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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Unjust’ verdict in code of conduct clash at parish council

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A newly elected parish councillor is furious that his vice chairman Charles Roberts was exonerated over remarks made to him prior to his election.

Cllr Roberts (top left) described Cllr Doug Stuart (top right) at the July parish council meeting as “a disgrace; you seek to destroy what is good in this community”.

Cllr Roberts, a former leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, also told Cllr Stuart that “you make up numbers, you pluck things from the air to suit your own twisted arguments”.

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And, for good measure, Cllr Roberts, vice chairman of Stretham Parish Council, accused Cllr Stuart of being “the most ill-informed resident in the village”.

Cllr Roberts was also reported as saying that Cllr Stuart “follows councillors home from these meetings, kerb crawling them”.

He also told Cllr Stuart his actions were “part of your pattern to destroy what is good -in this community, you tell lies”.

However, a complaint made by Cllr Stuart to East Cambs Council – that oversees parish council codes of conduct – concluded that Cllr Roberts had no case to answer.

Election result, Stretham August 2022

Cllr Stuart, (he won a keenly contested by election last month against three others) believes the ‘verdict’ is unjust.

He wants East Cambs to reconsider the complaint “with somebody competent in law as clearly the returning officer either made a mistake or deliberately cited court cases with no relevance to try to protect Cllr Roberts”.

Cllr Stuart said Cllr Roberts had “tried to defame my character by lying about my actions, my intentions and claiming I committed criminal acts.

“There was no basis or evidence for any of these accusations and they were used to protect himself and the council and community land trust which is heavily linked with the parish and district council.

“I am sure some people who have believed the comments and now see me, a local businessman, as a liar, a disgrace and believe I committed a criminal offence by kerb crawling. All completely made up.

“This will have damaged views on myself and my local business.”

Cllr Stuart said all he had done previously as a member of the public was to attend meetings and ask questions.

Maggie Camp, East Cambs solicitor and monitoring officer, that she and the independent members of the public who consider code of conduct issues, all agreed there had been no breach of the code.

She told Cllr Stuart: “We noted that Cllr Roberts accepts the words used. Whilst we believe he could perhaps have chosen his words more carefully; we are mindful of Cllr Roberts’ right to freedom of expression”.

Ms Camp said this was protected under the Human Rights Act and quoted case law to support her conclusions.

One case she said, “recognised that what was said by elected politicians was subject to enhanced protection and that protection applied to all levels of politics, including local government which includes parish councils”.

Cllr Roberts told Ms Camp, during the investigation, that he accepts he had said the words to Cllr Stuart but “the context of the comments is absent.

“My words were not unprovoked and followed yet another statement from Mr Stuart.

“On these occasions his intimidation had reached new levels. For this meeting Mr Stuart had set up a video recording prior to making his statement. I have no doubt he did this hoping to elicit a reaction from me.

“Over a prolonged period, Mr Stuart had made spurious statements about me which are unfounded and certainly untrue.

“Against a backdrop of Mr Stuart continuously spreading mistruths about my involvements and motivations in both Stretham and Wilburton Community Land Trust (SWCLT) and parish business, I felt it necessary to call out his actions in public and I felt I had to other choice than to do this at a parish council meeting.”

Cllr Roberts continued: “The allegation that I was slanderous is laughable and I maintain that everything I have said is true.

“It seems nonsensical to me that Mr Stuart can conduct assassinations on my character, yet because I hold public office, I am denied an opportunity to address his behaviour.

“Those that know me would never describe my nature as bullying or threatening. It is simply not my nature.

“I accept that I am elected and therefore I am required to hold a higher standard, but such is human nature there is only so much an individual can withstand.

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“I held my counsel for many months but at the last parish council meeting enough was enough.

“I felt that the only opportunity I had to defend myself and my family and call out this continuous appalling behaviour of Mr Stuart was to respond at the parish council meeting to show publicly that I and others can no longer tolerate his behaviour.”

Cllr Roberts said: “I would like to put on record that all my efforts are directed solely for the benefit of improving the lives of, and opportunities for, the good people of Stretham.

“Everything I have done and everything I will continue to do is for the good of the community.

“In previous months and at several parish council meetings Mr Stuart has attended and given multiple repetitive statements that call in to question my integrity.

“One example of this is Mr Stuart’s persistent insistence of impropriety relating to a relation of mine living in an SWCLT property; a matter where I had declared an interest and took no part in the decision of the committee.

“Mr Stuart continues to either knowingly or mistakenly misunderstand the difference between SWCLT business and parish council business. It is my belief that this misunderstanding feeds the mistruths that he promotes to continuously discredit me.”

“On several occasions Mr Stuart has been warned to conduct himself respectfully and appropriately at parish council meetings.

“I strongly believe and there is evidence to suggest that Mr Stuart’s complaint is politically motivated and yet another attempt to smear my good name and standing in

And that should not have included “trying to bully and intimidate me to stop attending meetings and asking difficult questions, mostly in relation in the links with the land trust and how public money is being spent”.

Cllr Stuart dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion he should not have video recorded a meeting.

“Recording meetings is completely legal and whilst Cllr Roberts might find it intimidating having the public aware of what is actually happening at these meetings, I do not believe this gives him any right to act in the way he did way,” he said.

“His actions breach some of the Nolan principles and some principles written at the top of your code of conduct,” he said.

Ms Camp felt Cllr Stuart “did not provide any evidence of bullying or intimidation over and above what was said in a public meeting.

“Further, the response from Councillor Roberts provides some background and context as to why he said what he did and it was dear that this was in response to statements that you have made over the course of several months, statements you made in the meeting and your actions in setting up a video recording of the meeting.

 “We therefore do not believe that councillor Roberts has breached the code of conduct in relation to bullying and intimidation.

“In light of our view in respect of bullying and intimidation, we do not feel that Councillor Roberts’ words have brought the parish council into disrepute.”

East Cambs chief executive John Hill also refused to intervene.

He said that the council could consider a complaint about the process of a code of conduct complaint but could not change its outcome.

“There is no complaints or appeal process for the actual decision made,” he said.

“I am therefore unable to review the court cases cited or the relevance of the reference to you recording the meeting as you have requested, as these relate to the decision regarding your code of conduct complaint.

Mr Hill told Cllr Stuart: “If you are not satisfied with this response, you have the right to take your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. Complete the form on the Local Government Ombudsman website or call their advice line on 0300 0610614.

“The ombudsman does not operate a right of appeal against a council’s decision on member conduct complaints but can consider if there was fault in the way the council considered the complaint.

“They will only investigate complaints if there is sufficient injustice to warrant our involvement or they consider it in the public interest to do so.

“They may also be able to investigate complaints about the way the council has investigated the complaint about parish or town councillors.

“But would need to consider what they could ultimately achieve as they could not investigate the actions of the town or parish council itself.”

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