Councillor facing ban over dust row campaign claims: “I’m no bully”

Coun John Marshall
Coun John Marshall

A CAMPAIGNING councillor is facing a four-week suspension if he does not apologise for “bullying” environment chiefs in a row over “dust”.

John Marshall led the charge for residents on the Headland over claims their lives had been blighted for 20 years by dust from businesses on Victoria Dock.

They claim their health is being put at risk by the industrial waste which is also causing thousands of pounds of damage to homes and cars.

Years of campaigning, letter writing and public meetings were dismissed ealier this year when a report by a public health professor found there was no health risk.

Vocal Coun Marshall vowed to fight on with residents who threatened to boycott their council tax and lobby MPs.

But the saga has now taken a new twist after claims of bullying of officers in Hartlepool Borough Council’s environment protection against Coun Marshall were upheld.

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He has now been told to apologise or he will be barred from his council duties for a month.

Independent Coun Marshall today strenuously denied bullying and said he will take the ban rather than say sorry.

The accusation dates back two years to a series of meetings over the issue.

Coun Marshall said: “This is now two years old and I suddenly find out that I have been found guilty.

“I haven’t seen a report or any interview statements. I don’t even know the particulars of what I’m accused of doing.

“But it seems they have made up their mind. They can do with me what they like as there is no way I am going to apologise.

“The only people who sit in judgement of me are the people who elected me.”

A meeting was held by the council’s standards committee on December 13 to look into two complaints made about Coun Marshall’s conduct – and both were upheld.

Coun Marshall refused to attend the committee’s hearing, calling it a “kangaroo court”, but has had support from residents in his ward.

A council spokesman said: “The committee decided that he had behaved in a way that amounted to bullying in respect of his dealings with officers working in the council’s environmental protection team and that he had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct.

“The committee took the view that Coun Marshall should provide a written apology. A failure to do so should result in a one-month suspension from the council.

“In relation to a second complaint, the committee also upheld the findings of an investigation and found that Coun Marshall had not failed to comply with the Code of Conduct. No further action was proposed in respect of this complaint.

“Coun Marshall has been informed of the standards committee’s decisions and his right of appeal.”

Coun Marshall told the Mail he has no plans to appeal, as it would be “pointless”.

Several residents rang the Mail to support Coun Marshall’s claim and said they have sent a joint letter of support to the council.

Among them were Lynn Rennie, 49, and her husband Stan, 50, a gas worker, who said they attended the meetings and Coun Marshall did not “bully” anyone while speaking on their behalf.

Mrs Rennie, who lives on the Town Wall, said: “We are absolutely disgusted by what is happening. He only went in and did what we asked him to do, and did not bully anyone.

“We were there and heard everything. He is doing his job for the people he represents.”

Speaking at a Hartlepool Borough Council scrutiny forum meeting in February, Professor Peter Kelly, executive director of public health for NHS Tees, said health problems are down to the age of the population, levels of deprivation and high number of smokers as much as anything.

He concluded: “There is no indication of any excess ill health caused by environmental factors.”

In the summer,Labour councillor Jonathan Brash, then chairman of the council’s health scrutiny committee, said the process had looked in great detail at the concerns raised when the issue was discussed during a meeting of the council’s cabinet committee where the report was backed.