Length of this investigation is a cause for concern

COMMENT: Not allowing appeals from the elderly is unfair

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The saga surrounding the Portsmouth City Council investigation into its cabinet councillor Mike Hancock seems, sadly, to be obscuring the importance of the subject that triggered it.

It was March when this investigation was first announced – so long ago that you could be forgiven for forgetting what the sequence of events was, and what the final outcome may be, so here’s a refresher.

Cllr Hancock is facing a civil lawsuit over claims he sexually assaulted a vulnerable woman who had asked for his help.

These claims have previously been reported to the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided to take no further action, and they have now reappeared in a civil lawsuit.

At this point it’s important to restate that the most important fact in this matter is that this woman and Cllr Hancock see justice. She has every right to pursue her claim, which he has always vigorously denied, and he has an equal right to defend his corner. It’s the fundamental rule of law and it is indisputable.

However, this investigation is threatening to take centre stage, and in a most unwelcome way. Originally due to take ‘two or three months’ (the council’s words), we’re now five months from its announcement. And nothing. Originally the job for one independent lawyer (again, the council’s words), it appears a second opinion is being sought.

And to what end? If the investigation finds that Cllr Hancock has broken the code of conduct, the penalty is being stripped of any special responsibility, being issued with a censure, and being told to apologise and undertake training.

All are worthy and necessary if the allegations are true, but being made to say sorry seems hardly to be worth £25,000-plus of public money and a process that is stretching towards the six-month mark. More importantly, while they would give some satisfaction to the claimant, they hardly seem fitting given the allegation. We say again, we only want the truth to come out and for justice to be served. But increasingly, this investigation is not looking the best vehicle to achieve this end.

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