Thanet council leader responds to criticism over ‘senseless’ coronavirus remarks

Councillor Rick Everitt

By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

Thanet’s council leader has responded to criticism over “incredibly senseless” comments made about the coronavirus crisis in a football magazine.

Cllr Rick Everitt (Lab) has defended describing the virus as a “rare blessing” for  Charlton Athletic in his publication, Voice of the Valley, two weeks ago.

Mr Everitt, who has worked as a football reporter and sports editor since 1989, said the article he wrote was addressing a “vicious boardroom dispute” at the Championship club, who have been involved in a relegation scrap this year.

Several Thanet councillors have criticised the local authority leader for using “poorly chosen” and “shocking” words during a national health emergency.

Thanet Council’s main opposition leader, Lesley Game (Con), said: “Cllr Everitt is a very nice and fair person. It could well have been taken out of context, but if it wasn’t then that would be in ill taste.”

In a Voice of the Valley article dated March 19, Cllr Everitt said: “It has been a rare blessing of the coronavirus crisis that the decision to shut down all professional football has served to prevent the team having to continue its relegation battle.”

Former councillor, Ian Driver, said it was “beyond comprehension” for a councillor to joke about “one of the deadliest international health emergencies in over a century”.

In his online blog, Mr Driver said the words were “shocking” and claimed the Thanet council leader had brought the local authority into “disrepute”.

Cllr Everitt, who took over the position as leader last year following a vote of no-confidence in former leader, Cllr Bob Bayford (Con), said: “My article has nothing to do with Thanet or Thanet District Council.

“I am rightly accountable for my work as a councillor but I don’t write about football in that capacity. I do so as a fan and a journalist.

“Other than Charlton fans, I doubt Thanet residents are interested in what I think about the interruption in football matches, which is an obviously trivial feature of the health emergency, but it is a relevant one when I am writing about football for football supporters.”

Cllr Everitt told the Local Democracy Reporting service that his article had been downloaded 5,000 times by Charlton fans and not a single one has raised concerns about its meaning.

He added: “It’s very sad that Mr Driver sees this horrible situation, which is causing so much anxiety to people locally and nationally, as an opportunity to mislead”.

Thanet Independents leader Rev. Stuart Piper described the comments as “incredibly senseless” and “in very poor taste”.

He said: “Other Thanet councillors have asked him to take on the role as council leader and he represents the council in that capacity…an apology is required at the very least.”

Kent county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), who represents Margate at county level, said: “As a Labour member, I disassociate myself from his comments.”