Standards (Hearings) Sub-Committee Minutes

Standards (Hearings) Sub-Committee Minutes

Thursday 20 July 2017
1:30 p.m.
Mandela Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough

Attendance Details

J A Walker, (Chair), Dean, Goodchild, Hubbard, J Young
Councillor Rathmell
S Lightwing, B Roberts
Apologies for absence:
All Committee members were present.
Declarations of interest:

There were no Declarations of Interest made at this point of the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution

The Chair sought the views of the Sub Committee as to whether the meeting should be held in private or open session.  The Monitoring Officer advised that Councillor Rathmell had indicated his preference that the Sub Committee was held in public.  As there were no objections, it was determined that the meeting would be held in public.

ORDERED that the meeting was held in open session.


Councillor Rathmell was not present at this point in the meeting.


With the Sub Committee's permission, the Monitoring Officer tabled an email received from Councillor Rathmell prior to the meeting.  In addition, the Investigating Officer read out a subsequent email received from Councillor Rathmell.  The content of the email was in relation to representations by Councillor Rathmell that the Standards (Hearings) Sub Committee meeting had not been called in accordance with legislation. 

The Monitoring Officer confirmed that the meeting had been legally constituted in accordance with Middlesbrough Council's Constitution and the associated documentation had been issued in accordance with the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985, Section 100B.

On a vote being taken, the majority of the Standards (Hearings) Sub Committee members agreed that the meeting should continue. Councillors Hubbard and J Young did not agree to the meeting continuing and requested that this fact was recorded in the minutes.

Councillor Rathmell joined the meeting at this point.

The Investigating Officer presented her report, a copy of which had been circulated prior to the meeting, regarding an investigation which had been undertaken in accordance with the prevailing legislation and guidance in relation to allegations that Councillor Rathmell had breached the Member's Code of Conduct, thereby bringing the Council or his role as Councillor into disrepute.

The allegations were as follows:


1.   Councillor Rathmell had sent abusive emails to Luke Henman and put posts on social media in breach of the Officer Member protocol and this fell beneath the conduct expected of Elected Members.


2.   Councillor Rathmell had lied to the people of Middlesbrough about the sale of assets and closure of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, made vicious attacks on Councillors and the Mayor and staff of Middlesbrough Council.  The way in which Councillor Rathmell behaved in the Council Chamber and told people to turn up and cause problems in the meeting.

3. Postings by Councillor Rathmell on social media amounted to bullying.  

4. Councillor Rathmell used social media inappropriately and had posted items that were considered inappropriate, brought the Council into disrepute, and caused distress to individuals who felt bullied and intimidated.


5.  Councillor Rathmell discredited and bullied the Chief Executive in an email sent to the Council's Internal Auditor.

Councillor Rathmell had submitted the following allegations:


1.  The Chief Executive presented untruths to Members in a Briefing in October 2016.


2.  The Mayor, Mr Budd, failed to carry out his duty as required by the Constitution in respect of the disposal of the TAD Centre.


3.  The Mayor had made personal attacks in the Council meetings in October and November 2016 and also in the Council meeting in January 2017.


4.  The Mayor made threats in a meeting with Councillor Rathmell on 9 August 2016 and all those threats had been carried out.


5.  Deputy Mayor, Councillor Rooney, was complicit in the threats made in the meeting on 9 August 2016 and accused Councillor Rathmell of setting fire to his vehicle in the Council meeting in October 2016.


6.  X attacked Councillor Rathmell at the October Council meeting and made false and misleading information available.


7.  Councillor Storey made disparaging comments on social media.


8.  Luke Henman sent press releases for political purposes during working hours and should not be attacking Members.


9.  Councillor Rathmell's previous complaints have not been fairly investigated and his complaints were dealt with less expeditiously than those made by other Councillors.


10.  Councillor Rathmell had been bullied by Councillors Budd and Rooney and Council resources had been abused by the Labour Group.


11.  The Mayor told Councillor Bloundele to tell a member of the public to "bugger off" on 24 October 2016.


The Investigating Officer informed the Sub Committee that she was appointed to investigate the complaints by the Monitoring Officer of the Council on 6 December 2016. The Investigating Officer's report had been circulated as Agenda Item 4. The report included a summary of the complaints, relevant legal provisions, details of the Code of Conduct and Standing Orders, findings of fact and conclusions. 

The Investigating Officer's report concluded that Councillor Rathmell had breached the Member's Code of Conduct in respect of the obligation to respect others and not bully any person and the expectation to use social media responsibly, in respect of his communications regarding Luke Henman.  The comments were offensive, caused distress to both the individual named and referred to, and were of wider concern to Councillors and Senior Officers.


In respect of the complaints submitted by a member of the public, the Deputy Mayor and other Councillors,  the Investigating Officer concluded that these were not made out.

In respect of the complaint regarding behaviour of the Mayor and other Councillors, the Investigating Officer concluded that none of the Members behaved appropriately and well or treated each other with respect in the Council meeting held on 19 October 2016.


In respect of the complaint made by the Chief Executive, the Investigating Officer concluded that Councillor Rathmell's actions amounted to a breach of the Member/Officer Protocol but not a breach of the Code of Conduct. 


In respect of the complaints submitted by Councillor Rathmell, the Investigating Officer concluded that these were not made out.


Having considered the Investigating Officer's report, the supporting documentation, Councillor Rathmell's evidence, the Investigating Officer's comments and questioning, the Chair adjourned the meeting to enable the Sub-Committee to consider the findings of fact and, based on those findings, whether Councillor Rathmell had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct.


On reconvening, the Chair summarised the issues and reported the decision of the Sub Committee.

In regard to the allegations, the Sub Committee unanimously supported the findings of the Investigating Officer's Report in its entirety, including items where there was no breach of the Members' Code of Conduct. The Sub Committee concluded that the comments about Luke Henman were unacceptable and breached the Members' Code of Conduct.

The Chair then sought the views of the Investigating Officer and Councillor Rathmell in regard to what sanctions were considered appropriate to be imposed in this matter. 

The Chair adjourned the meeting for a second time to enable the Sub Committee to consider the sanctions to be imposed.

On reconvening the Sub Committee it was ORDERED that the following sanction was imposed:

1.   Councillor Rathmell was required to write a letter of apology to Luke Henman.


In addition to the above sanction,  it was ORDERED as follows that:


1.  In relation to the allegation by Councillor Rathmell that Luke Henman had referred to him as "vile" in an email to the local press, Councillor Rathmell was requested to provide a copy of this email to the Monitoring Officer to enable the matter to be considered under the Council’s Disciplinary Policy for employees.


2.  The Member/Officer Protocol should be reviewed by the Constitution and Members' Development Committee.

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