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Private Eye has accused Tony Arbour of being a 'purveyor of porkies' following his denials that Richmond Council was engaged in a vendetta against a local community web site.

Cllr. Arbour, who is the Conservative leader of Richmond upon Thames as well as being the Greater London Assembly representative for the South West area, had dismissed the Eye's earlier coverage of the matter by saying at a council meeting it was "a scurrilous piece, even by Private Eye's standards." He reportedly stated that there was no truth whatsoever in the article and that it was "a pack of lies".

The Eye responded by saying in its Rotten Boroughs page, "The lies are flying thicker than chicken feathers as Richmond's Tories get in a tangle."

Private Eye alleges that Richmond's part-time PR boss Alex Aiken is engaged in a campaign to undermine the network of local community web sites in the borough of Richmond. Online Communities is a non-commercial network of community web sites run by volunteers. They had previously had a reasonable relationship with the Council but this soured when the communications function was contracted out as a partnership with Westminster City Council's communication unit, also headed up by Mr Aiken.

According to volunteers with sites such at, press officers became increasingly
rude and uncooperative. Aiken went as far as to contact the employers of some of the volunteers in an attempt to put pressure on them to stop contributing to the site. Cllr. Arbour in dismissing the article appeared to be denying that this had taken place, but Private Eye has been shown a letter from the Chief Executive of Richmond Borough, Gillian Norton, to one of the volunteers confirming that Aiken had indeed called their employer to ask if their community web site work was compatible with their job.

Aiken had previously come to public attention by becoming involved in an altercation with a man
dressed as a chicken. During the 1997 election campaign he was involved in a publicity stunt
which involved a 'Tory Chicken' following Tony Blair around the country. The Daily Mirror retaliated by sending their own chicken and a fox. A confrontation ensued between the two chickens at which point Aiken intervened by wrestling the Daily Mirror's chicken to the ground. The chicken was reportedly furious accusing Aiken of having 'mad eyes'. "He threw me against a wall and took my head off," he said. Aiken denied using excessive violence against the chicken saying, "It was a Labour stooge chicken."

One suggested reason for the persecution of Online Communities was that it had previously published some photo-cartoons, including an animated image of various councillors dressed as the gay pop group Village People. It is thought that the intention is to close the sites run by volunteers in order to leave the way free for Council run sites under Mr Aiken's and Cllr Arbour's control and guaranteed to be uncritical of the official point of view - unlike many of the correspondence posted in the Vox Pop section of the sites by well informed local people.

Online Communities' sites are successful in bringing controversial issues to public attention and the ensuing public opinion has in some cases changed Richmond Council's preferred course, proving an embarrassment to Cllr Arbour. Examples include the removal of Metropolitan Open Land status from areas in the Crane Valley, which Richmond had intended to develop for lucrative housing. Hundreds of people who value the area put up such good arguments - all published online - that the UDP inspector rejected Richmond's proposals. There have also been other land issues where the public voice - evident on the community web sites - has stopped Richmond Council in its tracks. Teddington's North Lane car park was to be sold off for development to the universal dismay of residents and businesses but again the local voices online persuaded the planning inspector of the public argument.

Cllr. Arbour did not respond to our request for comment on this matter.

February 17, 2005