Report Date

03/23/2024

Case Against

Haverfordwest Town Council

Subject

Promotion of equality and respect

Case Reference Number

202208468

Outcome

No action necessary

The Ombudsman received a complaint that a Former Member (“the Former Member”) of Haverfordwest Town Council (“the Council”) had breached the Code of Conduct (“the Code”). The Ombudsman’s investigation considered whether the Former Member’s conduct may have breached paragraphs 4(a), 4(b), 4(c) and 6(1)(a) of the Code.

Information was obtained from the Council. Witnesses, including the Complainant, were interviewed. The Former Member was interviewed.

In relation to Paragraph 4(a), it was alleged that the Former Member treated the female members of the Council differently. Specifically, it was alleged that the Former Member only requested expenses from female members of the Council, ignored female members of the Council during meetings and tried to prevent a female member from becoming the Mayor of the Council.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that the Former Member requested expenses from individuals who held a role that included an allowance – in this instance, it was only female members of the Council who held a position which included an allowance. There was no evidence that the Former Member requested such information on the basis of gender. In addition, it was found that the Former Member had a process to ensure that he did not ignore any councillor wishing to speak in meetings. Evidence was provided to corroborate the Former Member’s explanation. The Ombudsman was therefore not persuaded that there was evidence to substantiate the complaint that the Former Member ignored female members of the Council. Finally, the investigation found that the issue in relation to the Mayoral election was contentious. The Former Member took appropriate action seeking advice from the appropriate body, One Voice Wales. The Ombudsman considered that there was no evidence that the Former Member’s actions were motivated by discrimination on the basis of gender. Accordingly, the Ombudsman’s investigation found that the Member’s conduct was not suggestive of a breach of paragraph 4(a) of the Code.

In relation to Paragraph 6(1)(a), it was alleged that the Former Member brought his office and authority into disrepute as a result of a German press article which allegedly stated that he had behaved poorly during a trip to Haverfordwest’s twin town, Oberkirch, in September 2022. The Ombudsman’s investigation found that there was no evidence to support the allegation. The article complained about was obtained and it did not reference the Former Member’s alleged behaviour. Accordingly, the Ombudsman was not persuaded that there was evidence suggestive of a breach of paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Code.

In relation to Paragraph 4(b) and 4(c) of the Code, it was alleged that the Former Member acted in a disrespectful and bullying way towards the Complainant during 3 separate meetings. The Ombudsman’s investigation found that in relation to 2 meetings complained about, the witness evidence was conflicting. The Ombudsman found, on the balance of the available evidence, that there was not sufficient evidence to substantiate that the Former Member had failed to treat the Complainant with respect and consideration or used bullying behaviour during 2 of the meetings complained about.

In relation to the final meeting complained about, the Ombudsman’s investigation found that there was witness evidence that the Former Member had shouted and raised his voice. The Ombudsman concluded that in shouting, the Former Member had failed to treat 2 councillors with respect and consideration which was suggestive of a breach of paragraph 4(b). The Ombudsman concluded that the Former Member’s actions did not constitute bullying within the meaning of the Code. Finally, she concluded that the Former Member’s behaviour was not so extensive or serious so as to be suggestive of a breach of paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Code.

In considering whether further action was required, the Ombudsman took into account the full background and contextual information, any relevant mitigation and the likelihood of any sanction, should the matter be referred to a Standards Committee.

The Ombudsman considered that there was evidence of a strained relationship between the Former Member and the Complainant. Witness evidence was obtained which also suggested that the Former Member had experienced poor treatment from other members of the Council, including the Complainant. In particular, press coverage of a Council meeting documented that the Complainant had made comments about the Former Member and described him as a “disgrace to the town”. The Ombudsman considered that there was evidence of generally poor behaviour at meetings. The Ombudsman also acknowledged that the Former Member had tried to deal with the issues that had been raised. The Former Member resigned as a member of the Council and does not intend on returning.

As the Former Member is no longer a council member, if a breach of the Code of Conduct were found by the County Council’s Standards Committee, any sanction would be limited to a censure only. In view of the above, the Ombudsman did not consider that it was in the public interest to take any further action.

Under Section 69(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000, the Ombudsman found that no action needed to be taken in respect of the matters investigated.