TWO parish councillors have been suspended for three months after breaching a national code of conduct for their behaviour towards a parish clerk.

Ian Fawcett and Colin Clark were found to have broken the guidelines with their repeated questioning of agendas and minutes prepared by Elizabeth Briggs.

But the pair were cleared of bullying her and for their insensitive questioning of a recently bereaved chairman.

The two Liberal Democrat members of the 11-seat West Rainton and Leamside Parish Council, near Durham City, were yesterday banned by the First Tier Tribunal, formerly known as the Adjudication Panel for England.

They appealed to the tribunal after Durham County Council’s standards committee found, in October, they had breached the code. That committee issued suspensions of four months on the allegations of bullying and harassing the clerk, who resigned after 28 years of service, and ordered them to undergo diversity training.

For the breach relating to council chairman Jeff Morland, Councillor Fawcett was suspended for six months and his colleague, who is also a magistrate, was suspended for five.

Yesterday, after a four-day hearing, the three-man tribunal panel ruled that the pair had repeatedly criticised the minutes or agendas.

And it said Coun Fawcett had suggested in meetings attended by the public that Mrs Briggs needed training and should be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

Panel chairman Simon Bird said: “While it may not have been the intention to belittle her, that was the consequence of it.”

The panel said the conduct did not amount to bullying, but they had not treated her with respect and their behaviour had brought the council into disrepute.

The pair denied harassing and intimidating the clerk and said they had voiced legitimate concerns about the accuracy of minutes and the style of the agendas.

The panel also heard how the pair subjected Councillor Morland to questioning at a heated meeting two months after his wife had died from cancer. They asked why he had attended a previous meeting after the tragedy, but left vice-chairman Steve Percival to chair it, in breach of local government rules.

They also raised concerns about the correctness of rescheduling meetings cancelled due to the bereavement.

The tribunal heard that the pair also questioned the council’s reimbursement of money spent by individual councillors on items for the village, including a wreath for the Morland family.

Couns Fawcett and Clark said the council would be setting a precedent and would have to buy flowers for everyone who died.

The tribunal ruled that the councillors raised legitimate concerns, but the timing and manner were deeply insensitive.

Mr Bird said although their behaviour had been insensitive and unthinking, it was below the threshold that breached the code of conduct.