COUNCIL officer Helen Miah says the inappropriate behaviour of deputy mayor Nick Martin towards her at the mayor’s civic dinner has altered the course of her life — but making a formal complaint was worthwhile to amend his actions.
Coun Martin (Con, Shaw), 61, who is married with children, breached the council’s protocol of member/officer relations by touching the back of the officer’s head and describing its style as a DA — “duck’s a**e” — during the annual social function at Steam in May 2011.
The former cabinet member was told to write a letter of apology and undertake training on the protocol after the council’s standards committee’s hearings panel found on Friday that he had used inappropriate language and had been too familiar.
However, he was cleared of other alleged breaches of the protocol.
Mrs Miah, who was then head of culture, claimed that Coun Martin walked up behind her while she was stood speaking to another guest in the hall after dinner, and he ran his fingers from the bottom of her neck to the top of her head, before saying “I have been dying to do that all night”.
She also revealed in 2008 that she had complained to her previous manager about Coun Martin’s alleged behaviour towards staff at Lydiard Park, which included him touching a female employee and insisting on touching Mrs Miah’s arm while they walked around the park.
Mrs Miah, who is now the commissioner for leisure and culture, told the hearing she was “freaked out” by the incident at the dinner, and the next day called her line manager, council director Bernie Brannan, in floods of tears before lodging a formal complaint.
“I remember it extremely clearly,” she said.
“It’s like a moment in life where something happens and it’s changed the course of my life.
“It absolutely happened. He touched me at the back of my neck, I can physically feel it now, and I can feel how I felt at that time.
“It’s just the shock, the surprise. You don’t expect something like that to happen, so what I remember is the complete shock it had happened.”
Mrs Miah said the period between her original complaint and the hearing had been the most difficult 18 months in her life and the process was the hardest thing she had ever had to go through, but said it was worthwhile to put a stop to his behaviour. She said: “I couldn’t allow it to go unnoticed because it was not appropriate and if I didn’t say ‘this is not acceptable’, there’s no reason Coun Martin would have thought it was not acceptable and would have done something similar again or to colleagues.”
Coun Martin told the panel he approached Mrs Miah to say hello after he walked into her line of sight on the way back from the toilet to the dinner table, and might have raised his finger to point at her hairstyle and say words to the effect “that’s a new hairstyle, that’s Mary Quant, that takes me back a long time”.
But he denied touching her or making inappropriate comments.
Members decided Coun Martin had briefly touched Mrs Miah on the back of her head, but he did not run his hand up her neck.
They also agreed there was a comment about her hair, including the reference to DA and how he had been “meaning to do that all night”.