Councillors rebuked for insulting messages about hyperlocal news website editor
A councillor has been told to apologise and another is facing formal censure after calling a journalist ‘pea-brained’ and ‘grubby.’
Guildford Borough Council’s probe into the actions of councillors Paul Spooner and Graham Eyre heard the Tory pair were accused of sending emails and messages about the editor of local news website the Guildford Dragon.
Editor, Martin Giles, complained to the council about their comments and the committee heard from the investigating officer that the facts in the case were “straightforward and not particularly in dispute”.
Simon Gaucher, a partner at Weightmans LLP, had looked into the communications and interviewed those involved in the case, which centred around a story about Coun Spooner being elected the Conservative group leader on the council in June 2021.
The committee found that the councillors had breached the council’s code of conduct regarding treating others with respect and in terms of councillors conducting themselves in “a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the council into disrepute”. Coun Spooner said in the meeting he disputed the fact he was acting in his capacity as a councillor, saying these were conversations held in a private forum, and there was a grey area in this respect.
The meeting was told: “Mr Giles is a journalist writing about and commenting on political matters so must be expected to receive a certain amount of comment on his reporting by those he reports about. However, the comments made by Coun Spooner which I have found to result in a failure to comply with the code are merely personal and abusive (“So you can get stuffed” and “pea-brained editor”) and cannot be categorised as political expression.”
The meeting also heard the same considerations applied in Coun Eyre’s case when he called Mr Giles a “grubby little boss” in an email to one of the site’s reporters, David Reading.
Coun Eyre told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I don’t believe I was in breach of the code of conduct because I sent the email from my private email account and it contained thought to someone I had known for years.”
Coun Spooner made clear in the meeting he would not apologise to Mr Giles or the Guildford Dragon, and on this basis the committee decided he should be subject to formal censure.
He will also be sent a formal letter of advisement about his conduct. Coun Eyre will be sent a formal letter of advisement about his conduct and asked to apologise to Mr Giles.