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Former Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy quits as chairman and leader of the Conservative group

PUBLISHED: 20:50 01 February 2013 | UPDATED: 20:50 01 February 2013

The former leader of Norfolk County Council has announced he will not seek to return to the role, after quitting as chairman of the Conservative group.

Derrick Murphy emailed fellow Conservatives to announce his resignation as leader and chairman of that Conservative group hours after a standards hearing into his conduct over a controversial email.

He said revelations at that hearing meant he would have to pursue a number of “very important issues” against the council, which he said would be ”incompatible” with his position as chairman of the Conservative group.

Mr Murphy was cleared of all but one of seven claims made against him.

But in a remarkable day at County Hall, the standards committee found Derrick Murphy did bring his office into disrepute and heard how relations between Mr Murphy and the council’s chief executive had broken down.

Sanctions imposed by the committee include training in ethics, the committee writing a letter to Mr Murphy about his behaviour and a report of the breach will also be presented to the council.

But the committee found he had not treated either the Conservative political assistant Kevin Vaughan, West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney or Nick Conrad with disrespect.

And on the issue of breaching the code of conduct through his answers to chief executive David White, the committee did not uphold that, saying the evidence was incomplete and unclear.

The hearing heard how Mr White had secretly recorded an interview with Mr Murphy last April over the sending of an email.

That email was sent by Kevin Vaughan, the political assistant to the Conservative group at County Hall, to BBC Radio Norfolk, in April last year.

It was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, was due to appear on Nick Conrad’s show to discuss the King’s Lynn incinerator, which has long been a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.

It suggested it might “be pertinent information” for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing “a serious leadership challenge” and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.

When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation at County Hall, which concluded in the summer that Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy. Mr Vaughan later left the council, with a pay-off.

Following the independent report, seven people complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour and the county council asked Jenni Richards, QC, an expert in local government, to investigate.

She concluded Mr Murphy should face a standards hearing, with her investigation finding he had asked Mr Vaughan to lie about who asked him to send the email and, in conversations with the council’s chief executive about the issue, Mr Murphy “gave answers that were misleading, evasive and lacked candour”.

That, she said, meant he did not treat Mr Vaughan with respect, amounting to a breach of the councillor code of conduct and bringing his office and the council into disrepute.

And that’s what was discussed today by the standards committee, where the committee heard chief executive Mr White say he had recorded a conversation with Mr Murphy, without Mr Murphy’s knowledge.

•There will be a full report and reaction in tomorrow’s Eastern Daily Press as well as an exclusive interview with Mr Murphy.

•For full details of today’s hearing, and the dramatic statements made throughout, read our live blog from County Hall using the link at the top-right of this page or by going to www.edp24.co.uk/news/standards-hearing-blog

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