BRAINTREE Council was accused of “downplaying” the petition calling for the resignation of its leader.

Rosie Pearson, who started the petition calling for Graham Butland to step down, made the claim when presenting the document to councillors in a meeting.

The council had allowed the petition to be debated despite stating it did not have the 1,000 signatures required.

It said only 571 of the 1,628 signatories were residents in the district.

But this was questioned by Ms Pearson, who called for an investigation into the petition process.

She said: “I believe many hundreds of signatures have been wrongly discounted.

“The chair and vice-chair of one of the district’s parish councils have not been validated. Nor have other long-standing residents. In one household one spouse was validated, the other was not.

“In addition, many people who live outside the district or come here to work would have been directly affected by the garden communities – by the traffic, the rail commuters, the competition for jobs, the loss of 5,600 acres countryside and the huge debt required.

“Others do not live in the district but grew up here, have family here or have moved away temporarily.

“Many people who signed the petition cannot find their name on the council list at all.

“Whichever way you read it, it is clear that the council has tried to downplay the petition and the strength of feeling, and appears to be attempting to discredit me.”

Mr Butland rejected the concerns raised about the petition process, and said the council was only able to go on information provided by those who signed it.

He said: “The council was presented with a list of the signatories and where they were from.

“It is up to the lead petitioner to check addresses and provide the council with the information. Officers were only able to use the information given to them and validate the ones who listed an address in the district.

“I think it shows online petitions are flawed and are not the way to do this.

“The only continent we didn’t have a signature from was Antarctica.”