Allegations of bullying, assault and unlawful use of public funds have divided a rural County Durham village. 

Legal officers on behalf of Durham County Council investigated claims of misconduct among members of Romaldkirk Parish Council, which were ignited over long-running land disagreements in the Teesdale village

Multiple claims and counter-claims were submitted to legal officers, who reviewed complaints about the conduct of members. Allegations raised by councillors and residents include the handling of finances and alleged false statements regarding funds.

The 10 month investigation found the division has impacted the running of the local council and brought it into disrepute. County Council lawyers have now ordered several complaints to be probed further.

The Northern Echo: Romaldkirk Village Green Romaldkirk Village Green (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

A long-running dispute over whether a patch of land can be defined as a village green continues. A bid to register the area along Sennings Lane and Rose Stile Cottage was rejected at a public inquiry in 2019. 

A spokesperson for Durham County Council said: "A number of complaints have been assessed under stage one of our procedure for Member Code of Conduct Complaints.

"No further action will be taken in relation to some of the complaints and others have been referred for investigation. There have been no findings at this stage of any breaches of the code of conduct."

Although the land passed several tests around village green registration it failed to meet one aspect, which included the land being used for lawful sports and pastimes by a "significant number of inhabitants" over a 20 year period. 

During the public hearing, residents said the land had been used for annual events such as the village fair. But the final ruling from the inquiry called on the council to refuse the application.

Yet parish councillors continued to try to register the land as part of the village green and sought legal advice on an acquisition, reported to be about £4,000. The land has now been bought by a nearby resident but its future use is unclear. 

The complaints made against Cllrs Barningham, Carter, Cutting and Nixon - ‘the subject members’ - allege that the decision taken by them to pay a third party’s legal fees was unlawful. Cllrs Cutting and Nixon also provided false information to a meeting in relation to the payment of legal expenses, the probe found. 

The decision notice added: “All four members are dismissive and disrespectful of their fellow councillors and members of the public attending meetings of the council, from time to time, engage in behaviour that may be characterised as bullying.

“The responses to the complaints made against them, which are variously branded as being vexatious, malicious and/or defamatory, appear to be dismissive and lend support to the allegations that these members adopt a disrespectful, bullying and bullish attitude to their fellow members and members of the public.”

But it is the four members who allege that the other councillors “have created division within the community”, the report adds. 

The Northern Echo: Further investigations into the conduct of members are due to be conductedFurther investigations into the conduct of members are due to be conducted (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

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The Governance Lawyer said the counter-complaints made by them against Cllrs Jeanette Goodall, Charles Goodall and Angela Sheeran were ‘tit-for-tat and without merit’.

An incident between Cllrs Jeanette Goodall and Derek Nixon in April, which resulted in them both making cross-complaints of assault, has been closed by the police. 

Romaldkirk Parish Council said it had not yet considered Durham County Council’s decision notice in respect of Code of Conduct complaints.