Standards Committee Hearing 19 February Complaint Concerning Councillor John Robertson
South Tyneside Council's Standards Committee is recommending to Borough Council that Cllr John Robertson be temporarily prohibited from attending the Jarrow and Boldon Community Area Forum.
If approved by Full Council, Cllr Robertson will be unable to attend CAF meetings for a period of three months.
The move follows a Standards Committee hearing on Friday 19 February where the Committee found Cllr Robertson to be in breach of the Members' Code of Conduct.
In July 2020, the Council's Monitoring Officer received a complaint from a member of the public about the content and tone of a large number of Facebook posts published by Cllr John Robertson, over the period 19th April 2019 to 13th October 2020. The complaint was that in making the posts, Cllr Robertson had failed to treat Cllr Geraldine Kilgour with respect, that he had bullied her, and that he had brought not only the Council, but also his office as Councillor into disrepute. There was an additional complaint that Cllr Robertson had disclosed information which he had been given in confidence.
Evidence in the form of screenshots of the posts, was provided to the Investigating Officer, and Cllr Robertson did not dispute that he had published them. Amongst other things, the posts referred to Cllr Kilgour as "sick and wicked", "SKITZO", "Sick, nasty vindictive little excuse for a woman", and "sly egotistical vile little bully.".
Cllr Robertson disputed any suggestion that he had breached the Members Code of Conduct which applies to Councillors, on the grounds that whilst he did publish the comments complained of, he did not do so when acting in his official capacity as a Councillor. As a preliminary matter, therefore the Committee needed to determine whether in making the comments, Cllr Robertson was conducting the business of the Council, conducting the business of the office of Councillor to which he had been elected, or giving the impression that he was doing so.
Professor Grahame Wright, the independent chairman of South Tyneside Council's Standards Committee, said: "After a lengthy deliberation, the Council's Standards Committee, concluded (on the balance of probabilities and with a majority 4:1) that Cllr Robertson was giving the impression of conducting the business of the authority, namely the business of the office of Councillor that he had been elected to. The Committee based their decision on the evidence bundle as a whole, including content of the posts themselves, and the way in which the posts complained of appeared, interspersed with others which were more obviously concerned with official council matters which give the impression that Councillor Robertson was acting in an official capacity."
Having found the Code of Conduct was engaged in respect of Cllr Robertson's conduct at the material times the Committee went on to decide on the balance of probabilities, that Cllr Robertson had breached General Conduct Code 1 in that he failed to treat Cllr Kilgour with respect, that he breached General Conduct Code 2 in that he bullied Cllr Kilgour and that he had brought the Council as well as his office as an elected member of the Council into disrepute, thereby breaching General Conduct Code 4.
The Committee dismissed the complaint that Cllr Robertson breached General Code 9 finding that he did not disclose information which was given to him in confidence.
The Committee also noted but dismissed unanimously the submission by Cllr Robertson in which he alleged bias and predetermination on behalf of the Investigating Officer, the Legal Advisor and the Independent Chair.
All members of the Standards Committee attending the hearing expressed their great disappointment at the language used by Cllr Robertson, and its concern that at the hearing, he stated that he would stand by what he had published. In response, the Committee, taking into accountall of the evidence available, including the fact that this is Cllr Robertson's first appearance before Standards Committee, and the points he made about training and provocation, determined that the following would represent a proportionate response;
- Formal censure of Cllr Robertson in writing for his failures to follow the Members Code of Conduct;
- The Decision of the Committee to be referred to Council for information; and
- Recommending to Council that Cllr Robertson be prohibited for a period of three months from attending meetings of the Jarrow & Boldon Community Area Forum.
The Brough Council will consider the recommendation that Cllr Robertson be temporarily prohibited from attending the meetings of Jarrow & Boldon CAF when they meet on Thursday 25 February.