Fringe Box



Stephen Mansbridge – A Look Back On An Eventful Council Career – Part 2

Published on: 22 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 23 Oct, 2015

The sudden departure of the leader of Guildford Borough Council caught many by surprise and it can be directly linked to recent Guildford Dragon NEWS’ stories that he had kept even his political colleagues in the dark about his involvement with an “elected mayor” petition.

Here is the second part of a review, in three serialised articles, of the eventful career of the former council leader Stephen Mansbridge. Local political life was certainly not dull during his time as leader. Some are mourning his loss others celebrating. Why not read the articles and make up your own mind?

To read Part 1 click here.

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge

Stephen Mansbridge.

In February 2014 Stephen Mansbridge’s close friend, business associate and political colleague Monika Juneja was cleared by an independent review conducted by the same consultant, Robin Hooper, who had carried out the the organisational review of GBC in 2013.

He had stuck to his “no wrongdoing” finding despite a letter from the Director of the Bar Standards Board explaining that, contrary to earlier advice, Juneja did appear to have committed a criminal offence.

A week later the complainants had gone to the police. Detectives investigated rather more thoroughly, searched Juneja’s room within her parents’ house and arrested and questioned Juneja on suspicion of forgery, fraud, deception and pretending to be a barrister.

There were claims of heavy handed policing, especially about the conduct of the search operation.

Observers wondered if Juneja could and should continue with her lead councillor role in light of the arrest, but she did and in June launched the draft Local Plan consultation, a task whatever else might have been on her mind she approached with full energy.

Monika Juneja being interviewed at the launch of the consultation on the Local Plan in Swan Lane.

Monika Juneja being interviewed at the launch of the consultation on the Local Plan in Swan Lane.

She seemed to be determined, with her leader’s backing, to make the consultation as far reaching and as accessible as possible.

In June 2014 Mansbridge was enraged when his friend Monika was deselected as a Conservative candidate for her Burpham ward by a committee overseen by the then Guildford Conservative Association chairman Alan Young, a county councillor from Cranleigh who himself shortly afterwards was “deselected” as association chairman for reasons that have never been properly explained.

Ms Juneja, when asked about her reported deselection, told The Guildford Dragon NEWS at the time: “First I have heard of this. Not as far as I am aware.” But it was true.

And two months later, in August, there was worse news, the police charged Monika Juneja on seven counts, including forgery, fraud, deception and pretending to be a barrister.

The Guildford Dragon News, in an opinion piece, said that it was time for the lead councillor for planning to step down and days later, Stephen Mansbridge, having just returned from holiday, with obvious reluctance and bitterness against Juneja’s accusers and the media, told her she must give up her lead councillor role.

It was a pivotal moment. The tone, style and content of his public statement was probably the final straw for many prepared up until then to give him the benefit of any doubt. These were not measured words from a thoughtful mind but the reaction of a man railing against everyone. He appeared to have simply “lost it”.

Juneja GCC 190914 2 480

Monika Juneja emerging from Guildford Crown Court after an early court hearing of her case before it was transferred to the Old Bailey.

Some, apparently unaware of the strength of evidence in the case, still spoke up for Juneja, including John Rigg of the Guidford Vision Group. However well intentioned it proved misguided. Meanwhile Stephen Mansbridge made a complaint about the police action during the investigation, a complaint of which, perhaps unsurprisingly, we have heard no more.

James Palmer

James Palmer

Within weeks Mansbridge’s deputy council leader, James Palmer, had jumped ship. He claimed, with some plausibility, that was resigning from the Executive because of his work commitments but almost certainly the main reason was his long-standing concern over the criminal case against Juneja.

Any association, even indirect, with someone facing serious criminal charges must have been a worry for a solicitor and perhaps he understood more than his leader did, that some distance between the council and Juneja was necessary, at least until the outcome of the court case was known.

No other appointments were made to the Executive. Mansbridge took on Juneja’s planning brief and Cllr Matt Furniss that of infrastructure from Palmer. Did no one want to be promoted?

The council leader seemed to be on the ropes. Perhaps unsurprisingly he had become tight-lipped regarding his new business relationship with Monika. But rumours were again circulating about them. Some clearly felt it was beyond the pale for the council leader to enter into business with her considering the charges she was facing.

Cllrs Mansbridge & Juneja in their councillor robes

Cllrs Mansbridge and Juneja in their councillor robes.

However, in the final days of August 2014 some answers were given to some direct questions from The Dragon. Stephen Mansbridge said: “I have set-up the business with Ms Juneja because we have worked together for some years. She is a talented person and I think her skills complement my own and others in a commercial sense.”

Council observers were also becoming punch drunk with events but if we thought, by now, we had enough political drama for one year we were wrong.

Next up came the selection of the Conservative candidate for a by-election in Lovelace ward (Ockham, Ripley and Wisley) caused by the death of a well liked Conservative councillor John Garrett, after a long illness.

Ben Paton

Ben Paton.

A favourite for selection as the Conservative candidate was Ben Paton, a vociferous opponent of green belt development on Wisley airfield and an arch-critic of Cllr Mansbridge and his Executive.

Lovelace ward lies without the Guildford parliamentary constituency boundary so the selection was organised by the Mole Valley Conservative Association. Mr Mansbridge’s appearance and intervention at the selection meeting was probably unwelcome. His address to the selection committee, in which he is said to have claimed that the most important attribute of a councillor is loyalty, was not persuasive. So, despite his prospective leader’s objections, Mr Paton was selected.

The Guildford Conservatives took their revenge by failing to lift a finger in support of Mr Paton’s by-election campaign and the Lib Dem candidate, Colin Cross, won a sensational victory, in September, in what had been one of the Tories’ safest seats.

As the result was announced the Guildford Tory group representative at the count, Cllr Paul Spooner, was all smiles as he hugged the Lib Dem group leader, Caroline Reeves. Ben Paton looked on with a face like thunder.

The vistorious Lib Dem team celebrate a sensational by-election result in Lovelace.

The victorious Lib Dem team celebrate a sensational by-election result in Lovelace.

In October 2014 the GBC leader faced the early results of the public draft Local Plan consultation. It showed that many (we still don’t know how many) of the 7,000 respondents were concerned about green belt development, and with an election six months away Mansbridge pledged to “use every mechanism to get the [borough’s housing] number to the lowest sustainable point possible to pass the inspectorate’s examination”.

MJ Old BaileyYet still it was not quite over. Juneja’s court case had been moved to the Old Bailey to ensure she got a jury free of local bias. At the first hearing she pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Those in court wondered on what the defence case would rest. The outline case against the forgery charges seemed to be that while she had forged exam certificates and a letter she would have got the job she applied for with them anyway. The judge observed drily, “Yes, I don’t know why any of us bothers taking exams.”

Tomorrow: The May elections, the “Elected Mayor” petition, Juneja’s conviction, the lever arched file, Armed Forces Day,  and the fatal question that led to resignation…


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Responses to Stephen Mansbridge – A Look Back On An Eventful Council Career – Part 2

  1. Pauline Surrey Reply

    October 22, 2015 at 9:25 am

    No wonder we have been in Private Eye! A really good summary of events, I look forward to No 3.

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