Feuding pensioners spark walk-out in bitter dispute

Meeting anger: Pensioners at the Senior Voice Forum launched verbal attacks on each other, eventually sparking a walk-out by many of those present
Meeting anger: Pensioners at the Senior Voice Forum launched verbal attacks on each other, eventually sparking a walk-out by many of those present
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Feuding pensioners launched verbal attacks against each other as a meeting for elderly Blackpool residents sparked a walk-out.

Tempers flared at a meeting of the resort’s Senior Voice Forum at St John’s Church, on Cedar Square, yesterday amid an ongoing dispute between rival factions of the group, which was reported last week in The Gazette.

But there was no sign of a police presence, which one member said had been requested.

A series of angry outbursts had many of the gathered pensioners watching on in disbelief – with some describing the actions of individuals as “bullying” and “out of control”.

The row rumbled on despite warnings from Jack Crossfield, who had been invited as a representative of the North West Regional Pensioners’ Association, that the dispute was “weakening the organisation”.

Describing the constant interruptions, he told the meeting: “That is not the way to run an organisation – I saw nothing but interference.

“You are not going anywhere. You have got to give people the respect you would expect.”

More than half of the 40 or so people in attendance walked out before the end of the meeting.

Mr Crossfield’s comments followed a statement from Elsie Sadek, who blamed a “break away” group for the problems facing the forum.

She said the row started when member Harry Spillman confronted then-chairman Geoff Newman over an alleged anti-Semitic comment made at a previous meeting.

“This explosion came out of the blue,” she added.

“It would appear at the very first meeting he attended, the chairman made what (Mr Spillman) called an anti-Semitic and racist remark.

“It was made by the chairman to the treasurer in a jocular manner.”

Alec Fogg, who the comment was allegedly made to, told the meeting: “We used to have banter.

“I told him afterwards he shouldn’t have said it.”

The fallout from the row, at a committee meeting at the Walk-In Centre on Whitegate Drive on August 18, was blamed by several members for the ongoing dispute.

Some members alleged Mr Spillman behaved in a “frightening” manner on that occasion – a claim that was disputed by others.

In a series of outbursts, Mr Spillman said he has been the victim of “unsubstantiated allegations” at the meeting.

At one point he asked: “Is Blackpool the only town in this country where it’s OK to be a racist?”

He later added: “Injustice has raised its ugly head in this room.”

Mr Spillman said he had contacted police over the alleged comment. Police have confirmed it is under investigation.

Despite warnings that the forum needed to meet to approve a more robust constitution to prevent a repeat of the problems, the meeting was closed without any such action being taken.

However Terry Bennett, who chaired the meeting, said afterwards that he plans to call an emergency general meeting to address to problems facing the Senior Voice Forum.

He said: “I expected the meeting to go better than that.

“I am going to be calling for an emergency meeting on November 17.”

Yesterday’s meeting was moved to the church, in the town centre, after the row resulted in the Senior Voice Forum being banned from the Central Library.

On Saturday, The Gazette reported Blackpool Council had barred the group from using any of its buildings after security staff had been called to intervene on occasions.

Rita Walsh, who is one of the forum’s founding members, said the group will fight the decision.

In the meantime, she said, they will look for an alternative location for their meetings.

She added: “This was the first chance since the August 18 blow-out that we have had to give the forum information and we never even got to that.”

Mr Newman was unavailable for comment.