Mayor suing ratepayer

Mayor suing ratepayer

The Examiner obtained a copy of the Supreme Court writ.

In an apparent bid to silence his critics, City of Canning Mayor Patrick Hall has hit a Canning ratepayer with a Supreme Court writ.

The writ, lodged on behalf of Mr Hall by Perth law firm Bennett + Co on June 15, accuses council critic Richard Aldridge of defamation.

Mr Hall is seeking damages, aggravated damages, interest at the rate of six per cent from the date of publication of the defamatory comments until judgement, any further penalty as considered by the court and costs.

Mr Hall is also seeking what is essentially a gag order against Mr Aldridge.

The Supreme Court writ details 33 incidents of alleged defamation, largely through Facebook group posts, comments and shares, dating back to April 13, 2021.

Founding principal of Bennett +Co, Michael Bennett, was included in the 2022 edition of The Best Lawyers in Australia in the area of litigation.

Examiner Newspapers sent several of the more recent alleged examples to Curtin University local government expert Andy Asquith.

He likened the action to “children squabbling.”

“The thing that jumps out is that people who stand for public office need to have a certain thickness of skin and it seems to me that’s missing here,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem as though the mayor is acting in the way one would expect the mayor to act, we develop a certain level of behaviour and decorum.

“Using the office to effectively gun after people that have said things he doesn’t like seems to be an inappropriate use of the mayoral office.

“In my view it demeans the office.”

Defamation actions by local government staff and politicians have been in the spotlight since the it was revealed several local governments had funds available for staff and elected officials to pursue the action, subject to conditions.

Mr Asqith said that while councils had a moral obligation to protect employees, politicians should not have the same access.

“We live in a democracy and within reason we’re allowed to say whatever we want to say and at some point, we’re going to upset someone.

“You have to ask the question, does the remedy that the mayor is seeking to use, is it justified given what’s been said?

“You could argue that the comments that have been made are just part of the rough and tumble.

“So, we’re back to where we started off by saying if the mayor can’t take the heat, don’t go into the kitchen.”

In a statement to Examiner Newspapers, Mr Hall accused Mr Aldridge of conducting a “highly public smear campaign”.

“I unreservedly accept that my role as a public figure is subjected to immense scrutiny – as it should be,” he said.

“I have no issue with criticism when it is warranted, however when a person with an agenda wilfully and repeatedly publishes false and highly damaging allegations, I have no alternative but to take action to protect my reputation and that of the City of Canning.”

“Until now, I have never responded publicly to Aldridge’s false accusations.

“I am only doing so because the defamation proceedings have become public.

“I am personally funding the action.”

Mr Aldridge said he would love to comment, but had received legal advice against doing so.

It is not the first time a sitting councillor has pursued Mr Aldridge.

In 2021, he was threatened with legal action by Cr Amanda Spencer-Teo over comments on the Riverton, Rossmoyne, Shelley Residents Facebook page, and along with Karen Barera, was forced to retract the statements in a written apology to Cr Spencer-Teo.