Did Wisbech social media attack on complainant ahead of hearing breach Fenland Council's code of conduct on bullying?
PUBLISHED: 17:47 13 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:47 13 November 2018
Conservative councillors who waged a social media campaign in support of Wisbech town council leader Sam Hoy ahead of a conduct hearing against her are themselves now under investigation for allegations of bullying and intimidating the complainant.
Former district councillor Dave Patrick handed in a dossier containing the allegations against the councillors to Fenland District Council today.
He singles out in particular former Wisbech mayor Steve Tierney, who is also a district and county councillor, for allegedly crossing the threshold of fair comment to criticise the complainant.
Cllr Hoy, who always denied the allegations against her involving her actions and comments in a dispute involving neighbours in part of the town, was cleared of any wrong doing. As chairman of the conduct committee she took no part in the hearing or findings.
“On Friday members carefully considered all of the evidence and guidance available to them and taking this into account, came to the conclusion that this did not reach the threshold for investigation,” said a council spokesman.
But Mr Patrick believes the build-up to the hearing requires investigation by council officials responsible for overseeing the code of conduct.
He has steered the monitoring officer at Fenland Council to a section that insists councillors must not “intimidate or attempt to intimidate any person who is or is likely to be a witness or involved in the administration of any investigation or proceedings”.
Mr Patrick has offered the council screen shots of postings by Cllr Tierney to the Facebook page Wisbech Discussion Forum which claims more than 20,000 members.
At various times in the week leading up to last Friday’s hearing Cllr Tierney clashed on Facebook with the complainant and her family.
After revealing that she had received help in formulating her complaint from two councillors, the complainant was told by Cllr Tierney: “Oh really? That’s interesting. “Another councillor ‘advised’ you to put in a conduct complaint, did they? Which one?”
He added: “’And they took it from there’. So you are saying you did not put in the conduct complaint, somebody else did it for you.”
The complainant accepted she had been helped by two councillors (whose identities have not been publicly revealed but I can confirm both are Conservative members).
Cllr Tierney said he was “interested that you say you were guided by councillors and that councillors you seem to suggest submitted the complaint on your behalf. That would certainly be an interesting development.
“Would you clarify which councillors advised you that a conduct complaint was appropriate please? And which ‘took it from there’”
After more exchanges Cllr Tierney persisted with the complainant asking her to “message me who it was that submitted the complaint for you; that would be helpful”.
He wrote: “If you have received advice, and indeed if another councillor has submitted it on your behalf, which is clearly what you said, that would be a noteworthy development.
“It’s important, in a conduct case such as has been initiated, that the truth is known. “I’m sure you agree that truth and transparency is important”.
As the exchanges continued Cllr Tierney tried again asking the complainant to name names.
He added: “I’ll be honest I think you are 100 per cent in the wrong and I think you have acted abominably. But a conduct complaint against a long standing and respected councillor is a serious matter and the truth should 100 per cent be known.
“I thank you for this information and I appreciate your honesty. It is a shame you aren’t prepared to name these others who have got involved as it begins to sound like you may have been used. Have a nice day.”
In latter exchanges he said to the complainant: “My opinion is that you have behaved very poorly. It would also seem to be the opinion of many of your neighbours and of many of this thread. I think your complaint is bogus and I very much hope it will be thrown out.
“I don’t know what part you think I’ve played but you can make any claims you like since you seem big on making claims and then not producing any evidence. Perhaps you’d like to submit a conduct complaint about me too?
“Believe it or not the code of conduct doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion or politely expressing it. Maybe the pair of councillors you referred to will submit their complaint for you also?”
And of the fence dispute – at the centre of the original issue – Cllr Tierney noted that “if you had put that fence in my front garden I would have torn it down in 10 seconds and used it for fire wood. Not everybody is young enough and able to defend themselves, sadly.”
On his blog Cllr Tierney wrote that “the conduct complaint system is occasionally abused by people.
“It is abused to lay false claims for political gain, to smear a councillor’s name, or just for revenge by petty small-minded cowards who think its a great way to ‘get even’ “Most of the time, the system works well and throws such darkly motivated complaints out. Although the conduct committee itself has very few significant sanctions, that’s not why the complaints are made.
“They are made in the hope the press will pick them up and damage reputations.”
Town councillor Andrew Lynn wrote on the Facebook thread that the issue was “turning ugly” and he criticised the complainant’s father who was embroiled in the neighbour’s dispute.
Town councillor Ben Prest wrote, again ahead of the hearing, that “it’s obvious that Sam is in the right”.
And town and district councillor Garry Tibbs, another former mayor, wrote: “Political shenanigans, disguised by using people outside of the council. Sigh…..”
Mr Patrick has told Fenland Council he believes CllrTierney’s actions could be construed as having brought the council into disrepute.
He said the thread was allowed to develop to cause distress to the complainants and to try and get the complaint withdrawn.
Mr Patrick said he felt Cllr Tierney “trying to influence or pervert the course of the case by his actions”.
Fenland Council will now review his dossier.