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Tribunal continues into claims Flintshire councillor bullied director

FLINTSHIRE County Council’s former head of housing has given evidence in the tribunal investigating her allegations that she was bullied by a senior politician.

The Adjudication Panel for Wales heard allegations of several breaches of the councillors’ Code of Conduct by Flintshire member Patrick Heesom.

Cllr Heesom, leader of the recently formed New Independents group, has been at the centre of a probe by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales over claims he bullied Susan Lewis.

The tribunal continued at Northop Hall Country House Hotel yesterday (Thursday, March 3).

Mrs Lewis claims that during a council scrutiny meeting in February 2007 to discuss high levels of sick leave being taken by staff Cllr Heesom referred to her management of the housing service as ‘a shambles’ and ‘shambolic’.

“It’s not right for members to make derogatory comments about officers in public meetings,” she said.

“It doesn’t show any respect.

“If they had a problem with how I was running a very high profile public service, they could have talked to me.”

Mrs Lewis wrote to Chris Kay, acting chief executive at the time, claiming the comments had the potential to worry the public if it was perceived that councillors had no confidence in the social services department.

“Such headlines would lower morale and undermine public confidence in the service,” she added.

“The reputation of a social service is hard won – and once broken it’s hard to get back.

“Councillors have the right to comment in public meetings, but must comment responsibly.

“Standards of behaviour need to be maintained.”

Mrs Lewis said there was no evidence the service had been run badly so Cllr Heesom’s comments were out of order.

Cllr Heesom’s lawyer claimed he had used the word ‘shambles’ merely with regard to the high levels of sick leave taken by staff and the fact it took three weeks for sick leave forms to be processed.

He denies it was aimed at Mrs Lewis’s management and denies using the word ‘shambolic’ at all.

This was the first incident of many between Mrs Lewis and Cllr Heesom, the inquiry heard.

In 2008 the pair worked together while he was the authority’s executive member for housing and she was portfolio director.

After four months Mrs Lewis said Cllr Heesom’s behaviour became ‘progressively more problematic’.

It was this behaviour towards her that Mrs Lewis said undermined her and made her lose her confidence, finally leading to her resignation from her post last year.

“I have always relished public meetings but Cllr Heesom and his actions brought about that change in me that I felt I could no longer face, in 2010, going to a public meeting,” said Mrs Lewis.

During an initial interview with the ombudsman it was claimed Cllr Heesom had fought against Mrs Lewis being appointed as head of housing and said he was going to get rid of her.

The tribunal will hear evidence from current chief executive Colin Everett on Tuesday (March 8) and leader of the council Arnold Woolley on Wednesday (March 9).

The hearing will then be postponed until June.