Councillor wins election despite ‘shocking’ comments on disabled children


theweeksubLeading figures from a Cornish town have defended their fellow-residents after they elected a former local councillor who suggested disabled children should be “put down” to save money.

Colin Brewer resigned in February as an independent member of Cornwall Council after it emerged that he had made the comment to a Disability Cornwall staff member at a council equality event in 2011.

But to the horror of disabled activists in Cornwall and across the country, Brewer decided to stand again, and in last week’s election he won back his Wadebridge East seat by just four votes, with 335 votes against 331 for his nearest rival, the Liberal Democrat Stephen Knightley.

Knightley, a former mayor of Wadebridge, who even voted for Brewer four years ago, said: “I think people who voted for him were truly convinced that he didn’t mean it and it was a slip of the tongue, and they want to believe it.”

But he added: “When you are under pressure, you tell the truth. I think he was under pressure and his true thoughts came out.”

When told of comments Brewer had made to Disability News Service (DNS), in which he admitted that he believed there was a good argument for killing some disabled babies to save money, Knightley said: “It doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

But he also pointed out that 7,000 people live in Wadebridge and Brewer secured only 335 votes.

He said: “I know this town really well and that would not be the opinion of the town and I would hate to think that people from elsewhere thought it was.”

But he added: “I do think it is bad for the town. It is damaging to the town and probably to Cornwall as a county.”

The Rev Dom Whitting, the curate in charge of the Wadebridge Church of England parish, and a disabled person himself, said he did not “condone” what Brewer said. “As any disabled person would be, I was shocked and surprised by what he said.”

He said he was “very fortunate” with the level of his own impairment, but added: “I can imagine that for those with relatively more severe disability it would not have been easy on the ear.”

But he also pointed out that Brewer won the seat by just four votes. “It wasn’t an overwhelming majority that Colin got,” he said.

Speaking before Brewer’s interview with DNS, he added: “I don’t think you can judge people by just one comment they said. You have to look at the wide picture.

“Having lived in Wadebridge and worked in Wadebridge, I know how much work Colin has done in 20-odd years as a councillor.

“We all say things at times which we later regret and Colin has apologised. As he said, he put it to the people of Wadebridge to decide, and that is what they have done.”

Christine Todd, the parish’s disability officer, and until recently the disability adviser for the whole diocese, said she was “a little surprised” that Brewer had been elected.

Also speaking before the DNS interview with Brewer, she said: “It was only 25 per cent of the voters. The other 75 per cent don’t agree. The process of working against discrimination is a drip, drip process. One wishes that it was a much more rapid process, but it isn’t.

“We have to keep standing up and saying that disabled people are not another race apart.

“Don’t judge the people of Wadebridge, because it is very much more of a national thing. There is still so much work to be done in terms of disability discrimination.”

She added: “It shows the need for the local authority to undertake more training of its councillors as well as its employees in equality and diversity.”

9 May 2013