Flintshire councillor asks taxpayers to foot bill for his legal battle

Reporter:

Lois Hough

A SENIOR councillor facing allegations of bullying has asked Flintshire taxpayers to foot his £50,000 legal bill.

Mostyn councillor Patrick Heesom is at the centre of a misconduct probe by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales over allegations that he bullied Flintshire Council’s former head of housing Susan Lewis.

An adjudication panel hearing estimated to last 18 days is set to begin on Monday and Cllr Heesom has requested “indemnity” from the council to cover the costs of his defence.

But a majority of councillors voted yesterday to defer the request for legal aid until the Adjudication Panel for Wales had made a decision.

The idea of making £50,000 available to Cllr Heesom was described as “absolutely scandalous” by Greenfield councillor Rosetta Dolphin who told a full council meeting: “We shouldn’t be paying for this and our council tenants certainly shouldn’t be paying for this.”

Other members said such costs should not come from the public purse at times of financial crisis.

Mold councillor Chris Bithell said: “Someone once said talk is cheap until you talk to a lawyer.

“This is a time when we are facing enormous cutbacks and yet we have to find money of this sort to foot the bill.”

Flint councillor Ian Roberts said: “At this late stage there is very little the council can do. The person who pays the piper should call the tune but we are not calling the tune.

“This council is being asked to write an open cheque.”

Deputy council leader Cllr Tony Sharps, of Northop, added: “We have got to think of the people who got us here in the first place.”

A report presented to councillors said the authority was able to offer financial help to councillors being investigated for code of conduct breaches.

But if they are suspended or disqualified as a result of the alleged breach, then the cash must be repaid.

Cllr Heesom, leader of the recently-formed New Independents political group, stood down from his post as executive member for housing in 2009 after the probe was launched.

He left the meeting while the issue was being discussed.

Some councillors supported him. Broughton councillor David Macfarlane said: “I always thought you were innocent until proven guilty.

“If he is proven guilty, then we will get the money back.”

And Buckley councillor Richard Jones added: “If you don’t give him the right to defend himself and he is found guilty, then we as a council are guilty of not defending him.

“We have got to bite the bullet. I don’t want to but we have got no choice.”

In a letter to the council Cllr Heesom’s lawyer, Martin Howe, said: “The costs of an 18-day trial with the amount of preparatory work required to deal with such a trial are significant.

“I would estimate that solicitor costs could be in the region of £50,000 and in addition there will be costs of counsel.”

Earlier this year an adjudication panel ruled Ewloe councillor Alison Halford had deliberately misled the Ombudsman’s investigation into the conduct of Cllr Heesom, but she was not punished.

She told yesterday’s meeting: “I was given an estimate of £5,000 but because an extra day was added, I had to pay a further £5,000 and I have since had another demand for £3,333 which I was planning to put towards a knee operation.

“Quite frankly I don’t know how Cllr Heesom has coped.”

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