The High Court will decide next week whether Ealing Council acted unlawfully when it gave a councillor a slap on the wrist for his controversial comments about Southall.
In May, the council’s standards committee ordered Councillor Benjamin Dennehy to apologise – which he refused to do – following a blog post which said Indian people ‘exploit their own people in squalid third world living conditions’, that ‘criminality is endemic in Southall’ and the high number of illegal immigrants in the area was a ‘constant on the public purse’.
Mr Dennehy, who joined UKIP after being kicked out of the Conservative party for the comments, took action in the High Court in a bid to overturn the decision.
He said: “The council have effectively punished me for expressing a lawful and legitimate opinion.
“In a free and democratic society an elected representative must not fear expressing an opinion, no matter how politically incorrect. “I said what many people believe but because it was politically sensitive I was punished.
“This violates everything the UK stands for. This is not Zimbabwe or Iran.”
Mr Dennehy said the council should just admit it is wrong rather than continuing to fight the legal battle which has already cost it thousands of pounds.
An initial request in August to have the case struck out by the council’s lawyers came with a demand for £5,790 in costs, but – because the judge refused – those costs are expected to escalate.
The judge will listen to both sides on Thursday, and will either throw the case out, hold a full hearing or grant one to be held at a later date.
Mr Dennehy believes costs so far are about double the last estimate and the council could be left with a £50,000 bill if it loses a full hearing, as it will have to pay his costs as well.
He said: “It’s ludicrous. If the council loses, which I believe it will, then its director of legal services Helen Harris should resign or be sacked.”
A council spokesperson said: “When legal action is taken against the council it has no choice but to provide a defence.
“In August we provided the court with an estimate for costs for in-house legal staff and external barristers of £5,790. This amount covers work up until a decision was made on whether councillor Dennehy would be given permission to take the proceedings to High Court. However, at that point when the estimate was given, it was not anticipated a hearing would be required.
“Actual costs incurred for external legal advice were approximately £500 by October this year.
“Council solicitors are not allowed to speak in front of a High Court judge which means we will have to instruct a barrister and therefore legal costs will rise significantly. If the council’s defence is successful we will always aim to recover public money on behalf of local taxpayers.”