Two Aberdeen councillors have been cleared of breaching standards by berating disgraced Alan Donnelly on his Town House return.
Liberal Democrats Ian Yuill and Steve Delaney were ordered to appear before the ethics watchdog after allegedly failing to treat Mr Donnelly – who was convicted of sexual assault in 2019 – with respect.
A complaint was made about the pair’s conduct at this year’s budget meeting in March, which was the Torry and Ferryhill councillor’s first involvement in a meeting following a year-long suspension.
Mr Yuill and Mr Delaney were alleged to breach rules instructing elected members to “respect colleagues and treat them with courtesy at all times when acting as a councillor”.
Donnelly in ‘publicity stunt’
An unexpected intervention by Mr Donnelly sparked a furious exchange during the meeting when the former Conservative councillor – now sitting as an independent after being thrown out of the party – seconded Mr Yuill’s budget proposals ahead of Mr Delaney.
His “unwelcome” move, described as a “publicity stunt” by the Lib Dems, resulted in both councillors referring to the former depute provost as the council’s “resident sex offender”.
The Standards Commission panel considered the complaint Mr Donnelly had not been treated with respect and Mr Yuill and Mr Delaney’s defence of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Guidance for councillors states ECHR protection is unlikely if they are deemed to have “simply made gratuitous personal comments or to have simply indulged in offensive abuse”.
‘Travesty’ for pair to be punished
Dr Kirsty Hood QC, acting for the Ethical Standards Commissioner at the hearing, claimed the pair’s comments “fell into the gratuitous bucket” and said they were “not relevant” to the context of the debate in the chamber on the day.
“A remark can be factual and yet can still be disrespectful and discourteous in the way which it can be made.”
However Linda Beedie, representing Mr Yuill and Mr Delaney, said the pair were stating factual information and claimed it would be a “travesty” if they were punished.
Explaining the decision to clear the pair, panel chair Tricia Stewart said their conduct was “not sufficiently offensive, polemical or gratuitous” to justify preventing them discussing Mr Donnelly’s conviction.