Ex-council leader cleared of misconduct

A BOROUGH councillor cleared of allegations he breached a code of conduct by writing "jokey" letters to a 15-year-old girl is to demand to be reinstated as the authority's leader.

By Graham Dines

A BOROUGH councillor cleared of allegations he breached a code of conduct by writing "jokey" letters to a 15-year-old girl is to demand to be reinstated as the authority's leader.

Dale Jackson, who quit as Ipswich Borough Council's leader in April after the Standards Board for England decided to investigate the case, is also calling on chief executive Jim Hehir to resign for a "gross error of judgement."

He was reported to the board for a "spoof" letter he wrote three years ago on council-headed notepaper under the forged signature of the chief executive.

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After being cleared at yesterday's hearing, Mr Jackson, who was replaced as council leader by fellow Conservative councillor Liz Harsant, said: "I have been vindicated by the independent tribunal's decision. It is only right that I am reinstated by my colleagues."

He said that at the time of the chief executive's complaint to the Standards Board, he had been Mr Hehir's boss.

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"Without consulting me, he asked for an investigation. For the past six months, I have been ill with depression over these allegations and Mr Hehir should now consider his position," said Mr Jackson.

During the hearing at the Belstead Brook Hotel, tribunal chairman Sally Lister and two adjudicators were told that when Mr Hehir had discovered the content of the letters earlier this year, he had complained the borough council's own code of conduct had been broken.

Mr Jackson had written to the 15-year-old daughter of a fellow Conservative councillor in 2002, thanking her for her support at the local authority elections and asking her about her "hooker boots" – a reference to Julia Roberts' character in the film Pretty Woman.

Mr Jackson also wrote another letter to the girl, under the forged signature of Mr Hehir, stating that the mythical international standards board had asked the chief executive and three Ipswich Labour councillors to investigate the conduct of Tory councillors.

When Mr Hehir was shown the letters more than two years later, he initiated a complaint against Mr Jackson, who resigned as leader on April 1 this year.

At the board's hearing, the ethical standards officer's representative Fariaha Ayyub said Mr Jackson may have meant the letters as a joke, but the second one was "a slight on the chief executive's integrity and called his independence into question."

Mr Jackson told the hearing: "I accept I was wrong but I am a bit of a comedian and a satirist.

"It was a silly thing to do, but it was meant to take the rise out of the system – there was no ill intended."

At the end of a hearing, which lasted less than 90 minutes, the unanimous ruling of the tribunal panel was that Mr Jackson "did not fail to comply with the code of conduct."

He had apologised and had accepted it was wrong to use council-headed notepaper and to forge the chief executive's signature.

Neither council leader Liz Harsant nor the chief executive was available for comment last night.

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