A North Tyneside Tory councillor has been found to have breached the council’s code of conduct.
A standards committee found Preston Councillor Liam Bones breached the code by republishing a controversial story regarding Union Flag bunting and political imagery displayed in the Tory group’s chamber in the council’s Cobalt HQ.
The saga began when a former council monitoring officer, Bryn Roberts, requested conservative councillors remove the Union Flag bunting and images of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill from their group room.
Concerns were raised that the imagery could be seen by the public and that the council’s building in Cobalt should be a “politically neutral venue”.
Cllr Bones denied the images could be seen by the public.
Mr Roberts acknowledged a Union Flag had always flown outside the council offices, but he was concerned when the flag was used “as part of a political display”.
On June 15 2021, Cllr Bones republished a Daily Mail article on the controversy on the North Shields Life website. North Shields Life is run by Cllr Bones in conjunction with others.
The investigation, conducted by law firm Bevan Brittan, found that in republishing the article Cllr Bones, acting in his capacity as a councillor, had breached the council’s General Conduct code.
Bevan Brittan’s report stated: “The councillor actively pushed the article in the local media and this action by the councillor is, in our view, likely to undermine the relationship of mutual trust, respect and courtesy between elected members and officers as set out in the protocol.
“We find that in republishing the article, the councillor failed to promote a positive relationship between members and officers and was, in fact, likely to undermine it, whilst also representing a failure to avoid personal criticism for other members and officers.
"We find that this failure to avoid personal criticism of the monitoring officer and associated undermining of the relationship of mutual trust and respect represented a failure to treat the officer with respect”.
The investigation also claimed Cllr Bones did not go through the proper channels to raise conservative concerns about an alleged lack of political neutrality by the former officer. Cllr Bones denied this.
During questioning, Cllr Bones said: “If councillors are unable to criticise members or officers, then what is the point of councillors? If we cannot criticise members or officers then this role is useless.
“This is North Tyneside, not North Korea”.
The council’s standards committee ordered the Preston representative to write a letter of apology to Bryn Roberts and undergo training from the current monitoring officer.
Cllr Bones was cleared of bringing the office of the councillor or the local authority into disrepute. Coun Bones has filed an appeal on the council’s standards committee’s decision.
After the hearing, Cllr Bones told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The Labour-run standards committee have unfortunately ruled against me in this latest hearing of Kangaroo Court. The decision today is a further example of Labour using their position to clamp down on free speech and criticism of any kind, at a cost of thousands to the taxpayer.
“Throughout this process, I have been happy to accept recommendations of training and have offered apologies where requested.
“The recommendation that I undergo training was already by myself and the independent investigation, instead Labour have wasted time and money on this show trial. Despite this ruling against me I still firmly believe the Union Jack should be allowed to be on display in council buildings.”
A spokesperson for North Tyneside Council said: “North Tyneside Council always endeavours to promote and maintain the highest standards of conduct by our Councillors.
“Our standards committee has upheld one aspect of a complaint against a councillor. The committee found that in relation to that aspect of the complaint there had been a breach of our Members’ Code of Conduct. All parties will be notified of this decision in writing. A review has been requested meaning that the decision is in abeyance and will be independently re-examined.”
If you want to read more great stories, why not subscribe to your Northern Echo for as little as £1.25 a week. Click here