Councillor suspended for breach of rules

By Benedict O'ConnorA COUNCILLOR has been kicked out office for one year for breaching confidentiality rules and bringing his position into disrepute.

By Benedict O'Connor

A COUNCILLOR has been kicked out office for one year for breaching confidentiality rules and bringing his position into disrepute.

Robert Newman, who represents the Rows ward on Forest Heath District Council, has been suspended for 12 months after he was found to have breached council codes of conduct on two occasions.

Mr Newman, who has been a member of the council for six years, was judged to have twice broken the rules by three members of the Adjudication Panel for England, appointed to make rulings on the behaviour of councillors.

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Although he escaped the maximum penalty of being disqualified from holding office, Mr Newman said it was unlikely that he would return to the council when the ban was up and was considering resigning.

The allegations against him arose from a council meeting two years ago when Mr Newman disclosed the council was trying to retrieve £30,000 in income tax from a contractor.

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It emerged that an error in a contract had left the council liable for the man's tax, but although the contractor had been named in council documents, the amount of money involved had only been mentioned in confidential meetings until Mr Newman brought it up.

David Abrahams, representing council watchdogs the Standards Board for England, which investigated Mr Newman after a complaint was made by a member of public services union Unison, said his “integrity” was in question because of his actions.

He added: “I regret to say that this is a case of a councillor who simply does not understand the standards of behaviour which are appropriate to public office.”

Mr Newman was adjudged to have compounded his breach by allowing two journalists to listen to a confidential telephone interview with a Standards Board investigator, conducted as part of the probe into his initial disclosure.

The panel was told that Mr Newman had been severely reprimanded in 2001 for another episode in which he had been judged to have acted incorrectly.

Karen Aldred, chairman of the judges at yesterday's hearing in Newmarket, said Mr Newman had been found to have breached the code of conduct twice and, by doing so, had “brought his office and his position into disrepute”.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Newman said he had made his initial disclosure because he thought the public had a right to know what was going at the council.

“It's a disgraceful day for democracy. It means nobody will dare to speak now for fear they will be reported to what I feel is the frankly disgraceful Standards Board,” he added.

“The public who elected me have known me for 40 years, know my behaviour is nothing short of honest. All I did was for the good of the public, there was no impropriety.”

Mr Newman, leader of the breakaway West Suffolk Independent Alliance party, formed from disgruntled Conservative members, said he would discuss his future with fellow party members.

The councillor added he would have to investigate the implications of his suspension, but said it was “unlikely” he would stay on as a member of Forest Heath District Council after the ban ended.

The panel also recommended the council should carry out an urgent review of the manner in which its documents were drawn up, which the panel felt had not helped in the case.

A council spokesman refused to comment on the judgment, but said it welcomed the invitation to address the composition of its documents.


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