CODE : Promotion of equality & respect
CODE - Referred to Standards Committee/APW
Abertillery & Llanhilleth Community Council
The Ombudsman received a complaint that a Member (“the Member”) of Abertillery & Llanhilleth Community Council (“the Council”) had breached the Code of Conduct.
It was alleged that the Member had shown a disregard for the principle of equality, by making comments about another member’s hearing impairment and deliberately making it difficult for that member to participate in Council meetings.
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 paragraphs 6(1)(a) (members must not conduct themselves in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or authority into disrepute) and 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).
Five witnesses were interviewed during the investigation: all were members of the Council. The investigation found that the evidence suggested that the Member had directly discriminated against another member by making discriminatory remarks about her disability during and immediately after a Council meeting on 30 October 2019, and by deliberately making it difficult for her to participate at Council meetings. The Ombudsman concluded that the Member’s behaviour was suggestive of a serious breach of paragraph 4(a) of the Code of Conduct.
The Ombudsman considered that the Member’s comments about the other member’s disability were a clear attempt to intimidate and undermine her. He considered that the Member’s behaviour was also suggestive of a breach of paragraph 4(b) of the Code of Conduct.
The Member denied that his actions breached the Code of Conduct, but he refused to be interviewed so that he could provide an account for the specific actions complained about. The other member said that she felt distressed and intimidated after the meeting on 30 October. Witnesses have also described the other member as being visibly upset during Council meetings. On balance, I consider that the Member behaved in a way that is suggestive of a breach of paragraph 4(c) of the Code of Conduct. The Ombudsman was also of the view that it would be reasonable to regard such conduct as capable of bringing the Member’s office or authority into disrepute and was therefore suggestive of a breach of paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Code of Conduct.
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 took extra steps, causing a delay in the process, to appease the Member and to help him feel comfortable with the process. The Investigation Officer also took steps to make reasonable adjustments to afford the Member the opportunity to fully engage. My view is that 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 Adjudication Panel for Wales concluded that the Member had breached paragraphs 4(a), 4(b), 4(c), 6(1)(a) and 6(2) of the Code of Conduct and suspended him for 10 months. It also recommended that the Member should undertake further training on the Code of Conduct, undertake Equality and Diversity training and provide the Complainant with a full written apology.