Allegations against Lewisham councillors for breaching the code of conduct over the past year included incidents of aggression, “foul” language about transgender issues, and a data breach. 

But many were not upheld because they were “out of the remit” of the code of conduct as councillors were not acting in an official capacity when the incidents occurred.  

Currently the council has no power to sanction councillors over comments and behaviour when they are not “acting in their capacity as councillor or holding themselves out as doing so”.   

Changes to the code may be coming, however, after recommendations from the Nolan Committee to go back to a voluntary model for all local authorities to follow were discussed by the standards committee on Wednesday (January 8). 

The suggestions include holding councillors to account for their behaviour in public, regardless of whether they are acting in an official capacity or not.  

The allegations presented to the standards committee happened between October 2018 and October 2019.  

Those that were not upheld because the accused was not acting in an official manner involved a councillor using “foul, violent and abusive” language when speaking about transgender issues, another “lunging” at a council worker who was left afraid to come to work, perceived offensive tweets, a councillor taking over a local group meeting and alleged aggressive and intimidatory behaviour by a councillor.

See related: Lewisham councillor uses 'foul, violent and abusive language' on transgender issues

“On the June 12, 2019, the monitoring officer received a complaint brought by a Union official on behalf of one of their members alleging that at a constituency Labour Party meeting a councillor had lunged at the union member in an aggressive and violent manner and had to be restrained by colleagues.  

“The Union member is also an employee and was fearful of coming into further contact with the councillor while on council premises,” the report read.  

Speaking to the council’s standards committee on Wednesday (January 8), monitoring officer Kath Nicholson, said: “They weren’t on council business so again it went beyond my reach for an investigation.” 

One councillor was accused of “deliberately” forwarding parliamentary casework from a resident – which included people’s names and addresses – to others in an email. 

She admitted to sending the email chain but said she didn’t mean to and then referred herself to the Information Commissioners Office. 

Ms Nicholson said: “They apologised to everyone whose name and address had been disclosed. 

“There was no informal resolution possible so I looked at the criteria of whether there needed to be a formal assessment. 

“It seems to me that it wouldn’t be in the public interest to do any further investigations because what would happen was that it would go to information Commissioners Office.  

“I couldn’t find out anything more so what was the point when we’d had a hands up from the councillor that it had happened inadvertently.  

“When I met with the councillor I reminded her of her responsibilities and I have made arrangements for her to have a personal briefing on data protection issues from the principle lawyer that works for me.” 

Other allegations were found to be baseless after investigations, including a suggestion that a councillor had received housing benefit illegally and that another had been “improperly elected”.  

A council spokesperson said: “We expect our staff, councillors, partners and contractors to all maintain the highest standards. 

“It is therefore only right and proper that any complaints are fully investigated and the appropriate action taken.” 

The possible changes to the code of conduct are in the very early stages, having being discussed for the first time at the meeting this week.