May 18 2013 Latest news:
By John Elworthy
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
SUSPENDED Wisbech town clerk Erbie Murat claims both council leader Councillor David Oliver and deputy leader Councillor Jonathan Farmer “bullied, harassed, intimidated, threatened and victimised” him.
The extraordinary claims are revealed for the first time today in a complaint by Mr Murat under a local government code of conduct.
He says a meeting with both men on January 7 was a “pre-meditated, co-ordinated attack on me and the office of the town clerk for Wisbech Town Council. In doing so they breached my employment contract”.
Mr Murat, who was suspended at that meeting pending investigations, also claims that information (allegedly) leaked to this newspaper “was in breach of my contract of employment- and that these behaviours breach the code of conduct of elected members”.
The matter is going before the conduct committee of Fenland District Council next Thursday since it also handle complaints against town and parish councils.
Background to the case is revealed in emails circulated to conduct committee members.
On January 22, Mr Murat told Alan Pain, monitoring officer at Fenland Council, that Cllr Oliver suspended him as a direct result of concerns raised previously over victimisation.
“Cllr Oliver proceeded to talk to me in a bullying, harassing, intimidating and threatening manner,” said Mr Murat.
A letter dated January 7 and addressed to Mr Murat and signed by Cllr Oliver informed him of his suspension.
“On January 7 you committed acts of misconduct listed in the staff handbook that every employee is expected to follow,” wrote Cllr Oliver. “This has not been the first time you have done this either.”
Although Mr Murat was expected to return to work on February 6 following a 30 day suspension, this has not happened.
In his complaint to the conduct committee, Mr Murat says he is yet to be “apprised of what if any allegations have been made against me”. The letter simply says “misconduct” but this is not explained.
He also claims Cllr Oliver and Cllr Farmer – also Fenland councillors - have not given him an opportunity to defend himself “it does seem as though I am now on trial in the press”.
Mr Murat says the case has had an “an extremely deleterious effect on me” and that his son was quizzed at school “with questions like ‘what has your father done?’ thereby distracting him from the focus of his exams and possibly affecting his chances of going to university”.
In a written response to the conduct committee, Cllr Oliver insisted conversations with Mr Murat had been “in a non confrontational way, questions were asked in a normal manner, no raised voice”.
He said the issues surrounding the town clerk were quickly taken out of his hands and given to a sub committee.
In a report compiled by Ian Hunt, chief solicitor to Fenland Council, he says some documents have been withheld.
“There is no formal definition of what the public interest is. It is, however, not a test of what the public may be interested in,” he said.
Cllr Farmer says the complaint appears to be “both irrelevant and vexatious. I believe any standards committee would be inclined to agree with me”.