‘No regrets’ about delay deciding Hancock’s fate

UNDER FIRE Cllr Mike Hancock
UNDER FIRE Cllr Mike Hancock

‘Don’t leave it too long to trim your hedges’

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A COUNCILLOR overseeing the investigation into Mike Hancock’s conduct has ‘no regrets’ over voting to delay proceedings.

Cllr Les Stevens, of the city’s Liberal Democrats group, is on the committee that has studied whether the Fratton councillor broke the council’s code of conduct over claims he sexually assaulted a woman.

UNDER FIRE Cllr Les Stevens

UNDER FIRE Cllr Les Stevens

As reported, he along with Lib Dem panel member, Cllr Terry Hall, have ensured the conclusion is delayed until the outcome of a civil case the alleged victim has lodged against Cllr Hancock.

Conservative councillor Donna Jones, who has chaired panel proceedings, wasn’t in favour but was outvoted.

Now, responding to criticism from the alleged victim, in light of Cllr Hancock’s suspension from the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Stevens said: ‘As far as I am concerned, we went through the process thoroughly and we took heed of the legal advice that we were given by our QC Elizabeth Lang.

‘I have got no regrets at all, none. I stand by the decision that I made. We made the right decision for the right reason. That’s the process.’

Cllr Hancock, who is also MP for Portsmouth South, was suspended this week after the Liberal Democrats’ London headquarters obtained a copy of a report by QC Nigel Pascoe into his conduct.

He is now an independent councillor, and it is up to the Lib Dem cabinet whether he continues to hold his position as portfolio holder for planning, regeneration and economic redevelopment on the city council, albeit as an independent.

Cllr Stevens said he was Cllr Hancock’s friend, and when asked whether he thought that affected his judgement, said: ‘No, absolutely not, which is why the disciplinary process has taken so long, because we wanted to hear everything that came in.’

‘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.’

Despite the fact QC Nigel Pascoe produced a dossier into Cllr Hancock’s conduct – which has now been leaked in full online – Cllr Stevens said the allegations remained completely ‘unfounded.’

And he believes Cllr Hancock should keep his cabinet position and not step down as a councillor.

If he did, then it wouldn’t trigger a by-election since the local election is in May.

Under council rules, Cllr Hancock’s role as councillor can’t be taken away from him by the local authority. But he can be barred from committees and council buildings for up to six months.

Cllr Stevens said: ‘At this moment in time, yes I do think that he should remain in the council because, as I have said before, these are unfounded allegations. Anybody can make these allegations against someone.

‘The QC has only had one side of the story.’

Cllr Hall and Cllr Hancock were unavailable for comment.

FEELING OVER COUNCILLOR SAGA IS ‘RAW’

LIB Dem councillors last night refused to be clear about which way they would vote in regards to Mike Hancock’s future on the council.

The local party was set to hold private talks tonight about the situation.

Cllr David Fuller, who represents Fratton, the same ward as Cllr Hancock, said: ‘With all this happening, we need to talk around the table.

‘The leader is quite right, until we get together we don’t know our feelings.

‘People are a bit raw at the moment.

‘Some of us have read the report.

‘It’s not nice reading, but I believe someone is innocent until proven guilty.

‘Whether he can carry on as a Portsmouth councillor, I don’t know.’

Cllr Margaret Foster, of Charles Dickens ward, said: ‘Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

‘Let it go to court, let justice take its course.’

Cllr Michael Andrewes, of St Jude’s ward, said Cllr Hancock had issued a statement – which talks about how the police have dropped the allegations against him on two separate occasions – and left it at that.

Cllr Lee Hunt, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said it was too serious a matter to comment on and a discussion would be held about the situation by the Liberal Democrat group.

Cllr Hugh Mason, deputy leader of the council, said: ‘I shall listen to what people have to say and make up my mind at that point. There are issues on both sides.’

POLICE TO TAKE NO ACTION

POLICE are not reopening a criminal investigation into Mike Hancock’s conduct following the leak of QC Nigel Pascoe’s report in full.

Hampshire Constabulary says it has already reviewed the 52-page dossier and decided no further action is required.

But officers have received requests for information to be disclosed to the High Court for Cllr Hancock’s civil case.

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said: ‘There are no criminal proceedings at the moment. However, there are requests for information during ongoing civil proceedings.’