North Yorkshire Tory leader pledges zero tolerance to bullying after councillor quits

The leader of a new Conservative-led unitary authority has pledged to uphold a zero tolerance approach to bullying amid claims the councillor representing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his neighbours in Kirby Sigston resigned her seat after being harassed by Tory colleagues.

North Yorkshire Council’s leader Councillor Carl Les said any bullying behaviours in his group would be “stamped out” after being challenged over alleged claims in Hutton Rudby councillor Bridget Fortune’s resignation letter to the authority, which the council has refused to make public.

At the same time, senior legal officers are considering a complaint over a related incident in the council chamber in May, in which Lower Wensleydale councillor and Conservative whip Tom Jones was said to have tried to prevent Coun Fortune from voting.

Despite the meeting being live streamed, the incident happened slightly off camera. Nevertheless, opposition members can be seen to respond angrily, with some pointing accusatory fingers across the chamber.

Apologising for the incident, Coun Jones said in May he had suffered “a moment of youthful exuberance”.

Mrs Fortune has not responded to requests to comment.

It remains unclear whether the incident will be viewed as a potential breach of the members’ Code of Conduct. If it is found Coun Jones has a case to answer, witness statements will be taken from numerous elected members.

While several opposition and some Tory councillors have claimed Coun Fortune said she had been fully aware she was voting against the administration before the incident, others have claimed the incident was triggered by confusion.

Some councillors sitting close to the incident say its severity has been greatly exaggerated, saying Coun Jones “hardly touched her arm” and that the act was “more of a gesture”.

Others have claimed Coun Fortune’s arm was “forcibly pushed down”, that a joint was badly jarred, and that she suffered bruising for several weeks.

One onlooker said: “It shouldn’t have taken place in the council chamber – it shouldn’t have taken place anywhere, frankly.”

Although the authority has rejected a Freedom of Information request to release the resignation letter, it has also been distributed to parish councils in her division.

A council spokeswoman said “specific information relating to Councillor Fortune’s resignation from North Yorkshire Council contains her personal data” and that “she would have no reasonable expectation that private matters such as her reasons for resigning would be disclosed to the public at large”.

The spokeswoman said: “The council does not consider that disclosing this information into the public domain is necessary or justified.”

However, County Hall sources said when asked if she would consider handing the letter in as a “retirement” instead of a resignation, Coun Fortune said she realised, like all correspondence to council officers, it would be subject to Freedom of Information requests.

When asked about the bullying allegations, Coun Les said: “There is no place in the council for bullying in any form.

“I am very disappointed to hear that there is some allegation that there has been bullying. If there were complaints about bullying I would take that within my group at the council very seriously and do what I could to have it stamped out.”

The resignation of the former Hambleton District Council’s leisure boss came 14 months after she secured the Hutton Rudby and Osmotherley division by 249 votes from fellow Conservative and long-serving councillor David Hugill, who ran without being attached to a party.

Her selection as the Tory candidate followed years of wrangling between Conservative members of the county council and district and borough councils.

Lee Derrick, of the Yorkshire Party, Conservative David Hugill, Allan Mortimer of the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Duncan Ross Russell will contest a  by-election over the vacant seat on September 28.

2 Comments

  1. I saw the incident. Cllr.Jones twice attempted to stop Cllr Fortune from voting. The first attempt was quite violent, the second was almost half-hearted as he realised that he had been seen.
    The incident was also witnessed by senior officers present at the meeting.
    Cllr Les has always claimed that there was no Tory Whip despite always appointing Councillors to the role – somehow his protestations ring very hollow.

  2. “The council does not consider that disclosing this information into the public domain is necessary or justified.”

    Good to know that it’s not just being ‘buried’ because it reflects badly on the Conservative Members.

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