Email bungle exposes Portsmouth councillor Scott Harris’s plan to ‘smear’ constituent

Cllr Scott Harris after being elected to the Hilsea ward last year ''Picture: Sarah Standing (150825-8081)

Cllr Scott Harris after being elected to the Hilsea ward last year ''Picture: Sarah Standing (150825-8081)

  • Bungled plan to smear constituent revealed after email sent to target
  • Calls have been made for Cllr Scott Harris to consider his role
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A TORY councillor has been forced to apologise after his plan to ‘smear’ a constituent was accidentally emailed to the very person he intended to attack.

Calls have been made for Cllr Scott Harris, Hilsea ward member at Portsmouth City Council, to consider his position after the damning email was exposed.

I do not want to go down the road of finding ways to smear Sameen Farouk, but maybe we should look at this as a viable option

Cllr Scott Harris

In the email seen by The News, Cllr Harris tells fellow Tory group members it ‘might be a good idea to play dirty this time’ and suggests contacting the constituent’s employer.

He has now issued a grovelling apology to Old Portsmouth resident Sameen Farouk two days later after the email was inadvertently sent to him.

Mr Farouk had repeatedly contacted councillors asking them to bring forward a council meeting to discuss the America’s Cup World Series event.

In the message to fellow Tories, Cllr Harris said: ‘I do not want to go down the road of finding ways to smear Sameen Farouk, but maybe we should look at this as a viable option.’

Cllr Harris – standing deputy of the standards committee – refers to Mr Farouk, who works at West Sussex County Council, as a Liberal Democrat and says he has ‘a clear political vendetta’.

And he also asks if there is a fellow Conservative at West Sussex who can ‘have a word with someone to investigate’ Mr Farouk over his productivity and contract.

In the email he added: ‘The elections are coming and the politics are dirty. The tricks by the Lib Dems, the lies and the smear are disgusting.

‘Quite frankly it might be a good idea to play dirty this time. I know we shouldn’t go down to their gutter politics but should we continue to stand by and allow this to go on?’

Cllr Harris – who was elected in May last year – also refers to domestic violence charity Aurora New Dawn and its chief executive Shonagh Dillon and trade unionist Jon Woods.

He adds: ‘I’m also compiling some stuff on Shonagh Dillion, Aurora New Dawn and Sisters Uncut.

‘Interestingly I’ve found some stuff on Jon Woods and the SWP locally which will be useful when the loony left come calling nearer May.’

Opposition councillors have called for Cllr Harris to consider his position.

Cllr Will Purvis, Lib Dem for Milton, said: ‘This is completely unacceptable behaviour for a councillor.

‘I cannot believe that he considered it acceptable to conspire to bully and smear members of the public and even a local charity for daring to criticise the actions of the Conservative administration.

‘I think Cllr Harris should seriously consider his position.’

In a reply to Cllr Harris, Mr Farouk said: ‘I’ve shared that with my employer and we are all concerned. I want to tell you that I feel personally disappointed.’

He added: ‘You don’t need to snoop around behind my back or collect information on me surreptitiously.

‘That’s not how you would behave to your own constituents.

‘It’s not how you would behave to your own political opponents. It’s not how to behave as a Conservative.’

He also says he has not been a Lib Dem member for 10 years.

Mr Farouk added: ‘What is happening will irrevocably damage the reputation of the city.

‘I believe it’s the tipping point. This kind of thing should not be the norm and it’s reckless because people not in politics will get caught up in it.’

In a statement to The News, Cllr Harris said: ‘An email I sent privately within my group was shared with a member of the public. Offence was caused as a result, to the people concerned.

‘As soon as this was brought to my attention I wrote a full and frank apology.

‘Local politics is about representing people and their opinions and the number one consideration for me as a newly elected councillor is to listen to people and represent them in an open and honest way.’

In a statement Shonagh Dillon, chief executive of Aurora New Dawn, said: ‘Aurora New Dawn believe this is totally unacceptable, but it is up to the residents and the electorate to decide what they think.

‘In the meantime we are still waiting for a response to our legitimate question about what their strategic funding plans are for victims and survivors of domestic abuse in the city of Portsmouth.’

Portsmouth City Council deputy chief executive and city solicitor Michael Lawther said: ‘We understand that letters of apology have been sent, by Cllr Harris, to those mentioned in his email.

‘The email he sent is clearly private correspondence between councillors and other people.

‘There are rules about the council being involved in political matters and because of this we will have no further involvement.’

APOLOGY LETTER

In a private apology letter to Mr Farouk, Cllr Scott Harris writes: ‘I apologise for any distress or upset you may have suffered following the email that was sent to you by accident.

‘The email was sent by me to my colleagues suggesting ways in which we could address the attacks we have been subjected to from the Liberal Democrats over the last six months.

‘Sadly you have been caught up in this.

‘I am also sorry that I have suggested that we should act in any way which is inappropriate towards you.

‘I should point out that not one of my Conservative councillor colleagues agreed with me and in fact the Conservative leader contacted me to point out that, while members of the opposition may act in this way, it is not the Conservative style of politics and we pride ourselves on “positive politics” in the city.

‘This is an out of character suggestion by me and for this I further apologise to you.’

He added: ‘As I am sure you are aware I am a comparatively new councillor and on reflection the email which I sent on 2 February 20:28 was ill advised and I regret very much having sent it.

‘I hope this letter goes some way towards making amends for those actions.

‘I will be copying this to all of the recipients of my original email.

‘I am still willing to meet with you and Michael Lawther at a mutually convenient time if this would assist.’

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