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Watford New Hope Trust chief executive, Mike Smith, 'extremely angry' after shop manager appears in Liberal Democrat leaflet
The head of a Watford charity has been left "extremely angry" after one of his employees appeared in a political leaflet.
Mike Smith, the chief executive of the Watford New Hope Trust, has said he was unaware that a picture of one of his shop managers was due to be used in a Liberal Democrat leaflet for the forthcoming central Watford council by-election.
Polly Odbert, the manager of the trust’s shop in Queen’s Road, appeared in a picture with Lib Dem candidate, Lizz Ayre, with supportive quotes attributed to her.
However Watford’s Liberal Democrat elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, said she feels the trust has "overreacted" to the leaflet.
The leaflet was distributed as political parties battle it out for a vacant Watford Borough Council seat, which opened up when Liberal Democrat Chris Leslie resigned to take a job in the Midlands.
Five parties are standing in the election on November 15: the Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Conservatives, the Greens and the UK Independence Party.
In the leaflet there is a picture of Ms Odbert with Ms Ayre with the words "approachable" and "very likeable" across it.
The picture has Ms Odbert’s name and job next to it with quotes saying: "Lizz is a very likeable person who gets on well with people. She is always approachable and around all day. I know she will work hard for us."
Mr Smith said: "Polly our shop manager appeared in the picture as she was not aware of the purpose for why the picture was taken and her permission was not asked to use it in an election leaflet.
"I was not approached. If I had been I would not have wished to endorse a political party. The work we do is for the community of Watford. To do that we have to work with every single political party in Watford.
"I am extremely angry this has happened as people will be getting the wrong impression.
"I have spoken to Polly and she says they were not words that came from her mouth.
"I am considering ways in which the situation can be relieved."
Under UK regulations charities are meant to remain politically impartial and not endorse political parties.
Mayor Thornhill said she understood Mr Smith’s concerns.
"I think Mike needs to take a step and ask do all employees know this? Is the quote endorsing the Lib Dems or endorsing Lizz as a person? Has he got a right to tell his staff they cannot have personal views?
"I think there is a little naivety about what is acceptable and what is not. I think it is an overreaction prompted by Labour being over-officious.
"But I do understand their sensitivities."
Watford Liberal Democrats have since agreed with the trust to put a statement in their next leaflet.
The statement says: “We wish to apologise if the words and photograph included in the last Opinion may have implied that Watford New Hope Trust are endorsing one particular candidate.
“This is not the case. As a registered charity, the Trust recognises that it has a legal obligation to remain impartial.”
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