TWO Oxfordshire councils said they spent nearly £3,000 threatening the Oxford Mail with legal action if it revealed the true circumstances of their chief executive’s departure.

Last November we reported that South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils had hushed-up a pay-off totalling £200,000 so its former chief executive David Hill would resign.

When he left the post last summer, the authorities had praised Mr Hill’s contribution and work.

But in a confidential report, senior council staff said a ‘loss of trust’ and a ‘fundamental breakdown in working relationships’ had really driven his exit.

He was paid £180,000, while £20,000 covered the councils’ and Mr Hill’s legal fees.

Law firm Bevan Brittan, acting on behalf of South Oxfordshire District Council, threatened legal action against this newspaper if any information was printed. No legal action has materialised.

The councils estimated they spent £2,985 in getting that advice, according to a Freedom of Information request.

In the run-up to Mr Hill’s resignation, councillors agreed to use only ‘positive quotes’ in a public statement from South Oxfordshire’s leader John Cotton and Vale’s leader Matthew Barber.

But the day before the press release was sent out, councillors had been asked to agree to pay Mr Hill £180,000 – about 15 months’ worth of his annual salary. That sum included £136,545 compensation for loss of employment, £35,455 as a notice payment and £8,000 in relocation expenses, according to the secret report.