Wiltshire councillor reprimanded for mistreating member of staff
A Wiltshire councillor accused of mistreating a member of staff has been reprimanded.
Chris Humphries, a Conservative who represents Aldbourne and Ramsbury, was found guilty in his absence of five breaches of Wiltshire Council's code of conduct.
Mr Humphries strongly disputes claims that he bullied and made sexist comments about a female employee.
He has been reported to council’s standards committee and it believed he now intends to take further legal advice.
In her complaint, originally made in June 2011, the council employee accused Mr Humphries of sending her inappropriate emails and touching her in an inappropriate way.
Iin a statement, Mr Humphries's solicitor said his client "strongly disputed" the evidence but said Mr Humphries was unable to defend himself satisfactorily due to what he called a change of procedure by the council.
Mr Humphries refused to attend the two-day hearing at County Hall in Trowbridge.
In a statement, the council said: “The procedure for dealing with complaints of member misconduct was agreed by council on June 26 and came into effect on July 1 as part of the new standards regime.
"It meets the relevant statutory requirements and aims to provide a fair and proportionate process for dealing with such complaints.
“Coun Humphries and his legal adviser were sent a copy of the new procedure on July 9.
"It is clear from the procedure that the complainant is a party to the proceedings with a right to make an opening and closing statement at the hearing of the complaint. They were already aware from a pre-hearing review on May 30 that the complainant would be giving evidence as a witness.
“The council received late notice that the complainant wished to be legally represented and Coun Humphries’ solicitor was duly notified. As they objected they were advised that the matter would be determined by the hearing sub-committee as a preliminary issue at the hearing commencing on October 3.
“The hearing sub-committee were satisfied that the procedure agreed by the council is fair and lawful and saw no reason to depart from it. They also decided that the complainant was as a matter of fairness entitled to legal representation, as Coun Humphries and the investigating officer were both legally represented.
“Coun Humphries, on legal advice, therefore decided to withdraw and take no further part in the hearing. He was invited to reconsider his position but he did not wish to do so.
"He was also given the opportunity to address the sub-committee on how the hearing should proceed in his absence but declined to take this up. The hearing therefore proceeded in his absence on October 3 and 4.
“Had he remained in the hearing Coun Humphries would have been able to challenge the complainant’s evidence by way of cross-examination. By withdrawing he chose to deprive himself of this opportunity.
“After careful consideration of the evidence the sub-committee found that Coun Humphries had breached the members’ code of conduct in respect of 5 of the 7 allegations before them.
"Details of the findings and sanctions imposed will be contained in the minutes which will be published in due course.”