'I stand by what I said': Former council leader unapologetic after being accused of 'derogatory' remark

Wayne Fitzgerald said he himself faced ‘discriminatory and derogatory’ language
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Peterborough’s former council leader says he stands by what he said after being accused of making a “derogatory” remark towards another councillor.

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald (Conservatives, West), who remains leader of PCC’s largest group, said that it’s a “statement of fact” that Cllr Shabina Qayyum (Labour, East) “loves the limelight” and is “always interrupting me”.

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He first made the comment at a PCC full council meeting, after which Cllr Qayyum successfully brought a motion withdrawing his right to speak further after what she called a “derogatory” remark.

Wayne Fitzgerald said his remarks weren't derogatoryWayne Fitzgerald said his remarks weren't derogatory
Wayne Fitzgerald said his remarks weren't derogatory

At this point, the majority of the Conservative group left the chamber before the meeting had concluded.

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Speaking afterwards, Cllr Fitzgerald said: “I made a comment aimed at Dr Shabina Qayyum which was neither derogatory nor offensive in my view; however, I offered to withdraw the remarks, but she pressed the mayor who didn’t show strong leadership on this occasion and put a motion to hear no more from me.”

Asked whether he accepted the comment was personal, he said that it was – “in the sense that she was talking to me and I was responding to her”.

Cllr Shabina Qayyum said it was beneath her to respond with a reciprocal remarkCllr Shabina Qayyum said it was beneath her to respond with a reciprocal remark
Cllr Shabina Qayyum said it was beneath her to respond with a reciprocal remark

'Beneath me to respond'

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Cllr Qayyum said it’s “beneath me to dignify Wayne Fitzgerald with a reciprocal response” after his comments.

“I used the democratic processes of the council and he was held to account on a voting majority of 33 who all agreed what he said should be accounted for to make him unheard in the chamber,” she said.

“Whether he stands by his comments or not is now an irrelevance as the majority have voted those comments as null and void.”

There were also 22 votes against silencing Cllr Fitzgerald and two abstentions.

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Cllr Qayyum added that all public representatives are “in the limelight, whether we like it or not” and that raising a point of order while another councillor is speaking is a normal democratic process, not an interruption.

She also said she's considering bringing a formal complaint for the way he spoke to her during the meeting.

'Discriminatory and derogatory'

Cllr Fitzgerald said he was himself subject to a “discriminatory and derogatory” remark during the meeting from Cllr Peter Hiller (Peterborough First, Glinton and Castor) and that members of his group are considering bringing a formal complaint about that.

“For him to stand up – I can’t quite see from where I’m sitting whether he’s up or down – and demand a hydrotherapy pool in this city when he and his deputy leader personally ordered the destruction of the pool is disgusting,” Cllr Hiller said of Cllr Fitzgerald during a debate on the city’s Regional Pool, which he and others interpreted as being a reference to his height.

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Cllr Hiller said his comment was “factual” and “wasn’t the least bit derogatory”.

“From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see him at all,” he said.

He also stressed that he was referring to the destruction of the pool, not its closure, when he referred to Cllr Fitzgerald and his deputy as being personally involved in the controversy around St George's Community Hydrotherapy Pool.

'Gross overreaction'

Cllr Nick Sandford (Liberal Democrats, Paston and Walton), who chaired the meeting as Peterborough’s mayor, said he thought “Cllr Qayyum’s motion was a bit of an overreaction” but that the Conservatives walking out was “a gross overreaction”.

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While Cllr Fitzgerald “was overstepping the mark with some of his phraseology” and was responsible for “changing the tone of the meeting”, it’s still “quite a dramatic thing to prevent somebody from speaking”, he said.

“I think he’s a good leader of the opposition, because I think the leader of the opposition should be challenging,” he said. “Sometimes he just gets carried away and he uses language that other people find offensive. But I wouldn’t have shut him up, because I think that’s not the way to deal with that sort of situation.”

The standard debate has been worse in the past, he added: “20 years ago when I first became a councillor, I used to sometimes go to the pub to have a drink because you had to put up with some really unpleasant, personal stuff, but we don’t really have that by and large now,” he said.

He disagrees with Cllr Fitzgerald’s accusation that he lost control of the meeting.

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“He texted me last night saying you allowed the meeting to collapse into chaos, which I don’t think I did,” he said. “I’ve actually had a number of compliments from various people. Not only councillors, but people who were observing the meeting reasonably well.

“I have tried really hard during my term as the mayor, including in that very fraught meeting with the removal of the leader, to be as even-handed as possible," he said.

Cllr Fitzgerald was removed as leader of the council through a vote of no confidence in November last year.

While Cllr Sandford will remain mayor until May, he has now chaired his final full council meeting in the role.

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