The Standards Committee of Epping Forest District Council has censured one of its councillors after he was found to be in breach of the councillor code of conduct.
Equality and diversity training
In addition to the formal censure, the committee requires that Councillor Julian Leppert attend equality and diversity training.
The committee added that Councillor Leppert should read the councillor code of conduct after it emerged during the hearing that he had not previously read it. This is something all councillors are required to do before signing their acceptance of office.
The council received complaints after Councillor Leppert published a video and conducted interviews drawing attention to the use of a local hotel to accommodate people seeking asylum. The video was found to have made a series of unfounded and misleading claims.
Councillor Leppert falsely suggested that local crime levels had increased because of accommodating asylum seekers and that charitably donated food intended for local residents, had been diverted to the asylum seekers. Under examination, Councillor Leppert was unable to provide evidence in support of his claims.
All councillors are bound to uphold obligations to:
- Treat others with respect
- Uphold the law
- and not:(a) Do anything which may cause the authority to breach any of the equality enactments
(b) Bully any person
The council also has a duty under the Equalities Act 2010 to:
- Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act
- Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
- Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
The code was found to have been breached as Cllr Leppert made these allegations having announced himself as an EFDC councillor in both the video and the subsequent interviews. He made no attempt to distance the council from his own personal views.
Under the Localism Act 2011, the council has no powers to remove or suspend a councillor for breach of the code.
However, the Standards Committee wished to make its censure in the strongest possible terms and place on record its rejection (and that of Epping Forest District Council) of the views expressed by Councillor Leppert.
Half-truths and lies
Councillor Brian Rolfe, Chairman of the Standards Committee said:
We live in a social media world of half-truths and lies designed to turn us against each other. The vast majority of councillors and residents utterly reject racism.
I believe we are a fair and tolerant community. We believe in the basic human rights of everyone, regardless of colour or origins, to live free from harassment, bullying and fear.
I am truly sorry for the people who have suffered through this. Many, if not all are likely to have fled dangerous or oppressive homelands. Those of us with families will know how hard it would be for us to risk so much for our children.
Regardless of the outcome of each case, I hope we have made a clear statement through the Standards Committee and that the people of Epping Forest will come out of this with their reputation for fairness, generosity and tolerance undiminished.
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