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Barnet councillor Brian Coleman's abrupt emails 'unnecessary', says independent investigator
Barnet councillor Brian Coleman has been found guilty of breaching the members’ code of conduct after sending abrupt emails to members of the public.
Cllr Coleman was cleared of bringing the council into disrepute at today’s standards sub-committee meeting, but was found in breach of code 3.1 which says members must treat others with respect.
External investigator Keith Stevens was called in to consider complaints against Cllr Coleman’s responses to emails from four people calling for Veolia to be removed from the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) bid.
At today’s sub-committee meeting Cllr Coleman, who sits on the NLWA board, said he received several hundred similar emails from constituents, some of whom he believed to be affiliated with British Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) - an independent group campaigning for peace and justice for Palestinian people.
In one email to Dr Jago, Cllr Coleman wrote: “I will continue to ignore this campaign from you and other anti Zionists.
“In my book anti Zionism is just a modern form of anti Semitism, I suppose 70 years ago you would have been in the blackshirts.”
Dr Jago said: "Obviously, to suggest someone would have been a Nazi blackshirt is deeply unprofessional, abusive and insulting."
Cllr Coleman’s email address has been listed on the PSC website which encourages supporters to lobby him about Veolia, a company which was involved in building a light rail system linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel.
Condemning PSC and its supporters, Cllr Coleman said: “It is a campaign of harassment and intimidation of all members of the North West London Campaign.”
In light of this, Cllr Coleman's solicitor, Stephen Hocking, defended emails to the complainants Dr Charlotte Jago, Ron Cohen, Roger Higginson and Mark Stuart-Smith.
Mr Hocking argued: “What does he do if he’s confronted by someone who is involved in an anti-Semitic campaign. How is he supposed to show that person respect?”
Cllr Coleman said: “If there has been anything worth fighting for in my career it has been to fight anti-Semitism in this borough and in my constituency.
“I don’t apologise for anything. I don’t regret it. I will stand up to all this type of nonsense every day of the week.”
In the cases of Dr Jago and Mr Cohen the sub-committee agreed with the independent investigator and found Cllr Coleman guilty of breaching 3.1 of the code.
Reading from his report regarding Dr Jago’s complaint, Ms Sander said: “It was unnecessary, and did not constitute proper political comment as part of a reasonable political debate deserving protection in a democratic society.
“It went well beyond the high but reasonable limits if genuine political expression in a democratic society, was rude and personally offensive, unfair and unreasonable, and amounted to an expression of anger and personal, demeaning abuse directed at the complainant.
With regards to Mr Cohen, Ms Sanders said: “Cllr Coleman would have known that the language of his replies would cause hurt and distress to an Israeli and that he was being personally offensive, abusive and demeaning.
“His replies were unnecessary and did not constitute political comments as part of a political discussion being attempted by the complainant.”