THE chairman of South Durham Conservatives is set to face a misconduct hearing after a council inquiry concluded evidence supported complaints that her social media post titled ‘White Slaves Were Sold For Centuries’ broke the councillors’ Code of Conduct.

The Darlington Borough Council hearing next week comes more than nine months after Mowden ward councillor Pauline Culley posted a meme on her public profile Facebook page at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Words on the image stated “All our ancestors took slaves, sold slaves or were slaves. You’re not special.”

After the post generated criticism Cllr Culley, who has served on the authority since 2014, deleted the Facebook account. Amid calls for an explanation from Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors Cllr Culley, Darlington MP Peter Gibson and the then Tory group leader on the council, Councillor Heather Scott all declined to comment.

A report by the council’s monitoring officer states as no explanation was offered the leaders of the three opposition parties lodged a joint complaint arguing the meme aimed to dispute the magnitude of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy of discrimination and inequality.

Green Party leader Councillor Matthew Snedker told the inquiry numerous people had been “appalled” by the post as it downplayed the impact of slavery on black people and that black people’s suffering was insignificant.

The opposition councillors said Cllr Culley would not be seen as someone you could approach about issues of discrimination following this post and the council could be seen as less approachable about race equality issues.

The report states Cllr Culley had seen the meme on another Facebook page, saved it as an image and then uploaded it to her public profile.

It states: “At the time of the post, the Black Lives Matter campaign was particularly prominent and gaining considerable news and internet coverage following the death of George Floyd on May 25. The panel may wish to consider this background when considering the impact of Cllr Culley’s decision to post the meme.”

The inquiry found Cllr Culley had been acting as a member of the council when she posted the meme.

The report states when interviewed Cllr Culley had been “very reluctant to give her opinion on the post”, but when pressed further stated the meme was factual and that she had never offered an opinion about its contents.

She said: “I don’t, I don’t think it’s racist. I don’t think it’s offensive. I don’t think it incites hatred and I don’t think it’s inflammatory.”

The report states the council’s standards panel will need to decide how it interprets the meme and if it is seen as an attempt to downgrade the suffering of black people, then the “posting of the meme by Councillor Culley would be a failure to treat black people with respect”.

The report states: “A finding that a councillor’s social media post was disrespectful to black people is undoubtedly damaging to the reputation of the office of councillor, and to the council itself.”

The panel will include Labour and Conservative councillors Andrew Scott and Paul Crudass and be chaired by Kevin Nicholson, an Independent councillor who serves as a cabinet member on the Tory administration.

If the complaints are upheld the panel’s available sanctions are quite limited, and include writing a formal letter to Cllr Culley or calling for a motion to censure her.


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