WINCHESTER City Council has threatened the Hampshire Chronicle with a High Court injunction after the leaking of a report about allegations made against Silver Hill rebel Kim Gottlieb.

The Chronicle has seen a copy of the report and Winchester City Council has said it will seek a High Court injunction to prevent publication by the newspaper.

An investigation was launched after allegations about Cllr Gottlieb's conduct were made by councillors and officers. Cllr Gottlieb had publicly criticised senior council staff over their handling of the £150m Silver Hill redevelopment in the city centre.

The draft report, by Tim Darsley, is dated November24 last year. The final report is believed to have been completed in January, meaning the Conservative-controlled council has sat on it for at least three months.

In a statement Cllr Gottlieb said the report had been abandoned "because of serious flaws in procedure", a claim the council has denied.

It is believed to be the first time the city council has threatened the Chronicle with such an action.

The council has been widely criticised for its threat. Former city councillor Karen Barratt said: “The last thing we need is any attempt by the council to stifle public debate.

“The council, I would have thought, would have learnt that legal action always ends up costing the tax payer a lot of money. It is not their money and the only winners are the lawyers.”

City councillor Ian Tait, a Conservative, said: "It is absolutely disgraceful that the council is threatening you. The press plays an exceptionally important role in how Winchester works, that transparency.

"To have threatening letters, when it is just good journalism; It sounds more like something from Watergate.

"And I'm concerned the draft report has been out five months. We, as members, have had nothing at all. It sounds like it has been brushed under the carpet."

An informed source, who asked not to be named, said: "It is in the public interest that this report should come out. It is disgraceful the council is trying to suppress something the people of Winchester should know about, how their councillors conduct themselves."

Cllr Gottlieb, in a statement released through solicitors, said: “I firmly believe in free speech and in transparent governance. A decision has been made to abandon the draft report following representations about serious flaws in the procedure and the report itself. It would therefore be wrong for this report to be made public. I would welcome the publication of a report following a proper and fair process.”

In response the council said of that statement: "The letter (from Cllr Gottlieb's lawyers to the Chronicle) is a misrepresentation of where the process has reached. The council has not made a decision to abandon the process. However further investigation may be necessary for other reasons which the council is unable to detail at this time."

The council said in another statement: "Any investigation and resulting report is provided to the parties strictly in confidence until the matters being complained about and investigated have been determined by the council’s standards regime.

"Any disclosure of the report or any part of it is therefore unlawful and would provide grounds for the council to secure immediate injunctive relief against either the person or persons responsible for the initial disclosure or against any third party who might reasonably be apprehended to be contemplating publication.

"If any report, or extracts of it, were to be disclosed before the city council has concluded how it intends to proceed in relation to this report it would be likely to have the effect of undermining the standards process and is likely to affect how the council will consider the matter."

It denied it had been 'sitting on the report for five months': "That is not the case. The report forms part of a complex investigation which is yet to be completed.

"The report is confidential and forms part of an investigation which is yet to be completed. Publication could prejudice the outcome of the investigation."