Councillor accused of 'bullying' clerk as multiple complaints lodged

A parish councillor has been accused of 'bullying' a clerk by bombarding him with emails and repeatedly arguing over the accuracy of minutes. Angela Drakakis-Smith allegedly disrupted meetings at Betley, Balterley and Wrinehill Parish Council by continually complaining about the minutes recorded by now-retired clerk Gwyn Griffiths.

She is also accused of sending Mr Griffiths 192 emails in her first 200 days as a parish councillor and making 'significant' requests for information. Cllr Drakakis-Smith has now faced a standards hearing at Newcastle Borough Council following complaints from Mr Griffiths, three other councillors and a member of the public.

The complainants say that she breached the councillors' code of conduct by failing to show respect to others, bullying and harassing Mr Griffiths, and bringing the parish council into disrepute.

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But Cllr Drakakis-Smith has strongly rejected these allegations, claiming that she was 'speaking truth to power' and that she only wanted to ensure the objectivity of the minutes. And she claims that she herself has been subjected to a 'hostile environment' since joining the parish council in 2022.

Emma Patterson, a solicitor who was asked to carry out an investigation into the complaints, has found 'overwhelming evidence' that Cllr Drakakis-Smith breached the code of conduct.

The standards hearing panel at the borough council will now decide whether they agree with these findings, and if so, what sanctions to recommend to the parish council. Members of the panel heard from Ms Drakakis-Smith during a hearing on Tuesday evening, but have yet to make their determination public.

Ms Patterson's 82-page report on her investigation sets out the multiple complaints made against Cllr Drakakis-Smith. Mr Griffiths, who retired from the parish council last year, claimed that Cllr Drakakis-Smith showed disrespect by repeatedly alleging bias, using phrases such as 'less than even-handed' and 'very selective in a seeming very uneven way' in her comments about the minutes.

He also alleged that Cllr Drakakis-Smith had intimidated him by using her position as a councillor 'to undermine the standing of a long-serving and respected clerk'. And he said that her requests for information, which sometimes involved 'convoluted discussions of matters raised', were unreasonable.

The councillors - Amanda Berrisford, Neil Bullock and Sebastian Daly - made similar allegations about Cllr Drakakis-Smith's behaviour during meetings, among other complaints. Cllr Bullock claimed that she had 'single-handedly managed to prevent most of the business normally conducted from being transacted' due to her repeatedly raising issues with the minutes.

Steven Ball, a member of the public who attended a parish council meeting in November 2022, claimed that the chairman and clerk spent all their times correcting Cllr Drakakis-Smith's statements and this amounted to bringing the council into disrepute.

In the conclusion of her report, Ms Patterson states: "Having carried out my investigation, and taking in to account all of the complainants’ comments on my draft report as well as Angela Drakakis-Smith's comments I make the final finding that there is evidence that Cllr Drakakis-Smith infringed the code by failing to show respect for others, by bullying and harassing Gwyn Griffiths and bringing the parish council into disrepute."

Cllr Drakakis-Smith was interviewed by Ms Patterson twice during the investigation, and offered rebuttals to the various complaints made against her. She also claimed that she could have made complaints herself, but chose not to following discussions with the monitoring officer.

Cllr Drakakis-Smith again rejected the complaints against her during the standards hearing. She claimed that she only wish for minutes to be 'objective and impartial', but after pointing this out she had been 'ostracised'.

Cllr Drakakis-Smith said: "I've looked at the allegations against me, and I do not recognise myself or my behaviour. I've been accused of bullying, harassment, intimidation. I am not a bully, I am not a liar, I do not intimidate or anything else I'm being accused of. I am direct and I try to be clear in what I am saying, especially to authority. Speaking truth to power is never easy. But this should not be confused with bullying, harassment and intimidation.

"I have not brought the parish council into disrepute. In fact, I have tried to prevent that from happening. Which is why I've not made complaints against it, or my fellow councillors. Any disputes I thought, could be dealt with internally."

Cllr Drakakis-Smith claimed that the phrases which were given as evidence of her bullying had been 'removed from context'. She also said she had not sent all the emails she was accused of sending, saying 'it takes two to prolong a discussion'.

She added: "I did not envisage that in trying to be a good councillor that I would be upsetting my fellow councillors and then spending most of my time fire-fighting. For any unintentional upset, because it was never intentional, I will apologise. It is unfortunate that that there has been what a former monitoring officer called a clash of personalities."

Complaints were also made in relation to Cllr Drakakis-Smith's personal blog, but Ms Patterson found that in writing this she was not acting in an official capacity. The standards hearing panel is expected to publish its determination on the complaints soon.

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