I reproduce below an article published today by the Evening Standard, written by journalist Ross Lydell, about a hearing into a complaint by former councillor Betty Evans-Jacas, who defected from Labour to the Conservatives in October 2009.
Cllr Steve Reed: an apology. Further to my blog about the Labour leader of Lambeth council being in hot water over his Twitter and blog attacks on Tory defector Betty Evans-Jacas, the full extent of his behaviour has come to light. And it’s hard to blame him for what he did.
Lambeth council’s standards committee decided on Monday that Cllr Reed, a comrade of Ken Livingstone, breached the authority’s code of conduct by revealing confidential information about his former Labour colleague – namely, that she was in arrears on her council tax. Such behaviour was not in the public interest and was not made in good faith, it ruled.
However it cleared him of a charge of failing to treat others with respect, saying his views on her were “reasonably held opinion”.
It did not accept the claim from Ms Evans-Jacas’s representative that he had acted “recklessly and maliciously” in (accurately) disclosing her non-payment of council tax, which barred her from voting on council financial matters for THREE years.
It decided against any sanction because Cllr Reed had already made a written apology, and a protocol was now in place among rival council leaders to control future situations.
However, all Lambeth councillors are to get advice on “necessary vigilance on tweets and blogs”. I notice Cllr Reed now says on his Twitter page that he is “tweeting in private capacity”.
To recap, here’s what Cllr Reed said about Ms Evans-Jacas (this can now be revealed following the publication of the full council inquiry, albeit against his wishes):
On 9 October 2009, in an article on www.stevereed.org.uk headed “Turncoat councillor betrays local people”: “I wonder if the Tories would have accepted their new defector [if] they knew that she’s barred from voting on financial matters at the town hall because of
irregularities in her own financial relationship with the council. After failing to pay council tax on one of her properties – despite a string of legal warnings – she is no longer allowed to vote on anything to do with the council’s budget, council tax or finances.”
On 10 October 2009, he posted on Twitter: “Turncoat Lambeth cllr barred from voting on financial issues for ctax nonpayment – scandal! http://www.stevereed.org.uk”
On 16 October 2009 he tweeted: “Betty Evans-Jacas deal on expenses to defect to Tories will net her 70p for each voter in her ward if Tories install her vice-chair of LFEPA”
On 15 October 2009 he tweeted: “Feeling sick, found out how much Tories paid Cllr Betty Evans-Jacas to defect. Details to follow shortly on my website”
Cllr Reed argued that it was in the public interest to disclose the information. And who can disagree? According to the report, Ms Evans-Jacas was unable to vote on financial matters for “more than THREE YEARS” because she was in arrears on her council tax.
What’s more, she frequently failed to turn up for constituency surgeries, and did only two pieces of casework over one 12-month period. Yes, she was ill (the report says she suffered a stroke). But she was well enough to claim her expenses – including £10,724.50 in 2007/8, £9,964 in 2008/9 and £10,599 in 2009/10.
In addition, she got London fire authority allowances of around £7,300 a year (and more when Brian Coleman found her a new job after she jumped ship to the Tories). It must also be remembered that her defection allowed the Tories to seize control of the fire authority and force firefighters onto new shifts – after two bitter strikes.
In short, her behaviour deserved to be exposed – and Cllr Reed was right to complain that the code of conduct could never have been meant to protect a councillor who failed to pay council tax.