South Tyneside councillor faces sanctions over offensive emails and social media posts about NHS boss

A borough councillor is set to be banned from contacting NHS bosses following bullying claims.

By James Harrison
Friday, 19th March 2021, 4:47 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 4:56 pm
Councillor John Robertson
Councillor John Robertson

Independent opposition leader John Robertson was hauled before South Tyneside Council’s Standards Committee for the second time in 2021 to defend his behaviour.

But after defending offensive remarks he made by email and on social media against one of South Tyneside’s top health chiefs, the panel recommended a formal rebuke, as well as strict limits on his communication with fellow councillors, council staff and other public sector workers.

“It was not disputed that emails sent by Cllr Robertson to the complainant were sent when Cllr Robertson was acting in his official capacity,” said Grahame Wright, the committee’s independent chairman.

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“By sending the emails, publishing [Facebook] posts and failing to moderate or remove other offensive, abusive and threatening comments on his Facebook page, Cllr Robertson engaged in behaviour which amounts to bullying.”

He added: “The public nature of the communications, and the encouragement of others to heighten the impact of them on the complainant, undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the council and the office of councillor.”

Wright was speaking at a meeting of the Standards Committee.

The complaint related to social media posts directed at and emails sent by Cllr Robertson to Matt Brown, executive director of operations at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Examples included vulgar insults and emotive accusations, including accusing him of ‘betraying the people’, over controversial plans for the future of end-of-life care in the borough.

Cllr Robertson insisted he stood by his comments.

“Speaking the truth is not bullying,” he told the panel.

“I might go over the top sometimes, but there’s nothing more upsetting than palliative care and what the borough of South Tyneside has endured.

“There’s no sanctions that will gag me.”

Following deliberations however, the committee rejected Cllr Robertson’s attempt to mitigate his comments and recommended a series of sanctions to be approved the next time the full borough council meets, lasting six months.

These included:

:: 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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