Former councillor “vindicated” over complaint by former chief exec

AFTER an investigation lasting more than a year that spawned a 283 page report, a potentially explosion confrontation between a former acting chief executive of Thurrock Council and one of its senior councillors fizzled out as a damp squib on Monday evening.

Neither protagonist in the clash between Bob Coomber and Stuart St Clair-Haslam, former chair of the Council’s planning committee, appeared before the rarely convened Consideration, Pre-hearing and Hearing Sub-committee on Monday evening.

Statements from both were read out as two councillors and two members of the authority’s Standards Committee met to decide the fate of Mr Haslam, who had been the subject of a four part complaint by Mr Coomber.

He took exception to comments and actions by Mr Haslam saying the former councillor had failed to treat others with respect, prevented someone getting information they were entitled to by law, brought his office into disrepute and failed to have regard to advice by the Monitoring Officer in relation to the Council’s Code of Conduct.

An investigation found two of the charges were without foundation but Mr Haslam still faced the accusation of failing to treat others with
respect and bringing his office into disrepute.

The scene was set for a full hearing that might have lasted several days and cost thousands of pounds, but following Mr Haslam’s failure
to get re-elected in May, the matter failed to run the ultimate course.

Mr Coomber said he was prepared to withdraw the complaint if Mr Haslam agreed to submit to further training before standing for Council again. In a letter to the Council he said he would, but members of the
hearing committee still had to make a decision on what to do.

At Monday’s meeting Cllrs Steve Liddiard and Ben Maney, together with standards committee representatives Karen Boyles and Mike Carpenter,
who chaired the meeting, were told a final decision on whether to lay the matter to rest or go for a full hearing lay with them.

Deputy Monitoring Officer David Lawson told the meeting that Mr Coomber had submitted his complaints after a heated meeting of the Planning Committee on 22 April, 2010 when Mr Haslam had launched a tirade against officers over a number of controversial planning
applications.

That precipitated the investigation, led by Thurrock legal officer Daniel Toohey and Brian Keane, Head of Legal Affairs at Brentwood Council, whose findings were put before the review committee.

However, the options open to the committee were limited by the fact that Mr Haslam is no longer a councillor, said Mr Lawson. “On the basis that this committee doesn’t have any powers of sanction against him, your only power would be to make an adverse finding against him.

Mr Coomber is happy to withdraw and save the public more expense, if Mr Haslam agrees to undergo training if he seeks election again.

“You have to decide whether to grant or refuse the Complainant’sapplication to withdraw his complaint.”

Mr Carpenter said: “There’s been a painstaking investigation but we seem to be hamstrung at the end of it.”

Cllr Liddiard said: “I don’t see any public interest in taking if further than tonight, common sense tells me we should go along with the recommendation to finish it tonight.”

Cllr Maney added: “Reluctantly, as both parties have come to an understanding, it seems we won’t have a hearing that would enable Mr St Clair Haslam to clear his name.”

However, it seemed Mr Haslam was largely vindicated by a summary comment from Mr Toohey, who told the meeting that in a review of Mr Haslam’s conduct: “We didn’t find anything at any time that indicated any malicious behaviour.”

Members of the hearing sub-committee unanimously agreed to allow the complaint to be withdrawn, bringing the matter to a conclusion.

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