SIC vice-convener Josie Simpson has defended the decision he made with convener Sandy Cluness and three officials to refer Jonathan Wills to the Standards Commission for alleged breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct.
Mr Simpson refused to admit that it was an error despite strong criticisms of the council made by the commission’s chief investigating officer Stuart Allan, who cleared Dr Wills of all 10 complaints in his report published last week.
“I stand by what we did … we were put into a very very difficult position and we certainly did not take it lightly,” Mr Simpson said. “I think I did that in good faith on the evidence that was before me at the time, so I’m not going to back away from the decision that I made along with the other four.
“We slept or tried to sleep on it over the weekend. We came back and we made the decision to do it. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have walked away from it … but sometimes you have to make very difficult decisions.”
Mr Simpson would not respond directly to Mr Allan’s criticisms, insisting that the public, who he admitted were “anxious to find out where we are coming from”, would have to wait until the public inquiry to be held by the Accounts Commission at the end of June (see separate story).
Tonight Dr Wills described Mr Simpson’s comments as “offensive and embarrassing”. He is inviting fellow councillors to support a motion to go before the next council meeting demanding that head of finance Graham Johnston establish how much the complaint cost in legal advice, staff time and other resources before invoicing the five – the others were then chief executive David Clark, depute chief executive Hazel Sutherland and head of legal Jan Riise – for the full amount.
Dr Wills said: “I fondly imagined that [Mr Simpson] might express some regrets and possibly even offer an apology for the seven months of stress his actions have caused me and my family. Instead he said he did not accept the decision and hoped the forthcoming public inquiry by the Accounts Commission would reveal the whole truth.
“The vice-convener appears to be suggesting that a two-day hearing by the Accounts Commission, into the conduct of council business under his and the convener’s stewardship over the past two years and more, will somehow reveal new facts about their vexatious and unfounded complaints that an exhaustive, forensic, seven-month investigation by the Ethical Standards Commission failed to discover. This is preposterous.”
The complaint by the five was made in October last year after Dr Wills refused to accept the ruling of the Full Council that there was insufficient evidence to censure Mr Clark, who has since left the council with a £250,000 payoff, over a telephone call during which Dr Wills alleges that Mr Clark threatened him with violence. Dr Wills also accused Mr Clark of being a bully, dismissed the hearing and criticised the council leadership.
In his report Mr Allan said evidence which would have supported Dr Wills’ claim was never heard by the panel convened to deal with the complaint.
In a meeting on the morning of 9th September attended by Mr Clark, Ms Sutherland and executive director of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill, Mr Clark said of Dr Wills that he “would like to take him up a back lane and kick his … f****** teeth in” or something very like it, Mr Greenhill told Mr Allan.
In his own evidence to Mr Allan, Mr Clark even admitted that at this meeting he may have said something like “If this was the West of Scotland he … might have been taken up a lane and had his teeth kicked in, but it’s not, it’s Shetland”.
Following publication of the report last Thursday reporters were told that the council would not be making any comment because it was prevented from doing so by an unspecified law.
However Mr Simpson said today: “The evidence that came to us from [the investigation] was crystal clear … There was no doubt about it that there was no evidence to back [Dr Wills’ complaint] up, so what could we do but go along with it?”
Mr Simpson said he had been through a very difficult and worrying period since the report was published. He said neither he nor Mr Cluness pressurised the three council officials into signing the referral.