A DISQUALIFIED councillor has vowed to fight on in a case he says has cost the taxpayer “millions of pounds”.
Cllr Patrick Heesom, who served as long-standing Independent Flintshire councillor for Mostyn until his disqualification last July, learned yesterday his ban for bullying had been reduced by a year.
Flintshire Council said it would now consider holding a by-election for the vacant seat, but Cllr Heesom announced he would appeal the latest judgement in a case that has run for almost four years.
Cllr Heesom was disqualified from public office last July and from being a member of Flintshire Council for two-and-a-half years after evidence he bullied Susan Lewis, the local authority’s former director of community services, was accepted.
He was found guilty by the Adjudication Panel for Wales of 14 breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct over a two-year period, involving nine different sets of circumstances.
But following a High Court appeal, three of those breaches have been quashed and Cllr Heesom’s disqualification has been reduced to 18 months.
After lengthy consideration of the evidence presented and arguments put forward by prosecution and defence, Mr Justice Hinkinbottom found in three cases the tribunal was wrong to find any breach of the code of conduct.
Those cases related to two alleged breaches concerning sheltered housing staff and one alleged breach concerning “the robust and senior” head of planning Carl Longland, “particularly as he did not consider himself threatened”.
He also concluded that to be in line with sanctions imposed in other cases, a disqualification for a period of 18 months would not be inappropriate.
Mr Justice Hinkinbottom handed down his judgement at the Royal Courts of Justice in a 54-page report.
The report was welcomed in part by Cllr Heesom’s legal team but solicitor Kieran O’Rourke said they would make a fresh appeal.
Yesterday’s judgement follows a four-day appeal hearing last month during which a QC for the Welsh Ombudsman told the court Cllr Heesom had behaved in a reprehensible and unacceptable way.
Cllr Patrick Heesom was found to have breached the code of conduct for councillors in serious ways, including bullying, harassment and bringing the office of councillor into disrepute.
During the hearing James Maurici QC, representing the Ombudsman, said Cllr Heesom had a lack of insight into the adverse effect of his conduct on others.
“We cannot but come to the finding that the appellant believed, particularly after he was re-elected in May 2008, that he was all-powerful without the authority to the extent that he felt that he could behave as he wished in terms of officers,” he said.
Mr Maurici, in the Ombudsman’s response to the appeal, said the breaches were
“damning stuff” and much of the allegations were unchallengeable.
The panel had found that his evidence had not been “full, frank and honest”.
His involvement in housing matters went far beyond his remit as a councillor.
Mr Maurici said he had been specifically warned as to the limit of his role.
But notwithstanding that, he had sought to influence officers to act contrary to approved policy of the council in housing matters.
Had the officers so acted, it would have had serious consequences, he said.
Mr O’Rourke said Cllr Heesom’s legal team members were “glad to have won the appeal but had hoped the judge would have gone further”.
“We will be further appealing those parts of the judgement and hold Flintshire Council and the Ombudsman responsible for a colossal waste of taxpayers’ time and money,” he said.
Cllr Heesom said the final cost would go into millions of pounds but said he would follow his lawyers’ advice.
“We have to go to appeal,” he told the Leader.
“I’m not prepared to let this stand at this stage.
“It’s just ridiculous over what were trivial comments but I think we’ve got to.
“If you’re going to get a situation where an officer says they didn’t like what you said, it’s ludicrous.
“I’m pleased there’s been some success with the appeal,” he added.
“But I think unless the rights of elected members are strengthened it’s just very, very difficult to serve.”
Flintshire Council’s head of legal and democratic services, Gareth Owens, said the council was aware of the outcome of Mr Heesom’s appeal.
“It has not been possible to hold a by-election while the appeal was under way,” he said.
“The council will now consider in light of the judgement whether a by-election can now be held without further delay.
“The council's principal cost has been in providing documents and witnesses for the Ombudsman’s investigation and then the hearing.
“Those costs have not been significant.
“That the council’s initial complaint was upheld first by the case tribunal and now by the High Court proves that it was justified.”
A spokesman for the Adjudication Panel for Wales said Cllr Heesom would not be able to stand for election until the disqualification period had expired.
“The Adjudication Panel for Wales cannot comment on the overall cost to the taxpayer, nor on Flintshire’s costs in relation to the case,” said the spokesman.