Council accepts legal firm's offer in prayers row

BIDEFORD Town Council has agreed to accept an offer from a Manchester-based law firm to act on its behalf free of charge if a battle over the saying of prayers at meetings goes to court. The firm of Aughton Ainsworth made the offer after the National Secu

BIDEFORD Town Council has agreed to accept an offer from a Manchester-based law firm to act on its behalf free of charge if a battle over the saying of prayers at meetings goes to court.

The firm of Aughton Ainsworth made the offer after the National Secular Society announced its intention to seek a Judicial Review to end the saying of prayers as part of the Bideford council meetings.

Councillors on Thursday voted to accept the offer, but with the proviso that more information be sought about their benefactors.

Cllr Tony Inch revealed that there had also been offers of help from Christian Concern for Our Nation and the Christian Institute.


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Cllr Peter Christie urged the council to look further into the firm making the offer.

"It is unfortunate that on our agenda we have them down as just an international law firm," he said. "I would like us to look into this, because we don't want to be hitched up to someone we know nothing about."

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"The NSS is using us as a test case. The easiest way out of this is to take prayers off the agenda. They could still be held, just before the meeting," he said. "Bideford has been in the national news for very unfortunate reasons and here we go again. Whatever happens we are going to upset a lot of people."

Cllr Tony Inch said this was not about prayers, but about the democratic working of the council. It had voted on this three times and three times had voted to retain prayers.

Cllr Trevor Johns said: "This is not just Bideford. Other councils are waiting and watching to see what happens. We are a test case. There is a lot going on this and we are justified in taking this offer."

Cllr Clive Bone, who initially called for the ending of prayers during council meetings, left the chamber while the discussions took place.

Aughton Ainsworth, based in Manchester, is essentially a commercial practice, providing for clients around the world, and was set up some six years ago.

But they had also been engaged in a number of human rights and religious practice cases, said lawyer Tom Ellis, who set up the firm.

He said: "I do a lot of religious freedom cases, some of them fairly high profile. I saw on websites what was happening in Bideford and that it was not just local, but more of a national issue. I saw that Bideford probably did not have the resources to defend itself. This is an issue which goes to the heart of traditional British values and it will set a precedent nationally.

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