Councillor reported to standards committee

Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher
Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher

A COUNCILLOR has been reported to a standards committee after a member of the public complained about his behaviour at a meeting.

Hartlepool resident Paul Mitchinson has lodged a formal complaint with Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief solicitor Peter Devlin having attended a Health Scrutiny Forum meeting at the Civic Centre yesterday.

Mr Mitchinson and 20 other members of the public attended the meeting, chaired by Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, after understanding the long-running hospital saga was on the agenda.

When the three-hour meeting drew to a close and the hospital had not been discussed, Save Our Hospital campaign leader Keith Fisher asked a question in the ‘any other business’ section of the meeting regarding the recent changes made at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

But Coun Akers-Belcher’s response to the question sparked an angry response from the public gallery.

In an email sent to Mr Devlin yesterday, Mr Mitchinson said: “Mr Fisher stood up and very politely asked why there had been no report about the ‘U turn’.

“Coun Akers-Belcher’s response was astonishing. He was extremely dismissive and almost snapped his response that nobody had changed anything and that there had never been an intention for the Trust to report on returning services.

“I would have at least expected him to show some concern and try to get to the bottom of the misunderstanding.”

Mr Mitchinson went on to call for Coun Akers-Belcher to be suspended, and urged Mr Devlin to launch an investigation.

He added: “This man is not just performing the role of a councillor – he is the chair of the most important scrutiny forum in the council.”

Speaking to the Mail this morning, Mr Mitchinson said: “All councillors should behave with courtesy at all times, but forum chairs should produce an even higher standard of conduct, commensurate with their level of responsibility.

“I think that Coun Akers Belcher should be removed from chairmanship of the forum.”

Coun Akers-Belcher was quick to hit back at the claims, and insisted he would be happy to discuss the matter with the Standards Committee.

He said: “This is an attack which is both politically and personally motivated.

“If these people are serious about saving Hartlepool hospital and defending and representing people, then I would suggest they start doing that rather than starting slanging matches.

“At one point during the meeting, I had to ask for some order.

“I am not going to get involved and sidetracked by accusations like this, I am more concerned about doing the job I have been elected to do to the best of my ability.

“I firmly believe I have done nothing wrong, and I am happy to liaise with the standards committee.”

A council spokesman confirmed that the hospital issue was never on the agenda for yesterday’s meeting.

The spokesman said: “We did issue advance publicity to emphasise that yesterday’s scrutiny forum meeting was held specifically to debate cancer awareness and early diagnosis, and that a separate meeting would be held on Thursday, February 9, when representatives from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust will outline their plans for services at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.”