Brundall Parish Council chairman censured after ‘bullying’

A Norfolk parish council chairman who was given a good citizen award in the summer has been censured for bullying, disrespect and disrepute.

John Fleetwood, chairman of Brundall Parish Council, was found by the Broadland District Council standards hearings sub committee of four breaches of the members' code of conduct.

The hearing found, on the evidence provided and on the balance of probabilities, that he showed disrespect to Paul Smith at a Brundall Parish Council meeting on October 22, 2009 and had brought the council into disrepute.

The complaint arose after Mr Smith went to a parish council meeting to speak about a planning application for a home in Strumpshaw Road. The hearing heard that Mr Smith had started to speak but Mr Fleetwood had prevented him from speaking any further, saying he had moved too close to the parish council's table.

Mr Smith said the parish council chairman was threatening and aggressive, but Mr Fleetwood, who had suffered a heart attack eight weeks before the meeting, said Mr Smith was insulting and arrogant.

However, after an investigation by Broadland District Council it was decided Mr Fleetwood had breached aspects of the code relating to disrespect and disrepute. A separate hearing concluded he had bullied another complainant at the annual parish meeting on April 16 last year.

That hearing ruled he had bullied Marianne Gibbs, the chairman of the village's Memorial Hall committee, and had disrespected her,

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The hearing heard how the pair had been involved in an exchange over the running of the hall and, particularly, in the use of the hall by the playgroup Raschools. Mrs Gibbs had said Mr Fleetwood was hostile and asked her a string of questions, constantly interrupting her, although Mr Fleetwood said he had 'gone to great lengths' to take an even-handed approach.

However, the standards committee ruled against him, although further complaints that Mr Fleetwood had intimidated Mrs Gibbs, disclosed confidential information and had broken rules relating to the declaration of prejudicial interests were dismissed.

Mr Fleetwood has been the tree warden in Brundall for 15 years and one of his main projects was to create and manage the Church Fen nature reserve in the village.

In recognition of his work on that project he was chosen as the recipient of the annual Brundall Parish Council good citizen award in June. He has been a parish councillor since 1995.

The hearings were held at Broadland District Council in October, but the decisions were only revealed this month. Mr Fleetwood was asked to send letters of apology to Mr Smith and Mrs Gibbs and was warned a failure to do so would lead to a six week suspension. He has sent the letters.

On the bullying behaviour sanction, Mr Fleetwood has been suspended from council duties for eight weeks. But that has been held in abeyance so long as no further justified complaints are received over the next three months.

Martin Thrower, Broadland District Council's monitoring officer, who commissioned the investigations into the complaints against Mr Fleetwood, said: 'Mr Fleetwood has accepted the sanctions against him imposed by the council's standards hearing's sub-committee and the sub-committee has approved the content of the apologies he has made to the respective complainants.

'As a result, we are confident that the parish council is able to put these issues behind it and move forwards in working efficiently and effectively for the good of the Brundall community.'