A COUNCILLOR accused of bullying and being drunk at a beacon lighting ceremony did breach a code of conduct, an independent panel has found.

Ferryhill Town Councillor David Farry attended County Hall, in Durham, on Tuesday, September 17, to face a Standards Committee Hearing Panel.

The meeting follows five complaints made against Cllr Farry to Durham County Council’s Monitoring Officer, who appointed Matt Lewin, a barrister from London, as the investigating officer.

Three of the five complaints related to Cllr Farry’s conduct during a beacon lighting ceremony on November 11, 2018, when he was accused of displaying “appalling behaviour” and “appearing under the influence of alcohol”.

However one of the complainants was not present at the event so his allegation was not considered.

Another complaint was made relating to a phone call with Cllr Farry and another councillor in January of this year, in which the complainant said he was verbally aggressive and “implying they were stupid”.

A final complaint was made by Ferryhill Town Clerk, Derek Snowball, who said he had been subject to harassment, bullying, discrimination and victimisation by Cllr Farry.

Mr Snowball said in his complaint that there had been “clear signs that [Cllr Farry] is out to destroy him”.

Mr Lewin, who specialises in local government law, said: “Mr Farry believes that a number of people are conspiring against him for political reasons and it’s clear that there are problems on this council between the Labour group and the Independent members.

“I couldn’t see any evidence that the complainants have conspired against Cllr Farry for political reasons.”

In his report, Mr Lewin said the relationship between Mr Snowball and Cllr Farry began to break down in June 2017.

The report states: “It is clear from the increasingly bad-tempered email exchanges between them that their relationship steadily deteriorated until July 2018 when Mr Snowball went on sick leave.”

Mr Lewin added: “Mr Snowball is a senior officer within the council and he’s got to take some give and take, and that’s why I decided that even though Cllr Farry could have been more polite, before July 2018 there was no bullying.

“It was consistent with a member challenging advice he’d been given by his clerk and he’s entitled to do that. But I think he crossed the line after 2018.”

Mr Lewin played a 20-minute clip from a two-hour meeting held between Cllr Farry, Cllr Jacqueline Cansella and Mr Snowball in March this year, in which they discussed Mr Snowball returning to work.

Former Durham County Council leader Bill Kellett, who chaired the hearing, said the panel had given the recording “the greatest weight” whilst considering the complaint from Mr Snowball.

Cllr Kellett said in conclusion: “Cllr Farry considered his manner in the meeting as caring and compassionate, however the panel considers his approach to be persistent, leading to dominance.

“The panel agree that Mr Snowball was subjected to a series of hostile questions and accusations. He was talked over, tormented, cut short and not listened to. Therefore the panel find that Cllr Farry breached paragraph two of the code, bullying.

“The panel find that Cllr Farry was disrespectful [during a phone call] and in relation to the allegation that Cllr Farry was drunk, on one hand Cllr Farry said he was not unsteady on his feet but he also provides an account of why he might have been.

“The panel therefore find on the balance of probabilities that Cllr Farry was drunk.”

Mr Farry refuted all of the complaints and maintained he was not drunk at the beacon lighting ceremony.

Speaking after the hearing Cllr Farry said: “Although I am disappointed with the outcome which is based on unsubstantiated claims without evidence, I am pleased that I was found not guilty of any bullying or harassment until July 2018.

“A 20 minute clip is not representative of a two hour meeting and I am disappointed that so much weight was given to that.”

The panel censured Cllr Farry and instructed him to carry out training on the code of conduct.

He must also send written apologies to the telephone call complainant and Mr Snowball.