A COMMUNITY leader whose behaviour was being officially investigated is furious the case against her has been dropped without having the chance to clear her name.
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, has ended his investigation into Flintshire councillor Alison Halford, saying it is not in the public interest to continue.
But Ewloe member Cllr Halford said she would take legal action to challenge his decision “regardless of the cost”, with Mr Tyndall informing her it did not mean she had been “exonerated”.
The investigation was sparked by former Flintshire Council leader and current Buckley Bistre East councillor Arnold Woolley, who complained to the Ombudsman in 2010 about Cllr Halford’s behaviour.
Mr Tyndall wrote to both councillors, explaining his decision.
Cllr Woolley said he was satisfied with the Ombudsman’s decision.
“These matters are so historic, they are of no interest to anybody,” he said.
But Cllr Halford has written to the Ombudsman appealing against his decision and she is in discussions with her lawyers.
“He cannot find me guilty and remind me to stick to the codes without allowing me my side of the story,” she said. “I’m being found guilty of a complaint from another councillor when I’ve had no chance to defend myself.
“You can’t do that. It’s unjust and I’m not putting up with it.”
In his letter to Cllr Woolley, which was copied to Cllr Halford, Mr Tyndall said he had made the decision because of lengthy delays.
He said the investigation into Cllr Halford had been postponed pending the outcome of a tribunal into former Flintshire councillor Patrick Heesom.
The tribunal ended in July. Cllr Heesom, of Mostyn ward, is soon to have an appeal against his two-and-a-half-year ban as a councillor heard at the High Court.
Mr Tyndall wrote: “I am not satisfied that in view of the delay it is in the public interest to continue.”
He said because of the passage of time, if Cllr Halford was found to have breached the Code of Conduct it was unlikely a sanction would be imposed.
Cllr Woolley referred Cllr Halford to the Ombudsman just months after a separate tribunal found her to have misled the panel in relation to Cllr Heesom’s behaviour.
Details in a journal kept by Cllr Woolley were used as evidence against Cllr Halford.
Following the case, Cllr Halford emailed Cllr Woolley asking to see the original journal.
In his letter to Cllr Woolley, Mr Tyndall said his decision to cut short the investigation “does not in any way condone the behaviour you have described”.
He wrote: “It is my view that the content of the letters and emails you have complained of fall below what would be expected from a member of a council and may be considered to be evidence of a breach of the Code of Conduct.”
In his letter to Cllr Halford, Mr Tyndall told the former Delyn Assembly Member and Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable she had not been cleared of the complaint made against her.
He wrote: “You should be aware you have not been exonerated in this matter and remember your future behaviour as a councillor needs to reflect a commitment to abiding by the requirements of the Code of Conduct.”
Cllr Halford believes she would have been cleared if the case had been continued to a conclusion.
“The evidence just wouldn’t have stood up,” she said.
She said a recent legal decision had forced the Ombudsman to rewrite that part of the code that deals with freedom of speech.
Malcolm Calver, a councillor in Pembrokeshire, was found to have breached the Code of Conduct for Local Government after posting insulting comments about fellow councillors on the internet.
But in May last year the High Court ruled the censure had violated Mr Calver’s human rights under Article 10, which protects freedom of expression.
A spokesman for the Ombudsman said complainants were entitled to appeal against decisions within 20 days. Following an appeal being considered, there is then the option of taking the matter to judicial review.