Waveney’s Labour group leader should say sorry

THE leader of Waveney's Labour group could be forced to apologise to his fellow councillors and stand down from a council committee for remarks he posted on Twitter.

The Journal can today reveal the results of an investigation into Julian Swainson after five complaints were lodged with Waveney District Council surrounding comments posted on the social networking site.

The assessment sub-committee of Waveney's standards committee met last Thursday to discuss the allegations that Mr Swainson had made 'several comments' on his Twitter account that were in breach of the council's code of conduct.

The sub-committee report, seen by The Journal, states that 'in particular it is alleged that several of the tweets are offensive, abusive, obscene and disrespectful to fellow councillors and national politicians, and also sexist and racist.'

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The Journal revealed a fortnight ago how Mr Swainson had come under fire for the nature of the tweets on his personal account – which included one relating to female councillors on opposition benches. At the time Mr Swainson, who lives in Henstead and represents the Harbour ward in Lowestoft, apologised after admitting it could be seen as offensive. He has removed it from his Twitter account.

But after assessing the complaints last week, the sub-committee decided to refer the allegation to the council's monitoring officer Arthur Charvonia for 'other action,' as opposed to 'investigation' or 'no further action.'

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The 'other action' recommended is that:

The monitoring officer provides all councillors who use any social media, either in a personal, political or council capacity, and in particular councillor Swainson, with training regarding appropriate language, the use of social media, the code of conduct and the principles of public life, with specific reference to the lessons to be learned from these complaints and councillor Swainson's behaviour on Twitter.

As offered, councillor Swainson should now deliver a full and unreserved personal apology to each of the complainants.

Mr Swainson makes an additional apology to the whole council at the next full council meeting.

The sub-committee also strongly recommended that Mr Swainson stands down from his position on the standards committee and that the full council appoints an alternative councillor to fill this position. It also urged him to consider whether his position as chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee was tenable any longer.

The report, ratified by the independent chairman of the sub-committee Caroline Nixon, states that six documents were researched – including around '2,200 tweets on councillor's Swainson's Twitter account' and Standards for England advice.

The sub-committee concluded that: 'Councillor Swainson had not used his Twitter account to act, claim to act, or give the impression of acting as a representative of the council.'

But it did decide his Twitter account could be regarded as him conducting the business of the office of a councillor. The assessment sub-committee accepted that this may never have been councillor Swainson's intention, but concluded that, regardless of that, the councillors' code of conduct applied to his Twitter account.

The report continued: 'The assessment sub-committee concluded that councillor Swainson's use of offensive language both in his own tweets and in re-tweets, could be in breach of paragraph 3(1) of the code of conduct in that they may fail to treat others with respect, and go beyond the acceptable level of robust political debate between politicians.'

It also strongly condemned the use of such offensive language by councillor Swainson on Twitter.

'In the assessment sub-committee's opinion such language should never be used in such a way by publicly elected politicians, regardless of whether the code of conduct is technically applying to them at the time or not. Such politicians are responsible to their electors and should, at the very least in public forums, demonstrate the highest possible level of public morals, provide a positive role model and actively show respect for the people that they represent at all times.'

As well as Mrs Nixon, the other assessment sub-committee members involved in this hearing were councillor Simon Woods and councillor David Richardson.

Mr Swainson did not wish to comment yesterday.

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