Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Complaint about Tory councillor rejected

A HENLEY town councillor will not face any disciplinary action for alleged misconduct during a council

A HENLEY town councillor will not face any disciplinary action for alleged misconduct during a council meeting.

Dylan Thomas, a member of the ruling Conservative group, has been told he has no case to answer over a complaint made by an official of the opposition Henley Residents’ Group.

The complaint arose out of a council meeting on June 23 which was discussing the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

HRG councillor Stefan Gawrysiak proposed that a percentage of new housing built in the town should be set aside for people with a “strong local connection”.

Councillor Thomas replied: “That sounds a bit racist to me — a bit UKIP.”

Ken Arlett, chairman of Henley’s UKIP branch, who was in the public gallery, interrupted, saying: “I do not need to hear that, thank you very much.”

Cllr Thomas then called Mr Arlett, a former town mayor, a “little man” and made a hand gesture. Dick Fletcher, secretary of HRG, claimed the gesture was “obscene” and made a formal complaint to South Oxfordshire District Council.

Now the district council had said it has completed its investigation and won’t be taking any action against Cllr Thomas, who was elected in May.

Margaret Reed, head of legal and democratic services, said: “The monitoring officer has decided to take no further action on this matter.

“There is clear scope for political debate, huff and puff and ‘knockabout’ in a political setting. Although the complainant is not a councillor, he is secretary of the Henley Residents’ Group.

“The complainant has not alleged that Cllr Thomas has called an individual racist but rather that he referred to UKIP’s policies as racist. The comments are considered to be within acceptable parameters of political debate.”

Mrs Reed said Cllr Thomas’s gesture was interpreted by more than one person as “obscene” and “offensive” so could amount to a breach of the councillors’ code of conduct but it was not “significant enough” to justify spending public money and officer time on an investigation.

“Councillor Thomas has agreed that his conduct was ill-advised and that it has caused offence, even inadvertently, and has offered an apology to the complainant,” she added.

Cllr Thomas, who lives in Northfield End, called on Mr Arlett to consider his position as chairman of UKIP.

He said: “He has no democratic mandate — when he stood at district level he got fewer votes than I did standing at town level, which I think is pretty damning and sums up what people think of his leadership of UKIP.

“I’d suggest that its members should be asking for his resignation because he is just a disruptive influence with no value. He has led them to a dismal performance at the polls and people are getting sick of his ridiculous lashing out.”

Cllr Thomas also called on Mr Fletcher to consider his position. “I have a lot of respect for many of our HRG councillors and wonder how they will feel about this,” he said. “If Mr Fletcher doesn’t do the honourable thing and resign I hope they will ask him to.”

Mr Fletcher, who lives in Mill End, Hambleden, said: “My complaint was not in any way considered or approved by HRG. It was a private individual’s complaint. I received an apology from Cllr Thomas, so I don’t see the need to consider my position.

“For the obscene gesture they have decided not to spend public money on it but I think a lot of people in the room were offended. I hope Cllr Thomas behaves better in future.”

Mr Arlett said Cllr Thomas had implied that UKIP and HRG were racist and added: “He should be reviewing his position.”

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