing any statement of fact regarding the trio or any other councillor in Basildon.
Southend Magistrates’ Court heard Barratt sent letters to the three officials which made allegations they were corrupt and covering up a paedophile ring.
He sent the correspondence between March 1 and September 20 last year, asking for an apology after the council was criticised for bringing a benefit fraud case against his ex-wife, Mandy.
As the Echo reported in May 2012, Mandy Barratt, also of Lower Park Road, Wickford was charged with defrauding £54,807 of income support and housing and council tax benefits after a joint council and Department of Work and Pensions investigation.
However, charges were dropped and her benefits reinstated after the council admitted staff had pretended to have been tipped off.
It was then rapped by a Government watchdog.
District Judge John Woollard said despite appreciating Barratt’s determination to fight for an apology, in this case he had stepped over the line.
Mr Woollard said: “Clearly there has been a huge amount of correspondence and you were bitter and angry about what happened to your ex-partner. I am impressed by your strength of feeling, but there is no doubt you went too far.”
The messages came after Barratt had already been asked, through a letter sent by Mrs Browne, not to contact the authority anymore.
During the hearing Barratt wheeled in three suitcases full of letters and paperwork linked to the case and his call for an apology.
Ann Blyth-Cook, the solicitor representing Barratt, said her client was sorry for the content of the messages, saying they came out of frustration.
Mrs Blyth-Cook said: “He is a man who wholly believes in the course of action he has taken and feels greatly aggrieved, but he is extremely sorry for his actions.”
Mr Barratt has vowed to appeal after being found guilty of harassment.
He claims he was unprepared for his day in court after the Crown Prosecution Service made changes to the charges at the last minute.
Barratt, 53, sacked his lawyer after she failed to get his case adjourned and was represented by duty solicitor Ann Blyth-Cook throughout his short trial at Southend Magistrates Court.
After hearing the case would go ahead, he rushed back to his home in Lower Park Road, Wickford, and came back armed with three suitcases full of correspondence with Basildon Council, which he wanted to use as evidence.
Barratt is angry the judge did not look at this, or give him the opportunity to cross-examine victims Tony Ball, Bala Mahendran and Lorraine Browne. He said: “I’m appealing against my conviction.
“I have spoken to nearly 50 members of the council, so it’s not like I only sent letters and emails to one person.
“It seems like the council was considered as a person, but how could I harrass the council?
“Throughout all of this I was looking for my day in court.
“I think I was being restrained in my letters and emails. There is a lot worse language I could have used for something that has gone on as long as it has.
“I’m not against Tony Ball, Bala Mahendran and Lorraine Browne, but they are the heads of the departments I have been dealing with.
“I wanted everyone at Basildon Council who had spoken to me and lied to me to be in court.”