19th October 2018
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Cluness and Simpson cleared by Standards Commission over use of council funds

The Standards Commission has cleared SIC convener Sandy Cluness and vice-convener Josie Simpson of wrongdoing over the use of council funds to lodge a complaint against backbench councillor Jonathan Wills in October 2009.

Along with senior officials, Mr Cluness and Mr Simpson had made a complaint to the commission about a public statement from Dr Wills relating to an investigation into the conduct of former chief executive David Clark. That came after a council-convened panel had dismissed the allegation that Mr Clark had threatened the Lerwick South councillor with violence in a phone call.

The other signatories of the complaint were Mr Clark, executive services director Hazel Sutherland and head of legal services Jan Riise. Dr Wills was cleared of wrongdoing by the commission, after which he submitted a counter complaint.

In a short letter addressed to the council’s political leadership, Dr Wills said the Standards Commission’s chief investigating officer had informed him he did not believe Mr Cluness or Mr Simpson had breached the councillors’ code of conduct.

Dr Wills stated: “I unreservedly accept his verdict that you acted ‘in good faith’, following ‘clear advice’, although my personal opinion remains that some of the advice you received was flawed and partial.

“You will note that the chief investigating officer appears to agree with me when he says ‘one might expect’ such a complaint to be authorised by the council or one of its committees before being lodged with the . . .  Standards Commission.

“Such authority is, of course, explicitly required by the relevant regulations but you have yourselves already conceded that the complaint was not made on behalf of the council. I’m sure we can all draw lessons from this unpleasant episode and share the hope that nothing like it ever happens again in our council.”

Mr Clark eventually left the local authority with a £285,000 tax-free payoff in January last year amid a public outcry. When it staged a hearing into the matter in June, the Accounts Commission heard that criticism from Dr Wills and other councillors may have left the SIC exposed to a legal claim from Mr Clark.

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