Former Maldon District Council leader faces disciplinary sanctions after standards committee finds him in breach of code of conduct

By The Editor

7th Sep 2021 | Local News

Former Maldon District Council leader, Conservative Councillor Adrian Fluker
Former Maldon District Council leader, Conservative Councillor Adrian Fluker

THE former leader of Maldon District Council has been found in breach of the council's code of conduct by a standards committee for waging a campaign of humiliation against a gay councillor.

Now Conservative Councillor Adrian Fluker, who resigned from the leadership of the council in August, will be told that Maldon District Council's Joint Standards Committee (JSC) will be recommending to full council that he is formally censured and banned from sitting on committees and working groups for 12 months.

Maldon District Council's JSC decided on the sanctions today (3 September) after considering an independent report on an investigation which Cllr Fluker refused to cooperate with.

The findings of the independent report

The independent report published on the council's website last week found that Cllr Fluker bullied fellow Tory Councillor Richard Siddall on a number of separate occasions, including:

  • making a joke to council officers about what Cllr Siddall would do when he got home to his husband
  • shouting "Siddall" in front of other councillors before a council meeting last August, with the clear intent of drawing attention to the fact that his outfit was not compliant with the Conservative group's dress code
  • talking to Cllr Siddall in a deliberately camp manner at a council meeting in September, both in relation to what he was wearing and with the comment "hello sailor"
  • making a throat cutting gesture towards Cllr Siddall and another councillor when they abstained from a vote in the same meeting.

The report, by C, H and I Associates, drafted in by the council to independently investigate the claims following a formal complaint by Cllr Siddall and other councillors over Cllr Fluker's behaviour, concluded that:

"Councillor Fluker's conduct towards Councillor Siddall appears to be designed to deliberately undermine and humiliate him whenever the opportunity arises."

The investigators found that Cllr Fluker had broken the council's code of conduct, so 'bringing the council into disrepute'.

Investigator Alex Oram told today's JSC meeting: "The investigation focussed on trying to establish the facts. We decided to interview a number of councillors about the alleged incidents.

"We had to make some considerations about whether the code of conduct had been breached. Councillors are only obliged to comply with the code when they're on council business.

"It is not usual for a councillor not to co-operate with an investigation."

Mr Oram said that in around 300 different investigations he had carried out for local authorities, he could recall just 10 or 11 where councillors under investigation had refused to co-operate.

He added: "I was disappointed that as leader of the council Cllr Fluker did not choose to set an example in this."

Councillor Stephen Nunn asked for clarification on the cost of the independent report, following reports in the media of a £50,000 cost for a recent, separate investigation report. Mr Cram told the meeting that his report would not even reach a five-figure sum in cost to the council.

The "hello sailor" remark.

Cllr Nunn asked Mr Oram to clarify his thoughts on the "hello sailor" remark made by Cllr Fluker to Cllr Siddall.

Mr Oram said: "My own thoughts were that it wasn't intended as a normal greeting between two yachtsmen, but that it was a deliberate attempt to mock Cllr Siddall. The tone and manner in which he made the comment was a camp manner – and a lot of the members we spoke to did suggest that it had been done in that way."

Mr Oram advised members it was possible they may consider that Cllr Fluker did lead the entire authority to breach anti-discrimination and harassment legislation, but that his findings related specifically to a breach of the council's code of conduct rather than any breach of the law.

He added: "The code of conduct isn't intended to restrict political debate, but it is intended to ensure that councillors show respect to each other."

Councillor Anne Hull defended Cllr Fluker's remark as she felt it was "jovial" and intended to make the end of a meeting "more jolly". She said that Cllr Fluker's behaviour in meetings towards Cllr Siddall "hadn't come across" as bullying to her.

Chair of the meeting, Cllr Helm, also defended Cllr Fluker and dismissed some of the report's findings, saying that Cllr Fluker had offered an apology to Cllr Siddall that was not accepted.

However, most of the councillors at the meeting agreed with the findings of the report – and found Cllr Fluker in breach of the council's code of conduct.

Councillor Christopher Swain said: "I accept the conclusions of the report that there was a general pattern of behaviour that was bullying. His actions in the meetings are reproachable in the public's eyes and rather reduce the importance of the meetings themselves."

Cllr Swain also expressed concern at breaches of confidentiality by Cllr Fluker with regard to his remarks to council officers on Cllr Siddall's sexuality.

The original February JSC response to the complaint about Adrian Fluker

The council's JSC revisited the complaint today in light of the independent report.

At a previous JSC meeting in February - prior to the report – councillors had decided that no further action against Cllr Fluker was required.

As a result of that meeting, a complaint was made by other councillors that resulted in a separate report finding three Conservative councillors on the committee had 'brought the council into disrepute' by failing to act with the political impartiality required.

None of the councillors found to be at fault in that report – Cllrs Sue White, Bryan Harker and Bob Boyce - were part of today's JSC. Cllr Bryan Harker last week resigned both as a district and Heybridge Parish councillor after more than 25 years' service.

     

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