Accusations of ‘appalling’ behaviour in Worthing council chamber

Worthing Borough Council met to vote in a new leader last night (November 10) but public question time left councillors and members of the public frustrated.

Worthing Town Hall (Google Maps Street View)
Worthing Town Hall (Google Maps Street View)

Behaviour during the meeting, which had 192 views at the time of writing, was branded as ‘appalling’ by two councillors and the live-stream was plagued by audio quality issues.

The main purpose of the meeting was to select a new council leader following Dan Humphreys’ (Con, Offington) resignation – Kevin Jenkins (Con, Gaisford) was voted in with 18 votes for, none against and 18 abstentions.

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However, at the start of the meeting, members of the public were given 30 minutes to ask questions.

Public want answers on investigation

Questions centred around the ongoing conduct investigation into former Conservative Marine councillor Tim Wills.

He resigned after anti-racist campaign group HOPE not Hate said he allegedly sent messages to a Telegram chat associated with Patriotic Alternative.

Members of the public wanted to know how the investigation was being carried out; when the findings would be reported; and how a repeat of the situation would be avoided.

They also wanted to know when a ‘community cohesion committee’ would be set up – something that was suggested and unanimously accepted at the last full council meeting in October.

Mr Humphreys said the investigation was ‘ongoing’ and that setting up a committee could be discussed at a joint governance committee in January – once council officers had a chance to produce a report.

As new leader, Mr Jenkins said he would do what he could to ‘accelerate’ the discussion of a community cohesion committee, something he said was ‘important’.

‘Sit down!’

One member of the public asked what would be done to prevent a repeat of the situation with Mr  Wills.

Instead of receiving an answer, the member of the public was accused by Sean McDonald (Con, Northbrook) of ‘mocking’ one by-election candidate on social media because the candidate’s ‘first language isn’t English’.

Mr McDonald then went on to say: “The local Labour Party and sitting councillors should be investigated.”

This was received with outcry by the opposition, with one Labour member shouting at Mr McDonald to ‘sit down’ and saying: ‘This is an answer to a public question, this is an embarrassment’.

Mayor Lionel Harman (Con, Castle) responded to this by asking Mr McDonald to end the line of questioning.

Mr McDonald said he would be bringing the matter forward at the next full council meeting.

Labour group leader Beccy Cooper (Marine) said: “What happened this evening, in this chamber, is absolutely appalling.

“If that happens again, this side of the council will walk out and make sure that every member of the public knows exactly what it is that you do in this council chamber.

“It’s incumbent upon us to do the very best we can for the people that we serve.

“We don’t intend to put forward an alternative leader, but we do look to the administration to do better than they have done this evening.”

Steve Waight (Con, Goring) said that, in his more than 20 years as a councillor, he had ‘never ever heard a member shouting at another member to sit down’.

“There are things I’ve witnessed in this chamber tonight which, frankly, I find appalling,” he said.

“This isn’t restricted to one side of the chamber or another.

“What would the public think if they saw this? I genuinely believe if the public saw this entire meeting, they would be appalled at the behaviour of many of the members here.”

The member of the public later denied Mr McDonald’s allegations, saying: “I’m absolutely appalled … I wouldn’t abuse anyone and I certainly wouldn’t make a mockery of anyone in the process.”

When asking a follow up and supplementary question, the member of the public was told to ‘get to the point’ by Mr Harman, who is in charge of keeping order in the chamber.

“I will keep interrupting if you do not get to the point,” said Mr Harman.

Carl Walker (Lab, Selden) requested that members ‘treat the public with respect and a courteous tone’.

But Mr Harman said ‘respect goes both ways’.

“I am always respectful but I am just asking you [a member of the public] to get to your question,” he added.

New council leader Kevin Jenkins encouraged members to ‘reflect’ and come to future meetings ‘with the right state of mind and the right approach’.