Sunday, 27 November 2011

Barnet Council - Where racism is OK if someone annoys you

I thought I'd seen everything from Barnet Council. Sadly I was wrong. Earlier this year, Councillor John Hart behaved in a reprehensible way towards a member of the public at a meeting of the Hendon and District residents forum, of which he was the chairman. The facts of the case, which are not in dispute were that a member of the local Sri Lankan community (who is also a long standing Barnet resident and teacher at one of Barnets best schools) asked Mr Hart a question. He responded by repeating her comment in a "comedic" Indian accent. The lady felt affronted and asked if Mr Hart was being racist, to which he replied that she should take it up with the "race relations council". As there were 30 people present at the meeting, there was not exactly a shortage of witnesses. It was widely expected that Hart would be ostracised and thrown out of the Tory group.

The lady raised a standards complaint against Mr Hart and he was removed as chairman of the committee. Whilst I was shocked that Tory group didn't suspend Mr Hart, I was assured that this was merely because they wanted to hear the outcome of the Standards committee. Sadly this has just been released and it seems that they have taken leave of their senses and produced a complete whitewash. Hart has been exhonourated and it seems that it is all the fault of the lady herself for not sitting quietly during the meeting.

Here is the verdict.

(a) that the facts found and accompanying details are not sufficient to warrant a finding that paragraph 3(1) of the Code (You must treat other with respect), has been breached.  There is no doubt that Councillor John Hart was unwise to repeat the complainant’s words whilst imitating her voice (section 4.7.3(b) of the Investigator’s report) and that this is a reprehensible occurrence which he should never repeat.  However, the Sub-Committee do not consider that the circumstances surrounding it warrant a conclusion that what Councillor John Hart did was sufficiently abusive, offensive or direct to come within the criteria set out by the decided cases.  The Sub-Committee makes the same point regarding Councillor John Hart saying to the complainant that she could take up any complaint with the Race Relations Council.  Councillor John Hart’s remarks were unpleasant and unnecessary but that in itself is not sufficient to justify a finding of failure to show respect given the standard set by judges in the High Court and the statutory tribunals.  This conclusion is further endorsed by the requirement set by the courts and tribunals to take into account the accompanying circumstances.  In this instance, the finding that the complainant and a regular number of other persons at, and prior to, this meeting had made the chairing of the meetings difficult at times by virtue of their conduct (section 4.7.3(e) of the Investigator’s report), significantly weakens any justification there might have been for finding a breach of paragraph 3(1);

The committee went on to reject the complaint.

Doesn't it occur to the committee that the complainant wasn't on trial? She hadn't signed up to a code of conduct like Hart and she didn't receive a huge allowance like Hart for chairing the committee. All such committee's have people attending who can be difficult. This ruling states that racial abuse is acceptable if members of the public regularly attend and annoy the chairman of the committee.

As far as I'm concerned, this judgement is a complete disgrace and a new low point for Barnet Council. I am truly disgusted.


button55 said...
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button55 said...

Although i think John Hart is a good councillor i still wonder to why he did that..John is by no means a racist as faux pas comes to mind here. John,make sure this never happens again,otherwise you`ll get your wristies slapped or worse..

Jaybird said...

I will agree that, prior to this incident I had only heard good things about Councillor Hart, but:

There is no doubt that that the comments were both racist and extremely hurtful and offensive.

If Councillor Hart was a good councillor and a good man he would have apologised immediately and not tried to defend the indefensible.

The Standards Committee got this completely and utterly wrong.

baarnett said...

Please remind me what Councillor Hart has said since.

I'm not one for an "Apology Culture", but has he apologised since the event?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

As Mrs Angry suggests, Cllr Hart’s comments are more likely borne from ignorance rather than racism, but that does not excuse his behaviour. Even if a member of the public had been abusive towards Cllr Hart, that would not permit him to be abusive back. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and he is experienced enough that he should have realised this.

Unfortunately, as we saw with Sebb Blatter two weeks ago, there are too many old farts in positions of authority who have forgotten the old adage about engaging brain before opening mouth.

Whilst not condoning any councillor who mocks a resident’s accent, will this now mean there will be an end to the public mocking of Councillor Bwian…oops!

button55 said...

Well if he hasn`t,a bunch of red roses and a letter of apolgy wouldn`t go amiss...We all have our mad moments.