Question mark over councillor Simon King’s political future at Fenland Hall after he’s found to have broken code of conduct

PUBLISHED: 16:47 31 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:48 31 October 2018

Decision day for Cllr Simon King as he faces the conduct committee of Fenland District Council. The Wisbech councillor is accused of attempting to misuse the system over expense claims going back several years. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

Decision day for Cllr Simon King as he faces the conduct committee of Fenland District Council. The Wisbech councillor is accused of attempting to misuse the system over expense claims going back several years. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

HARRY RUTTER

Councillor Simon King has been found guilty of breaching the code of conduct at Fenland District Council.

Decision day for Cllr Simon King as he faces the conduct committee of Fenland District Council. The Wisbech councillor is accused of attempting to misuse the system over expense claims going back several years. Picture: HARRY RUTTERDecision day for Cllr Simon King as he faces the conduct committee of Fenland District Council. The Wisbech councillor is accused of attempting to misuse the system over expense claims going back several years. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

His mitigation – that included his barrister claiming ‘we’re not talking mansions in Mayfair’ – fell on deaf ears.

Councillors on the conduct committee agreed with an external investigator’s report that felt the evidence was clear cut that Cllr King had falsely claimed excessive mileage for some of his journeys.

Although the sums involved have been repaid – totalling over £1,500 – the committee decided to issue Cllr King with a formal reprimand.

Legal chiefs at Fenland Council will draw up the letter that will be sent to him in coming days.

Decision day for Cllr Simon King as he faces the conduct committee of Fenland District Council. The Wisbech councillor is accused of attempting to misuse the system over expense claims going back several years. Picture: HARRY RUTTERDecision day for Cllr Simon King as he faces the conduct committee of Fenland District Council. The Wisbech councillor is accused of attempting to misuse the system over expense claims going back several years. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

The committee also decided that in future all new councillors would be given guidance on expense claims.

Committee members accepted there was little they could add by way of sanctions but the ruling could have massive implications for Cllr King’s political future.

They also expressed concern about the public’s perception of councillors and their expenses claims and this will be an issue that will come before a future meeting of the ruling Conservative group. Although his Tory colleagues are unlikely to press for his expulsion from the party ( that’s not within their remit) they could decide to withdraw the party whip for a period of time.

This in itself would complicate Cllr King’s wish, should he desire, to stand for re-election next May.

If he does have the whip withdrawn, the local Conservative association might well decide to offer his electorate an alternative candidate.

In the meantime his position as a county councillor remains unchanged.

The issue stemmed from a major investigation commissioned by the council after a provisional report found he had a case to answer when false mileage claims came to light.

The council commissioned solicitor Jonathan Golden to carry out the investigation and his findings were before councillors at today’s hearing.

Mr Golden said, for instance, he had found one occasion when Cllr King had tried to claim twice for 70 miles for attending a meeting in March.

He said Cllr King had also tried to claim train tickets to London for personal business on the same day.

“He was told he must not play cat and mouse with those processing claims,” said Mr Golden.

“He has attempted to misuse the system.”

Cllr King told the hearing he felt he had been singled out but the meeting noted no other councillors seemed to have problems with claims

Expenses queried include claims for travelling from rugby Leicester and Swaffham to Fenland Hall.

Examples quoted included 10 miles from his Wisbech home to a 20/20 meeting at the Wisbech Boat House.

Another was for 71 miles instead of 32 because he claimed from a dental appointment in Peterborough to a council meeting

He also claimed for a journey from Wisbech to Huntingdon rail station and a train ticket to London and back then miles from the station to FDC.

Cllr King said: “When I came back from London I didn’t come back for personal business I came back for council business.”

He tried to claim rail and petrol in December 2015 When that was refused he dropped the rail tickets and tried to just claim the miles in Jan 2016.

Conduct committee chairman Cllr Sam Hoy said: “You would have come back anyway!”

At one point during the hearing Cllr King claimed his milometer was 10 per cent out

FROM OUR EARLIER REPORT

A firm of solicitors drafted in by Fenland District Council to investigate false mileage claims by Wisbech councillor Simon King concluded he has breached the code of conduct.

If that finding is confirmed by the resumed conduct committee hearing next Wednesday (October 31) it could mean the ruling Tory group could suspend him for a time and jeopardise his electoral hopes for next May’s local elections.

Hundreds of pages of information detailing the background to the case were uploaded today to the Fenland Council website which the conduct committee partly began to digest earlier this year.

The hearing was postponed to allow Cllr King to bring in his own legal experts after he challenged the complaints procedure.

The council’s own monitoring officer stood aside as Fenland Council appointed the Lincolnshire law firm of Wilkin Chapman to review the evidence against Cllr King.

That report, published today, says that that Cllr King produced mileage claims that showed “significant difference” in the actual mileages between his home and council offices were he attended meetings.

He also submitted claims, says the report that were not covered by the members’ allowance scheme.

The law firm says in some instances there is insufficient evidence to show mileage claims between Cllr King’s home and council officers “were not wholly and exclusively in pursuance of one or more of his eight duties.

“However we have also considered claims made for journeys which were clearly not covered by the members’ allowance scheme.

“We have concluded that there is evidence that Cllr King should have been aware that some of these claims were not justified.”

Wilkin Chapman added: “Our conclusion is that there has been a breach of the code of conduct of the authority by Cllr King.”

Their report tells Fenland Council that they consider it “a matter of some surprise and regret” that Cllr King pursued allegations against the monitoring officer and her actions.

They referred to there being a risk of Cllr King appearing to launch “a collateral attack on the complaint against him and the officer making them”.

Monitoring officer Carol Pilson first raised the issue of overinflated mileage claims last November – she calculated he had been overpaid by £1,511.10 (3,358 miles) and there were 1,637 miles (£736.65) claimed but not paid.

At one stage police were invited to review the allegations but decided it was not a matter for them.

Ms Pilson looked back over six years of claims by Cllr King and noticed “a significant level” of misclaiming.

Her findings found that once in 2016 he made a claim for a trip to Peterborough – it was to visit his dentist- and at other times claimed for trips to council offices from places such as Rugby, Swaffham Cambridge and Leicester,

He also once claimed for a taxi journey to King’s Lynn after discovering shortly before he was to leave that his wife had taken his car keys.

And once when travelling from Huntingdon to Wisbech he felt using the A14, A1 and A47 was “a reasonable route” because of expected traffic,

Cllr King – who repaid the sums questioned – has always denied wrong doing. He told Ms Pilson he did not accept that mileage claims should be limited to the shortest route as it was not in the council’s policy.

And it was not always possible or desirable to travel by the shortest route, he argued.

Cllr King denied any intent to deceive and his decision to repay £1,511.10 was on the basis of not accepting any liability or obligation.

He also asserted the complaint against him was based on a flawed interpretation of council policy and suggested his accuser had made it “without foundation and was vexatious”.

The report concludes that over a six year period to 2017 the majority of his mileage claims between his home and Fenland Hall had been over stated.

“We have considered the arguments put forward by Cllr King some of which in isolation may be plausible,” says the report. “However in particular we have concluded that the repeated attempts to claim for 70 miles for the council meeting on November 5, 2015, was a deliberate and false claim. “

The conclusion was that by submitting inaccurate claims Cllr King “was not acting in accordance with the council’s reasonable requirements when using the resources of the authority. This was a breach of the council’s code of conduct”.

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