Blackmail, bullying and abuse among complaints made about councillors in county last year
Allegations of blackmail, bullying, and abusive behaviour were among the 27 complaints made about councillors in Shropshire last year, a new report has revealed.
The annual standards report, which will be presented at a Shropshire Council meeting next week, says four of the complaints were referred to the standards committee due to the seniority of the councillor involved or the seriousness of the allegation.
The other 23 cases were determined by monitoring officer Tim Collard.
Mr Collard’s report says 12 of the allegations involved members of Shropshire Council, while 15 concerned town and parish councillors.
One case was referred for an investigation as to whether there had been a breach of the Code of Conduct, but the member involved resigned before it concluded.
The report says: “Although only one complaint was referred for investigation, most involve an initial exchange with the member complained of and this often leads to an apology.
“Given that an investigation itself might not lead to much more than an apology even if a breach of the code is established this is considered a proportionate approach.”
One allegation was that a councillor had threatened another with blackmail, but Mr Collard’s report says the conduct was not in an official capacity so “not relevant”.
He adds: “As the allegation might amount to a criminal offence, the complainant was advised to consider a referral to the police.”
A complaint about a councillor acting in an abusive manner towards a neighbour was also deemed not relevant as they were not acting in an official capacity.
A councillor accused of being “rude and aggressive” offered an apology for their actions, and an apology was also made by another member who was subject to an allegation of “aggressive, abusive and bullying” behaviour.
A complaint was made about a councillor who failed to respond to a plea for help, and this resulted in an apology being offered and assistance provided, the report says.
It adds that two further allegations of bullying were made against councillors but it was determined that there was no evidence the member’s behaviour was in breach of the Code.
The report says many complaints related to comments on social media, but says it is “very difficult” to determine whether a councillor is acting in an official capacity in such cases, particularly when posting on their personal accounts.
Mr Collard also highlights a high number of allegations that a councillor had failed to disclose pecuniary interests, or participated in a debate which relates to their disclosable pecuniary interests.
The report says: “Such allegations, if proven, could amount to a criminal offence so the monitoring officer is reluctant to take any action as to do so risks prejudicing a future criminal investigation undertaken by the police.
“In such circumstances, the complainant is advised to refer the matter to the police for consideration.”
The report also says in the event that an investigation finds a failure to comply with the code, any sanction cannot prevent the councillor involved from representing their electors – meaning suspension or removal from office is not an option.
The report will be discussed at a meeting of the full council next Thursday, March 30.