west Norfolk: Leader quits but pledges action over phone tape
The political career of former Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy is in tatters today after he was censured and ordered to undergo ethics training.
The Freebridge Lynn councillor announced his decision to resign as chairman of the ruling Conservative group on Friday night and yesterday said he would not seek re-election.
That came hours after a standards committee ruled he had brought his former office into disrepute by asking a junior official to lie about whose idea it had been to send a damaging email about West Norfolk Council to a radio host.
But Mr Murphy’s next fight is set to be against the council he once led after it emerged the authority’s chief executive, David White, had secretly recorded a phone conversation with him on the issue.
In an email to fellow Tories, Mr Murphy said: “The hearing raised a number of very important issues which, I feel, I am honour bound to pursue against Norfolk County Council.
“I think this will be incompatible with retaining my position as chairman of the Conservative group.”
Following an eight-hour hearing, members of the county council’s standards committee upheld the conclusion of independent investigator Jenni Richards QC that Mr Murphy had breached councillors’ code of conduct by asking former Tory political assistant Kevin Vaughan to lie about who had proposed to send the critical email to BBC Radio Norfolk last April.
They said Mr Murphy should undergo ethics training and would receive a letter of censure for his behaviour.
But the committee rejected three other alleged breaches of the code, relating to perceived failures to treat Mr Vaughan with respect.
Monitoring officer Victoria McNeill said Mr Vaughan himself did not feel he had been treated with disrespect by being told to claim the request to send the email had come from the so-called “twin hatters” – members of both the borough and county authorities.
Mr Vaughan had earlier insisted that, though Mr Murphy had had the idea to send the email, the origins came from the pressure being put on West Norfolk twin hatters because of the incinerator project and current acting leader Bill Borrett’s anger at being prevented from appearing live on Mr Conrad’s programme when Mr Daubney was due to appear.
During Mr Vaughan’s testimony, one of the twin hatters, Michael Langwade, withdrew from the hearing.
Meanwhile, the evidence to support the other alleged breaches found by Ms Richards was said to be “incomplete and unclear.”
Claims of three further alleged breaches of the code, relating to perceived failures by Mr Murphy to treat Mr Vaughan, Mr Conrad and West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney had already been rejected by Ms Richards.
But it was the apparent breakdown of the relationship between Mr Murphy and council chief executive David White that provided the hearing’s most dramatic testimony.
It emerged that Mr White had secretly recorded a telephone conversation with Mr Murphy on April 27 last year, three days after the key email to BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Nick Conrad came to light.
He insisted he had taken outside legal advice and acted in the best interests of the council.
He said: “Derrick has been the only leader, indeed the only politician, I have recorded given my experiences of working with him.
“In a nutshell, I found he tried frequently not to respond directly to questions. He was often reluctant to give me straight answers and was evasive, difficult to pin down and quite inconsistent in his views.
“I must say quite a few other senior officers have similar experiences of Derrick’s behaviour to my own.”
Referring specifically to the email issue, he added: “Given my and others’ experiences of Derrick, I was not at all confident his version of events was accurate.”
Mr Murphy claimed the relationship between Mr White and the cabinet he led had become increasingly tense after the cabinet signalled their intention to launch a review of the council’s senior management structures in January 2012.
Mr Murphy also alleged that he had had overwhelming backing from fellow Tories in their wish for Mr Vaughan to return to his post, only for Mr White to block the request.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
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