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Flintshire committee set to discuss ‘sexual favours’ ban rule

Flintshire County Hall

A FLINTSHIRE committee is set to consider whether a new rule is required for its code of conduct.

It follows the former deputy leader of Flintshire Council being suspended from being a councillor for four months after sending sexualised messages to a vulnerable woman.

The Adjudication Panel for Wales found Connah’s Quay Central representative Bernie Attridge breached the local authority’s code of conduct on seven occasions following a tribunal held in April.

The findings are now set to be discussed by members of the council’s standards committee after the independent councillor was also sanctioned for acting in a bullying and disrespectful way towards officers.

The authority’s chief governance officer Gareth Owens said the case had attracted “widespread revulsion”, whilst noting some had viewed the punishment given to Cllr Attridge as “too lenient”.

In a report, he said the committee needed to consider if further measures were required to provide reassurance over safeguarding procedures and protect officers from his behaviour.

He said: “The case tribunal is the properly appointed body to reach decisions and did so on the basis of evidence that is before it which is not available to others.

“However, it is fair to say that the widespread reaction is that the decision is too lenient.

“The committee has no powers to alter the decision nor to request a review.

“The committee’s role at this point is to decide whether action is needed in response to the findings.

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“The message exchange with the resident was a rare event and allegations of councillors seeking sexual favours from residents are extremely uncommon.

“The facts have met with widespread revulsion, and it is clear that his actions are seen as transgressive.

“Would the committee wish to see something included within the code of conduct for councillors prohibiting seeking sexual favours from residents or is such an injunction ‘self-evident’?

A complaint was initially made against Cllr Attridge after he was contacted in March 2021 by a Flintshire resident seeking help to find a council house for her granddaughter.

The woman was receiving support from social services at the time after being identified as a vulnerable adult.

Messages were then exchanged between the complainant, named only in the panel’s report as “Ms M”, in which Cllr Attridge made a number of sexualised comments.

After contacting housing officers to seek assistance with her case, he was said to have become “rude and threatening” when they were unable to help and showed a similar attitude towards Mr Owens.

Discussing measures to protect staff from such behaviour, Mr Owens said: “Training has already been provided to councillors on respectful communication in response to the recommendation in the committee’s first annual report.

“There will be further training to be delivered jointly to members and officers in relation to the respective roles of officers and councillors and on how the professional and political interface should function.”

Cllr Attridge previously apologised to the panel for his behaviour, citing a traumatic childhood event as the main cause for his misconduct, as well as mental and physical ill health.

The report notes he has also sent written apologies to the complainant, as well as the council’s housing manager and Mr Owens.

As well as being suspended from sitting on Flintshire Council, he was also prevented from being part of Connah’s Quay Town Council for four months.

The report will be discussed by members of Flintshire’s standards committee when they meet on Monday (June 3, 2024).