Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Councillor banned from speaking to female council staff

A councillor has been banned from speaking to female council staff after a phone bill of nearly £2,500 revealed he had been calling sex chat lines. Wigan Independents' Robert Bleakley also used his council-issued mobile to send explicit text messages, which showed he had a "problem with women". Wigan Council launched an investigation after a review of his phone contract. The Standards Committee has removed his council mobile phone and he will be given equal opportunities training.

Mr Bleakley has not been suspended but the council committee found he breached the members' code of conduct by calling the premium rate numbers and sending discriminatory messages. The panel also removed other IT equipment and stopped his internet access. At the hearing on Friday, the panel was shown text messages including one in March 2013 in which he swore and said women were "idiots". It then said: "No wonder women are just cooking and washing material." The Standards Committee was told the Tyldesley ward councillor, who did not attend the hearing, had been investigated by the council twice before.

In February, he was found to have deliberately altered an email to try to jeopardise a senior employee's job. In March, Mr Bleakley viewed pornographic material on his council-issued laptop. He had been disqualified and suspended by the Standards Board for England twice and removed from the Liberal Democrat Party, Wigan Council said. Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, said: "I am appalled and sickened with the language used in these messages. It is quite clear, judging by the content of Councillor Bleakley's text messages, that he has a problem with women.

"I will not tolerate this prejudice, nor will I allow him to come into contact with female officers until he has undertaken equal opportunities training," she said. Leader of Wigan Independents Gareth Fairhurst said: "Councillor Bleakley used his mobile phone for personal use, which is a no-no. When it was highlighted he paid the money straight back. He thought it was the end of the matter, a clean slate effectively," Mr Fairhurst said. Mr Bleakley joined the group in June, before the investigation began, but Mr Fairhurst is now urging Wigan Council to provide full details of the investigation, so he can review the case. Mr Fairhurst added: "I'm quite sickened by some of the language that was used [and] I told Councillor Bleakey that under no uncertain terms."

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