Muck&Brass - a summary

Muck&Brass (started in 2006) described the activities of Somerton Town Council in Somerton, Somerset and chronicled events surrounding land and property deals done by the Town Council between 2001 and 2009. Muck&Brass illuminated the absence of transparency which surrounded those deals as well as the absence of any community consultation.

Somerton's town council was made up of elderly individuals, most of whom might have been described as part of Somerton's 'establishment'. However, possibly the single most influential figure on the town council was Anthony 'Tony' Canvin, a successful local contractor who was also, at the time, a District Councillor.

In the decade from fiscal 98/99, Somerton Town Council increased its take of local tax (the precept) from a relatively modest £43,000 to a less modest £220,000 in 08/09, making Somerton's Precept at that time the highest per capita out of 121 councils in South Somerset. This tax bonanza funded Somerton Town Council's entry into the property market and that led directly to the writing of Muck&Brass.

In 2002 the Town Council purchased a building used as a doctor's surgery and their funding application suggested that the building would be used as the site for a community hall. Then in 2003 the Town Council purchased land near the centre of the town, again suggested as the site of a future community hall. Neither the surgery nor the land were ever put to those suggested purposes.  In late 2007, the Town Council announced that 50% of the land would be sold to a local builder in a deal which, documents suggest, Canvin brokered. Documents showing that Canvin acted with the Council's authority are unavailable or missing.  

In 2008 the Town Council announced that it would buy an industrial shed from the same local builder and use the shed as a community hall. The industrial shed was located on a local industrial estate owned and operated by Canvin, from whom the builder had purchased the land to build the shed. Title documents showed that Canvin held restrictive covenants over the land, controlling its use.

Prior to the completion of the transaction, a majority of town councillors requested a public meeting to discuss the transaction. The meeting was never held.

Muck&Brass publicised these activities and the cavortings of the Town Council through 2009, reporting which attracted the attention of the local community.

The Audit Commission started an investigation (October 2009) and a majority of the Town Council, led by Canvin, staged a co-ordinated mass resignation. This brought Somerton Town Council to the attention of national media with events being covered by BBC's Newsnight.

In parallel with the Audit Commission investigation, Avon & Somerset Constabulary made 4 arrests (two councillors, the town clerk and a local builder) in connection with a fraud investigation. In March of 2011 all 4 were released from their bail conditions without charge.

In 2012, the Audit Commission finally published their Report in the Public Interest which is a damning indictment of the Town Council's activities. The report describes the Town Council's activities as 'abuse of public funds', referring to 'unlawful expenditure' and to particular councillors as 'acting without authority'.

No sanction was sought by the authorities against any of those involved and the Town Clerk, Rodger Calderwood, continued in his post as Clerk to the Council.