Venue: By Zoom. View directions
Contact: Carol Johnson 01597 826206
To receive apologies for absence.
There were no apologies.
The Chair welcomed everyone to the hearing. The Sub Committee members and Council officers introduced themselves and the Chair introduced the Ombudsman’s representatives and noted the witnesses in attendance.
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest from Members relating to items to be considered on the agenda.
There were no declarations of interest.
To consider whether or not the press and public should be excluded from the hearing into the report of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales under:
· Section 100 (A) 4 of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended) on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 13 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A of the Act, and
· Section 100 (A) 4 of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended) on the grounds that it involves information which is subject to any obligations of confidentiality and that it applies to the deliberations of a Standards Committee established under the provisions of Part 3 of the Local Government Act 2000 in reaching any finding on a matter referred to it as defined in paragraphs 18 (a) and 18 (c).
Conducting those deliberations in public might inhibit full and frank discussion to the detriment of the administration of the business of the committee.
Members are asked to consider whether the public interest in maintaining the
exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information, when
considering excluding the public from this part of the meeting.
The Chair explained the format of the hearing.
Stage 1 – Preliminary Procedural Issues
The Monitoring Officer advised that Councillor Johns was not present at the hearing, was not represented and had not sent any representations. He confirmed that Councillor Johns had been given sufficient notice of the date of the hearing. The Monitoring Officer reminded the Sub-Committee that at its meeting on 26 February 2021 it had agreed to adopt the County Council’s Procedure for Dealing with Allegations made against Councillors, as set out in Rule 18.4 of the Constitution of Powys County Council. He referred the Sub-Committee to paragraphs 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 which referred to the failure of a councillor to make representations and if a councillor fails to be present or be represented at a hearing, respectively. The Sub-Committee had to consider whether to continue in Councillor Johns’ absence or adjourn the meeting.
The Monitoring Officer advised that Councillor Johns had been contacted via email at various stages and in one email he had advised that he had appointed a solicitor to represent him.
The Standards Community Sub-Committee considered whether or not to proceed in the absence of Councillor Johns. The Sub-Committee considered whether it should adjourn to allow Councillor Johns to be contacted by telephone to enable him to join the meeting should he wish to do so. The Sub-Committee concluded that Councillor Johns had been given sufficient notice of the date of the meeting, had ample opportunity to submit representations and had not provided any evidence of why he was unable to attend.
Accordingly, the Standards Community Sub-Committee decided to proceed in the absence of Councillor Johns.
The Sub-Committee considered whether the to hold the hearing in public or private [paragraph 18.4.10 of the adopted procedures]. The Monitoring Officer referred the Sub-Committee to the revised Public Services Ombudsman Wales [PSOW] code of conduct guidance, issued May 2021, where the presumption was that hearings would be held in public unless the Sub-Committee considered that there was good reason to move into private session [paragraph 1.28]. The Sub-Committee agreed that the hearing should be held in public as there was no good reason to exclude the public and that Councillor Johns had not made any representations.
Consideration of representations and final determination of a report prepared by the public services ombudsman for wales under section 71 (2) of the local government act 2000 [Ref 201907610}
To consider the report of the Monitoring Officer. The report is about an investigation by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales into a complaint that a Knighton Town Council councillor may have breached the Code of Conduct of the Town Council.
Stage 2 – Making the Finding of Facts
Following a complaint to the Ombudsman that the Member Councillor Johns, Knighton Town Council may have failed to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Ombudsman decided to investigate. The Ombudsman considered the complaint and concluded that there was evidence to suggest that the
Member had breached the following provisions of the Code of Conduct:
• 4(b) – to show respect and consideration for others;
• 4(c) – not to use bullying behaviour or harass any person;
• 6(1)(a) - not to conduct himself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing his office or authority into disrepute.
The Standards Community Sub-Committee considered the written report of the Ombudsman’s investigation and oral submission from the Assistant Investigation Manager [“the Ombudsman’s Representative”] and witnesses. The Sub-Committee noted that Councillor Johns had not submitted any representations regarding the disputed facts and had not submitted any comments on the draft Ombudsman’s report.
In response to a question regarding the weight that should be given to the Police caution which had been accepted by Councillor Johns, the Ombudsman’s Representative advised that Councillor Johns had indicated that he only accepted the caution in respect of the abusive language he used towards the Chair of the meeting in question. However, the Ombudsman’s Representative advised that this was not clear from the evidence provided by the police in their account of the incident. She advised that the caution refers to threatening abusive and insulting words and behaviour and disorderly behaviour towards the whole meeting. The Monitoring Officer referred the Sub-Committee to the police’s incident log of 18 March 2020 within their agenda papers.
The Committee withdrew to a private meeting to consider the matter of disputed facts.
After reaching their decision the Sub-Committee returned to the public meeting and the Chair announced that the Standards Community Sub-Committee had decided on the matter of disputed facts as follows:
1. Did Councillor Johns use further rude and abusive language?
That, based on the submission of witness statements and the oral evidence of witnesses Rev. Dare, Rev. Goodband and Mrs Hardwick, Councillor Johns used offensive rude and abusive language on two occasions to an open public meeting and to Mrs Hardwick directly when he told her to “F… off” and called her “ginger”.
Examples of the swear words used include, but are not limited to:
“Fucking wankers” (Reported by Mrs Hardwick, Mr Alker, Dr Goodband and Mr Harding)
“Fucking bastards” (Reported by Mr Alker, Ms England and Ms Williams)
“Fucking Nazis” (Reported by Dr Goodband and Mr Harding)
The Sub-Committee accepted that evidence and unanimously decided that Councillor Johns had used further rude and abusive language over and above his admission.
2. Did Councillor Johns show aggressive, bullying and/or harassing behaviour towards Mrs Hardwick and others?
The Sub-Committee heard evidence that Councillor Johns had an aggressive manner, for example, in standing up he knocked a chair to the ground. Witnesses also reported Councillor Johns to be shouting and swearing at ... view the full minutes text for item 4.