David Pugh, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council (IWC), is the subject of a formal complaint being reported directly to Standards for England by three IWC councillors. It details eight alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for Councillors.
It centres on Cllr Pugh’s behaviour at the Valentine’s Ball at Cowes Yacht Haven last month, arranged by the Chairman of the IWC, some of which was captured on video.
Of note is that the councillors haven’t sent it to the IW Council’s own Ethical Standards Committee, choosing to report it directly to the national body, due to what they describe as “local sensitivities.”
The three councillors – Jonathan Bacon, Chris Welsford and Geoff Lumley – have already asked Cllr Pugh to refer his behaviour to the Standards Board for investigation to clarify the situation. Cllr Pugh has declined, saying that it was a private matter.
The councillors have presented a Morton’s Fork – either Cllr Pugh was acting in an official capacity at the time of the incident and therefore his behaviour should be considered by Standards for England, or if the matter was private, he shouldn’t have used IW council resources, particularly the Council Communications Department, to attempt to prevent any publicity of the incident, as this would constitute a misuse of public resources.
Commenting on it, Cllr Bacon said “We feel that, particularly given the many recent statements made by the Leader of the Council about the importance of the Code of Conduct and the need to make sure that any any potential breaches are investigated, it is only right that this matter is subject to a full independent investigation.”
Video viewed 6,600+ in a week
The YouTube video of Cllr Pugh swearing at the Island’s MP, Andrew Turner’s partner, Carole Dennett is referenced. At the time of publishing, the video has been watched over 6,600 times in just seven days.
The letter that the councillors have written to the Isle of Wight Council Monitoring Officer, Davina Fiore detailing their complaint is replicated below.
Further to the various media stories and the large amount of public disquiet that is evident we, the undersigned, request that Standards for England investigate whether Councillor David Pugh has breached the Code of Conduct for Elected Members in respect of his behaviour at an incident which took place at the Charity Valentine Ball held by the Chairman of the Isle of Wight Council at Cowes Yacht Haven on the evening of Friday 12th February 2010.
The specific grounds for this complaint are that we believe there are potential breaches of the following parts of the Code of Conduct as follows:
Â· Paragraph 3(1) – Failure to treat others with respect.
Â· Paragraph 3(2)(b) – Bullying of another person
Â· Paragraph 3(2)(c) – Bullying of a potential complainant and/or witness
Â· Paragraph 3(2)(d) – Compromising the impartiality of a Council employee
Â· Paragraph 4(b) – Seeking to prevent another person from gaining access to information.
Â· Paragraph 5 – Bringing the office of Leader of the Council and the Isle of Wight County Council into disrepute.
Â· Paragraph 6(a) – Using the position of member of the authority to improperly secure an advantage
Â· Paragraph 6(b)(ii) – Using authority resources (namely the Communications Department) for political purposes
In addition there is evidence that Councillor Pugh committed a criminal offence contrary to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which is relevant to consideration of the potential breaches outlined above.
In making this complaint we note that there has been a lot of media and public interest about this matter including a great number of ‘blog’ comments on various websites. The event was recorded on video and this video has been widely circulated, including on the You Tube site and has even been turned into a ‘music video’. This seriously affects the reputation and perception of not just Councillor Pugh but also the role of leader of the Council and the Council itself. The fact that the issue of bullying is very much ‘in the news’ at the moment as an issue of concern, with high profile campaigns being run by bodies such as the NSPCC, is also relevant in this regard.
While we recognize that there is an argument that the incident occurred when Councillor Pugh was not in his ‘official capacity’ we note that this case can be distinguished from the ‘Livingstone’ case as the ‘victim’ in that matter was a journalist engaged in ‘doorstepping’ the Member concerned whereas here the victim was another guest at the function concerned (namely the partner of the local MP). Further, the comments in the Livingstone case were part of a conversation and not shouted in a violent manner. It is also evident in this case that the matters recorded on video were merely the tail end of an incident which began within the Yacht Haven, the parties moving out to the car park as the incident progressed. We also note the dicta in the case of Mullaney -v- The Adjudication Panel for England  EWHC 72 which we believe supports an argument that Councillor Pugh was acting in his ‘official capacity’ at all times.
We would also submit that the incident in question raises an issue which should be considered, in effect, as a ‘test case’ as to the ambit of the Code of Conduct following these judgments and that it requires formal consideration in order to assist in clarifying the law in this area.
In any event, the fact that the Communications Department of the Isle of Wight Council made efforts to prevent the publication of the story supports the contention that the incident occurred while Councillor Pugh was in his ‘official capacity’. Conversely if he was not in his ‘official capacity’ then the use of the Communications Department gives rise to the alleged breaches under Part 4(b) and Part 6 of the Code as detailed above.
We believe that the matters required by the ‘Complaint Form’ that appears on the Isle of Wight Council website are covered in this letter but if you require that a form is filled in or require any further information please let us know. In making this complaint we believe the basic facts of the incident concerned are adequately known due to their presence in the public arena. There are, of course, some disputes about what occurred but these are matters that require investigation in the process of dealing with this complaint properly and consideration of the evidence of the various witnesses to the incident
Lastly we would note that, as this matter concerns the Leader of the Council, in order for it to be considered properly and in a fair and neutral manner, it should not be dealt with by the local Ethical Standards Committee but should be passed on to Standards for England.
Councillors Jonathan Bacon, Geoff Lumley, Chris Welsford
cc. Mark Southwell, Steve Beynon, Elected Members of Ethical Standards Committee, Councillor David Pugh.