The battle of Downham Market! Chaos erupts at Norfolk town council meeting


Police were called to a town council meeting which descended into chaos and insult throwing while being live-streamed on YouTube.

The incredible scenes transformed the usually dull Downham Market proceedings in Norfolk into an online shouting match and looked set to go viral, just as the disastrous lockdown Zoom meeting at Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire did in April.

Residents stormed into the meeting room in the sleepy Norfolk town, accusing town clerk Elaine Oliver and the council of destroying the market.

The fireworks began about 20 minutes into the meeting, which only had socially-distanced seating for around 16 people, but several members of the public were left standing outside listening.

The incredible scenes transformed the usually dull Downham Market proceedings in Norfolk into an online shouting match and looked set to go viral, just as the disastrous lockdown Zoom meeting at Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire did in April

After shouting was heard outside the meeting, Mayor Jenny Groom told the audience: ‘For the benefit of those people who are outside, please can you not communicate with…

‘Here we are trying to, we’re trying to conduct a proper meeting a proper professional meeting, you should be able to hear everything clearly and messing about and distracting counsellors is not helping the business of the Council.’

Then market stall holder Tony Leach asked a ‘question’ which turned into a statement, accusing the council of destroying the market by trying to turn it into a ‘craft fair’, listing the businesses which he claimed had been ‘got rid of’ by the council.

He said this was due to the council doubling rent on the market, a ‘draconian rulebook’ and accused them of taking away their freedom of speech.

After a while, Mr Leach was stopped from continuing and deputy mayor Jackie Westrop began to respond.

Town Clerk Elaine Oliver

Mayor Jenny Groom

Town Clerk Elaine Oliver has been accused by Norfolk locals of destroying the town’s market by turning it into a craft fair. She faced a barrage of verbal abuse during an unusally heated Downham Market council meeting, led by Mayor Jenny Groom 

Residents stormed into the meeting room in the sleepy Norfolk town, accusing town clerk Elaine Oliver and the council of destroying the market

Residents stormed into the meeting room in the sleepy Norfolk town, accusing town clerk Elaine Oliver and the council of destroying the market

A man dressed in black appeared at an open window behind the Mayor and his presence seemed to her and Ms Oliver.

When the mayor Jenny Groom tried to respond to Mr Leach’s accusations, a woman stormed into the room demanding they ‘shut it down’, while a man accused Ms Oliver of being a ‘bully’.

The town clerk looked visibly shaken and was comforted by councillors. The live stream of the meeting was suspended for 25 minutes while the police were called.

At one point, Ms Oliver ‘reminded’ the woman who had intervened that she was ‘a licence holder’, which seemed to spark the accusation of bullying.

Mayor Jenny Groom and deputy mayor Jackie Westrop issued a statement afterwards saying there had been a ‘deliberate attempt’ to destabilise the meeting. They described the allegations as ‘serious and inaccurate’.

Ms Groom and Ms Westrop said the man had been joined by others during ‘his tirade.’

‘This attack upon our clerk and the smooth running of the council meeting was supported loudly by several members of the public who were in attendance,’ they said.

‘Because of the aggressive nature of the attack the meeting not only had to be suspended but the police were called to intervene.

‘Once the police arrived the council was able to resume the meeting, although time restrictions meant that some important business had to be deferred.’

Mayor Jenny Groom and deputy mayor Jackie Westrop issued a statement afterwards saying there had been a 'deliberate attempt' to destabilise the meeting. They described the allegations as 'serious and inaccurate'

Mayor Jenny Groom and deputy mayor Jackie Westrop issued a statement afterwards saying there had been a ‘deliberate attempt’ to destabilise the meeting. They described the allegations as ‘serious and inaccurate’

The pair said they deplored the events, offering apologies to the people of Downham Market.

But the tumultuous proceedings seemed to create a new interest in local democracy with YouTube viewers, with more than 1,600 views in the first 24 hours, compared to an average of just over 300 for the previous five meetings.

A council spokesman said: ‘Police were called at 7.37pm on Tuesday 7 September 2021 to a report of people shouting and being abusive at a public meeting at Jubilee Community Centre.

‘Officers attended and established that no offences had been committed. No arrests were made. No complaints made by anyone at the meeting.’

Norfolk police said officers attended the Jubliee Community Centre, after a report ‘of people shouting and being abusive at a public meeting’ and established that no offences were committed and no complaints were made by anyone at the meeting.

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