Mum’s eight-month-old baby banned from council meeting

A Devon council has been accused of discrimination against a breast-feeding mother whose baby was banned from a meeting.

It is understood Louise Rea was told bringing her eight-month-old daughter Alice could risk breaching confidentiality.

The Ivybridge town councillor who is breast-feeding her baby decided to stay away from the personnel committee.

It is understood that the decision was made after confusion around the daytime meeting in August and a misunderstanding over the age of children likely to attend.

The mayor has now offered to meet Mrs Rea to find a solution about how she can attend future meetings.

Another councillor raised the issue and said it appeared to be a case of discrimination.

The mother-of-two had previously taken her daughter to other council meetings, including a personnel committee in March.

The case was raised by Tessa Lannin at a remote full meeting of the town council held via Zoom and broadcast live on YouTube.

Ivybridge town councillor Louise Rea, with son Owen, five, and baby daughter Alice
Ivybridge town councillor Louise Rea, with son Owen, five, and baby daughter Alice
(Image: Submitted)

When councillors were asked to approve the minutes of the personnel committee, Cllr Lannin said they were inaccurate because they did not record the reason for Mrs Rea not attending.

She said Mrs Rea had emailed the committee chair the day before explaining why she would not be there.

The councillor tried to propose a correction to the minutes, but was blocked by the mayor Ann Laity, who twice told the clerk to mute her during exchanges.

The mayor said the record could not be changed to add something that happened before the meeting took place.

The personnel committee chair Trevor Parsons said the minutes provided an accurate account of the business of the meeting.

A request from another councillor for a recorded vote was refused.

Council personnel committees are usually held with the press and public excluded because they deal with confidential information about staff.

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A spokesperson for the council said there would never be any intention to discriminate against anyone, but councillors or staff might have contradictory requirements or availability when meetings were called.

The spokesperson said: “There is no other personnel meeting planned as yet – they only happen up to four times per annum and have always been in the day.

“But I am sure that the chairman will take account of the availability of all those who wish to attend future meetings and as these are now likely to revert to remote or hybrid meetings in view of the recent Government advice, then hopefully all should be able to attend.”

It is understood there was misunderstanding and confusion around the meeting and Mrs Rea’s email about non-attendance.

The council has been advised that it followed the correct procedure for dealing with the minutes of the meeting.

The Equality Act 2010 protects breast-feeding mothers from being treated unfavourably.

The town council’s equality policy says it aims to ensure its services are accessible to all and its policies and practices are “fair and free from unlawful discrimination”.

Lisa Lines, director of Ivybridge Latch On, a group that supports breast-feeding mothers, said: “Louise Rea has been a fantastic support to Ivybridge Latch On since becoming a councillor, providing us with a wealth of information and support that has enabled us to apply for vital funding to secure the future of our services.

“It is therefore all the more disappointing that she has faced discrimination of this sort from the body she has been tirelessly representing. We hope that Ivybridge Town Council will reconsider their position in the case of future meetings.

“Breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world despite over 80 per cent of mothers initiating breastfeeding at birth.

“UNICEF estimate that for just five illnesses, moderate increases in breastfeeding would translate into cost savings for the NHS of up to £40 million per year.

“The only way to tackle this issue is to ensure breastfeeding is supported in our communities and to normalise breastfeeding in all settings.”

Mrs Rea, a social care manager, was elected to the town council for Ivybridge East in May 2019.

The Labour Party candidate received the third highest number of votes of the eight councillors chosen.

She was contacted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service but declined to comment because of a town council policy preventing councillors speaking to the media.

Plymouth Live