A Scottish Borders councillor has been cleared of misconduct after facing accusations from community councillors.
East Berwickshire councillor Jim Fullarton was accused of acting in a threatening manner towards two female community councillors at a meeting of Eyemouth Community Council in January 2018.
Community councillors James Anderson, Lucy Anderson (no relation) and Jan Weeks accused councillor Fullarton of shouting at the two female councillors and banging his fists on the table in a threatening manner.
The three community councillors also accused councillor Fullarton of calling Jan Weeks ‘a moaning woman’.
While councillor Fullarton admitted to banging on the table, and raising his voice, he said he did so in order to regain order in the meeting, as several people were shouting over him.
Furthermore, he admitted to using the term ‘moaning’, but said it was not directed at anyone in particular.
The dispute arose from the concerns of tenants of Berwickshire Housing Association, of which councillor Fullarton is a non-executive director, who want the housing association to carry out basic repairs to their properties.
At the January 2018 meeting of Eyemouth Community Council, councillor Fullarton was accused of not passing on the concerns of residents, although he said that he had raised the issue at board meetings, but the repairs could not be completed due to a legal dispute with contractors.
The meeting became heated, and councillor Fullarton raised his voice to be heard over the commotion and banged his fists on the table, which he says he did to regain order and to allow the meeting to carry on. The minutes of the meeting show the meeting then carried on as normal.
All three put in a complaint, with Lucy Anderson’s complaint reading: “He was derogatory when addressing me and I felt he was also being aggressive to the point where he was banging his fists on the table.
“This was very intimidating and unacceptable behaviour and has made me feel like I can’t have an opinion or bring up the community’s concerns without him starting an unnecessary argument.”
However, at a hearing held by the Standards Commission for Scotland on Wednesday November 6, a panel of legal professionals found that councillor Fullarton had not breached the councillor code of conduct and that he was simply expressing himself during a heated discussion.
During the hearing, five witnesses, including councillor Fullarton himself, were examined by the Standards Commission’s senior investigations officer Martin Campbell and councillor Fullarton’s representative Ian Burke, of Galashiels-based Borders Employment Law.
The first three witnesses, James Anderson, Lucy Anderson and Jan Weeks, were found to have conflicting testimony, as neither could agree on details such as whether councillor Fullarton was standing, how long he had banged the table for and to whom he had directed his ‘moaning’ comment.
The fifth eyewitness, Alice Fisher, who attended the meeting of Eyemouth Community Council in January 2018, corroborated councillor Fullarton’s account of the meeting.
Furthermore, a statement was submitted by Police Scotland’s PC Suan Jacobs, who attended the meeting as a police community liaison. She too corroborated councillor Fullarton’s account of the meeting.
Announcing their decision, the chair of the hearing panel, Ashleigh Dunn, said: “Councillors have a duty under the code to treat members of the public with courtesy and respect, even if they disagree with their views.
“However, while they cannot simply indulge in offensive behaviour or personal abuse, they have a right when discussing matters of public concern, to freedom of expression. In a political context a degree of the immoderate and emotive must be tolerated.
“In this case, the panel’s opinion was that councillor Fullarton’s conduct, in the context of a heated meeting and discussions with community councillors, being other public representatives, fell within the scope of that which is acceptable.”
After the announcement, a visibly emotional councillor Fullarton was surrounded and congratulated by his Conservative colleagues from Scottish Borders Council, who had turned out to support him.