No fault by councillors

Ray Martin-Wells
Ray Martin-Wells

TWO Hartlepool councillors have been cleared of allegations of misconduct after a four-month investigation.

Hartlepool Borough Council Conservative group leader Councillor Ray Martin-Wells lodged the complaints against former Independent member Keith Fisher and Geoff Lilley of Putting Hartlepool First.

They related to alleged breaches of the council’s Code of Conduct during a vote on a planning application for the proposed hospital site at Wynyard Park at a planning committee meeting on February 19.

It was alleged that Mr Fisher had broken council rules by already predetermining how he intend to vote on the application.

Councillor Martin-Wells claimed Mr Fisher had said at an event to launch the Hartlepool Vision project that he would never vote for a hospital at Wynyard.

When interviewed, Mr Fisher said that despite his strong opinions voiced in support of the Save Our Hospital Campaign, he felt did not interfere with the proposed new hospital development and his determination of that planning application.

He added his mind was “not closed” and that he felt his views did not interfere with his consideration of the planning application.

Mr Fisher said: “I like to think I’m a principled man and I can close my mind off to other things.

“All my questions at the meeting were about planning points.

“I was appalled by the reality that it was the Hartlepool Mail who told me of the official complaint long before either the council or the complainant made any mention of it whatsoever.”

Councillor Martin-Wells also alleged that Councillor Lilley had influenced his Putting Hartlepool First group leader Councillor Keith Dawkins who initially voted in favour of the hospital application then voted against it.

But the investigation, by the council’s chief solicitor and an independent person, found that no other committee members questioned had heard what comments had passed between Councillors Lilley and Dawkins.

Councillor Lilley said he had just wanted to make sure that Councillor Dawkins realised that he had voted for the application, as it had appeared from the debate that Councillor Dawkins was opposed to it.

When interviewed, Councillor Dawkins said that he had voted twice by mistake because he did not have his hearing aid in.

The investigation found Councillor Lilley’s actions did not characterise a breach of the council’s Code of Conduct.

Coun Lilley told the Mail he believed the complaint was politically motivated and questioned the cost.

He said: A lot of senior officers are spending too much time dealing with complaints that shouldn’t even be there.

“I’m pleased the report has been published and there was no fault against myself or Keith Fisher.”

Coun Martin-Wells stood by his decision to make the complaints. Referring to the decision for Mr Fisher he said: “It brings into question the suitability of our current standards system and I will be recommending the audit and governance committee look at the make up of our standards protocol in the future.” With regards to the complaint against Coun Lilley, Coun Martin-Wells said: “I made the complaint in good faith.”