Melbourn Parish Council grievance report published - 17 months after councillors began to resign over scandal
PUBLISHED: 10:17 27 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:35 30 October 2017
A grievance report shedding light on Melbourn Parish Council's conduct has been published - more than 17 months after councillors started to resign over the scandal.
The report is based on evidence heard by the grievance panel set up by the parish council into the nine enumerated complaints lodged against former council chairman Bob Tulloch by bookkeeper Michelle Cooper on February 25, 2016.
The parish council had refused to publish it previously, citing fear of litigation as the reason for not going ahead. And the Information Commissioner’s Office also ruled against publication on May 2 this year.
An appeal was made and three weeks ago – on October 6 – tribunal judge Chris Hughes ruled that the report must be published but with redactions of the names of anyone who isn’t a councillor, the clerk or the complainant.
At a council meeting on Monday evening, council chairman Julie Norman said there was a further delay while the authority waited on the judge’s decision of one further proposed redaction.
The Crow can now reveal the contents of the grievance report, where a number of complaints made by Mrs Cooper relating to Mr Tulloch’s conduct were upheld.
The grievance panel notes in the report how much of the evidence submitted by both parties referred to financial matters and issues relating to competency, but the focus of the investigation was on their behaviour.
The complaints that were upheld by the panel in the report were that Mr Tulloch got into Mrs Cooper’s car one evening and intimated her, and that on another occasion he forced her to breach the confidence on an ex-employee – something Mr Tulloch said he couldn’t recall.
Others upheld were that Mr Tulloch publicly offended Mrs Cooper at a council meeting, and that he would belittle and make inappropriate comments about other councillors and the general public in front of the bookkeeper.
Complaints partially upheld were that Mr Tulloch attempted to override Mrs Cooper’s work and reputation by forcing the parish clerk not to interact with her, and that Mr Tulloch made slanderous comments about her personal and professional status and private business.
Two complaints in which Mrs Cooper said she was forced to resign from her bookkeeping position due to Mr Tulloch’s behaviour were rejected, as was an accusation that Mr Tulloch was verbally abusive to staff at Melbourn Community Hub. Regarding claims Mrs Cooper was forced to resign, the panel said that as she had not sought redress within the parish council’s procedures she had failed to satisfy the high test required to uphold a complaint of this nature.
The panel – which met on April 22 last year to consider 150 pages of evidence – was made up of three South Cambs parish councillors who were recommended by support service Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Association of Local Councils.
On the panel were chairman Dr Douglas de Lacey – Girton parish councillor for 12 years and district councillor for Girton – Anthea Dodson, who has been a parish councillor for Wilburton for 30 years, and Jeff Gorton – who has sat on Great Gransden Parish Council for 32 years.
The panel also heard evidence in person from Mrs Cooper, Mr Tulloch, then parish councillor and chair of planning Kimmi Crosby, parish clerk Sarah Adam, and another whose name has been redacted from the report in line with a ruling by the tribunal judge.
Mr Tulloch was one of eight councillors who resigned in August 2016 over the scandal, after three others had previously stepped down in May. A by-election was subsequently held and a number of new councillors elected.
Reacting to the publication of the report, Mr Tulloch told the Crow: “This report was the outcome of a badly conducted process. Legal opinion identified over 30 flaws and areas of bias. It was twice rejected by Melbourn Parish Council, and both the council and the Information Commissioner’s Office decided it should not be published. Nothing is served by its publication now.”
A Melbourn Parish Council spokeswoman said: “The parish council had wanted to publish the report in October 2016, but felt unable to do so because of the threat of legal action.
“It did however publish all of the recommendations which referred to the council and not to individuals. The council has already implemented those recommendations.
“The council welcomes the tribunal’s recognition that, contrary to the impression given by the original decision notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office, it wanted to publish the report.”
Current council chairman Julie Norman added: “The parish council has learned from the report and both the report and the tribunal’s substituted decision notice were published on Melbourn Parish Council’s website on Thursday, October 26. The council is fully committed to the principles of openness and transparency in its work.”
To read the grievance report and decision notice in full go to melbournparishcouncil.co.uk