Agenda item

Complaint against Mr Roy Rudling, Ex-Councillor of Breckland Council (Agenda Item 7)

The above case has been referred by the Standards Board for England for investigation by Breckland Council.

 

The following documents are enclosed:

Minutes:

The following persons were present for the hearing into this matter:

 

Member Concerned                         Mr Roy Rudling

 

Member’s Witnesses                       Mrs Jackie Seal, Clerk to Watton Town Council

 

Legal Adviser to the Committee     Mr John Chinnery, Standards Consultant

 

Attending Officers                             Miss E. Wilkes, Committee Officer

 

Observers                                          Mr B. Rayner, Substitute Committee          Member

                                                            Mr M. Whittley, Substitute Committee        Member

                                                            Mr M. Eveling, Substitute Committee         Member

 

Allegation

 

The allegation and relevant sections of the Code were stated in the Investigating Officer’s report.

 

Procedures for the Hearing

 

The Chairman introduced the Committee and attending Officers and explained that the hearing would be conducted as follows:

  1. To consider the findings of fact as submitted in the Investigating Officer’s report.

  2. To consider whether, in the light of the facts as found, the Member had failed to follow the Code.

  3. If it was found that there had been a breach of the Code, to determine what, if any, penalty there should be.

At the end of stages 2 and 3, following consideration of the report and any other information supplied by the Member concerned and witnesses, the Committee would retire to consider its decision, which would then be announced.

 

Before presenting the Investigating Officer’s report, the Standards Consultant asked Mr Rudling and the Committee to consider whether, bearing in mind the nature of the complaint and that it had initially been made in public, it was necessary to exclude the Press and public from the Hearing.

 

Mr. Rudling stated that he was happy for the matter to be conducted in public.

 

Findings of Fact and Reasons

 

The Standards Consultant then referred to the Investigating Officer’s report in regard to findings of fact.

 

Evidence was considered in regard to the complaint as follows and Mr Rudling was afforded the opportunity to challenge the findings in the Investigating Officer’s report and to call witnesses:

 

  1. Relevant information from the Investigating Officer’s report and supporting evidence was read out.

  2. Mr. Rudling had issued an unreserved public apology.

  3. The Eastern Daily Press reporter, Nick Heath, had asked that it be pointed out that the Investigating Officer’s report was inaccurate in stating that the article which appeared in the local press was prepared by a different reporter to the one present at the meeting.  He confirmed that he was the reporter who had spoken to Ms Newson following her presentation and that he had written the press report.

  4. Did Mr Rudling use the words “so 25 per cent of us are nutty?” as reported?  Mr Rudling replied that he had said “25% of us in this room are nutty then?” and that he was not referring to an individual but was referring to “us” as meaning the councillors present at the meeting.

Mr Rudling was asked if he thought the words breached the Code and whether there was anything else in the Investigating Officer’s report he wished to comment on.

 

Mr Rudling replied that he did not think he had breached the Code and he stated he had since heard similar terms used by a presenter in a radio programme and in a national newspaper article.  He stated he had read the Investigating Officer’s report; the Investigating Officer had not interviewed him but he felt it was a fair report.  He accepted the draft report and trusted it would be the end of the matter, as explained in his letter of 4th August.  He had served the Council for 28 years.  He wished to see the matter resolved so that he could get on with his life.

 

Mr Rudling was asked if he was saying that the report in the Eastern Daily Press was inaccurate.

 

Mr Rudling replied yes; he had been talking about Councillors as the people in the room, not about any individual in the wider sense.  It had not been said with any malice.  The person who was present at the meeting had not made the complaint.  The complaint had been made months later by someone who had not been at the meeting.  He presumed the complaint was based on the press report, which he felt was “media hype”.  He felt that the people in attendance at the meeting appreciated the context in which the comment had been made.

 

Mr Rudling indicated he had nothing further to add at this point but was happy to answer questions.

 

In answer to a question from a member, the Standards Consultant explained that it was not unusual for an Investigating Officer not to interview all persons nominated by the parties due to time constraints and to keep reports to a manageable length.  However, if at any stage during consideration the Committee felt it needed more evidence or information, it would be possible to do so, either through an adjournment or arranging another meeting.

 

Mrs Seal spoke in support of Mr Rudling as an exceptional and hard working Ward Member for Watton, who had done a lot for the town.

 

Findings on whether any contravention of the Breckland Code of Conduct has occurred

 

Having accepted the findings of fact as set out in the Investigating Officer’s report with Mr. Rudling’s amendment, the Committee considered whether Mr Rudling had contravened any of the provisions of the Breckland Code of Conduct.

 

The Committee had regard to the fact that the meeting was public and that members had to have regard to the arena in which they were speaking and to the public perception.  However, members recognised the context in which the comments were made.

 

The Committee’s conclusion was that the use of the words by Mr Rudling, as admitted by him, was a marginal breach of paragraph 2(b) of the Code, in that he did not treat others with respect.

 

Findings on penalty, if any, for contravention of Code

 

The Standards Consultant explained that the options were to take no further action or to censure Mr Rudling in some way and that Mr Rudling would have the opportunity to address the Committee on the question of any sanction.

 

Mr Rudling indicated he was content to leave the matter to the Committee and he would abide by their decision.

 

The Committee concurred that a vote of censure was appropriate.

 

Decision

 

The Committee’s decision was announced by the Chairman as follows:

 

         RESOLVED that the Committee think that for a Chairman to use the word “nutty” in this forum and this context was wrong and ill-advised and we would hope that any person in that position would not use words which might be misconstrued by a particular group.

 

         However, we recognise that Mr Rudling quickly apologised and that he has had a long and successful career as a member of Breckland Council.

 

         The Committee would like to stress their belief that all training is important for all councillors.

 

Supporting documents: