West Norfolk councillor walks out of meeting after standards decision upheld

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A West Norfolk councillor walked out of a meeting after he was formally censured following a standards hearing into bullying allegations.

Disciplinary recommendations made against Patrick Rochford were endorsed at a full council meeting last night.

Mr Rochford shouted “Shame” as the vote was carried and left the chamber shortly afterwards, while the meeting continued.

The case was referred to the meeting after Mr Rochford, who represents the Gaywood North Bank ward, was found to have committed multiple breaches of the council’s code of conduct during a standards hearing in November.

The case related to tweets he posted about another councillor, Sandra Squire, between May and August of last year which were deemed to have undermined her position.

The posts were all made from his account, which identified him as a councillor.

The panel recommended that he be formally censured, removed from all committees and outside bodies of which he was a member and forced to return all council technological equipment given to him for the remainder of his term.

But Mr Rochford sought to defend himself at the meeting, telling members: “I should like to speak if I’m going to be condemned.”

He also made allegations against Mrs Squire who, amid calls for an immediate vote to be taken, asked: “Do I not have right of reply?”

The council’s monitoring officer, Emma Duncan, had earlier warned members that, while the decision notice was in the public domain, specific details of the case were not.

She also interrupted Mr Rochford during his initial intervention.

Meanwhile, Labour group members had attempted to question how the panel which sat at the hearing was chosen in the first place and claimed they had been kept in the dark about the whole affair.

But council leader Brian Long said: “We’re not here to discus the hows and whyfores of the standards committee and how they were formulated.

“They were asked to do a job of work and they’ve done that. There are other committees where that is an appropriate thing to do.”

As she appealed for order in the chamber, borough mayor Carol Bower added: “This isn’t the place to discuss the case.”

But Labour’s Gary Howman retorted: “We’ve had no other opportunity.”

Mr Rochford has previously indicated he intended to contest the panel’s decision, stating he had been seeking to refer it to the Local Government Ombudsman.