It is not ‘mansions in Mayfair’ but over claiming mileage conduct hearing told as they find Cllr Simon King breached code of conduct
PUBLISHED: 17:47 31 October 2018
Councillor Simon King has been found guilty of breaching the code of conduct at Fenland District Council.
His mitigation – that included his barrister claiming ‘we’re not talking mansions in Mayfair or lining his own pockets’ – fell on deaf ears.
Councillors on the conduct committee agreed with an external investigator’s report that felt the evidence was clear cut that Cllr King had falsely claimed excessive mileage for some of his journeys.
Although the sums that had been overpaid – totally over £1,500 – had been repaid some time ago, the committee decided to issue Cllr King with a formal reprimand.
Legal chiefs at Fenland Council will draw up the letter that will be sent to him in coming days.
The committee also decided that in future all new councillors will be given guidance on expense claims.
Committee members accepted there was little they could add by way of sanctions but the ruling could have massive implications for Cllr King’s political future.
They also expressed concern about the public’s perception of councillors and their expenses claims and this will be an issue that will come before a future meeting of the ruling Conservative group. Although his Tory colleagues are unlikely to press for his expulsion from the party ( that’s not within their remit) they could decide to withdraw the party whip for a period of time.
This in itself would complicate Cllr King’s wish, should he desire, to stand for re-election next May.
If he does have the whip withdrawn, the local Conservative association might well decide to offer his electorate an alternative candidate.
In the meantime his position as a county council remains unchanged.
The issue stemmed from a major investigation commissioned by the council after a provisional report found he had a case to answer when false mileage claims came to light.
The council commissioned solicitor Jonathan Goolden to carry out the investigation. His findings were before councillors at today’s hearing. Mr Goolden said, on one occasion Cllr King tried to claim twice for 70 miles for attending a meeting in March. Cllr King had also tried to claim train tickets to London for personal business on the same day, he said.
“He was told he must not play cat and mouse with those processing claims,” said Mr Golden.
“He has attempted to misuse the system. I have concerns for his pattern ofcslaims.”
Cllr King told the hearing he felt he had been singled out but the meeting noted no other councillors seemed to have problems with claims.
Expenses queried include claims for travelling from Rugby Leicester and Swaffham to Fenland Hall and a 10 mile journey from his Wisbech home to a meeting five minutes walk away at the Boat House.
Another was for 71 miles instead of 32 because he claimed from a dental appointment in Peterborough to a council meeting
He also claimed for a journey from Wisbech to Huntingdon rail station and a train ticket to London and back to FDC.
Cllr King said: “When I came back from London I didn’t come back for personal business I came back for council business.”
Conduct committee chairman Cllr Sam Hoy said: “You would have come back anyway!”
He tried to claim rail and petrol in December 2015. When that was refused he dropped the rail tickets and tried to just claim the miles.
At one point Cllr King claimed his milometer was 10 per cent out.
His lawyer Mike McGee said: “Cllr King was asked at short notice to come back to the council meeting which meant he had to cut hsort his day of meetings in London and go back on another day which incurred additional expenses.”
“He was not off on jollies or freebies, he was seeking reimbursement for expenses he genuinely incurred.”
In another claim Cllr King travelled to King’s Lynn to represent his constituents at a West Norfolk Borough Council planning meeting over a Norfolk/Cambridgeshire development where one of the access points involved an access to the back of B&Q in Wisbech.
His wife took his car keys to work by mistake so he went in a taxi to make sure he got to the meeting in time and came home on the bus.