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Councillor breached code of conduct


A Tendring District Councillor has been found to have breached the councillors’ Code of Conduct.

A complaint was made regarding Councillor Nick Turner’s behaviour during two virtual meetings of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) in June last year.

Ernest Gibson, a councillor at South Tyneside Council and Chairman of the SIG, claimed Councillor Turner breached the district council’s Members’ Code of Conduct by failing to treat others with respect during a “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful verbal attack” on an Environment Agency officer during a meeting to provide feedback on the agency’s Shoreline Management Plan Explorer tool on 5 June 2023.

He was also accused of making constant interruptions and behaving in an overbearing manner following a presentation by the RNLI at the group’s quarterly meeting on 29 June.

Councillor Gibson also alleged that at that meeting Councillor Turner made “highly offensive” and “racist remarks” about people of Afro-Caribbean descent, with the “implication that members of the community were unable or unwilling to learn how to float”.

The complainant added that Councillor Turner then made “comments about the clothing that people of specific faiths wear when in the sea, indicating that in his view, the clothing was inappropriate”.

Melvin Kenyon, of Kenyon Brabrook Ltd, was appointed as the external investigator of the complaints; and, following an investigation, concluded there was sufficient evidence to show Councillor Turner, based on a balance of probabilities and the evidence available, had breached the code on four counts.

He added that Councillor Turner’s remarks were, on the balance of probability, “made out of ignorance rather than malice and that his language was clumsy and patronising rather than being rooted in what might be described as out-and-out racism”.

The complaints were considered by a meeting of Tendring District Council’s (TDC) Standards Committee yesterday (Thursday, 16 May).

The Committee agreed with both the investigator and the council’s Monitoring Officer that the evidence demonstrated that Councillor Turner was acting ‘in capacity’ as a councillor at the meetings and that he breached the Code of Conduct by failing to treat other councillors with respect and by failing to treat local authority employees, employees, and representatives of partner organisations with respect and failing to respect the role they play.

He was also found to have breached the code by failing to promote equalities and behaving in a discriminatory manner and by bringing his own role and TDC into disrepute.

The committee heard Councillor Turner did offer an apology at the outset and resigned from the SIG, when the complaint was initially received, but the council’s Monitoring Officer did not consider that informal resolution was appropriate due to the wide difference of opinions between the complainant and Councillor Turner on the manner of the debate within the meetings.

Having read the investigation report, Councillor Turner offered a further apology for offence caused by his actions, which was described as “unintended and unconscious on his part”.

A defence submission on behalf of Councillor Turner raised concerns about the investigation’s integrity, and said the elements of the complaint around discrimination were "unfounded and [do] not align with his long-standing record of advocacy for equality in all aspects of council work".

It added: “The incidents in question arose during two meetings, a series of highly charged debates where the boundaries of robust discourse were tested by all participants…The incidents cited as evidence of discriminatory behaviour have been taken out of context and do not reflect the intentions or the actions of Councillor Turner.

“He was intent on highlighting perceived barriers to swimming education and facilities, rather than intending to make derogatory remarks.”

It added: “Councillor Turner has served the council and community with dedication and integrity, consistently striving to enhance the council’s standing and efficacy through his contributions.”

Councillor Ann Wiggins, Chairman of the Standards Committee, said: “The Committee recognises the years of public service undertaken by Councillor Turner on this Council and in raising significant matters of public policy.

“Nothing in this hearing should seek to undermine that legacy.

“We do not consider that there was a conscious discriminatory intent by the words used at the meeting on 29 June.”

The committee agreed on the sanctions of publishing its findings on the council's website, reporting its findings to full council, and instructing the Monitoring Officer to arrange training for Councillor Turner.

In addition, the Committee said that Councillor Turner should apologise to the Coastal SIG and to the Council.

Until the training has been undertaken and apologies issued, Councillor Turner should not be allowed to rejoin any committees or outside bodies.

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