'Woke' row Dudley Council leader was 'disrespectful' to police chief - report

The leader of Dudley Council has been found to have been ‘disrespectful’ to the commander of the town’s police force, after an investigation into his behaviour upheld only one out of six points.

Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley
Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley

But Patrick Harley, the Conservative leader for the Black Country borough, claimed the complaints themselves were “a damp squib brought by an elite group of people”.

Councillor Harley was hauled in front of a standards committee on Monday, after accusing chief superintendent Kim Madill of belonging to the “woke brigade”.

The comments were said to breach the council’s code of conduct, first started by a row over an illegal travellers’ camp.

The committee itself has no power to suspend or disqualify a member, but can order a formal censure through a motion, withdraw access to facilities or arrange training.

In November 2021, Councillor Harley complained to local newspapers about the then borough commander’s decision to refuse to move travellers who had stayed at a transit site for longer than the permitted 28 days.

At the time, Ms Madill was reported to have refused the decision to move the travellers on the grounds of “being lawful” and “demonstrating our care and compassion for difference”.

But Councillor Harley claimed the chief superintendent had “gone against protocol”. He wrote to Simon Foster, the police and crime commissioner, to call for her to “reconsider her position”.

An excerpt of the statement read: “If she wants to play at being a politician she should give up the uniform and stand for election. There is a protocol in place for dealing with travellers.

“I believe her political feelings are affecting her judgement, and in this instance her judgement is flawed. She should consider her position.”

Dudley Council had launched an investigation into Councillor Harley’s comments, following a formal complaint from West Midlands Police chief executive Jonathan Jardine.

In his submissions, Mr Jardine claimed Councillor Harley had written to West Midlands Police about his complaints, two hours after councillor Harley had already publicised his comments.

He said: “A related letter from [Councillor] Harley to the police and crime commissioner was received by the [office of police and crime commissioner] at 17:25 on 22 November 2021 – two hours after I was notified of Councillor Harley’s comments to the journalist.

“Thus Councillor Harley had already publicised his comments before the letter to the police and crime commissioner was sent.”

Mr Jardine had called on Councillor Harley to publicly apologise and withdraw his comments.

Daniel Stilitz QC, who investigated the complaint, upheld the complaint by West Midlands Police. He said that while Councillor Harley’s comments were not significant enough to be categorised as bullying, he concluded they were “disrespectful, unwarranted and inappropriate”.

In his findings he said: “Whatever the merits of Councillor Harley’s concerns, it was inappropriate for him to air them in public in this manner and taking this tone. It would have been open to him to make a formal or informal complaint to the chief constable or to the commissioner.

“It was open to him to criticise, if he wished in robust and vehement terms, the decision taken. To launch a personal attack on Chief Superintendent Madill’s integrity through these off the cuff remarks to the press was, however, in my view inappropriate.

“I am struck by the contrast in tone between the comments Councillor Harley made to the press and the letter he sent subsequently to the Commissioner. That letter was strongly worded and made it clear that Councillor Harley fundamentally disagreed with Chief Superintendent Madill’s decision and the police’s actions in relation to the site.”

When approached for comment, Councillor Harley said: “Mr Jardine, the employee of the Labour police and crime commissioner, brought the complaint and raised six points.

“The panel dismissed all of them including one wishing to bar politicians from speaking directly to the media. The only one upheld was me being disrespectful. Not known for my diplomacy, I can accept that one. The panel then decided to not recommend anything further – no apology, no training, or any other sanctions.

“A damp squib brought by an elite group of people who think they can change established protocols as and when they wish.

“I shall continue to speak up for the people of this borough and will certainly continue to hold an ineffective Labour police crime commissioner to account and ensure West Midlands police play their full part in enabling us to deal with unauthorised encampments instead of passing the buck as they did in November last year.”

Labour councillor Qadar Zada, the leader of the opposition for Dudley Council, said: “The watering down of the standards regime under the Conservative government means that it is now up to the Dudley Conservative councillors to show the people of Dudley that they will not tolerate this kind of behaviour.

“This is an opportunity for Dudley Conservative councillors to distance themselves from poor behaviour nationally and demonstrate that this is not an extension of Downing Street.

“In my experience, residents elect leaders to be able to resolve complex issues together.”

Mohammed Farooq, Dudley Council’s monitoring officer, said: “The standards sub-committee found Councillor Harley breached the members’ code of conduct.

“A letter will be sent from the chair of the audit and standards committee to Councillor Harley stating that he had already attended a training session focussing on the members’ code of conduct.”

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