AN INDEPENDENT parliamentary candidate, convicted of drink driving, has stood down just days after her selection sparked a public outcry.
Wendy Cook was announced as prospective parliamentary candidate by the Association of Island Independents last Thursday, just a week after the Isle of Wight County Press reported she had been banned from driving after being convicted of two drink driving offences.
Within hours of the announcement, her selection came under fire from angry Islanders, while members of the Independent group of IW councillors sought to distance themselves from the association's choice, which they were not involved in.
Speaking to the County Press this week, Isle of Wight Council executive member for protection and Independent member for Ryde North West, Cllr Phil Jordan said none of the independent group could support Ms Cook.
The association met this week to discuss the situation and Ms Cook, a barrister and vice chair of the association, today (Thursday) announced she was withdrawing her candidacy.
In a statement Ms Cook, 49, of Elm Lane, Calbourne, said: "I was interviewed and despite the recent past the committee decided to endorse my candidacy, I can only assume on policies and certainly not a ringing endorsement of drinking and driving.
"What happened next was something that had not been anticipated, the harassment and public vilification of members of the committee, assault and threatening emails aimed not at me, the perpetrator, but people who thought they were acting for the best.
"The effect of this has made it clear that despite everything I wanted to do to bring about zero tolerance of my crime, having been being brought to my senses: that I had to stand down. The prospect of being elected and then at every function or meeting this being the focus, meant that I could only ever do the Island harm and therefore had to withdraw my candidacy."
It was initially reported that Ms Cook was banned from driving for 58 months, due to information supplied by Southampton Magistrates Court. This was disputed by Ms Cook who said the ban was for 46 months.
Following a further enquiry from the County Press today (Thursday) to clarify the situation, a spokesman for Southampton Magistrates Court said Ms Cook had been sentenced to 46 months and 12 months concurrently, meaning a total ban of 46 months.
*A spokesman for the association said: "The Association of Island Independents is disappointed but entirely understands Wendy Cook’s decision to withdraw her candidacy as the Association’s supported PPC, given the level of hostility, including physical abuse, received by Wendy and some Association members.
"We were aware from the outset of Wendy’s open acceptance of responsibility for her actions and her passion to make a contribution to the future of the Island, which she has set out very clearly in her Statement.
"We will now consider our options regarding if and when we choose to endorse another candidate as PPC for the Isle of Wight."
Read her statement in full below:
"I was absolutely delighted to receive the backing of the Association of Island Independents as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. A role I have had my heart set on since being taken to the House of Commons by Steve Ross in 1995 as a student of the Isle of Wight College. All through my short time on South Wight Borough and eventually being called to Bar, one goal remained constant, the ambition to represent the Island which had given me so much.
"The love of the Isle of Wight, which gave me a home after a complicated beginning with a circle of friends and support that anyone would be proud to have, has remained constant throughout so many changes in my life.
"Then despite all that focus, the pressure of caring for two elderly people and the loss of my home resulted in a significant if not major breakdown and the recent totally reprehensible behaviour which lead to my recent convictions.
"No words or apologies can ever make right my behaviour — the effect of irresponsible drunk drivers on victims, families and friends is beyond imagination; in my previous professional career I have prosecuted such cases and have seen the photos and the effects on others of the utter carnage people like me have caused.
"All I can say is that times of extreme stress, one’s reality is distorted and the effect of our irresponsibility doesn’t seem to penetrate our own misery.
"In the past week there has been considerable out pouring on the Internet; all the opprobrium I richly deserve however there has been a much more frightening side to this which has forced my decision to resign.
"The Association requested applications from people who were already contemplating standing as an Independent MP in their own right. "These were Candidates who are self-funding and prepared to support their own campaign financially. It has never been the role of the Association to offer more than support to a Candidate and to endorse the principle of Independent representation in the Governance of the Isle of Wight.
"The support would be the form of canvassing, telling, leafleting, administration etc. but not funding any part of the campaign. I was interviewed and despite the recent past the Committee decided to endorse my candidacy, I can only assume on policies and certainly not a ringing endorsement of drinking and driving.
"What happened next was something that had not been anticipated, the harassment and public vilification of members of the committee, assault and threatening emails aimed not at me, the perpetrator but people, who thought they were acting for the best. The effect of this has made it clear that despite everything I wanted to do to bring about zero tolerance of my crime, having been being brought to my senses: that I had to stand down. The prospect of being elected and then at every function or meeting this being the focus, meant that I could only ever do the Island harm and therefore had to withdraw my candidacy.
"Another feature of this debacle has been the fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of Independent elected members at all levels of governance.
"The best piece of advice that I have ever been given, about standing as an MP was from MP Andrew Turner: "If you have any interest in a Parliamentary career, steer clear of local government, you will never shake off the bad press."
"Well, I will never know, but what has been clear from the web coverage of my situation is the total lack of understanding of the Independents and the entrenched backstabbing relating back to the previous administration that keeps people on the web until gone midnight on Good Friday and then back hard at it on Easter Saturday.
"The fault for this seems to lie on both sides of the debate and due to their passionate dislike of each other leaves the Island as the loser.
"There has been so much misrepresentation of what it means to be Independent in terms of the Association of which I am still Vice Chairman, but I would like to try to clarify the position once and for all.
"The Association was set up following a general ground swell of disgust at the effect of Party Political dogma that has blighted the past decade or so at the Isle of Wight Council. Following the success of the Independent Councillors at the last local elections it became clear there was an appetite for this approach and the Association formed to endorse this type of governance at all levels of Public Elections.
"I understand a few of the current ruling Administration of the Isle of Wight Council did join the Association and again support the principle of Independent Governance but by no means all and the Association was not formed at their request.
"The Association is supportive of the Independent Administration in their goal to remain non-political and will support it in this endeavour.
"Each Member of the Administration who is a member of the Association is however independent of any manifesto of any kind and free to support any policy they choose to adopt for the governance of the Isle of Wight, the only commitment joining the Association is to adhere to the Bell Principles. I hope that the Association, despite the trouble I have caused to its image, will go on from strength and strength to achieve its goals."