It is clear from Cllr Maynard’s remarks that Rother is determined not to learn anything from the recent appeal tribunal judgements. He seems to be arguing that the score was 2-1 to Rother. But Rother’s two goals actually relate to one and the same event, which was that I did not declare a prejudicial interest and failed to leave the room, hardly in the same league as Rother’s attempt to suppress the right of councillors to freedom of speech and to engage in political activity, which would have had national ramifications.
Cllr Maynard is understandably keen to deflect public attention from Rother’s fundamental legal error. But he is grasping at straws by seeking to derive comfort from the judgement against me. Consider what the appeal tribunal actually said, which was that my action was “not a serious breach [of the councillors’ code] and no consequences flowed from it”. In other words, the breaches to which Cllr Maynard attaches so much importance were technical and not material. That is why the tribunal overturned Rother’s sanction, even though this was only a censure. Even a censure was felt to be a “disproportionate sanction in the particular circumstances”.
Rother would like to believe I was “attempting to use [my] position to improperly advantage [myself]” by failing to declare a prejudicial interest. Most members of the public will assume that a “prejudicial interest” is a financial one and indeed that is what Rother tried to argue. But the tribunal rejected Rother’s argument and stated explicitly that my interest was not financial. Moreover, the tribunal highlighted the fact that I had made “full disclosure of [my] interest and involvement” in the local not-for-profit organisation being discussed, by declaring a personal interest.
The point also needs to be made that I breached the code by failing to leave the room during a confidential meeting of Icklesham Parish Council to discuss a course of action which the law does not allow councils to take! In other words, the breach was not only technical but also hypothetical!
Cllr Maynard’s conclusion is that Rother has a duty to investigate complaints against councillors. I would not disagree but I would argue that Rother also has a duty, before spending tax-payers’ money, to exercise judgement and commonsense by determining whether complaints are vexatious and therefore unlikely to be proven if pursued. It failed to do so in Winchelsea, which means that, at the end of the day, all that Rother has to show for over £10,000 of tax-payers’ money is a technical (and hypothetical) breach of the councillors’ code of conduct.
As for Cllr Maynard wish that councillors with different opinions should keep a “low profile”, I bet he does! The one-party state that is Rother District Council rolls on.