CODE : Integrity
CODE - Referred to Standards Committee/APW
The Ombudsman received a complaint from a member of Gwynedd Council and Caernarfon Royal Town Council that a Member (“the Member”) of those Councils had failed to observe the Councils’ Codes of Conduct for Members.
It was alleged that the Member failed to show respect and consideration to the complainant over several months, and his correspondence was suggestive of a course of conduct intended to bully and/or harass the complainant. It was alleged that the Member used, or attempted to use, his position improperly and brought his office or authority into disrepute by posting information provided to him as an elected member on Facebook, posting information which he knew was incorrect on Facebook, posting confidential information on Facebook and by being involved in a police incident. The complainant also said that the Member made vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints to the Clerk, the Ombudsman and the police about the complainant.
The investigation considered whether the Member failed to comply with the following provisions of the Code of Conduct:
During the investigation, it became apparent that the Member may have failed to comply with paragraph 6(2) of the Code of Conduct – members must comply with any request by the Ombudsman in connection with an investigation conducted in accordance with his statutory powers.
The investigation found that the Member had, over the course of several months, shared information about the complainant on Facebook and with professionals, associated with both Councils, about the complainant. The member also posted information, which should reasonably be regarded as confidential, about the complainant’s family members. The investigation found that the Member approached the complainant in the street and began an altercation which required police involvement. The investigation also found that the Member made several complaints to the Clerk, the Police and to the Ombudsman, which lacked foundation and appeared to be motivated by malice or political rivalry.
The Ombudsman found that the member’s behaviour was suggestive of a breach of paragraphs 4(b), 4(c), 6(1)(a), 6(1)(d), 6(2) and 7(a) of the Code of Conduct. He did not find a breach of paragraph 5(a) as the Member was not acting in his capacity as a member of the Council when he shared that information.
In relation to paragraph 6(2) of the Code of Conduct, the Ombudsman’s Investigation Officer made reasonable and appropriate requests in connection with this investigation. The Investigation Officer also offered reasonable adjustments to afford the Member the opportunity to fully engage in the process. However, the Member deliberately failed to engage with my investigation in an attempt to obfuscate the process and that his actions were suggestive of a breach of paragraph 6(2) of the Code of Conduct.
The report on the investigation was referred to the President of the Adjudication Panel for Wales for adjudication by a tribunal.
The Tribunal concluded that the Member had breached paragraphs 6(1)(d), 6(2) and 7(a) of the Code of Conduct. Accordingly, the Tribunal decided that the Member should be suspended from the Council for a period of 9 months or, if shorter, the remainder of him term in office. The Tribunal found that the Member had not breached paragraph 4(c) of the Code of Conduct. Whilst the Tribunal concluded that the Member had, “in principle”, breached paragraphs 4(b), 6(1)(a) and 7(a) of the Code of Conduct, any restriction imposed would compromise a prima facie breach of the Members Article 10 rights, the right to freedom of speech. The Tribunal, therefore, considered that restriction was not justified.