Hearing into former Norfolk County Council leader cost £35,000

Derrick Murphy at the standards committee hearing at County Hall.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Derrick Murphy at the standards committee hearing at County Hall.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Simon Finlay

The recent standards hearing into the conduct of former Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy cost the taxpayer more than £35,000, it has been revealed.

The county council had commissioned QC Jenni Richards to investigate Mr Murphy's behaviour in connection with an email which was sent to the BBC in April last year.

And the authority confirmed today that the bill for her services was £35,275.

Ms Richards had recommended that the standards hearing find that Mr Murphy had breached the councillor code of conduct four times in relation to the email and that it clear him of three other breaches.

But the committee cleared him of six of seven, although it did find he had breached the code of conduct once. In asking his political assistant to claim it was not Mr Murphy who asked him to send the email, Mr Murphy, had the committee, said, brought his office and the council into disrepute.

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The 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.

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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 Ms Richards, an expert in local government, to investigate.

She concluded Mr Murphy should face the standards hearing. She said her investigation had found Mr Murphy 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.

But the committee, having heard Mr Vaughan himself speak of his admiration for Mr Murphy and that he did not feel disrespected, concluded he had not been treated disrespectfully.

The committee members also rejected evidence from Mr White as 'incomplete and unclear' after he told the hearing he had secretly recorded a conservation with Mr Murphy about the sending of the email.

Mr Murphy was cleared of the two alleged breaches in relation to his conduct when interviewed by Mr White.

Mr Murphy, having already stepped down as council leader and chairman and leader of the Conservative group, has decided not to stand as a councillor for Forehoe in May's elections.

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