No action against Halford for misleading watchdog

Reporter:

Kate Forrester and Lois Hough

A SENIOR Flintshire councillor did mislead a watchdog investigation, a panel of judges decided yesterday.

But no disciplinary action is to be taken against Ewloe Cllr Alison Halford, ex-Merseyside Police assistant chief constable.

Cllr Halford was accused of breaching the Councillors’ Code of Conduct by seeking to mislead an investigation by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales into the conduct of fellow councillor Patrick Heesom.

He is being scrutinised over allegations of bullying towards Flintshire Council officers, including during the appointment of a new housing department chief. Both members were members of the recruitment panel for the role.

Yesterday, at an Adjudication Panel for Wales meeting held at Northop Hall Country House Hotel, Cllr Halford broke down in tears when the panel announced she would face no disciplinary sanctions.

Following a meeting in February 2009 to appoint a new Head of Housing, Cllr Halford said in a statement: “I would describe Cllr Heesom as a very knowledgeable member, who questions and challenges officers.

“I have not seen any evidence or bullying or harassment by Cllr Heesom.”

But in a later email to a colleague, she wrote: “He is clever, but a bully and destructive.”

Panel chairman Helen Cole told the tribunal: “The view she expressed to her colleagues was different to her statement so her statement was untruthful and misleading.

“Her failure to attend an Ombudsman interview was also an attempt to hinder the investigation.”

Ombudsman lawyer Tony Child said: “We certainly find the statement was misleading. The consequence was to divert the Ombudsman’s services away from the investigation.

“Such behaviour falls short of the behaviour expected of a county councillor.”

Barrister Colin Crawford, who represented Cllr Halford, said his client could not attend the Ombudsman interview because of ill-health.

It was revealed in an earlier hearing that she was recovering from breast cancer at the time.

“We are not saying Cllr Halford was fully co-operative with the Ombudsman, but she had provided a statement for someone who she felt was being unjustly accused and then was herself unjustly accused, which was not a good start for the relationship,” he said.

Taking half an hour to decide her fate, the panel announced no further action would be taken against Cllr Halford, who was Delyn’s first AM.

Last night, Cllr Halford said she was delighted by the findings of the Ombudsman to take no action against her.

She said challenging the Ombudsman was difficult without a bottomless pit of money. The inquiry had cost her more than £10,000 and the ratepayer tens of thousands of pounds. She said she stood by the Nolan principles of honesty and truthfulness and had made statements to the Ombudsman.

Although found to have in parts breached the council’s Code of Conduct, the decision to take no action was a clear vindication.

See full story in the Leader

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