Today I had to appear before the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Standards Committee to answer charges that in response to a posting on this blog, I had allowed two specific comments written by others to be published. I was found to have breached the Code of Councillors and received a written censure.
The complaint was brought by Mike Whitley of Gilberdyke, who stood against me as a Labour candidate at the May 2011 East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Gilberdyke Parish Council elections - he failed to be elected to either.
Although disappointed, I certainly feel that the Standards Committee was put in a very difficult position today because of the evidence and recommendation provided by the Council’s Monitoring Officer, and in only censuring me I appreciate that they gave me the absolute minimum punishment they could.
I am particularly disappointed that the evidence provided was as narrow as it was and resulted in the decision being made on a very technical point. Some of the evidence was subjective and some clearly wrong, and both the Monitoring Officer and Investigating Officer have some serious questions they need to answer, and I will be buying them both an English Dictionary for Christmas.
I have been censured not for anything I have said or done but for failing to censor the free speech of Howdenshire residents, who understandably feel strongly about the continued actions of an individual that has put their homes and livelihoods at risk.
I understood we have free speech in this country and unless a comment is defamatory or untrue I will continue to allow free speech and debate on my blog. I did not then and still do not, believe the key comment was defamatory and it is certainly true that Mark Twain did include such events in his novels. I accept that this is subjective and accept that the Committee did not share my understanding of the strength of feeling locally.
The Standards Regime is supposed to deal with wrongdoing in the public interest not give a voice to Political candidates to score points against their opponents. The committee was not allowed to look at the wider context of the repeated and unfounded complaints – (8 times this individual has referred me or Gilberdyke Parish Councillors to the Standards Board and every one cleared) and also reporting me to the Police which was also deemed to be unfounded. Conversely the Investigating Officer was free to attempt to mislead the committee and to raise other matters unrelated to the narrow accusation.
The Political context of the repeated complaints, and the totally untrue comments and accusations the complainant put into the public domain was also not considered.
In short the public has just paid for a failed political stunt.
Councillors who break the law should face the full force of the law - everything else is a matter for the electorate. If a Councillor does not reach the standards expected of them they will not be re-elected. I am at a loss to know what this process has achieved. A censure is meaningless but has cost an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money. A retired officer brought back at who knows what rates to undertake extensive investigations. How much has this cost and what services to our residents do we cut to pay for this?
If ever there was an example of why the Government is right to abolish this expensive and misused system, this is it. Absolutely nothing has been achieved and no difference has been made apart from the taxpayers get the bill for someone to pursue a personal, vexatious Political agenda.
I will continue blogging!
The East Riding News coverage of the story can be found here
Update - The paper copy of the newspaper article in addition carries an interesting quote from an unnamed fellow ERYC Conservative Councillor at County Hall:
"Many in our group believe facebook and Twitter are akin to witchcraft"
Oh dear, we really do need to drag ourselves into the 21st Century.....
Update 2 - The comment (not written by me) but which I allowed on my blog was, ‘In Mark Twain’s classic literature perpetrators of anti-social activity were stripped, tarred and feathered then ridden out of town on a rail. Not that I would suggest such a thing mind’
“Guidance published by Standards for England about blogging” – because there was other part of the guidance included in the Investigators report I can only assume this is what he used to base his decision and subsequent recommendation – This guidance quite clearly states that a comment has to be defamatory or obscene to be in contravention.
If one looks in the English Dictionary it says that, “defamatory remarks are not true and make people have a bad opinion of someone” (so logically any remarks have to be untrue before they can be defamatory)
The dictionary also states that obscene remarks are, “indecent, disgusting or likely to deprave or corrupt”
I’m still at a loss, because the advice I was given supported my thinking that there is nothing that could be considered UNTRUE, INDECENT, DISCUSTING or LIKELY TO DEPRAVE OR CORRUPT in the comment.