Councillor admits guilt and apologises over mystery allegation
- Credit: The Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk
A councillor has apologised after admitting his guilt over allegations made against him - but details of the case are being kept secret.
Shimit Patel, a Conservative member of King's Lynn and West Norfolk council, was due to face a private hearing into the case on Wednesday.
At the meeting, an admission of guilt and an apology were tabled. However, the case was then adjourned until January 31 because councillors were said to need more time to consider reports on the matter.
The public and press were barred from the hearing and Mr Patel was initially not named as the councillor concerned. But a council spokesman confirmed on Thursday that Mr Patel, who represents Downham Old Town ward, had been the subject.
The spokesman added that a decision would be made on January 31 about whether any more details about the case would be released.
He added: “Until this hearing is concluded the council will not be making any comment on the subject matter of the complaint as councillor Patel is entitled to have due process followed fairly and in accordance with the law.”
At the adjourned Wednesday meeting, committee chair Simon Nash said the allegation had been raised by Terry Parish, leader of the council’s independent opposition, on April 23.
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The council's monitoring officer had then decided the matter should be directed to a standards panel on September 23.
A training session on standards was arranged and attended by some committee members on Friday December 10.
At that session, the trainer advised that a six-week period was "reasonable" for councillors to read the reports and formulate questions.
But the panel had only been given the papers relating to Mr Patel’s conduct on on Thursday December 9 – the day before the training session took place.
"Even though an admission of guilt and an apology has been tabled [that] does not, in my opinion, grant sufficient time,” said Mr Nash, a political independent.
He added that Labour councillor Christine Hudson, who had been drafted to the panel “at the very last minute”, had possibly not received her paperwork, or if she had, would not have had more than a day to read it - and nor had she received any training.
Mr Patel was approached for comment.
An investigation was previously known to have been launched in April of this year against three councillors.
It is understood that that investigation was in connection with a complaint relating to the decision making process at two planned housing developments: Parkway in Gaywood and flats at Southend Road car park in Hunstanton.
Analysis: Why can't we know?
Just how much information should the council disclose on this mysterious matter?
There is a precedent when it comes to deciding how much detail should be made public from standards meetings at Norfolk councils.
Former Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy faced such a hearing in 2013 after he was found to have breached the councillor code of conduct by asking a political assistant to lie on his behalf.
The council’s monitoring officer advised in a report at the time that “the public nature of a politician's role means that there can be no general expectation of privacy and that a politician must expect to have information as to potential wrong doing in a public role enter into the public domain”.
The hearings into Mr Murphy were all conducted in public - in stark contrast to the case against Mr Patel, which is being conducted in private.
It is also possible that the panel will decide at that meeting to keep all of the pertinent agenda papers private from the press and public - despite the fact that Mr Patel has already admitted to the allegation and apologised for it.