Mayor slams councillor for social media post and 'breaking code of conduct'
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
The mayor of Downham Market and town councillors have criticised a fellow councillor for his "offensive" social media post and "campaign of bullying and harassment."
Downham Market Town Council (DMTC) held a full council meeting on Tuesday, July 13 in which councillors aired their issues with Doug Lawson's 'conduct.'
Mayor Jenny Groom said the councillor was under investigation by a monitoring officer for "bullying and harassment."
She said: "You have for some reason, known only to yourself, persisted for many months in orchestrating a campaign of bullying and harassment directed at our clerk and some fellow councillors.
"Your objective apparently to get the clerk sacked.
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"I, as mayor of DMTC, am asking you to stop this horrific campaign.
"Our clerk was lawfully employed by us following all proper procedures, she has worked extremely hard for the council in spite of being undermined by your continuous persecution.
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"And now over the last few days we have had even more of your vile Facebook comments.
"You have broken and continue to break our code of conduct."
Mr Lawson responded to the investigation as "all lies", adding: "I shall continue to act lawfully at all times."
Jo Woodmin said she was "baffled" by Mr Lawson's behaviour and read out a Facebook post which she said was in response to Josie Ratcliffe's motion on councillors' code of conduct.
The motion, which Ms Ratcliffe said is to "remind" councillors' of their obligations under the code of conduct, was on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting but it has now been moved to the next full council meeting.
It said members should 'promote and maintain high standards of conduct in public life' and that they have a duty of care to council staff and a 'responsibility to work constructively with colleagues'.
A question from a member of the public about the motion was posted on the Downham Market Discussion Forum Facebook page last week, which asked whether the council would ban people from bringing up a complaint if they are unable to submit evidence within one month of raising it.
Responding to the post, Mr Lawson said: "This looks like the motion from Josie Ratcliffe, that someone with basic legal knowledge should have told her is unacceptable in a country like the UK where free speech is still permitted.
"As a Lib-Dem type, free speech is probably not a big thing, but for others whose parents fought to protect the rights for free speech, it is big stuff.
"When I read it again, I was thinking that she left out the usual credits to original material, such as Mein Kampf or the Stasi guide to operational procedures."
It added: "The bits I missed, were the threats of sending offenders to the death camps, gulags or killing fields."
After reading out the comments, Ms Woodmin said: "We are all aware, he has made other unacceptable comments regarding people who are disabled, young people, people of faith, people who are other than heterosexual."
Mr Lawson interrupted by saying "all lies".
"He is also accusing councillors, past and present, of unlawful and illegal activities, of lying, of malevolence, of being market wreckers, on being bent on destroying the town", Ms Woodmin continued.
"Those councillors he has attacked and the clerk have done nothing but strive to do their best for the people of Downham Market."
In response, Mr Lawson said: "I wish to see this council start to act lawfully at all times, simple." He did not comment further.
Newly-elected councillor Simon Gomes-Da Costa, who is of Jewish heritage, said he found the post "deeply offensive" having lost relatives in the Nazi death camps and in the Russian gulags.
He added: "My family lived in Poland, Russia and Holland. I demand a written public apology for your offensive outburst on social media.
"You need to take inclusion and diversity training, and a course in anti-Semitism."
Charlie Pyatt asked councillors to return to the agenda, saying: "Are we not here for a council meeting instead of a witch hunt?"
Ms Groom then moved the meeting on from the mayor's announcements to the next agenda item.