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Warwickshire councillors who caused outrage with comments about SEND families are cleared of breaching code

By Andy Mitchell,

Local Democracy Reporter

COMPLAINTS against three Warwickshire councillors over comments made on SEND provision have been dismissed.

Conservative councillors Jeff Morgan (Bulkington & Whitestone), Brian Hammersley (Bedworth Central) and Clare Golby (Arbury) have all been cleared of any breach of Warwickshire County Council’s code of conduct.

It follows a lengthy investigation into hundreds of complaints over their contributions to a scrutiny panel debate on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in January.

They were there to assess the council’s SEND analysis which addressed some of the demand and cost pressures that has led to overspends for authorities up and down the country.

The comments surrounded the scale of demand with Cllr Morgan questioning whether some children put forward for assessments were “just really badly behaved” and in need of “some form of strict correction”, Cllr Hammersley asking whether a surge in demand was down to “something in the water” and Cllr Globy referring to social media pages where “families are swapping tips on how to get their children diagnosed”.

Warwickshire County Council’s investigation cost more than £24,000.
Warwickshire County Council’s investigation cost more than £24,000.

The investigation found that Cllr Morgan and Cllr Hammersley had failed to be respectful, “champion the needs of the whole community” and uphold the reputation of the council but also that they had been entitled to make the comments under freedom of speech protections.

Meanwhile, Cllr Golby’s words were not deemed to have been disrespectful or “caused reputational damage” or have evidenced a failure to champion the needs of the whole community.

That meant her right to freedom of expression, relied upon to clear the other two councillors, was not necessary, although the findings in her case confirmed that the investigator had “considered this point and concluded that the enhanced protections would have been afforded to Cllr Golby had the findings been different”.

The conclusion on the notices related to Cllr Hammersley and Cllr Morgan stated that the council’s monitoring officer Sarah Duxbury – its most senior legal professional – recommends that chief executive Monica Fogarty “considers ways in which councillors can be supported to engage fully in debate at scrutiny and other committee meetings whilst ensuring that the language used is respectful, courteous, and sensitive to the matter concerned”.

The investigation cost £24,225.

The full versions of all three decision notices can be accessed via the following link to Warwickshire County Council’s website: https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/council-democracy-councillors/complaints-councillors/4

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