Thursday, January 31, 2013
A standards hearing which could affect the political future of the former leader of Norfolk County Council looks almost certain to be held in public.
Derrick Murphy stepped down as leader of the authority earlier this month, to focus on tomorrow’s standards hearing, triggered by complaints from seven members of the public over his part in the sending of an email.
The 10am hearing at County Hall will see Mr Murphy face claims he breached the council’s code of conduct and brought his office and the council into disrepute.
However, there has been uncertainty over whether the bulk of the hearing would take place behind closed doors. But it now appears the public will be allowed in.
Tony Tomkinson, the chairman of the standards committee has told the council’s monitoring officer and head of law Victoria McNeill, that the committee is “minded” to hold tomorrow’s hearing in public.
None of those interviewed for the purposes of the investigation have raised any objection to the meeting being public and, although the committee will need to formally decide tomorrow, it would now be a surprise if it was held behind closed doors.
The hearing revolves around an email sent by Kevin Vaughan, the political assistant to the Conservative group at County Hall, to BBC Radio Norfolk, in April last year.
It was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council. was due to appear on Nick Conrad’s show to discuss the King’s Lynn incinerator, which has long been a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.
It suggested it might “be pertinent information” for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing “a serious leadership challenge” and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.
When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation at County Hall, which concluded in the summer that Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy. Mr Vaughan later left the council, with a pay-off.
Following the independent report, seven people complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour and the county council asked Jenni Richards, QC, an expert in local government, to investigate.
She concluded Mr Murphy should face a standards hearing, with her investigation finding he had asked Mr Vaughan to lie about who asked him to send the email and, in conversations with the council’s chief executive about the issue, Mr Murphy “gave answers that were misleading, evasive and lacked candour”.
That, she said, meant he did not treat Mr Vaughan with respect, amounting to a breach of the councillor code of conduct and bringing his office and the council into disrepute.
The standards committee must decide whether they agree and whether to sanction Mr Murphy, which could see him censured, ordered to undertake training or even barred from council premises.
Mr Murphy has said he is confident he will be exonerated and hopes to return as leader of the county council. His Conservative colleague Bill Borrett is acting leader.