Wisbech deputy mayor Steve Tierney loses conduct case against UKIP councillor Alan Lay after claims it was ‘tit for tat’ ‘trivial’ and nothing more than ‘robust’ exchange
- Credit: Archant
The conduct committee of Fenland District Council unanimously dismissed a complaint by the deputy mayor of Wisbech, Councillor Steve Tierney against UKIP councillor Alan Lay. Verbatim minutes from the town council meetings are included at the foot of our report.
Half an hour before the committee met, the newly formed Wisbech Voices non party political group protested on the steps of Fenland Hall before trooping into the council chamber for the hearing. They cheered repeatedly as committee members expressed concern about the complaint before dismissing it.
The hearing nearly never went ahead after Carol Pilson, the monitoring officer, explained that three other complaints regarding the same incident had since been made to the council.
Her solution was for the three new complaints to go forward for screening by effectively a sub committee who would decide whether they should be added to Cllr Tierney’s original complaint.
Councillors were also advised that if they went ahead without the other complaints, it may make it difficult to allow further debate on at least two of the complaints since they were covered similar ground.
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However some councillors questioned why the new complaints had only now come to light.
Committee chairman Sam Hoy explained that she had met with the two independent members to determine if there was a case to be heard but she explained she had taken no part in their decision.
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Once it was agreed to press ahead with the complaint on the table, she stood down as chairman and took no part in the debate.
“I don’t know the detail of the other complaints,” she said.
Councillor Mike Humphrey said: “It’s a shame we knew nothing about the other complaints before now.”
Councillor Rob Skoulding was scathing over the lateness of the other complaints and said “I feel they are playing games with us”.
Cllr Humphrey described the complaint as “trivial”, felt it was “tit for tat” and said he struggled to work out how it had gotten this far,
The complaint stemmed from two meetings of Wisbech Town Council – last November and December- where both council leader David Oliver and the mayor Garry Tibbs wanted debate curtailed over the issue of disabled access.
The November meeting was told of a grievance issue involving former UKIP councillor Brenda Lay after she felt foul of the six month rule for non attendance and lost her seat.
Cllr Oliver explained any discussion by councillors could possibly make it difficult for the staff committee who could later form the grievance committee.
At this point in the meeting the mayor Garry Tibbs warned Cllr Lay: “I am going to advise you to be extremely careful about what you are going to say next after what you have just heard.”
Cllr Lay said: “I don’t believe I need any warning. The letter came from our legal advice and was authorised and written by my wife.”
At the December meeting Cllr Virginia Bucknor questioned why so little had been written up about the complaint and the issue of disabled access.
Cllr Lay told the mayor: “I myself was involved in a bit of an altercation. In fact you got rather stroppy and you demanded that I stop talking. None of that is in the minutes.”
After some more debate Cllr Lay told the mayor: “You actually threatened me.”
The mayor said: “Now that’s a serious allegation. How so may I ask?”
Cllr Lay said: “You said be careful what I said.”
Mayor: “Yes, for your own protection legally. I didn’t threaten you.”
Cllr Lay: “You said to me be careful what you are saying. That is a threat”.
Later in the debate Cllr Tierney said: “I do think we have a situation actually. An accusation has just been made which is quite serious and it should be withdrawn”.
However the issue appeared to have been resolved with Cllr Lay welcoming an earlier statement in the meeting from Cllr Hoy, also a Wisbech town councillor, who suggested a form of words to cover the discussion on disabled access.
Cllr Tierney complained that Cllr Lay’s comments “brings Wisbech Town Council and the office of the mayor into disrepute”.
However the conduct committee acting chairman Chris Boden disagreed, suggesting it was an issue of “democratic free speech”. He also told Tuesday’s hearing “robust” exchanges were effectively part and parcel of local democracy and particularly for councillors in a minority party.
Councillor David Mason reminded the committee of the “history” between the two councillors, particularly of the time “Cllr Tierney put a camera in Cllr Lay’s face” at a council meeting.
Cllr Humphrey also questioned why the mayor had stood up and allegedly pointed at Cllr Lay during the heated exchange.
“It’s a strange thing for a chairman to do,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect him to stand up. When the mayor stood and pointed at Cllr Lay, he considered that to be a threat”.
Councillor Rob Skoulding said it was important for the committee to remember to “respect the position of mayor even if you don’t respect the person who is mayor”.
He said in the paperwork for the hearing he was “upset to read ‘lazy Lay’ and words like ‘scumbag’”.
Cllr Skoulding said: “This is a form of bullying. Every councillor should be there to help their town or parish.
“I know Cllr Lay works long and hard for his town as do all the councillors in this room. I think its time to stop scoring points off each other.”
He said his late father Peter, also a councillor, would have said “if you don’t have anything good to say about each other then do not say anything at all.”
After the committee concluded their deliberations, Cllr Mrs Bucknor informally addressed them to reveal she had verbatim transcripts of both council meetings under scrutiny.
As a former Hansard reporter in the House of Commons – where shorthand note taking of 180 words per minute is a requirement of the job- few doubted their accuracy.
VERBATIM MINUTES OF EXTRACT OF WISBECH TOWN COUNCIL MEETING
21 NOVEMBER 2016
AGENDA ITEMS 12 AND 13
Mayor: “We now move onto Agenda item number 12. Councillor Oliver”.
Councillor Oliver: “Thank you Chairman. Items 12 and 13, I ask for both these items to be deferred. The reason I’m asking for this deferral is we’ve had a letter in today which (pause), I can’t actually read the letter but it will give you an idea why I’m asking for this to be deferred. That is that we’ve actually had, sorry Terry, my mind’s gone, it’s a letter ...
Clerk: “a grievance”
Councillor Oliver: “Thank you Terry. Grievance against the Town Council. And being knowledgeable about what’s happened in the past it would not be a good idea for any of that to be discussed this evening because we have been asked to formulate a Grievance Panel. We have also got to seek legal advice on this as anything that’s said today will actually stop anyone in this room from actually being on a Grievance Panel or taking this further. So I’m asking, I’m proposing, that these two items be deferred until (1) we seek legal advice and (2) as to whether a grievance panel can be held.”
Chairman: “Cllr Hoy has seconded that”.
Cllr Michael Bucknor: “I just wanted to know where the letter came from?”
Cllr Lay: “My wife”.
Cllr Oliver: “I’m not actually at liberty to say. It is actually for a Grievance Panel to actually look at this particular letter via the Staff Policy Committee and that can go forward as other things have gone forward in the past. We’re trying to make sure things are done correctly and that there is no issues or challenges to this. So this will go to the Staff Policy Committee who will formulate a Grievance Panel once we have sought legal advice.”
Mayor: “Councillor Lay. I am going to advise you to be extremely careful about what you are going to say next after what you’ve just heard.”
Councillor Lay: “I don’t believe I need any warning. The letter came from our legal advice and was authorised and wrote by my wife.”
Mayor: “If we hear too much about this we can’t form a Grievance Panel, well we can but not .... (unclear)....
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “I don’t think any of us can be on it anyway”.
Cllr Lay: “I honestly don’t understand ...”
Mayor: “I don’t know the legal implications ...”
Cllr Lay: “We have taken legal advice and I do wish to speak on this when I get the time”.
Cllr Hoy: “Well Cllr Oliver has put a motion in, which I propose, that proposal is now put forward ...(unclear, Councillors shouting). “Point of Order, you can’t take that .... If I’ve got a seconder we have to take the vote ...”
Cllr Michael Bucknor: “But we need to know what you’ve proposed”.
Cllr Hoy: “What I’m proposing is that we immediately vote on Cllr Oliver’s proposal which is to defer.”
Cllr Michael Bucknor: “Well I didn’t know that. So we do have to be informed.”
Mayor: “What Cllr Oliver is proposing that we defer until the next meeting or ...”
Cllr Oliver: “We defer until we receive legal advice as to whether or not we can formulate a Grievance Panel and any decisions from that as until it has gone through the process we can’t have any discussion because as soon as a Councillor makes their opinion known or they hear an opinion they cannot take part in being on the Grievance Panel and, as you know from our previous issues there are only a finite number of Councillors and once you start knocking people out it becomes more and more difficult to create a panel.”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “I don’t wish to speak on that matter at all. What I want to make sure is that at some point we discuss, in this Council, the situation with regard to disabled people accessing ...”
Cllr Human: “Point of order Mr Chairman, point of order”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “I want to discuss (Councillors shouting point of order). I want to have a general discussion that access ... “(Cllr Human shouting). I am amazed you are speaking like this. Will you please stop barracking me. I want to actually ensure that at some point ...”
Mayor: “Mrs Bucknor. “We are voting to defer. Which means ....”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “I am trying to ensure that we have an agenda item, details about access to this building for disabled people. Nothing to do with what Cllr Lay has said”.
Cllr Hoy: “Well, there’s no need”.
Cllr Oliver: “Things Cllr Bucknor has said are actually in the letter”.
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “Oh well, I didn’t know”.
Cllr Oliver: “At this moment in time I advise everybody not to discuss this. If you want to, that’s entirely up to you but I do not want to be put in the position where we can be challenged under any law for mentioning or talking about it when we shouldn’t be.”
Mayor: “I’d like to take a vote. Those in favour? All those against? And all those abstaining? We move onto Agenda Item 14.”
VERBATIM MINUTES OF EXTRACT OF WISBECH TOWN COUNCIL MEETING
19 DECEMBER 2016
AGENDA ITEM NO 110/16
Mayor: “Agenda Item No. 11. All those in favour of accepting the Minutes of the Town Council meeting of 21 November 2016? All those against?
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “No Chair. I’m not accepting the Minutes”.
Mayor: “You’re not accepting it?”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “No. Just on those two items, 12 and 13. As you recall, people got quite heated and were shouting at me actually at the last meeting ...”
Mayor: “During or after the meeting?”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “No. During that meeting. What concerns me is that there is nothing in these minutes, I was trying to clarify that we were going to discuss it at some point (about disabled access). Now I appreciate in the Minutes now that Cllr Oliver is going away and going to look at it but I would like something other than we are going to look at it. The Minutes are extraordinarily brief and added things I don’t recall and I would like ...”
Mayor: “They need to be extraordinarly brief. What is it you would prefer?”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “I would have liked it to have said there was a discussion and Councillors were refused to speak about it, or you can say for legal reasons I don’t mind. But it was quite an upsetting and a serious time and I haven’t seen anything further since the whole matter was raised quite a few weeks ago and what is happening with access for disabled people to this chamber.”
Mayor: “Right. I think we’re in the same situation now as we were at that point in time. So Cllr Lay.”
Cllr Lay: “I would like to add to Councillor Bucknor’s point I myself was involved in a bit of an altercation. In fact you got rather stroppy and you demanded that I stop talking. None of that is in the Minutes. It should have been mentioned there was some sort of discussion. So I along with Cllr Bucknor don’t accept the Minutes as printed.
Mayor: “The discussion was stopping the discussion. That’s what you want in the Minutes?”
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “No.”
Mayor: “Because that’s what we discussed. We didn’t get anywhere else.”
Cllr Lay: “You actually threatened me.”
Mayor: “Now that’s a serious allegation. How so may I ask?”
Cllr Lay: “You said be careful what I said”.
Mayor: “Yes. For your own protection legally. I didn’t threaten you.”
Cllr Lay: “You said to me be careful what you are saying. That is a threat.”
Several members around the chamber say “yes”.
Cllr Cox: “Yes, that’s the trouble”.
(Background Councillors making unclear remarks).
Mayor: “Cllr Miss Hoy”.
Cllr Hoy: “I think rather than this getting heated and personal I think, and I do appreciate that these need to reflect what has happened, I do take that point, so perhaps at the end, because it does say it has to be deferred to enable legal and other indications to be examined, it could say something such as the mayor asked members to stop commenting on this matter and to take note of that fact. Because it has legal implications and you did ask members to stop talking. That’s not inaccurate so it could say, the mayor asked members to stop talking about this issue so we could, you know, because of the legal implications, something like that. We don’t want this to get heated or personal but we do I think need to acknowledge the point that has been made. So that form of wording maybe at the end. So members were asked to stop discussing the issue in case we got into legal problems.
Mayor: “Are you happy with that?”
Cllr Lay: “Yes, that would help.
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “OK”.
Cllr Tierney: “I do think we have a situation actually. An accusation has just been made which is quite serious and it should be withdrawn.”
Cllr Cox: “Here here”.
Mayor: “Would you be happy to withdraw that allegation Cllr Lay?”
Cllr Lay: “I felt it was a threat so my words are there. But I do welcome what Miss Hoy has said. That the addendum at the end would clarify that there was some sort of discussion.”
Cllr Human: “Point of order. We couldn’t have that discussion because it was subjudicy and that’s which you and I tried to do because it was subjudicy.”
(Difficult to hear clearly as far end of the chamber).
Mayor: Cllr Bucknor.
Cllr Michael Bucknor: “All that’s gone on here is that it was a little bit, the discussion was slightly heated and there was no real explanation at that time why. I was sitting here as well and I don’t know who was privy and why we actually couldn’t speak and what nobody asked is whether or not what Cllr Mrs Bucknor was going to say would affect the letter you received and become subjudicy.”
Mayor: “The trouble with that is we didn’t know what Cllr Mrs Bucknor was going to say so ...
Cllr Michael Bucknor: “it was the delivery. Nobody wants to be pulling anyone over the coles, well I don’t anyway, but I can see why comments have been made.”
Mayor: “Can you? Really?”
Cllr Michal Bucknor: “I can, yes. Maybe from my position but I can see why and really we should try and calm it down in my view”.
Cllr Virginia Bucknor: “I agree with Cllr Hoy’s proposal.
Mayor: “OK. So that’s seconded. All of those in favour so I can actually sign the Minutes then”.
A number of Councillors talking but within this, Cllr Hoy asks the clerk for the wording.
Clerk: “Something on the lines of, we now ask members not to speak about this issue because of possible legal consequences.”
Cllr Hoy: “Yes”.
Mayor: “Thank you very much. All those in favour of the revised Minutes? Thank you.
We move onto Agenda item number 12, minutes of committees”.