Councillor is found guilty of abusing staff

Bob Brierley
Bob Brierley

A controversial independent councillor is in hot water once again after being found guilty of abusing female members of staff at the council.

Bob Brierley, an independent councillor who has previously been sanctioned for his language in meetings, was found to have breached the code of conduct on bullying and abuse, brought the council into disrepute.

He denied the claims made against him.

But a standards committee panel backed the independent investigating officer who said she believed the councillor made abusive calls to the legal officer Janet Davies.

Ms Davies told the committee on Friday that Coun Brierley repeatedly called her a liar and on one occasion said: “Take me to f***ing court then, you bitch.”

She said that she was ‘extremely shocked’ by his language and was consoled by colleagues who overheard his comments on the phone.

“Calling me a bitch was the bit I found particularly offensive,” she said. “It’s a derogatory term to women, I felt it was belittling and it was genuinely upsetting,” she added.

Ms Davies, who was appointed as a contact person for the councillor, said she received regular phone calls from Coun Brierley over a two-year period where he would become aggressive, call her ‘useless, disgusting and a liar’ and would threaten to report her to the police and the legal body, the Law Society.

She also said that he would refer to details of her personal life which she found ‘disconcerting’ and ‘unacceptable’.

Coun Brierley denied all of the allegations in the meetings. He said: “I’ve not breached the code. I never said those things.” He was supported by his colleague, Coun Paul Maiden who asked why no complaint had been made to the police about his conduct.

Coun Brierley described the allegation as ‘disgusting’ and said: “Throughout my career, I have been made the scapegoat of allegations upon allegations.”

But the panel found the councillor – who represents Hindley Green – guilty of breaching three paragraphs of the council’s code of conduct.

They also agreed with the investigating officer on her finding of the facts, which included regularly calling Ms Davies and using abusive language. She presented a report of findings based on a ‘reasonable level of probability’.

Independent investigating officer Linda Comstive said Ms Davies was a long-standing officer who ‘shouldn’t have to deal with this’.

Coun Brierley’s actions showed ‘deviant’ behaviour over a long period of time, Ms Comstive said, and argued that existing sanctions for councillors ‘aren’t severe enough to deal with the breaches’.

In a separate hearing earlier Coun Brierley was also found to have threatened the job of a different officer last year.

The unnamed officer said he threatened to ‘have her job’ when she told him to leave the secure-access Withnall House building – which at the time of the incident dealt with confidential children’s services issues.

Coun Brierley maintained that he was only in the building to use the toilet after being misinformed that it was the right place for a housing query that he was checking on behalf of a resident.

He said he was reprimanded by an ‘abrupt’ female officer for being in the building – which he said he had been let into by an officer – and left soon after.

Again, the panel found that Coun Brierley had breached the code of conduct.

Leader of the opposition Coun Michael Winstanley, who chairs the standards committee, said on the balance of probabilities they found Coun Brierley had breached the paragraph on abusive behaviour – although not bullying - and on bringing the council into disrepute.

He was ordered by the panel to write an apology to both women.

Coun Winstanley said that the panel recommended that the monitoring officer and chief executive ‘consider if there are any administrative measures that can be used for both the protection of officers and to ensure the proper functionality of the council and democratic process’.

Coun Maiden had argued that Coun Brierley’s disabilities had not been taken into account by the panel and said it wasn’t fair that a man with dyslexia should only be given five working days to read through both stacks of documents.

But legal advisor David Kitson said that Coun Brierley had been offered help.

In a statement issued after the hearing, David Hope, representative at GMB Trade Union, said: “The GMB Union will support all staff that are bullied by anyone. Coun Brierley should do the right thing and apologise and resign as there is no place in politics or the workplace for this behaviour.”

Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall said: “Once again this councillor has shown that he resorts to abusive behaviour against female members of staff. We have made it clear this is totally unacceptable and we will not tolerate it.

“We must take a stand together against this type of abuse. We are pleased that the outcome of the hearing supports this. Despite several previous standards investigations, Coun Brierley continues to behave inappropriately and disrespectfully.”