LYME Regis councillor Cheryl Reynolds will have to make a public apology after being found in breach of the code of conduct for using a racist term and calling another member a liar.
After a fall-out over the removal of the teen shelter in the Anning Road playing field, Councillor Reynolds’ brothers – district and county councillor Daryl Turner and local fire chief Virgil Turner – submitted a complaint about her behaviour to West Dorset District Council’s monitoring officer.
Mr Turner claimed that Councillor Reynolds accused him of planting the drugs himself, to further his appeal for the shelter to be removed, as young people using the facility had been causing some disruption to neighbouring residents.
Councillor Reynolds – who had argued in favour of the shelter remaining in place – denied that she made any accusations.
Independent person Tim Darsley was appointed by the monitoring officer to look into complaints that Councillor Reynolds had used the racist n-word in a public meeting; had called Councillor Brian Larcombe a “liar”; had shown disrespect to other councillors by regularly interrupting them at meetings; had shown disrespect to Virgil Turner; had bullied Councillor Jeff Scowen; had shown predetermination in saying the teen shelter would be removed “over my dead body”; and had brought the council into disrepute.
She was found to be in breach of the code of conduct for using the n-word – which took place before the teen shelter argument arose during a council discussion on local grant allocations in April 2018 – and for calling Councillor Larcombe a “liar”, which took place in June 2018.
On all other counts she was found to be not in breach of the code of conduct.
Mr Darsley’s report was sent to the town council and members were asked to consider whether any sanctions should be made against Councillor Reynolds at last night’s (Wednesday) meeting.
The report was initially expected to be discussed in exempt business – meaning the press and public would be excluded from the meeting – but several councillors, including Councillor Reynolds herself, said they felt it should be discussed in public as the entire dispute had been carried out in public.
‘A witch hunt’
Councillor Reynolds started the discussion with an emotional statement, in which she said the last four and half months had been “tortuous” and had “devastated” both herself and her immediate family.
She added: “For your family to attack you is bad enough, but to not come and talk to you about it but to go full tilt into a complaint, newspaper allegations and a Facebook tirade is incomprehensible. A witch hunt.”
Councillor Reynolds – who also sits on West Dorset District Council and will be competing against her brother Daryl in the May elections for the new unitary authority seat – questioned why it had taken so long for the report to be completed.
She described the upcoming elections as the “elephant in the room”, adding: “This entire smear campaign against me has been a witch hunt. No one is perfect and I’m happy to admit that I make mistakes everyday. I learn from my mistakes and anyone who doesn’t make mistakes is a saint and I’m envious.
“What truly saddens me is all those who took this opportunity to jump on the band wagon and further condemn me. They each may have had their own motives, but their aim was the same – to blacken my reputation ahead of the town council and unitary elections in May.”
Referring to her use of the n-word, Councillor Reynolds described it as a “dreadful mistake” and she had been “disgusted” with herself for making the comment.
She said she apologised immediately, and later again to all councillors and members of the public who had been present, and had then undertaken voluntary training in equality and diversity.
Councillor Reynolds went on to accuse Councillor Derek Hallett of using the same n-word in a public meeting, saying he received “absolutely no condemnation”.
She said she had also apologised to Councillor Larcombe for calling him a liar. However, she then accused him of passing on confidential council business.
Councillor Larcombe has refuted these claims.
Councillor Reynolds denied claims that she had bullied Councillor Scowen, saying he was capable of “holding his own”, as found in the report, and said that she was not the only councillor who had interrupted others at meetings.
Concluding her statement, Councillor Reynolds said: “I hope that everyone accepts the apologies that have been made without reservation and I am happy to apologise again. Please understand that I have learnt many things from this and that my sadness and despair with my family will continue and that the damage done has been irrevocable.”
Councillor Scowen said he was “honestly gobsmacked” by her statement.
He commented: “There is no Councillor Reynolds smear campaign, it’s crazy to say that, it’s not a personal vendetta.
“You’re trying to come across as somebody who has been completely wronged by all of this. It was you that said the word liar and the n-word and all we’re doing is trying to get to the truth. I absolutely refute what you’re suggesting, that you’re somehow a victim in all of this.”
Councillor Scowen added that an apology was not always good enough, and other politicians who had used the racist term had resigned.
Councillor Larcombe said he also did not believe the complaint had anything to do with the upcoming elections. He said the report had gone through the independent person, the monitoring officer and the chief executive of West Dorset District Council, who were not interested in election campaigns.
He added: “The whole episode is unfortunate and at the end of the day it’s about personal consciences.”
Referring to Councillor Reynolds’ accusation that he had also used the n-word, Councillor Hallett said he could not remember making the comment and had asked several other councillors who also had no recollection of it.
“If I did say it, I will have to apologise,” he added
Councillor Hallett also brought members’ attention to another allegation mentioned in the report – a claim that Councillor Reynolds had refused to sign a ‘get well’ card after Councillor Hallett suffered a heart attack, and instead reportedly said, “I hope he has another one”.
The Mayor, Councillor Michaela Ellis, said the alleged comment was not raised in the investigation and asked Councillor Hallett to stick to the report.
Councillor Hallett continued: “It’s disgraceful. Her behaviour in this chamber, at times, has been outrageous.
“On one occasion, Councillor John Broom, because she [Councillor Reynolds] wouldn’t stop talking to you, Madam Mayor, hammered the table so hard that the water bottle almost hit the ceiling and we all jumped out of our chairs, because you two wouldn’t stop talking.
“It’s gone on meeting after meeting and we’ve had to put up with it. There is no witch hunt against her, Cheryl has caused these problems herself… she’s not been nice to a lot of us.
“I’m not standing for council next time simply because of her behaviour towards myself and other councillors who have been treated terrible. She may feel hard done by, but so do I.”
Councillor Richard Doney said he was “ashamed of the environment that we as councillors have created”, adding that he didn’t want to be a part of it.
He read the following statement from Mr Darsley’s report: “With interruptions between councillors seemingly tolerated, the threshold for what amounts to disrespect from such behaviour will be higher than elsewhere.”
Councillor Doney added: “What that’s saying is, because we behave so badly you can get away with worse behaviour than you can somewhere else. That’s a terrible indictment of the way we operate.”
He encouraged councillors to stick to the findings of the report and “leave all other baggage behind”.
Councillor Ellis said Councillor Reynolds had already done everything she could to put the matter right. She added that she didn’t understand why some issues from almost a year ago had been brought up in the investigation, when no one had made any complaints when they first took place.
Councillor Sean Larcombe agreed that it was “unfair” to impose sanctions on Councillor Reynolds, such as expecting her resign, when she had already apologised, undertaken voluntary training, suffered with her family life and had carried out much good work for the community.
It was agreed that Councillor Reynolds should make another apology in terms agreed by the mayor and town clerk, which should be made public through the media.
Following the council’s decision, Councillor Reynolds issues the following public apology:
“For the last four and a half months I have been under investigation following complaints made against me about alleged breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct.
“Whilst most of the allegations have been dismissed by the independent investigator, two, about not treating others with respect by my use of inappropriate language at meetings of the Lyme Regis Town Council, have been upheld.
“I apologised for these matters immediately at the time but wish to repeat and reinforce my sincere and unequivocal apologies to those directly affected, to the town and to anyone else who may have been upset or offended by my use of language; which I accept was entirely wrong and unacceptable.
“I have no desire to hide or cover up anything concerning this matter and a copy of the decision notice concerning the complaint can be viewed on the town council’s website. Alternatively, a hard copy can be obtained from the offices of Lyme Regis Town Council.
“Since these issues first arose, I have taken the initiative to enrol myself on appropriate training and I genuinely hope and believe that I have learnt from my mistakes.
“Throughout this very difficult period, I have continued to work tirelessly for the town in every way I can, for local residents, businesses, visitors and, especially, young people.
“I hope I will continue to have the privilege of serving everyone to the very best of my ability in future.”