Agenda item

Complaint against Councillor L. McCarthy, Watton Town Council (Agenda Item 6)

To consider the above case referred by the Standards Board for England.  The following documents are attached:


(a)    Pre-Hearing Summary Checklist

(b)    Report of the Ethical Standards Officer


Certain of the appendices to the Ethical Standards Officer’s report are considered to contain exempt information and accordingly the Committee is asked to consider passing the following resolution:


“That under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the Press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it may involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 1 of Part I of Schedule 12A to the Act:


  • Agenda item 9 - Appendices to the report of the Ethical Standards Officer.”


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


         Member Concerned                      Councillor L. McCarthy


         Ethical Standards Officer’s

         Representative                               Natalie Birtle


         Investigating Officer                       Alex Oram


         Legal Adviser to the

         Committee                                      John Chinnery,

                                                                  Solicitor & Standards Consultant


         Attending Officer                            Miss E. Wilkes, Committee Officer


         Observers                                       Watton Town Councillors:

Mr. J.P. McCarthy

Mr. J. Craigie

Mr. K.S. Gilbert


                                                                  Mrs. J. Seal, Clerk to Watton Town Council


Substitute Members of Standards Committee:

Mr. J.P. Labouchere

Mr. M. Eveling

Mr. B. Rayner

Mr. M. Whittley


Summary of the Allegation


That Councillor Lorraine McCarthy, a member of Watton Town Council, failed to declare a prejudicial interest and withdraw from the chamber during the consideration of a planning application on 30 January 2007.  Further, that Councillor McCarthy voted against the planning application.


Procedures for the Hearing


The hearing would be conducted as follows:


  1. To consider the findings of fact as submitted in the Ethical Standards Officer’s (ESO) 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 each stage, following consideration of the report and any other information supplied by the Member concerned and the ESO’s Representative, the Committee would retire to consider its decision, which would then be announced.


Findings of Fact and Reasons


Councillor McCarthy was asked whether she accepted the summary of findings of fact as already stated relating to the same meeting considered in respect of Councillor J.P. McCarthy in the ESO’s Report and if she was therefore happy to proceed on that basis, to which she replied she was.


The hearing accordingly commenced on the basis that the findings of fact were as stated in the ESO’s Report.


Councillor McCarthy was invited to respond to the findings in regard to the nature of her interest in the matter concerned.


Councillor McCarthy replied that she had sought advice at the time and had been told that her interest was of a personal nature only.  She had since attended training from which she had learned that she should have declared a prejudicial interest.


The ESO’s Representative was asked if she had anything to add to the report and she asked that the submissions to the final report made by Councillor McCarthy (Form A, appendices pages 1-2) be incorporated as findings of fact.  The Committee agreed to this.


It was confirmed by the Legal Adviser that Councillor McCarthy had attended a standards training session on 20 June 2007 as stated.


When asked if she accepted she had a prejudicial interest in the matter concerned, Councillor McCarthy stated that she had only learned about it afterwards and that from the information given to her when she became a Councillor she had understood that prejudicial interest meant a financial interest.


Councillor McCarthy confirmed she accepted the findings of the ESO that she had breached paragraphs 10(a) and 10(b) of the Code of Conduct.


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


The Committee accepted the finding of the ESO, as confirmed by Councillor McCarthy, that she had failed to comply with paragraph 10(a) of the Code of Conduct in that she did not withdraw from the meeting during consideration of the matter in question and that she had improperly influenced the decision about that matter in contravention of paragraph 10(b) of the Code.


Findings on penalty, if any, for contravention of Code

The possible penalties available to the Committee were as previously outlined.


In the view of the ESO’s Representative, relying on the statements of facts as given earlier, although Councillor McCarthy was not the chairman of the meeting in question, an aggravating factor existed from the fact that if Councillor McCarthy had not participated in the meeting, the decision would have been reversed.  In mitigation, Councillor McCarthy had not had training until after the event and it was accepted that she was genuinely trying to redress her lack of knowledge of the Code.


The Committee then retired to determine its findings on penalty.




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


          RESOLVED that the Committee accept that Mrs. McCarthy’s position was not the same as Mr. McCarthy in that she was not so involved in events before the Watton Town Council planning committee meeting, she was less culpable than the Chairman and she has tried to rectify her understanding of the Code of Conduct by attending training sessions since the event.


          Nevertheless, the Committee believe that Mrs. McCarthy should have realised that she had a prejudicial interest and therefore the Committee’s decision is that she should be suspended from being a member of Watton Town Council for a period of six weeks from the date of this meeting.


Copies of the decision summary were made available at the close of the hearing.

Supporting documents: