The highly publicised outpouring of details about sexual abuse by men in positions of power has seen a decisive response from many of the institutions involved.
Not so with Peterborough City Council, who take a strong line defending Councillor Andy Coles despite the appalling facts about his abuse of women. In the 1990s, Coles abused his power as an undercover police officer to groom a teenager known as Jessica into a sexual relationship.
Coles resigned as Cambridgeshire’s Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner in May last year, within hours of the revelations about his past. But it appears that role has toweringly high standards compared to the City Council.
The Council’s code of conduct is clear that
– councillors must treat others with respect
– councillors must not bring the council into disrepute
However, they claim this refers to their behaviour whilst they are a councillor, rather than their activity beforehand. The facts of Andy Coles’ behaviour are shocking and indefensible – not even he has tried to justify it.
In December, Peterborough resident Amanda Preston submitted a question to be put to the Council meeting.
‘The recent, long overdue, decisions by political parties and other institutions to take action against men who sexually abuse women is to be commended.
‘If a councillor is publicly known to have abused a position of power in order to commit acts of sexual abuse then, even if it pre-dates their membership of the Council and thus falls outside the Code of Conduct, would that councillor plainly be bringing their role and the Council into disrepute?
‘Should they therefore be expected to resign?’
On 6 December, the Council’s Democratic and Constitutional Services Manager issued an astonishing response.
‘Following advice from the Monitoring Officer the Mayor has confirmed that he has rejected this question as it is considered potentially ‘improper, defamatory, or offensive’ and may ‘require the disclosure of confidential or exempt information’ based on the following grounds:
‘The council is not the proper place to decide conduct matters relating to Councillors. It would not be possible to maintain the rules of natural justice in that setting.
No Councillor should have to answer to full council for actions arising before they were a Councillor which fall outside the code of conduct. There are many Councillors who have issues in there [sic] past and to use notices of motions directed individuals is potentially defamatory and indeed offensive.’
They are saying that no matter how heinous a Councillor’s activities, if it occurred before they were elected it is offensive to expect it to impact on their position as councillor. And if the Council is not the proper place to decide matters relating to councillors, where on earth is?
Is there really nothing a person can have done that would make them unworthy of a seat on Peterborough City Council? Or is the council regarding this matter – the acknowledged abuse of power to violate human rights and sexually abuse citizens – as a trivial irrelevance?
Whichever, it means Peterborough City Council disgraces itself by its abdication of moral values.