Borders councillor cleared of misconduct allegation

A Borders councillor has been cleared of misconduct after facing allegations of threatening and abusive behaviour at a community council meeting. 

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 4:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th November 2019, 4:57 pm
Councillor Jim Fullarton.

East Berwickshire councillor Jim Fullarton was accused of acting in a threatening manner towards two female members of Eyemouth Community Council in January 2018.

Community councillors James Anderson, Lucy Anderson (no relation) and Jan Weeks accused Mr Fullarton of shouting at two of them and banging his fists on the table in a threatening manner. 

The three community councillors also accused Mr Fullarton, a regional councillor since 2007, of calling Ms Weeks “a moaning woman”. 

Though Mr Fullarton, a farmer, admitted banging the table and raising his voice, he insisted he had done so only in an effort to restore order as several people were shouting over him. 

He also admitted using the term ‘moaning’ but claimed it had not been directed at anyone in particular. 

The dispute giving rise to the complaint arose from tenants of Berwickshire Housing Association requesting basic repairs to their properties. 

Mr Fullarton, a non-executive director of the association, was accused of not passing on their concerns, though 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 it was then that the Conservative councillor raised his voice to be heard over the commotion and banged his fists on the table.

The minutes of the meeting indicate that it then carried on as normal. 

All three put in a complaint, with Ms 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, a panel of legal professionals ruled that Mr Fullarton had not breached the councillors’ code of conduct, agreeing that he was simply expressing himself during a heated discussion. 

During the hearing, five witnesses, including Mr Fullarton, were questioned by the commission’s senior investigations officer, Martin Campbell, and, representing the councillor, Ian Burke, of Galashiels-based Borders Employment Law. 

The first three witnesses – Mr Anderson, Ms Anderson and Ms Weeks – were found to have offered conflicting versions of events as they could not agree on details such as whether Mr Fullarton was standing up or sitting down, how long he had banged the table for and to whom he had directed his accusation of moaning.

The fifth eyewitness, Alice Fisher, corroborated Mr Fullarton’s account of the meeting. 

On top of that, a statement was submitted by police constable Suzanne Jacobs, at the meeting as a police community liaison office, and she too endorsed Mr Fullarton’s version of events. 

Announcing the panel’s decision, chairperson 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.”