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£5K spent by council on deputy mayor probe
SWINDON Council spent more than £5,000 on the standards case against deputy mayor Nick Martin, who was penalised for behaving inappropriately towards a senior officer at the civic dinner.
Coun Martin (Con, Shaw), breached the council’s protocol of member/officer relations by briefly touching the back of Helen Miah’s head and describing its style as a DA — ‘duck’s a**e’ — during the annual social function at Steam in May 2011.
The 61-year-old 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 in October that he had used inappropriate language and had been too familiar towards Mrs Miah, who was then head of culture.
Swindon Council has since revealed under the Freedom of Information Act that the case cost it £1,470 for counsel’s advice, plus £4,000 for independent investigator Felix Hetherington.
The council paid nothing towards the defence of Coun Martin, who paid about £5,000 for the services of lawyer Charles Parry.
Coun Dave Wood, chairman of the standards committee, said: “I was not involved in that case because I made a declaration of interest. But it does sound like a lot of money, which suggests to me that this case required a lot more interviews by the investigator than other cases.
“It’s important if a councillor is being investigated that it should be done by an independent person. Then again, good use of public money? I think it’s right to question the value the council gets from external investigators.”
Coun Martin told the panel in October that he approached Mrs Miah to say hello, 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.
He said: “I think it’s money poorly spent. The council should have looked at the person that was accusing me to fund it.
“In days gone by, both parties would have had to reach for their wallets if they wanted a fight in court.”