A SENIOR Conservative councillor has been found guilty of bullying a female party colleague and launching an “unreasonable and excessive personal” attack on her at a public meeting.
A formal investigation has concluded that Coun Ian Hutchinson breached Northumberland County Council’s code of conduct in his behaviour towards Coun Anne Dale.
His actions included losing his temper and shouting at her, acting in an aggressive and intimidatory manner towards her and failing to treat her with respect.
The inquiry also found Coun Hutchinson tried to demean Coun Dale in front of everyone at a meeting, and showed a lack of restraint in sending an “irresponsible” email to a council officer which underlined his attitude to her generally.
The council’s standards committee has ruled that Coun Hutchinson bullied Coun Dale at a planning meeting in June last year.
It concluded that he made an unreasonable and excessive personal attack on her, for which he had no justification and which went beyond the concept of firm chairing.
It described his behaviour as offensive, intimidating and humiliating, leaving her feeling shocked and confused, and as likely to be detrimental to her confidence, especially as members of the public were present.
The standards committee has recommended to the council that Coun Hutchinson should be stripped of his position as chairman of the west area planning committee, until the next elections in May 2013, as punishment. It also recommends he be given appropriate training.
Yesterday Coun Hutchinson, who represents Haltwhistle, said he was resigning as chairman of the planning committee with immediate effect. Coun Dale, who represents the Stocksfield and Broomhaugh ward, has not been selected by the Conservatives as a candidate for next year’s council elections.
Yesterday she said she has not yet decided whether to seek re-election under a different banner.
Referring her to her complaint against Coun Hutchinson, she said the whole experience had left her deeply upset.
“As an elected member of the county council, and a member of the west planning committee, it is my duty and legal right to ensure that all planning applications are dealt with within the legal planning framework, to ensure that the integrity of the planning system and the reputation of the council is upheld,” she said.
“On this occasion, Coun Hutchinson attempted to prevent me from asking relevant questions concerning two planning applications, and treated me in an unacceptable manner in a public forum.
“I felt strongly that I was unable to exercise my rights on behalf of the residents of Northumberland. I therefore welcome the investigating officer and committee’s findings, and the thoroughness and impartiality which this matter has been dealt with. ”
Last night Coun Hutchinson said: “I am deeply shocked and hurt that the standards committee has upheld the complaint against me. It is with regret that I have resigned as chairman of the west area planning committee.
“I will continue to serve the residents of Haltwhistle division, and the people of Northumberland, to the very best of my ability.
“I do not accept the report of the standards committee, nor do I recognise the description of my behaviour that it includes, and I’m considering my options accordingly.”