STOP PRESS, UPDATE 19.4.12
At the full Council meeting on 18.4.12 the Labour Opposition Group proposed an amendment to a Tory proposal about a new Standards regime. In our opinion, given the huge reputational damage done to the Council by the Lamont case, a new regime would have to provide every possible legal protection with transparent and impartial scrutiny by a panel of independents. We proposed a regime that should then be put out to public consultation so that K&C residents could comment, have genuine input, and feel that the Council has learnt its lessons and that in future any Councillor facing possible criminal charges would be suspended until justice had taken its course. This would be in sharp contrast to the Lamont case, where the charges were kept quiet for nearly a year, and the Councillor remained in post (though not undertaking his responsibilities), and remained as Council-appointed governor of a nursery, until the day before he went to Court.
Incredibly this entirely sensible proposal was voted down, with senior Tory Councillors recommending ‘a light touch’, which is frankly bizarre and potentially puts the Council in an impossible situation were a similar situation to recur. Shame on the Royal Borough.
The Kensington and Chelsea Labour Opposition Group will not comment on the outcome of this criminal trial, except to say that justice has taken its course and former Cllr Lamont has been found guilty of some of the charges he was accused of, that relate to child and animal porn.
However, the Labour Group believes it is time for the Council to review the procedures and protocols covering Councillors who may face criminal charges. As in any other area of public life, a person who has been arrested and faces possible criminal charges should immediately be requested formally to withdraw from his or her duties. This can be done either by resignation or by an agreed suspension of duties. It is simply not enough, as in the case of former Councillor Lamont, to make a private agreement that the individual ceases to attend meetings.
The Labour Group challenged the Council leadership through the Standards Committee, and subsequently at appeal, suggesting that existing procedures were not followed, the Code of Conduct was breached and as a consequence the Council had been brought into disrepute. The Standards Committee response, given on 28 February, stated that no further action would be taken as the Council had followed its existing procedures correctly. The response said that the Committee ‘could not establish how matters might have been handled differently, however unsatisfactory this might have appeared to other Members or members of the public’.
However, the implication of this decision is that, should any other Councillor be arrested and face possible charges and subsequent conviction, the alleged criminal could remain as an active Councillor until the day before s/he goes to Court.
Labour Leader Judith Blakeman said: ‘Residents expect more of the Council. There must now be a thorough review of procedures to put a more transparent process in place. Allowing a possible criminal to stay in post for almost a year and keep it secret until the day before he was charged is simply not good enough.’
Deputy Leader Cllr. Emma Dent Coad said: ‘Kensington and Chelsea’s lack of action contrasts badly with the Mayor of London, who faced a similar situation and demanded the immediate resignation of his colleague. The Council says it prides itself on openness and transparency; it must live up to this ideal or suffer the consequences at the ballot-box ’.
Further information from: Emma Dent Coad 07773 792736.