A former Conservative councillor on Aberdeen City Council remains in office following his conviction for sexual assault last December. His conduct is currently under investigation by the Ethical Standards Commissioner to establish whether or not he broke the Councillors Code Of Conduct. Councillor Alan Donnelly was suspended from his role for three months by the Standards Commission on 5 March, pending the outcome of that investigation.
Currently a councillor may not be removed from office following a conviction unless they are sentenced to at least 12 months imprisonment and there are no restrictions on a convicted councillor’s duties following their conviction, but that looks like it is about to change.
Following the conviction, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Ian Yuill, reported the matter to Ethical Standards Commissioner. The council’s Urgent Business Committee unanimously removed Councillor Donnelly from all council committees and his positions on external organisations which require councillor representatives and also reported the matter to the Ethical standards Commissioner. In addition, all political group leaders called on Councillor Donnelly to resign.
However, although he resigned from the Conservative Party, Councillor Donnelly has continued to sit as an independent councillor, supporting his former Conservative, Aberdeen Labour and Independent Alliance coalition colleagues to pass measures this week which retained their majorities on all council committees despite them having lost that majority in the council itself. He also attended a civic event a few weeks ago.
Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Delaney said, “I was horrified to see Councillor Donnelly attend an event held in January to celebrate 25 years of good work from a local charity which supports some of the most vulnerable people in society, just seven days after his sentencing. I considered his presence to be inappropriate and subsequently raised my concerns”.
“I contacted the council’s Chief Executive asking that political group leaders meet to discuss at what measures can be put in place to prevent him from attending civic functions and prevent him from having unsupervised contact with members of the public in the course of his duties as a councillor. The Lord Provost has subsequently advised the council that Councillor Donnelly will not be attending civic events for the duration of the time he is on the Sex Offenders Register or whilst still under investigation by the Standards Commission”
“I also contacted the Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government , asking that appropriate legislation be brought forward urgently to introduce appropriate measures to protect the public in such circumstances. The Minister has since advised that work by civil servants to look at how future legislation could be strengthened to remove councillors in these circumstances is indeed being expedited”.
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton is promoting legislation which would require elected members at all levels to be disclosure checked at each election with strict criteria specified to ensure the protection of children and vulnerable adults should any elected member fall foul of those checks.
Steve said, “This has now gone beyond the actions of an individual and has highlighted serious flaws in the system. Councils currently have no powers to either remove a councillor convicted of a serious offence or indeed to monitor or restrict their activities following conviction. What this case has demonstrated is that the legislation needs to be tightened up and I’m pleased to see this is what looks like happening”.