Wiltshire councillor pulls out of standards hearing, claiming it is unfair

Wiltshire councillor Chris Humphries (Aldbourne and Ramsbury) has pulled out of a two day code of conduct hearing after learning that the council officer, Julia Densham, who has made complaints about comments he allegedly made to her was being represented by a top lawyer.

The allegations relate to when Mrs Densham, an employee of Wiltshire Council, worked as the manager for its Marlborough Area Board of which Coun Humphries is chairman.

Coun Humphries has strenuously denied making comments to Mrs Densham and took along a solicitor to represent him at today’s standards hearing at County Hall.

This morning Coun Humphries contacted the Gazette to say he felt he did not stand a fair chance at the hearing because Mrs Densham had unexpectedly arrived with a barrister who, he said, was being paid for by her union.

Coun Humphries, who was formerly chairman of Kennet District Council and a Wiltshire county councillor until Wiltshire became a unitary authority, said: “ I have been advised by my solicitor to publish the following statement, so that when you hear the outcome of my Code of Conduct hearing, you will be able to hear both sides:

“We had been notified by the council that the hearing would be led by the council’s solicitor, who would call the complainant as a witness, so we would be able to test her evidence in cross-examination.

“At less than a day’s notice, this was changed and we were told that the complainant would appear as a separate party, separately represented by a barrister and be able to make opening and closing statements which we could not challenge.

“We advised the panel that this was manifestly unfair, as the issues largely came down to a conflict of evidence between Coun Humphries and the complainant and so everything she says in evidence must be open to challenge.

“We were prepared to contest the issues vigorously with the council but not to have two opponents, both legally represented.

“So we advised the panel that if the complainant appeared as a separate party, separately legally represented, we could not attend.

“When the panel confirmed that they were bound by the council’s procedure, however unfair that procedure may be, we withdrew.”

The statement issued by Coun Humphries, who has served on numerous committees and on the Police Authority, added: “The result is that the panel has decided to proceed, hearing just the strongly disputed evidence of the complainant, without Coun Humphries evidence to the contrary or evidence from my witnesses.

“Any finding of the panel will be therefore based on only partial evidence. We strongly dispute that Coun Humphries is guilty of any misconduct but the panel’s decision meant that we were unable to contest the complainant’s evidence fairly."

Mrs Densham could not be contacted for her comment today.

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