Wellingborough councillor found to have breached Code of Conduct during meeting

It follows complaints about comments made during a council meeting last June

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 9:00 am
Cllr Robert Gough

A Wellingborough councillor has been found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct during a meeting last summer.

Wellingborough Council's standards assessment sub committee met in August and September last year to consider separate complaints relating to Cllr Robert Gough breaching the Councillor Code of Conduct on June 16, 2020.Each committee decided the complaint merited further investigation by an independent investigator.

A report by the independent investigator this February concluded there was evidence of a failure to comply with the code of the conduct and it was agreed that a meeting of the standards hearing sub committee should be convened.

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The decision notice following the hearing on March 4 says Cllr Gough, who represents the Earls Barton ward, did not attend, had not submitted apologies and was not represented.

The committee proceeded in his absence and considered the report of the independent investigator, with the committee upholding the two complaints and determining that Cllr Gough had breached the following paragraphs of the Code of Conduct:

- 2.1: provide leadership to the authority and communities within its area, by personal example

- 2.2: respect others and not bully any person

- 2.5: not misconduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as likely to bring your office or the authority into disrepute

- 2.6: act solely in the public interest and should never use or attempt to use your position improperly to confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, a friend or close associate

- 2.15: promote and support high standards of conduct, in particular as characterised by the above requirements, by leadership and example.

In deciding what action to take if any in respect of the breach, the committee noted that Cllr Gough had not submitted any mitigation.

The decision notice says the matter was aggravated by the fact that when interviewed by the independent investigator Cllr Gough remained firm in his belief that he was justified in making the statement and he would be prepared to say it again.

Minutes of the virtual standards hearing sub-committee on March 4 state: "The investigator’s report detailed that she had interviewed the councillor, accompanied by his wife, via a Teams meeting, due to the Covid safety requirements and travel restrictions imposed.

"Her remit was to carry out her independent investigation of the incident that had resulted in a statement being made at the council meeting, both verbally and through the virtual ‘meeting chat’, and the allegations contained therein.

"From her interview, the investigator ascertained that the factual elements of the complaint, that the councillor had prepared and published a statement containing the allegation and shared with councillors, officers and the public, was not in dispute."

And she was of the opinion that Cllr Gough had 'engaged' five parts of the code.

Following the committee's discussion of the report, the minutes state: "Whilst there was some sympathy that the councillor had indicated that he felt he wasn’t being listened too, it was also considered that the council meeting had not been the right place to make such a statement and allegation.

"Members considered that the investigator’s report was succinct and focused on her findings.

"The reputation of the council and a long-standing councillor had been diminished following the councillor’s public statement.

"The councillor had shown no remorse for what he had done and remained firm in the belief that he was justified in making the statement and had stated that he would be prepared to do so again.

"The sub-committee considered separately each paragraph identified in the investigator’s report as being potentially breached and made a determination on each."

In debating the sanctions on offer, the minutes state: "There was great concern about the toll this incident had taken on the lives of all those involved and their families.

"All agreed that any issues should have been raised and resolved outside of the council meeting and that sanctions needed to be appropriate."

And in conclusion, the minutes state: "The sub-committee was satisfied the councillor had breached the code of conduct.

"The sub-committee agreed it was necessary and proportionate for sanctions for breach, although they were limited due to the demise of the Borough Council of Wellingborough at the end of March 2021.

"The Independent Person for Standards, Mr Smith supported the decision and considered that the meeting had been conducted in a satisfactory way."

The committee decided that Cllr Gough be censured for his conduct at the council meeting on June 16, 2020, the findings of this sub-committee be published, and that a report on the findings of the sub-committee be presented, in the form of the minutes of this hearing sub-committee, to the next council meeting.

The minutes of this hearing were included as part of a virtual meeting of Wellingborough Council last night (Tuesday).