Sanctions approved against South Tyneside councillor after claims he 'bullied' colleague on Facebook
Proposals to bar an independent councillor from attending a council committee, after claims he had ‘bullied’ a colleague on social media, have been formally agreed.
South Tyneside councillor John Robertson admitted posting comments on Facebook about rival Labour councillor Geraldine Kilgour, but insisted he was not acting in his ‘official capacity’ as a councillor while doing so and had not broken local authority rules.
However, his arguments were rejected by South Tyneside Council’s Standards Committee in February, which agreed to issue a formal ‘censure’ and ban him from attending Jarrow and Boldon Community Area Forum (CAF) for three months.
At the meeting on February 19, the panel upheld that “in making the post complained of” Cllr Robertson “bullied” Cllr Kilgour and “in publishing the posts brought the council into disrepute and his office as an elected member of the council into disrepute.”
A report on the decision was presented to full borough council at a budget meeting, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.
Councillors were asked to endorse Cllr Robertson’s sanction and decide a date when the temporary ban from Jarrow and Boldon CAF would begin.
Councillors involved in the Standards Committee hearing, including Cllr Kilgour, Cllr Robertson and panel members, declared interests and were asked to leave the meeting while the report was discussed.
Labour councillor Judith Taylor proposed that the three-month prohibition should come into force on April 14, a day before the next Jarrow CAF meeting.
This was seconded by Labour councillor Joe Amar and approved by a majority vote – with independent councillors Keith Roberts and Paul Milburn voting against.
Cllr Milburn, referring to the decision of the Standards Committee, said he wasn’t convinced on the ‘balance of probabilities’ that Cllr Robertson was giving the impression he was acting in his official capacity.
“That said, that’s what I believe so I’m hardly likely to agree to the sanction,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cllr Roberts claimed the sanction was being “railroaded through” by council chiefs.
The council’s acting head of legal services, John Rumney, said the Standards Committee did not feel able to set a start date for the sanction following the formal hearing.
As the sanction was a temporary suspension from a committee, rather than a permanent removal, councillors were told it didn’t engage requirements to ‘liaise with any particular political group.’
The start date for the sanction was agreed by full council with 33 votes in favour and two against.
Cllr Robertson previously claimed to have been acting outside his ‘official capacity’ when posting comments about Cllr Kilgour, which included calling her a ‘sick, nasty vindictive little excuse for a woman’.
This argument was accepted by the sole independent councillor on the Standards Committee, councillor Glenn Thompson, at the February hearing but not by the other members.
Professor Grahame Wright, the Standards Committee’s independent chair, who is not a councillor and who did not get a vote on the complaint’s final decision, previously said that the panel had rejected accusations of “bias and predetermination” in the process.
At February’s full council meeting, Cllr Robertson repeated a statement that the Standards Committee was a ‘kangaroo court.’