Wellingborough councillor removed from virtual council meeting for making bullying allegations against leader

Cllr Gough was removed from the council meeting after trying to speak out about his alleged bullying from the leader.Cllr Gough was removed from the council meeting after trying to speak out about his alleged bullying from the leader.
Cllr Gough was removed from the council meeting after trying to speak out about his alleged bullying from the leader.
Cllr Robert Gough says he has been bullied by Wellingborough Council leader Martin Griffiths

A Wellingborough councillor has spoken of the impact on his mental health because of what he describes as bullying from the authority’s leader.

Cllr Robert Gough made a public statement at a virtual meeting of the full council on Tuesday night which was watched by members of the public.

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He tried to outline the devastating impact the situation had had on his mental health recently, however he was shouted down by other councillors who said the correct meeting procedure was not being followed, and was not allowed to finish his pre-prepared statement.

After being told by chairman Cllr Jon-Paul Carr to tone down his comments, Cllr Gough, who is currently suspended from the Conservative Party, said he had pasted his speech in the chat group for other councillors to see and wanted it minuted.

Cllr Carr then said he could read the speech but Cllr Jo Beirne objected saying it was highly inappropriate and offensive. The authority’s legal officer Bhupinder Gill advised the chairman to remove Cllr Gough, who represents Earls Barton, from the meeting.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting (June 17) Cllr Gough said the issue needed to be in the public domain and that his mental health problems, possibly linked to his time serving in the army, were being used against him.

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He made his comments during an agenda item on a proposed pay rise for Leader Martin Griffiths and his deputy Cllr Tom Partridge-Underwood.There has been discontent within the Wellingborough Conservative Group for some weeks.

A group of eight councillors, led by Cllr Gough and Cllr Martyn York and including the Wellingborough MP’s ex-wife Jennie Bone, had asked for a motion of no confidence to go ahead in the leader citing bullying behaviour and pre-empting council committee meetings.

The motion, which would have been carried out by the Wellingborough Conservative Group, did not carry through because the group was one person short for the required vote of no confidence to take place.

The following week Cllr Gough was suspended by the Daventry Conservative Association – his Earls Barton ward falls within the Daventry constituency – following two complaints made against him from two people outside of Wellingborough Council.

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He automatically had the whip removed from the Wellingborough Council conservative group and also from the Conservative group on Northamptonshire County Council.

The Daventry Conservative Association said today there was no timeline for when the investigation would be finished.

In a statement made yesterday Cllr Griffiths said he is proud to be the council leader and he would continue to work with colleagues to ensure the council delivers services through the pandemic.

He said: “I am incredibly saddened and sympathetic that Cllr Gough is suffering at this time, but I was not present for this part of the meeting last night when this occurred.

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“Of course, if he has a grievance to raise, there is a procedure for doing so, however, the conduct last night was not acceptable at a public meeting and I have been contacted today by other members who were concerned by this.

“As leader of the council, I wish to ensure that all of my fellow councillors feel supported in their role and would encourage any councillors to seek appropriate support for their health and wellbeing.”

Cllr Gough says while the investigation proceeds, he is being supported by Conservative Party’s central office with his mental health.

A Wellingborogh council spokesman said: “The council takes any allegations of councillor misconduct very seriously.

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“We are saddened to hear that one of our councillors is experiencing a difficult time, and we are concerned by the comments raised. There are processes in place to offer support for officers and councillors and we will be in touch with Cllr Gough in order to follow this.

“All councillors adhere to a code of conduct and the standards protocol, as part of the council’s constitution. There is a robust complaints process in place, which enables councillors to make a complaint or grievance. The council will then ensure it takes the appropriate steps to investigate any such matters and actions where necessary.”

The Conservative Party’s central office has been contacted for comment.