Former town mayor Jacqui reveals she was the mystery councillor

By John Ware in Politics

FORMER mayor of Teignmouth Cllr Jacqui Orme is the Conservative Teignbridge councillor under fire for not paying their council tax.

She contacted this newspaper this week to admit: ‘It was me.’

The identity of the member had been the subject of much speculation over the past few months.

Cllr Orme decided to go public because of ‘the misinformation that is being put around about it all’.

A graphic designer, she declared she had fallen into financial disarray and been saddled with debt after allegedly being cheated out of large sums by a former business associate.

‘It left me stressed and depressed and virtually penniless,’ she said.

Jacqui, the past mayor of Teignmouth, contacted this newspaper to admit: ‘It was me.’

The identity of the member had been the subject of much speculation over the past few weeks, after the investigative and satirical magazine Private Eye used the Freedom of Information Act to try and discover how many councillors across the country had fallen behind with their council tax.

There was one in Teignbridge, but the council refused to reveal who it was, although several other authorities did name names.

The secrecy was criticised by several Lib-Dem councillors, and also angered many members of the public.

Cllr Orme, a graphic designer, declared she had fallen into financial disarray and been saddled with debt after allegedly being cheated out of large sums by a former business associate.

She has now decided to go public because of ‘the misinformation that is being put around about it all’.

‘It left me stressed and depressed and virtually penniless,’ she said.

‘I have suffered abusive relationships and my finances became a bit of a mess.

‘I also had a house fire and flood which caused thousands of pounds’ worth of damage.’

Cllr Orme stressed the problems occurred before she was elected to Teignbridge in May 2015, and that she was never taken to court.

She had set up a direct debit to pay her council tax, and wrongly believed the amount was also paying off arrears of about £1,000 from the previous year.

‘My life was in turmoil at the time and I was in debt to the tune of about £16,000. I did receive warning letters and a summons from Teignbridge, and because I was paying by direct debit, assumed there had been a mistake at their end.

‘I was not really thinking straight at the time, and let it slide. But the amount owing has been paid off in full, and I am on a much firmer financial footing.

‘Quite a few people guessed it was me being talked about in the press, and those who knew the background to it all, were 100 per cent sympathetic. But I realise there will be some criticism.

‘It has been a horrible time, and perhaps with hindsight I should have come forward sooner. My experiences have made me more understanding of the plight of victims of abuse and those less fortunate – I will continue to fight their corner in whatever way I can.

‘I am quite happy to talk to anybody about the many issues I have faced.’

Cllr Orme said while she would like to try and build up her design business, her confidence was ‘shattered’. She was now taking on cleaning jobs and even an early morning newspaper delivery round to try and make ends meet.

Fellow Tory councillors have leapt to the defence of Cllr Orme, including the Teignbridge leader, Cllr Jeremy Christophers, who said: ‘Contrary to malicious attacks by ignorant people, Cllr Orme has not been afforded preferential treatment, and our officers followed the correct guidance by protecting her identity.

‘The debt was sorted out prior to her becoming a district councillor, so there was no need for her to be named publicly.

‘Jacqui has taken the brave step of identifying herself in order to clear the air, and be in a position to do what she does best – working hard for the people she represents.’

And fellow Teignmouth Conservative councillor, Sylvia Russell, added: ‘Many people will identify with the situation Jacqui found herself in, but others in similar situations have not had to endure such a public barrage aimed at her by councillors taking it in turns to publish smears and innuendo under the cover of council procedures and letters to the press.

‘She is a hugely popular councillor, and under extreme duress, has maintained her composure and dignity while continuing to serve the people she presents.’

The Private Eye campaign to identify all the councillors continues, and in the latest edition, a Forest of Dean newspaper is congratulated for ‘outing’ a local member.

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