Sanctions approved against South Tyneside councillor after intimidation and harassment findings

Claims against a borough councillor accused of a campaign of intimidation and harassment have seen him banned from contacting NHS staff.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 12:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 12:19 pm
Sanctions were approved against Cllr John Robertson
Sanctions were approved against Cllr John Robertson

And a meeting of the full council has now endorsed the recommended punishments, which will also see all his council email communications monitored for six months.

The move followed a series of emails sent by the local authority’s independent opposition leader, some later published on Facebook, which were found to have ‘undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the council’.

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John Rumney, the council’s acting head of legal services, said: “The decision of Standards Committee to divert emails to council officers and members was because of a finding that in circulating emails to a wider audience, Cllr Robertson was using that with the aim of intimidating and harassing the individual to whom the email was originally sent.”

Rumney was speaking on March 23 at a specially arranged meeting of the full borough council called to consider the Standards Committee’s recommendations following last week’s hearing.

The target of Cllr Robertson’s attacks was Matt Brown, executive director of operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), accusing him of ‘betraying the people’, among other insults, over controversial plans for the future of end of life care in the borough.

Cllr Robertson, who insisted he stood by his comments while also accepting some may have been ‘over the top’, claimed the meeting had been called specially in an attempt to ‘humiliate’ him in the run up to May’s round of local elections.

Cllr Robertson was elected as an independent councillor representing the borough’s Fellgate and Hedworth ward in 2019 and his seat is not expected to be contested again until 2023.

While there was large support for the sanctions, some concerns were raised over their extent.

Labour councillor Angela Hamilton called the claims against Cllr Robertson ‘horrendous’ and suggested stronger sanctions should be imposed, but also raised concerns about restricting his communication with fellow councillors and council staff.

Councillors later voted by majority to impose punishments including:

:: All emails sent from Cllr Robertson’s official council email address, and any additional personal addresses, be filed in a single inbox, monitored daily by council officers and forwarded to the intended recipients as appropriate

:: A ban on Cllr Robertson contacting South Tyneside CCG

:: A formal ‘censure’ of Cllr Robertson by the full council

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