Swindon's deputy mayor vows to fight sexual harassment claim
9:00am Wednesday 17th October 2012 in By David Wiles
Swindon's deputy mayor Nick Martin has vowed to fight allegations that he sexually harassed and bullied a female council officer at the mayor’s civic dinner.
Coun Martin (Con, Shaw), 61, who is married with children, has hired a barrister at his own cost to clear his name when the case is considered by the standard’s committee’s hearings panel on Friday.
He is accused of breaching the council’s protocol of member/officer relations by his alleged behaviour towards the woman, thought to be involved with Lydiard Park, at Steam in May 2011 during the annual social function, which councillors and their guests attend to celebrate the new mayor and the new civic year. Coun Martin said: “I think it’s outrageous.
“That’s because the allegations are untrue. And the words that are being invented, they’re out of character of the sort of things I would say at a public function. “The words put together might have been a little rude, but I didn’t say them.
“Just because somebody else from the cultural area of the council corroborated the words doesn’t necessarily mean I said them.”
The accusation against Coun Martin, a father-of-two who has been married to former councillor Mary Martin for 34 years, claims he was walking across the hall from the toilet back to his wife at the dinner table, when he approached the officer, touched her neck with his hand and used improper language.
But Coun Martin, who had just become the cabinet member for Streetsmart and parks at the time, said that although he spoke to the woman as her role fell under his new portfolio, he never touched her and only made a comment that her new 1960s-style hairstyle reminded him of his youth.
Coun Martin, a retired auditor, said the complaint meant responsibility for Lydiard Park was stripped from him – just as he was about to look at the park’s level of subsidy, how it can improve its income streams, and how it can achieve economies.
“What appeared to be an entirely relaxed, pleasant evening with no events to report turned out at a later date to have had a car crash in it which I didn’t know about,” he said. “On May 20, 2011, I was given responsibility for parks and Lydiard Park.
“By some coincidence, on May 21 an officer who had responsibility over Lydiard Park lodged a complaint against me, and that disabled any value for money or management reviews I could have conducted.”
An independent investigator appointed by Swindon Council to look into the incident concluded in February 2012 that he had breached the protocol in the areas of mutual courtesy and respect, promotion of the highest standards of conduct and ethics by leadership by example, mutual respect, use of improper and/or inappropriate language, and close personal familiarity.
Friday’s panel, chaired by Coun Fay Howard (Lab, Liden, Eldene and Park South) will have to decide whether there was a breach, and can impose penalties including censure, a forced written apology and further training.
Coun Martin said: “The full finance and weight of the borough’s HR department seems to have supported the person making the allegation, whereas I’m being obliged, out of my pension, to pay for my own barrister to give me appropriate advice in the circumstances, which is extremely unfair.”