In light of an ongoing investigation into “a number of concerns regarding councillors” at Andover Town Council, the Advertiser has taken a look at similar cases dealt with by other town councils.

The most dramatic of these is that of Ledbury Town Council in 2018, where a Judge ruled that sanctions made following the grievance panel’s investigation were deemed to be outside the council’s authority by a high court judge, leading to costs of over £200,000.

In that case, Councillor Liz Harvey had been accused of bullying, harassment and intimidation by the town clerk and deputy clerk of the town council.

A grievance process held by the council upheld all claims against her. She was barred from serving on any committees and was not allowed to communicate with the clerk or deputy clerk except via the mayor/deputy mayor while remaining a councillor.

Subsequently, the council decided to extend this communications ban to all council staff. Cllr Harvey challenged the decision in court, with the Judge, Mrs Justice Cockerill, finding that complaints against the actions of councillors are code of conduct procedures which cannot be run in tandem or superseded by grievance processes, as “to do so would be contrary to the intention of Parliament” under the Localism Act 2011.

An investigation by Herefordshire County Council had deemed that Cllr Harvey was not in breach of the code of conduct in an earlier investigation.

The judge also noted that the “complaint was never apparently broken down into specific elements which could then be investigated” with the bullying allegations, and that the council had breached her right to freedom of expression.

Finding against the council, the local authority was ordered to pay its own fees and Cllr Harvey’s, which ran to £219,925. In order to afford this £100,000 had to be raided from reserves dedicated to preserving listed buildings. Subsequently, four councillors resigned from the council following the decision.

While Ledbury Town Council’s procedure may have been found to be outside their authority, actions to protect staff from harassment are necessary, even by councillors, who do not count as the council’s employees. This is because they can still be found responsible for their councillors’ actions, as a case in Cornwall demonstrated.

After an employee of Bude-Stratton Town Council, PJ Moores, claimed he was unfairly dismissed by the council after the “abusive” and “intermittently hostile” actions of Cllr Parsons, where on one occasion he alleged he was called “a lying toe-rag.”

An employment tribunal subsequently found that councils are “vicariously liable” for the actions of their councillors, with all employers having a duty to provide employees “protection from unacceptable treatment and behaviour and unauthorised interference in work duties.”

Meanwhile, in Andover, following the appointment of the grievance panel at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, November 5, an external HR consultant has been appointed to investigate the grievances, with Mayor Richard Rowles saying he thinks “her report will come back quite quickly.”