East Devon District Council (EDDC) have further postponed making a decision about the need for an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to them to award an honour to a former Conservative councillor who was later sent to prison.
“I am sure this type of thing will happen again. Maybe a district council, maybe a parish council, or maybe a town council,”….“So that’s where you should be focusing your attention, in my opinion. ….that’s why I don’t think it would be a proportionate use of public money merely to sort of focus in on Humphreys.” The CEO now advises against a separate independent investigation.
Not just an open case but a festering sore in the local Conservative party. It’s in no one’s long term interests to sweep this under the carpet. – Owl
Exmouth Journal Staff www.exmouthjournal.co.uk
He was a prominent councillor at a time when the Conservatives controlled East Devon.
Whilst the court case ended over a year ago, this is still an open case in the council. In April EDDC councillors accepted a proposal for chief executive Mark Williams to provide a report to the council about whether it should commission an independent investigation into how, despite his 2016 arrest, Humphreys continued to serve as a councillor until May 2019. He also retained his position as lead member for Exmouth and was even bestowed the honour of alderman in December 2019.
His arrest was not made public until he appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court in October 2020.
In the cabinet meeting on Wednesday (7 September), members heard from the chief executive, who changed his recommendations within an hour of the start of the meeting.
The report outlined the reasons Mr Williams advised against a separate independent investigation but in the meeting, he requested an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) and that “the CEO bring to that meeting an updated report incorporating the recently received correspondence from the Conservative Party, the proposed motion from Cllr Bailey and others and any other relevant update.”
This correspondence from the Conservatives was said to be the first meaningful exchange of communication from the party since Humphreys was sentenced in August 2021, and arrived just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, a fact that the leader of the council, Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley), described as “morally completely unacceptable”.
Mr Williams said: “I am sure this type of thing will happen again. Maybe a district council, maybe a parish council, or maybe a town council,”
“So that’s where you should be focusing your attention, in my opinion. But you’re the council, you can decide otherwise. But that’s why I don’t think it would be a proportionate use of public money merely to sort of focus in on Humphreys.” He concluded.
Councillor Jess Bailey (independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare) has previously said she believes an investigation is necessary told the meeting that Mr Williams was being dismissive of an important issue.
“We spend an awful lot of money on an awful lot of things that are actually considerably less important than this,” she said.
“And I would actually disagree [with Mr Williams]. How many councillors, how many councils in the country have had a councillor convicted and sentenced for sexual abuse and sent to prison for 21 years? I would think there’s very few. It’s exceptionally serious.”
In December 2021 the leader of the council alleged East Devon’s Conservative knew Humphreys was under investigation by the police for sex crimes at the time he was given an honorary title.
Cllr Eileen Wragg, a Liberal Democrat, has previously told the council she “certainly knew” of the allegations.
In other meetings councillors have expressed concerns that, as a governor of a school in Exmouth, Mr Humphreys would probably have gone through enhanced criminal record checks and yet was still appointed to senior positions.
The headteacher of the primary school gave evidence on Mr Humphreys’ behalf at his trial and told the jury he had never had concerns about his behaviour.
East Devon’s cabinet backed Mr Williams’ recommendation for an extraordinary general meeting. It is expected to take place on the week of 19 September.
[Need to keep looking at the EDDC meetings calendar which is in a state of hiatus at the moment, but could be the meeting scheduled for 28 September]