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WREXHAM: Chirk town councillor who ‘bullied’ teacher could have suspension reduced

WREXHAM: Chirk town councillor who ‘bullied’ teacher could have suspension reduced

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A TOWN councillor who was found to have bullied a teacher could have his suspension reduced following an appeal.

Gareth Baines, who sits as an independent on Chirk Town Council, was initially sanctioned by Wrexham Council’s standards committee at a meeting in June.

A three-month suspension was issued after committee members heard Mr Baines had contacted complainant Rachel Allen’s employers in a bid to get her into trouble after she raised a grievance against him.

In an e-mail, the former chair of the Clwyd South Conservative Association accused Mrs Allen of making a “vindictive and vexatious” complaint about him to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW).

Although her initial complaint was thrown out, it was alleged that in sending the resulting e-mail he had attempted to “smear her name in the workplace”.

The council committee found he had breached parts of the local authority’s code of conduct which require councillors to show respect and consideration, not to use bullying behaviour and not to use their position to create a disadvantage for other people.

Members said the fact Mr Baines also copied the Education Workforce Council into his message was an aggravating feature.

He later appealed against the punishment and a hearing of the Adjudication Panel for Wales was held today (Thursday, 16 December) to consider his case.

PSOW representative Katrin Shaw said despite Mr Baines’ previous good record, she felt the sanctions against him were reasonable.

She said: “Of note is the breach of the paragraph of the code of conduct, namely, not to bully or harass any person. That is a serious breach of the code in the Ombudsman’s view.

“Suspension is an appropriate response to the misconduct on Councillor Baines’ part.

“Clearly he was concerned about the complaint that had been made to the Ombudsman about him.

“However, the evidence is there as to why breaches of the code were found.”

She added: “A further aggravating factor is the fact it appears that he has an ongoing lack of understanding or acceptance of his conduct that led to the breaches.

“He doesn’t appear to accept that the complainant was legitimately concerned about the fact that her employer had been contacted, and also that the email was copied to her professional body the Education Workforce Council.”

Mr Baines was said to have been co-operative during the investigations into his conduct.

However, Ms Shaw said he did not appear to recognise the impact of his actions on Mrs Allen.

He previously claimed he sent the e-mail to raise safeguarding concerns but did not detail any in his correspondence.

Ms Shaw said the Ombudsman felt there were no grounds to reduce the suspension.

Wrexham Council’s chief governance officer Linda Roberts told the panel the standards committee had considered its decision carefully.

She said: “It was the added e-mail to a regulator that the committee was particularly concerned about.

“They saw that as being a particular concern that Cllr Baines was seemingly deliberately setting out to cause further trouble for the complainant.

“The committee also had some concerns about his attitude to the code of conduct.”

She said he had failed to undertake training on the code of conduct either before or after the events in 2019.

Mr Baines was not present at the hearing but submitted a written statement to the panel in which he offered “unreserved apologies” for his actions.

Members also heard medical evidence submitted by Mr Baines which was detailed in private.

The panel recommended the suspension should be reduced to two months at the end of the hearing.

Panel chair Richard Payne said: “In reaching a decision upon the appropriate sanction, the tribunal has given credit to Cllr Baines for his full co-operation with the Ombudsman’s investigation and the standards committee process.

“The tribunal has had regard for a number of mitigating factors amongst which are that the misconduct arose from provocation on the part of others and Cllr Baines has a previous record of good service.

“The tribunal considers the breaches of the code to be serious and that emailing the regulatory body of the complainant was a particularly aggravating factor. However, on balance there are more mitigating than aggravating factors.”

The panel endorsed the other punishments imposed by the standards committee, including for Cllr Baines to undertake training and send a letter of apology to both Mrs Allen and the chair of Chirk Town Council.

Mr Payne said the decision to reduce the suspension was not binding on the committee, but it will be considered by members at a later date.

Mr Baines has been approached for comment.

Words: Liam Randall, Local Democracy Reporter

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