A councillor has been found guilty of misconduct for saying that golliwogs were nostalgic not racist.
Councillor Dawn Barnett was found to have brought her office into disrepute by what one councillor described as a “kangaroo court” sitting in secret at Hove Town Hall. Another described it as a “political show trial”.
The public were cleared from the room as a Brighton and Hove City Council Standards Hearing Panel listened to the evidence for three hours and then decided the case.
The complaints were prompted by comments made by Councillor Barnett to an Argus reporter in August about objections to the sale of golliwog placemats in Bert’s Home Store.
Councillor Barnett told the Argus that golliwogs were nostalgic, not racist, and complaints about them were “political correctness gone too far”.
She was cleared of personally directing a disrespectful or racist remark against any individual or group so didn’t breach the requirement to treat others with respect.
And she was cleared of causing the council to breach its equality duties.
But she did breach the council’s code of conduct by bringing her office or the council into disrepute.
Councillor Lizzie Deane, who chaired the panel, said that it had been a difficult decision. But on balance the panel felt that Councillor Barnett had breached the rules.
Councillor Deane added: “We accept that this was inadvertent. We are also mindful of the work that Councillor Barnett has done and continues to do in her community.
“We also take into account that Councillor Barnett has apologised.”
The panel recommended that Councillor Barnett undertake equality and diversity training.
Councillor Barnett said afterwards: “I’m disappointed with the outcome.
“I reiterate the apology that I’ve already given. It was never my intention to offend anyone.
“As a councillor I have always helped – and will continue to help – anyone in my ward regardless of their colour, race or religion.”
The panel started sitting in public on Friday 29 November but adjourned the meeting after Councillor Barnett fell down stairs at Hove Town Hall.
The meeting was so rowdy that Sussex Police were contacted.
When it restarted today Councillor Lizzie Deane said that it would be held in secret because the panel didn’t want any more trouble.
The other panel members were Councillor Ann Norman, Councillor Christina Summers and Dr Lel Meleyal.
When challenged, the panel said: “The public interest is better served in holding the meeting in private.”
The formal reason for this was because the panel was going to discuss personal information relating to an individual.
Yet Councillor Barnett, the individual in question, had said that she wanted the hearing to take place in public.
One of her fellow Conservative councillors, Mary Mears, said: “As a previous leader of the council I feel very concerned, having been at both hearings, that having started in open session, at the second hearing they went into closed session.
“In my personal view this reflects quite badly on the council for openness and transparency.”
The complainants were council workers Dan Hermitage and Tim Read, council tenant Narinder Madhar and the Brighton and Hove City Council Black and Minority Ethnic Workers Forum through Sandra Cartwright who chairs the forum.
Mr Read said: “I struggle to understand how any person with any amount of sensitivity around racial equality could possibly speak out in this way.
“This is of particular concern to me given that Hangleton and Knoll boasts one of the largest multicultural community groups in the whole of the city.”
Mr Madhar said: “What I would like to see happen is that Ms Barnett is expelled without further delay for her reckless and irresponsible comments.”
Letters defending Councillor Barnett were sent in by the Hangleton Multicultural Group, Raymond Monasingh, Prakesh Patel and from the family who run the Burwash Road Stores. Another letter of support came from a community volunteer.
One of them said: “Is Dawn a racist? I would say an empathetic no. Dawn was asked a question – do you think that golliwogs are racist? Dawn’s answer was no.
“I am sure that many people of Dawn’s generation would have answered the same … as dolls and on the jars they have been part of people’s lives and have never been thought of in the context of racism.”
Another said: “As a mixed race community we all had gollies … and we still have in our possession the family of gollies.”
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