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Council rules out action against chief exec for recording call with leader

A county council has decided not to take action against its chief executive after it emerged that he had recorded a telephone conversation with its former leader.

The existence of the recording by David White came to light at a standards committee hearing at Norfolk County Council into alleged breaches by ex-leader Derrick Murphy of its members’ code of conduct.

Cllr Bill Borrett, Norfolk’s acting leader, said: “We heard during the standards committee hearing from the chief executive that when he recorded his telephone conversation with the former leader, he acted not in his own interest, but in the interest of the authority and its public reputation.

"After much careful consideration we do not believe that action concerning the chief executive is necessary.”

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Cllr Borrett pointed out that White would be leaving the county council because his post, as currently constituted, was being made redundant.

In December, the chief executive suggested that his job needed reassessment in the light of the Enterprising Norfolk review and the full council subsequently agreed to make his current post redundant.

“[The] standards hearing into the complaints about the conduct of the former leader has not changed that fact,” Cllr Borrett added. “This investigation has already involved the authority in considerable time and expense. Taking all this into account, I do not consider it would be sensible or appropriate to use any more of our council tax payers' resources to investigate this further."

According to the BBC, the leader of the Labour group, George Nobbs had called on White to step down.

At the standards hearing on 1 February, Cllr Murphy was found in one instance to have breached section 5 of the code. This states that: “You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute."

A number of other alleged breaches of the code were not upheld.

The committee imposed three sanctions:

  • It would send a letter of censure to Cllr Murphy;
  • A report of the breach would be made to a meeting of the full council; and
  • Cllr Murphy would be required to undergo training in ethics and standards.

Committee chairman, Cllr Tony Tomkinson, said following the hearing: "The committee has listened very carefully to a large amount of evidence placed before it today before reaching its conclusions. I would like to thank everyone who has given evidence before us and believe the conclusions we have reached are fully appropriate."

Jenni Richards QC of 39 Essex Street had conducted an independent investigation into the complaints against Cllr Murphy.

These complaints arose after an email was sent to BBC Radio Norfolk in April 2012 by then Conservative political assistant Kevin Vaughan.

Against a backdrop of a dispute over a proposed energy from waste plant at Saddlebow, which was backed by the county council but opposed by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, the email suggested that Cllr Nick Daubney, King’s Lynn’s leader, was facing a serious leadership challenge.

It also suggested that King’s Lynn’s procurement of an alternative technology to the plant had failed, and that it had been unable to source an alternative technology.

During the investigation into Vaughan’s conduct, it emerged that Cllr Murphy had sent texts asking him to give a BBC Norfolk presenter the substance of the information that was later included in the email. 

Cllr Murphy has resigned as Conservative group leader.

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