A former Hove councillor has been cleared of breaching Brighton and Hove City Council’s code of conduct.
She was alleged to have taken photographs of members of the public during a council meeting and to have laughed in their faces when asked to stop.
Mrs Older admitted taking a photo although she said that she did not know why she had taken it.
She said that she did not laugh in anyone’s face.
A Standards Committee Hearing Panel heard claims that Mrs Older’s actions fell foul of two clauses in the code of conduct
- You must treat others with respect
- You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bring your office or authority into disrepute
The complaint arose out of the rowdy budget-setting meeting at Brighton Town Hall in March.
The mayor had to halt the meeting several times because councillors were being interrupted and drowned out by protesters.
One of the people in the public gallery at the meeting, Holly Smith, a GMB union rep, complained about Councillor Older and a number of other councillors.
The former Conservative councillor said: “When we first all came into the chamber right at the start of the meeting then Averil Older came up and stood directly in front of us and was taking photographs of the people sat in the gallery.
“A man sat in front of me objected to this and asked that she stop. She didn’t.
“When he informed her that he was a law student and that he could bring a legal charge of harassment or breach of the peace then she laughed in his face.
“I find this incredibly disrespectful.”
The man who claimed to be a law student did not complain and no evidence was provided that Mrs Older had taken more than one photo.
Investigating officer Brian Foley said it was possible that Mrs Older may have appeared to have taken more photos.
Miss Smith did not attend the hearing at Hove Town Hall.
Mrs Older said that the interruptions had started during prayers and continued throughout the meeting.
The panel found that there was insufficient evidence to support the claims that Mrs Older had breached the code.
She said that it was the rowdiest meeting in her eight years as a councillor, with the possible exception of a meeting to decide a planning application about the King Alfred.
Drama students from the Academy of Creative Training (ACT) in Rock Place, Brighton, were recruited to disrupt the King Alfred meeting. Their demonstration in favour of the application prevented opponents of the scheme from being able to attend the meeting and hear the controversial decision.
After the standards panel hearing Mrs Older said that she was relieved and added: “Respect is a two-way street.”
The panel, chaired by Dr Michael Wilkinson, recommended that chairmen set out clearly at the start of each meeting the council’s rules on photography.
The panel members included Councillor Jason Kitcat, a Green member, who was himself censured by the panel for uploading video clips of a meeting on the internet.
He appealed and was eventually cleared of misconduct.
Many council meetings are webcast and this is usually made clear at the start of meetings already.
In Mrs Older’s case the webcast footage was unable to shed any light on the complaint which appears to have related to a point at which the meeting was, in any case, suspended.