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"I feel vindicated" says Barnet blogger after Coleman's code breach
DISGRACED councillor Brian Coleman is only the second serving councillor to breach the council code of conduct in the past ten years.
The revelation came after the serving mayor of Barnet was found to have acted improperly during email correspondence with a blogger, whom he branded an “obsessive, poisonous individual”.
He was hauled up in front of the standards sub-committee last Thursday to respond to a complaint made by Mill Hill musician Roger Tichborne, the author of the blog Barnet Eye Independent investigator Melanie Carter had previously concluded in a report that Mr Coleman had failed to comply with Paragraph 3 of the code: failing to treat others with respect, in relation to the email.
The Conservative councillor for Totteridge was responding to an email sent by Mr Tichborne to all Conservative Barnet councillors addressing council leader Mike Freer on comments he made in a podcast about bloggers.
Ms Carter said at the meeting that both sides accepted the blogger’s initial email was “respectful, measured and polite” and did not warrant what she called an “extremely offensive abusive and disrespectful” response.
She asked the committee to consider whether the words “obsessive” and “poisonous” fall into a benign category and if it constituted “respectful communication”.
Representations were made to the hearing by Mr Coleman’s solicitor Stephen Hocking, of Beachcroft Ltd, who highlighted his client’s rights to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.
He said there was a defence in having a freedom of speech to respond to a blog he claimed had provoked Mr Coleman. The councillor himself said he had been subjected to “abject personal abuse” which was beyond “normal political dialogue”.
He highlighted references to Mr Coleman by Mr Tichborne where he called him a “hypocrite”, “arrogant, lazy and useless” and “Barnet’s favourite numpty”.
Mr Hocking said the blogs forced councillors to accept being vilified without being able to defend themselves.
But Ms Carter said Mr Coleman was not responding to a blog, but a “reasonable email”, and Mr Carter was unable to persuade officials that the London assembly member for Barnet and Camden had acted in a proper way.
Chairman of the committee, independent member Stephen Ross, said the breach was not serious enough to warrant a sanction being imposed on Mr Coleman, but he is liable to reimburse the council for the £10,000 legal cost paid out to employ Beachcroft Ltd.
In 2004, former councillor Alan Sloam was the only person since 1999 to be found in breach of the code after an adjudication panel ruled he had tried to fraudulently use a disabled parking badge. He was disqualified from office.
Speaking after last week’s hearing, Mr Tichborne said the decision vindicated him bringing the complaint.
He said: “I hope he learns something from this. I am disappointed the council didn’t feel it right and proper to make some sort of example of Mr Coleman to show elected members they shouldn’t treat members of the public in this way.
“I am not saying I don’t talk about him in strident terms, but he has a history of making outrageous comments.
“My advice to Coleman would be to concentrate on being a politician and doing a good job for the people of Barnet because obviously some people like him and respect him and he undermines that by making clearly inflammatory remarks.”
The reasons for the committee’s decision will be set out in writing in a notice to be sent to the parties within two weeks.