TENSIONS spilled over during a meeting of Andover Town Council last week with two councillors walking out mid-way through in protest.

Deputy mayor Councillor Lauren Banville upped and left after an incident in which town mayor Cllr Richard Rowles snatched a gavel from her hand.

Cllr Michael James also left the meeting in light of the incident.

The mayor was further criticised for the way in which he addressed other councillors, including Cllr Banville, but has since explained he was simply fulfilling his duty of ‘making extra sure’ that councillors were reading items on the meeting’s agenda properly.

Wednesday’s meeting began with Cllr Banville chairing proceedings, until town mayor Cllr Rowles turned up at 6.19pm.

Upon arrival the mayor made a point of donning his mayoral robes before taking control of the agenda.

Members of the public in attendance, including former town and current borough councillors, have since recalled the ‘tense’ atmosphere of the evening.

And the tension appeared to be coming to a head when, in response to councillors raising their voices, Cllr Banville reached for the gavel, only to have it “ripped” from her hands by the mayor.

Speaking to the Advertiser earlier this week, Cllr Banville said: “I was moving our bits around on the table and went to grab the gavel and he completely ripped it out of my hands and said, ‘don’t grab that’.”

“I just won’t stand for that,” she continued.

“Men should not speak to women in that way, and I didn’t like it so that’s why I walked out.”

Cllr Rowles denies grabbing her hand and says he moved to retrieve the gavel since he, as chairman of the meeting, was the only one permitted to use it.

He said: “She shouldn’t have taken the gavel and all I did was take the other end of the gavel and took it back. But it’s totally wrong for anyone else in the meeting to attempt to use the chairman’s gavel.”

He also noted that it was “blatantly obvious” some councillors had not read the agenda in advance and so he was making a point of stressing certain issues.

The town mayor told the Advertiser: “I think, first of all, that despite the fact that it was the most important decision we’ve made all year - the budget and precept - it was clear that quite a number of councillors had not read the agenda, so I made extra sure that people did [during the meeting].

“It was blatantly obvious that some people, including the deputy mayor, hadn’t read that. And when I called her up on it, she got the hump.”

Cllr James was contacted for a comment but at the time the Advertiser went to press had not yet responded.