A LIB DEM councillor has been cleared of disrespecting a police officer at a ‘highly-charged’ debate over the future of two parking zones in Southsea.
It follows the end of an investigation stretching almost two years.
Licensing officer PC Matt Moss complained to Portsmouth City Council that Cllr Lee Hunt shouted at him outside a room in Portsmouth Guildhall where plans were being discussed to scrap the MB and MC zones.
Their encounter concerned why PC Moss had turned up to the debate while on duty, and messages the officer had put on Twitter before then about the council’s parking policy.
Stuart Crow, a Tory activist and now parliamentary advisor to Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond, also claimed he heard Cllr Hunt ‘berating’ the PC.
Both complaints led to an investigation being launched in March 2015, into whether Cllr Hunt breached the members’ code of conduct by disrespecting PC Moss.
Mr Crow said he heard it (our conversation), but no-one else heard it. Neither the two councillors that were here, nor the chair, nor an officer, no-one. And the reason no-one came out to look, was because it never happened.Lib Dem councillor Lee Hunt
But a council complaints panel finally decided yesterday Cllr Hunt’s actions did not warrant any action, and cleared him of the allegations.
Speaking to The News, the panel’s chairman Cllr John Ferrett said: ‘On the balance of probabilities, and the evidence produced, the committee does not believe that Cllr Hunt had failed to comply with the code of conduct.
‘We have given this lots of consideration and I think it’s only right the council takes any complaints made with the utmost seriousness.’
Cllr Hunt said the allegations were ‘vexatious’ and ‘political’, saying both PC Moss and Mr Crow had ‘totally made up’ what happened.
Addressing the panel, Cllr Hunt said: ‘I asked why he (PC Moss) was here, sitting around watching a debate.
‘I asked him truthfully, because we hear so much about escalating crime, police officers being cut, and here I am, a representative of the people who elected me, and pay the police precept, and I was flabbergasted we had an police officer, sat while on duty, for two hours or more, in here.’
‘He was just annoyed – he was annoyed someone had challenged him, about why he was here. Clearly, he wasn’t used to that sort of thing.’
He added: ‘Mr Crow said he heard it (our conversation), but no-one else heard it.
‘Neither the two councillors that were here, nor the chair, nor an officer, no-one. And the reason no-one came out to look, was because it never happened.’
The committee pointed out ‘inconsistencies’ in evidence provided during the investigation – hearing how PC Moss initially claimed Cllr Hunt had shouted at him, yet that was not mentioned in a follow-up statement in March 2015.
PC Moss made no reference to their conversation being ‘politicised’ until Mr Crow submitted evidence, the panel heard.
PC Moss later denied during an interview that Cllr Hunt shouted at him.
Addressing what PC Moss told him as part of the investigation, assistant city solicitor, Peter Baulf, said: ‘PC Moss was not expecting a forthright opinion from any person, and was taken aback by that. The officer felt abashed and upset because of the clearly direct comments made by Cllr Hunt.
‘He said “I was completely surprised”, and I took that down.
‘But there are differences (in the evidence provided).
‘I asked him “Did Cllr Hunt shout at you?” But he said “no”.’
Describing the atmosphere on the day of the incident, Mr Baulf said: ‘This committee room was full and there was a full gallery. It was a highly-charged, political, debating environment.’
It was said Hampshire Constabulary had advised PC Moss about his ‘unwise’ use of Twitter. The police force said it did not wish to comment on the outcome of the council’s investigation.