Tory councillor Bill Hunt cleared of conduct charges says he feels ‘battered and bruised by politically motivated complaint’ by Lib Dems

From left: Cllr Chrstine Whelan (Lib Dem); Cllr Bill Hunt (Conservative) and Cllr Alison Whelan (Lib

From left: Cllr Chrstine Whelan (Lib Dem); Cllr Bill Hunt (Conservative) and Cllr Alison Whelan (Lib Dem). Cllr Hunt was cleared of allegations by both the Whelans of alleged discriminatory comments. Picture; ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Tory councillor Bill Hunt says he remains “battered and bruised” despite being cleared of allegations that he had failed to treat with respect a same-sex married couple who are both members of the same council.

"I think it is disgraceful that councillors are wasting their time trivial issues when they should be getting on working for the benefit of the community," said Cllr Hunt.

He was speaking following the decision by East Cambridgeshire District Council to dismiss the complaint against Cllr Hunt made by Lib Dem councillors Christine and Alison Whelan.

Maggie Camp, the legal services manager and monitoring officer, said she had consulted with the independent scrutinizer on councillors' conduct and concluded there was no case to answer.

"We can see little evidence that your comments amounted to a breach of the member code of conduct and it is therefore our view that no further action should be taken in relation to this complaint," Ms Camp told Cllr Hunt.

But he accused the Whelans of launching a "politically motivated complaint and subsequently on social media my actions were described as homophobic and mysonogic".

He said: "I have not got a bone in my body that is concerned about these issues or is dedicated to criticism of these issues

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"I treat other councillors as councillors; race, creed sexual orientation is not in my horizons. I just want to get things done.

Cllr Hunt said: "This sort of behaviour cannot be allowed to continue, it is counter productive and actually my big concern it will cause harm and offence to those people who are genuine victims of hate crimes which of course I abhor."

He added: "I went into a pub and someone said 'here comes the old homophobe' and however many times an apology is made, the smoke is still around my name and that is really upsetting."

The code of conduct complaint was brought by Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine and followed comments allegedly made by Cllr Hunt at a council meeting on July 18.

"Cllr Bill Hunt spoke in a manner by which he breached members' code of conduct in that he failed to treat Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan with respect," said the complaint filed separately by both councillors.

"He acted in a bullying manner, which has the appearance of being because Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan are a same-sex married couple as defined by the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013."

Both councillors argued that as a married same-sex couple they are protected under the equalities law and that the council has a duty to acknowledge and implement those principles.

The councillors claimed that in two speeches at the council meeting he "repeated that he had no idea which councillor was which.

"This was repeated more than once even though the difference had been pointed out to him."

They argued that it was obvious which councillor was which since one has only recently joined the council and the other had been a member for some time.

"It is impossible that Cllr Hunt did not know which councillor he was referring to," says their complaint.

They said that Cllr Alison Whelan subsequently pointed out these facts to Cllr Hunt and there was, therefore, no way could he not know who he was talking about.

"Yet in a second speech on the same issue he repeated the same problem of not knowing who was who," they say.

"Cllr Christine Whelan was first elected to the council in September 2017 and Cllr Alison Whelan is a new councillor following the May 2019 elections.

"Cllr Hunt was also on the council prior to May 2019 and even attended the election count when Cllr Christine Whelan was first elected in a by-election, he is clearly aware which of these two people Cllr Christine Whelan is."

Their complaint that "by failing to acknowledge that Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan are independent people, who look different, who act differently and have different responsibilities on the council, Cllr Hunt has failed to treat both Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan with respect as required by the members code of conduct.

"Further, the repetition of this when speaking for a second time on the same matter after Cllr Alison Whelan had already corrected him is further evidence that this was intentional."

Both councillors say: "The motivation for this lack of respect is related to the surname that both Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan have, which is a result of their marriage.

"As such, this is a breach of their rights under the Equality Act 2010 and is a breach of the members' code of conduct"

They argued that the manner in which Cllr Hunt spoke "was not only meant to demean but was also intended to intimidate both Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan due to denigrating their status as individuals and as equal members of the council.

"This is bullying and is a breach of the code of conduct; further, Cllr Hunt's actions are contrary to the council's own single equalities policy and risk bringing the council into conflict with its own policy which requires it to take action to tackle discrimination and to challenge discrimination."

The two councillors added: "It is also noted that there is a married (opposite-sex) couple who share the same surname and also two brothers who also share the same surname yet Cllr Hunt has never had a problem in separately identifying these councillors, leading to the only conclusion that his actions were a premeditated attack on Cllr Alison Whelan and Cllr Christine Whelan."

In a separate move Cllr Alison Whelan is proposing an "inclusivity motion" for debate at East Cambs Council in October.

"This is important as a Freedom of Information request indicates that the council has spent nothing on supporting LGBT+staff or residents in the last five years", she said.

"Unfortunately, inclusivity is not at the heart of life at the current time and it was rather devastating to feel as if I was being excluded at a previous meeting."