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Disqualified Mostyn councillor in appeal to High Court

Published date: 02 April 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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A LONG-SERVING county councillor is appealing to the High Court against a decision to ban him from public office.

Cllr Patrick Heesom claims the ban interferes with his freedom of expression as an elected representative.

Cllr Heesom has represented Mostyn on Flintshire Council for more than 20 years and was described as a 24-7 councillor, devoting almost his entire working day to council business.

But a tribunal panel last summer found him guilty of 14 breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct and banned him from standing as a councillor for two-and-a-half years.

The former leader of the council’s group of independents is appealing against the decision, claiming it is flawed and breaches his Article 10 human rights for free speech and political expression.

The appeal hearing is listed to take four days before Mr Justice Hickinbottom, sitting in The High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, administrative court, at Mold.

His barrister, Mark Henderson, told the court yesterday “the nuclear sanction” taken against Cllr Heesom constituted a disproportionate interference with his right to freedom of expression as an elected member.

He claimed the panel which considered his case erred in its findings and they were not extremely serious breaches and did not justify the sanction imposed.

The panel wrongly adopted the criminal standard of proof, he said.

“It was a disproportionate interference with his freedom of expression, especially in the context of the highest standard of protection that applies to the political expression of an elected representative,” he said.

The disqualification had a grave effect upon him and had serious implications for his electorate.

“They have been deprived of the representative whom they have consistently chosen, and elected again in 2012, after the complaints against him had been publicised,” he said.

A complaint in March 2009 which initiated a long investigation by the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales was the first such complaint against the 76-year-old.

There had been no fresh allegations since 2009, yet the panel had decided he should be disqualified in the summer of 2013, Mr Henderson said.

The complaints went back to a period between 2007 and 2009 and Cllr Heesom continued to represent his constituents until July 2013.

No by-election could be held until the appeal had been completed.

The panel found Cllr Heesom had made a number of threats to council officers; attempted to coerce officers; sought to involve himself in housing allocation decisions in respect of his constituents contrary to statutory provisions; acted in an intimidating and aggressive manner towards officers; harassed one officer; and adopted bullying behaviour towards three officers.

But Mr Henderson said it was not an issue of whether people approved or disapproved of the way he operated.

“It is not whether at particular meetings they thought he was forceful, confrontational, a bit rude or very rude,” he said.

He said Cllr Heesom was elected to represent Mostyn, had been re-elected and led the largest opposition group at the time.

Judge Mr Hickinbottom said there was a line to be drawn between doing what was proper as a politician and going beyond that line.

The panel found he went beyond that line.

Mr Henderson said the case involved no criminality, the language used was not seriously offensive and there was no suggestion of abuse of office for personal gain.

The appeal is being conducted by submissions from Mr Henderson and from Mr James Maurici QC, representing the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales.

Proceeding

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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