Higham Ferrers councillor to face hearing over ‘offensive’ tweets

Tory councillors Heather smith and Jason Smithers clashed on Twitter.
Tory councillors Heather smith and Jason Smithers clashed on Twitter.

A Higham Ferrers councillor will face a standards hearing over tweets posted just 12 days after he was elected.

Conservative Jason Smithers won a Northamptonshire County Council by-election on February 15 this year.

Cllr Smithers' tweet to Cllr Smith.

Cllr Smithers' tweet to Cllr Smith.

But on February 27 he posted a tweet to then-leader Cllr Heather Smith and one mentioning finance portfolio holder Cllr Robin Brown that drew complaints from the pair.

Next Friday (September 21) he will face a committee over the tweets, which Cllrs Smith and Brown say breach the council’s own code of conduct.

His tweet to Cllr Brown accompanied a link to a Chron story about the council’s cuts putting 21 small libraries at risk.

The tweet said: “This sucks Cllr Robin Brown you have been asleep at the controls.

Cllr Robin Brown.

Cllr Robin Brown.

“Your (sic) about as much use as a condom with a hole in it. #failedleadership”

Cllr Brown said that he found the tweet offensive and bullying in that it likened him ‘to something useless and to use such a crude and sexual reference is a bullying action’.

He added that he considers that the tweet would reasonably bring the authority into disrepute.

Cllr Smithers, who has since been elected as the mayor of Higham Ferrers, admitted he could have used “better terminology”.

Cllr Smithers was elected as mayor of Higham Ferrers this year.

Cllr Smithers was elected as mayor of Higham Ferrers this year.

He said: “The reference I made was probably not the best terminology to use – I could have said a chocolate teapot – but Cllr Robin Brown just had to leave and was refusing to.”

In a separate tweet to Cllr Smith, who resigned as leader two weeks later, Cllr Smithers said: “@LeaderNCC cllr Smith why don’t you just throw in the towel just go before you cause anymore damage to the reputation of the council.

“You and some members of your cabinet have failed.

“I hope that the SFO is brought in to investigate your conduct. #failedleadership”

Cllr Smith said she found the tweet ‘very offensive’ and bullying, adding that it would bring the authority into disrepute.

She said: “I consider this to be a personal attack which is different to just posing a challenge.”

Cllr Smith’s complaint surrounds the use of the acronym SFO, which she understood to mean Serious Fraud Office.

But Cllr Smithers says he was referring to the Scrutiny Finance Officer.

He said: “At no time did I think I was referring to the Serious Fraud Office, and I was not implying that either of the councillors had committed any fraud.”

A further post made by Cllr Smithers on March 13 - which has since been deleted but was screengrabbed by the council - did mention the Serious Fraud Office.

Accompanying another Chron story, the tweet said: “What can be added to this story investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

“It’s time for the leadership to move on and allow the rest of the council to clear up this mess.

“Mass resignations is the only way to clear this away.”

In investigation documents marked confidential but published on the county council’s website, it’s noted that Cllr Smithers had not received induction training or seen a copy of the code of conduct at the time he posted the tweets on February 27.

It is the view of the investigating officer that Cllr Smithers did breach the code of conduct.

The panel hearing, at 2pm at One Angel Square, will determine whether Cllr Smithers breached the code of conduct and if so, what any sanction should be.