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Wisbech Councillor Simon King guilty of breaching code of conduct faces a formal reprimand over expenses claims



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It may not have been "duck ponds, Mayfair mansions or even simply lining is pocket" but Wisbech councillor Simon King has been found guilty of breaching Fenland Council's code of conduct.

The conduct committee sat for over five hours to hear the case against Councillor Simon King. (5143621)
The conduct committee sat for over five hours to hear the case against Councillor Simon King. (5143621)

It took practically a full day's work but a meeting of Fenland's conduct committee agreed with an independent investigation into Coun King's mileage claims over a seven year period, and unanimously agreed he did not use council resources in a "reasonable" way and made numerous claims outside the members allowance scheme.

Jonathan Goolden, of Wilkin Chapman, the law firm which carried out the independent investigation. (5143625)
Jonathan Goolden, of Wilkin Chapman, the law firm which carried out the independent investigation. (5143625)

As a result the committee concluded his actions did bring his position as councillor and also the authority into disrepute.

But despite the committee's findings Coun King will face only limited punishment - a formal letter of reprimand - as the sanctions available are very limited.

Councillor Simon King (right) answers questions from his barrister Mike Magee. (5143629)
Councillor Simon King (right) answers questions from his barrister Mike Magee. (5143629)

However, today's (Wednesday) hearing also threw up the fact that the current members mileage scheme is open to different interpretation and so the committee has recommended, to ensure clarity, that future councillors are given better training and that examples of "typical claims" they are likely to make are included in the induction programme.

Councillor Simon King (right) answers questions from his barrister Mike Magee. (5143627)
Councillor Simon King (right) answers questions from his barrister Mike Magee. (5143627)

Coun King declined to comment at the end of the day's proceedings, which saw his barrister argue that the Conservative member for Octavia Ward in Wisbech had done nothing wrong and had followed the policy as he saw it.

Barrister Mike Magee argued Coun King had not made mileage claims "capriciously" nor had he try to do them secretly.

Jonathan Goolden, of Wilkin Chapman, the law firm which carried out the independent investigation. (5143619)
Jonathan Goolden, of Wilkin Chapman, the law firm which carried out the independent investigation. (5143619)

He said all the claims had been made "openly" and he also pointed out Coun King had queried why some of his claims had been rejected and had argued the mileage policy was being "misinterpreted" by officers.

Councillor Sam Hoy second in chaired the hearing. (5143631)
Councillor Sam Hoy second in chaired the hearing. (5143631)

However, Coun King had not taken the matter further by raising it formally but had carried on submitting claims that were regularly rejected for being outside the policy's guidelines.

These included trips to meetings via places such as Swaffham, Leicester, Rugby and on one occasion his dentist in Peterborough. He even made a claim for10 miles for attending a 2020 meeting in Wisbech.

The committee included Tina Gambell, the council's indpendent person, Councillor Rob Skoulding (centre) and Councillor Michael Humphrey. (5143633)
The committee included Tina Gambell, the council's indpendent person, Councillor Rob Skoulding (centre) and Councillor Michael Humphrey. (5143633)

Mr Goolden told the hearing there was "insufficient" evidence in the bulk of journeys highlighted by Fenland's monitoring officer Carol Pilson, who had first raised the issue of Coun King's inflated mileage claims.

But did accuse Coun King of playing "cat and mouse" with officers by submitting claims to see what they would pay and said Coun King had "attempted to misuse the system".

The conduct committee sat for over five hours to hear the case against Councillor Simon King. (5143623)
The conduct committee sat for over five hours to hear the case against Councillor Simon King. (5143623)

As a result of Mr Goolden's assertions the hearing focused on two claims, where he said Coun King had breached the code.

One of the claims saw Coun King make repeated claims for mileage from Huntingdon to March and home to Wisbech.

The first of these claims had included a return train fare from London where he had been on business prior to attending a full council meeting.

It was rejected but Coun King made a second claim deleting the train fare but still trying to obtain payment for a 70 mile journey from Huntingdon.

Mr Goolden had earlier said the policy, when read properly and carefully, made it clear claims could only be made from home to Fenland Hall or for journeys conducted "wholly and explicitly" on council business.

Mr Magee tried to argue that because Coun King had cut his trip to London short to attend the meeting it was a legitimate claim for expenses he had incurred.

The second instance focused on a claim for a taxi fare from Wisbech to King's Lynn when Coun King had attended a planning meeting on behalf of constituents.

Mr Magee argued he was acting in his capacity as a councillor and could legitimately claim. Mr Goolden stated that Coun King had not got permission Fenland's chief executive and therefore he was not acting as a representative of the district council.

Mr Magee said: "This is not MP's expenses, there are no duck ponds, Mayfair mansions or lining his pocket,but claims made in relation to his legitimate duties as a councillor.

"He was not deliberately trying to make a false claim, he was only trying to make a claim for money he has expended on carrying out his duty."

But in the end the committee agreed with the independent investigators that Coun King had breached the code.

Committee chairman Sam Hoy said it was not about the amount of money involved - an overpayment of £1,511.10 over six years - but public perception.

She said members must be "open and transparent" and must not misuse the public purse.

"Whilst it doesn't involve large sums it is nonetheless public money," said Coun Hoy.



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