Councillor accused of breaching code of conduct says parish council is targeting him in a ‘witch hunt’

A parish councillor accused of breaching the code of conduct has accused his colleagues of engaging in a ‘witch hunt’ against him.

Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 7:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 7:43 pm
Northampton Borough Council's standards committee is looking into complaints regarding an Upton parish councillor
Northampton Borough Council's standards committee is looking into complaints regarding an Upton parish councillor

Councillor Robert Barrett, who is an elected member of Upton Parish Council, has been referred to Northampton Borough Council for an alleged breach of the code.

No official reason has been given yet as to why the complaint has been made, but the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Councillor Barrett has been accused of bullying members of staff at the parish council. It is understood a number of clerks have left their posts in recent years. But Councillor Barrett has said that the accusations are ‘nonsense’.

A standards hearing at The Guildhall on Monday morning (November 18) had been due to determine whether Councillor Barrett had breached the code. But the meeting has been adjourned after he argued that the parish council had not followed its own policies.

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He told the standards committee that Upton Parish Council had failed to abide by its own ‘Dignity At Work’ policy by granting him a grievance hearing.

Speaking at the standards hearing, he said: “At no point prior to this have the parish council undertaken this particular action. I would argue that this breaches policy. They have taken it upon themselves to ignore this. I have brought it to their attention and they have dismissed it. I have not been given the opportunity to defend myself internally and I believe that breaches their internal obligations.

“I would ask that you return this to them so that they undertake the policy in place. If they then find it has a case to answer they can refer it back to yourselves through the appropriate channels.

“But if we have dispensed with the policy then I must question all of the other policies that they have adopted, including the code of conduct. Either they run with the policies they have or they mean nothing at all.”

The perceived breaches of the code of conduct were referred to the borough council’s monitoring officer by Councillor Shaun Pape, the chairman of Upton Parish Council, after a number of complaints were received by the parish. It was unanimously agreed at a full parish council meeting on May 14, 2018, to refer these complaints to the borough council’s monitoring officer. The minutes of that meeting name Councillor Barrett as the member in question.

Councillor Barrett added: “The chairman, without consultation with any of the councillors, dismissed that route. He wanted vengeance and wanted it to go straight to the monitoring officer. They have their cake and they want to eat it.

“I keep mentioning that this is a witch hunt, and this is part and parcel of it. It demonstrates the intent of these people to slander me.

“I’m asking this to be referred back to the parish council. They have to go through their processes first. Referring it here without that first process is, I think, an injustice.”

The arguments from Councillor Barrett, who was supported by one fellow parish councillor Darrin Stevens, persuaded the borough council’s deputy monitoring officer Laurie Gould to adjourn the meeting for a second time – with a previous meeting in July also having been deferred.

The standards committee will reconvene in the New Year in order to allow Mr Gould the necessary time to read the parish council’s Dignity At Work policy.

Councillor Barrett had previously been accused of ‘turning down’ opportunities to meet with the borough council’s investigating officer, and he was asked by Mr Gould if he would now be ‘willing’ to get on board.

The councillor responded: “I have no objections to meeting whatsoever. But I object to being given half the picture. How am I supposed to defend myself against allegations from unnamed people? There should be no immunity as far as I am concerned. Most of these allegations are not verbal, so if they are all emails then bring them forward. Quite frankly I’m not going to go down the route of he or she said. I think it’s improper to expect me to defend myself when I have half the picture. It’s either full access or no access.”

But Mr Gould responded: “The law does recognise that people who give information can do so on a confidential basis. And the ombudsman recognises that the right of confidentiality has to be respected, and we have to respect that.”

The details of the complaints were not made public during the meeting and were contained in private papers which were read by councillors prior to the meeting beginning.

Councillor Barrett – who states on his biography on the parish council’s website that he has a ‘direct, no nonsense approach who does not entertain or suffer fools and laggards lightly’ – had previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he ‘refused to join the collective ‘Private Members Club’ that purports to be a representative local body’.