Councillor could face probe for ‘protecting’ Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock

Cllr Les Stevens
Cllr Les Stevens

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A COUNCILLOR who admitted he protected Mike Hancock because they were friends is to face an investigation.

Lib Dem Les Stevens made the revelation to The News after a committee he sat on looking into the conduct of Mr Hancock delayed a decision over whether to punish him.

Portsmouth South Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock arrives at Southampton Magistrates' Court to give evidence in the trial of Les Cummings, who is charged with knowingly making a false statement against Hancock during the General Election in 2010. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 22, 2011. Photo credit should read: Chris Ison/PA Wire ENGPPP00120110719130554

Portsmouth South Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock arrives at Southampton Magistrates' Court to give evidence in the trial of Les Cummings, who is charged with knowingly making a false statement against Hancock during the General Election in 2010. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 22, 2011. Photo credit should read: Chris Ison/PA Wire ENGPPP00120110719130554

The panel was tasked with finding out whether Mr Hancock, who is the Portsmouth South MP, had breached the code of conduct in his role as a councillor last year after a complaint was made about his behaviour towards a female constituent who came to him for help in 2009.

Cllr Stevens and his Lib Dem colleague Terry Hall voted to stall proceedings on the back of advice by a QC while a civil case against the MP was ongoing.

Cllr Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, chaired the panel and did not agree with the decision to postpone proceedings, but was outvoted.

Speaking to The News in January, Cllr Stevens said: ‘I am protecting Mike because I am his friend and I have not seen anything proving otherwise (that he is guilty). That’s the way I look at it.’

Tory councillor Steve Wemyss now wants Cllr Stevens hauled before a complaints board as he believes the Lib Dem acted ‘selfishly’ and was influenced by his relationship with Mr Hancock.

Cllr Stevens believes the fact he has known Mr Hancock for more than 20 years did not cloud his judgement.

‘It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this complaint has been made, because Cllr Wemyss will report anybody for anything,’ said Cllr Stevens.

‘It’s just another round of political point scoring.

‘The opposition didn’t get their way in the Hancock case because we took the QC’s advice that it should have been postponed, and that resulted in the fact Mr Hancock is no longer a councillor so there was nothing we could do about it.

‘Whatever way it would have gone, no councillor should have been involved in sitting on the panel and I wasn’t protecting Mike.

‘What I was protecting was his right and anyone’s right to a fair and just hearing. I would not be a part of any kangaroo court, which as far as I’m concerned is what Cllr Jones wanted.

‘We always listened to legal advice.’

Cllr Wemyss says a panel will meet on September 29 to investigate his complaint.

He said: ‘Cllr Stevens hasn’t denied his friendship with Mr Hancock and he shouldn’t have been participating in a process where a friend was being investigated.

‘Our rules are quite clear, and my belief is that the principle of selflessness – which says holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public’s interest and not for a friend – has been breached.’

Mr Hancock is an independent MP after being suspended from the Lib Dems earlier this year.

His former party has appointed a new parliamentary candidate in next year’s General Election, former council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Every single councillor has a relationship with Mike Hancock – all 42 of us – because he’s been a councillor for many years.

‘There’s an argument that Cllr Donna Jones was Mike’s political enemy so therefore has a negative relationship with him and should not have serving on the panel.

‘That’s the shortcoming of the legislation where councillors are judge and jury for their fellow councillors because inevitably they know each other.’

Cllr Jones said: ‘I absolutely deplore the comments made by Cllr Vernon-Jackson and Cllr Stevens as I have never had a falling-out of any kind or had an argument with Mike Hancock.

‘Gerald and Les’s defence of Hancock and the ongoing investigation is a sad indictment of the toxic behaviour of the Lib Dem party in Portsmouth and this is exactly why they are no longer running Portsmouth City Council.’

David Williams, the council’s chief executive, said: ‘A code of conduct complaint against a councillor has been received and will be examined.’

Calls for new investigation into Hancock’s conduct

Last month former Lib Dem councillor John Thompson called for a new police investigation into Mike Hancock’s conduct as he does not believe all witnesses were interviewed nor that the woman’s plight was taken seriously enough.

The Portsmouth South MP apologised this summer for forming an ‘inappropriate friendship’ with the woman.

Mr Thompson says he has confidential information that points to flaws in Hampshire Constabulary’s original investigation and is planning to write to the Independent Police Complaints Commission requesting a new case.