Council’s hands tied over sanction of rape arrest Member

Since the news broke last week regarding the arrest and bailing of a male Oldham councillor over a rape allegation (read more here), there has been wild speculation over both his identity and what the Metropolitan Borough Council may or may not do by way of sanction.

The answer, in law, is ‘very little’:

Firstly, there is the inalienable presumption of innocence that must apply to any person arrested and subjected to a police investigation, charge or prosecution.

Secondly, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), as recently as May, 2022, set out its position following proposals by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) that local authorities should be able to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months for breaches of the code of conduct. Before reading and digesting the Government statement it is important to note that an arrest, or being on police bail, does not breach the Members’ Code of Conduct:

“There is no provision in current legislation for a sanction to suspend a councillor found to have breached the code of conduct, and this was a deliberate policy decision by the Coalition Government at the time of the Localism Act 2011 to differentiate from the previous, failed Standards Board regime. The Standards Board regime allowed politically motivated and vexatious complaints and had a chilling effect on free speech within local government. These proposals would effectively reinstate that flawed regime.

“It would be undesirable to have a government quango to police the free speech of councillors; it would be equally undesirable to have a council body (appointed by councillors, and/or made up of councillors) sitting in judgment on the political comments of fellow councillors.”

The DLUHC response highlighted that on the rare occasions where notable breaches of the code of conduct had occurred, local councils did have resort to sanctions under within the current statutory framework:

“Councillors can be barred from Cabinet, Committees, or representative roles, and may be publicly criticised. If the elected Member belongs to a political group, they would also expect to be subject to party discipline, including being removed from that group or their party.

“Political parties are unlikely to reselect councillors who have brought their group or party into disrepute. All councillors are ultimately held to account via the ballot box.”

As part of its response to the CSPL’s report, the Government had recommended that every political party establish their own code of conduct for party members, including elected representatives.

One of the parties represented on Oldham Council, with five elected Members, has no such published code of conduct. Which may be connected to the fact that the behaviour of Failsworth Independent Party’s (FIP) representatives, both in the civic chamber and on social media, is routinely deplorable.

Yesterday, the Oldham Liberal Democrats released a statement clarifying that their six male councillors were NOT involved in any way in the rape allegations (read more here). Elsewhere on Neil Wilby Media it was revealed that two independent councillors, Cllr Aftab Hussain and Cllr Montaz Ali Azad were also NOT involved (read more here).

The Oldham and Saddleworth Conservative Federation, FIP, and the Oldham Labour Party are yet to make any statement over the arrest.

That situation may change during the course of today as 30 male councillors in Oldham still remain wrongly under suspicion and the identity of the councillor arrested now widely, if unofficially, known.

The FIP Chairwoman, Kathleen Wilkinson, is telling all who will listen that none of her three male Council Members are involved in the arrest. They include her husband, Cllr Mark Wilkinson. If she is to be believed, given her proven track record as one not infrequently given to untruths and she is afforded the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, that would reduce the number wrongly under suspicion to 27.

UPDATE: After this article was published, Cllr Wilkinson attempted to infer, in a bizarre exchange on Twitter (read more here), that his wife had not denounced the involvement of male FIP councillors in the rape arrest. He was quickly, and firmly, put in his place.  As frequently occurs when let loose on social media, he proved himself, in a lengthy thread, entirely incapable of reasoned debate and substituted that with highly personalised abuse. Over which he has been reported to Oldham Council for assessment of alleged breaches of Standards expected of elected Members (read more here).

He also made the bizarre claim that he was about to report on a serious Standards complaint made against him last year (read more here), the outcome of which is normally held to be confidential.

Page last updated Tuesday 27th September, 2022 at 1450hrs

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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