Peterborough Labour councillor to be ‘offered training’ following insults against a Conservative opponent in ongoing spat
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Cllr Ed Murphy was told to undergo formal training on his use of social media after twice breaching the city council’s Code of Conduct following comments he made about cabinet member for finance Cllr David Seaton.
The recommendation is the latest episode in an ongoing and public row between both men which a new report said “has done little for the reputation of either”.
The report, which has now been published after an independent investigation, added that Cllr Seaton has also “made comments about Cllr Murphy that are in many ways similar to those complained about”.
The findings will now be considered by the council’s Constitution and Ethics Committee which Cllr Seaton chairs and which Cllr Murphy is a member of.
The two upheld complaints were made by Cllr Seaton and his wife who told investigators that she had considered legal action over Cllr Murphy’s comments.
The report from ch&i associates stated: “Cllr Murphy is clearly a committed and hardworking member of the council who is passionate about representing his local community.
“We have concluded, though, that Cllr Murphy’s comments about Cllr Seaton on Facebook went beyond the ‘rough and tumble’ of local politics and instead amounted to online personal abuse.”
It added that the decision was “finely balanced” and that there had been “provocation” after Cllr Seaton had tried to get Cllr Murphy excluded from a meeting on May 16, 2019.
A third complaint, that Cllr Murphy had posted an acronym on a private Facebook page which constituted an offensive message to Cllr Seaton was dismissed because he was not said to be acting in an official capacity as a councillor.
Cllr Murphy, Labour and Co-operative member for Ravensthorpe, told the Peterborough Telegraph: “This complaints report goes back a couple of years. I’ve already undergone the training as recommended.”
Cllr Seaton, Conservative member for Hampton Vale, has been approached for comment.
The report outlines in detail the long running series of disagreements between the pair, with both having made several complaints about the other.
Under council policy, the names of councillors who are subject to a complaint are never revealed unless the complaint is upheld.
Councillors have also adopted a social media code which warns them to not “use inappropriate or ill-considered, offensive, illegal or discriminatory remarks”.
Complaints 1 and 2
Cllr Seaton took offence at a Full Council meeting on March 6, 2019 when Cllr Murphy accused him of “getting a reputation for telling porky pies” during a debate on council tax.
Cllr Murphy denied that he was calling Cllr Seaton a liar, but that he was “just pointing out that many of the public actually don’t believe a word he says now”.
Cllr Seaton responded: “Every council meeting he bullies women in this chamber, he insults colleagues in this chamber. It is entirely unacceptable behaviour.”
Cllr Seaton then called for Cllr Murphy to not be heard further, which was agreed following a vote. He had also wanted him to be removed fully from the meeting.
Cllr Murphy then used his personal Facebook account to post underneath the council’s live-stream of the meeting, which could be seen by watching members of the public: “Check out Cllr Seaton who’s had a number of allegations of misogyny made against him. Many folk just don’t believe a word he says these days.”
Mrs Seaton told the investigators that she was “utterly appalled” after seeing the comment. She added: “I was so offended at the time that I actually considered going to a solicitor for slander and libel.
“I found it very painful. I know David is a strong character and he will defend with vigour. If he is poked, he will poke back, but he is not a liar and he is most definitely not a misogynist.
“That to me is a deeply insulting and harmful thing to say.”
In his complaint, Cllr Seaton also provided a screenshot of another comment made about him by Cllr Murphy on Facebook which stated: “People who are not in control of themselves or habits do tend to try controlling and bullying others. Seems to be the case with Cllr Seaton”.
The offensive acronym used by Cllr Murphy on the Peterborough Politics Facebook page did not lead to any reprimand as it was concluded that there was “no compelling evidence that would lead us to consider that Cllr Murphy was acting in his official capacity when posting this comment,” meaning he could not have breached the council’s Code of Conduct.
The acronym was posted as a comment on a post that called for people to vote for the Brexit Party at the upcoming by-election in Peterborough in June, 2019.
According to the independent report, Cllr Murphy “acknowledged posting the message on Facebook,” but made no comment” with regards to the acronym’s meaning.
He also highlighted that it was a private group which “regularly incudes very robust exchanges” which nobody ever complains about.
Cllr Seaton said the acronym was “well-known” and was “clearly in breach of the council’s Social Media Policy”.
He added that “the conduct could damage the reputation of the council”.