Someone at East Devon District Council (EDDC) knew that former Conservative councillor John Humphreys was under investigation for sex crimes against children while still serving as a councillor, it has been alleged.
Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporting Service www.exmouthjournal.co.uk
Labour councillor Paul Millar (Exmouth Halsdon) made the claim at a full council meeting this week.
Humphreys, 60, who also previously served as mayor of Exmouth, is now serving a 21-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting two teenage boys 10 years apart.
He was arrested in 2016 before being released on bail on suspicion of the crimes he would eventually be convicted of in August last year.
Cllr Millar’s claim could have serious implications for the council. The investigation into Mr Humphreys was not made public at the time and he continued to be a councillor until May 2019, eventually being awarded the honorary title of alderman by EDDC in December that year.
Despite being under investigation since 2016, no officers or councillors at EDDC have said that they had any knowledge of the allegations against Mr Humphreys during his time in office or when he was named as an alderman. Following his conviction in August last year, the council retracted the honour.
Addressing the council, Cllr Millar said: “I, unfortunately, have to share that I have been made aware by somebody I consider to be a very reliable source that a senior individual in East Devon District Council was officially made aware whilst Mr Humphreys was a councillor that Mr Humphreys was being formally investigated by police for sexual allegations.”
In response to the claim, a spokesperson from EDDC said the questions raised by Cllr Millar would be something for the council’s cabinet ‘to consider in due course’.
At the meeting, councillors agreed to commission an external investigation looking into the circumstances around Mr Humphreys from 2016, when he was first arrested, until he received his alderman award in 2019.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Cllr Millar said: “There has to be a way that individuals in any way involved in the [alderman] nomination process are able to intervene to prevent nominating a potentially inappropriate individual.
“The principle of innocent until proven guilty does not extend to individuals facing serious charges and receiving civic honours at the same time.
“No institution in its right mind should ever risk offering a civic honour if they had any knowledge within that institution of a serious criminal investigation that could be taking place.”
Cllr Jess Bailey (Independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare), who proposed the idea of an external report, said it should have one key thing in mind: ‘child protection and safeguarding of children’.