A detailed report has been published about allegations of 'inappropriate behaviour' by Fleet district councillor Peter Coupland
More details have emerged about a South Holland District Council member’s "inappropriate remarks and physical contact".
As reported in last week’s Spalding Guardian, Fleet district councillor Peter Coupland was found in breach of its code of conduct after putting his arms around a woman and pulling her towards him during a visit to London in October 2018.
But a new report for a meeting of all 37 district councillors last night included details of the complaint which alleged that Coun Coupland had "made reference to being in the back row of the cinema again" during the incident, causing the woman "considerable distress".
The report by independent investigator Anne Gibson, went before a Joint Standards Hearing Panel whose members ruled Coun Coupland, South Holland District Council’s portfolio holder for finance, had "brought his office into disrepute".
Ms Gibson’s report, which included interviews with the woman, Coun Coupland and other witnesses, said: "The woman made a formal complaint, alleging inappropriate behaviour by Coun Coupland, believing that it had sexual connotations linked to it and that it placed her in considerable distress.
"She said that Coun Coupland came and sat on the seat next to the complainant and put out his left arm and pulled her against him.
"As he did so, Coun Coupland made reference to being in the back row of the cinema again, while others in the group were standing fairly close by and laughing.
"Coun Coupland still had his arm around the woman when another member of the group got his camera and took a couple of photos.
"The woman said that it felt like she had been used for fun and that Coun Coupland would not have behaved as he did towards a man."
In her interview, the woman went on to state that although her working relationship with Coun Coupland was "polite and professional overall", he was also "quite an outspoken character whose inappropriate remarks were never challenged by other councillors".
Coun Coupland, in his interview, said he could not remember "making a comment about being in the back row of the cinema” and that he was unaware of the woman’s "level of good banter".
Ending her report, Ms Gibson said: "It is clear from the evidence provided that Coun Coupland adopts a style of behaviour which others find challenging."
. Following the publication of the Joint Standards Hearing Panel's report, Coun Coupland sent a statement to Spalding Today which said: "I took part in a visit as part of the council exploring what additional new functions we may look to bring to South Holland and its community.
"During the course of the visit I posed for a photograph with a senior council officer who I have worked with on projects for a year or two.
"The photograph was taken in public by another senior officer which showed that I placed my arm around the female's shoulder for a few seconds, with a number of other councillors and officers present.
"A number of weeks later the female officer made a complaint stating that she felt uncomfortable by my actions.
"Babergh/Mid Suffolk District Council was appointed, under the Joint Standards Board hearing arrangements, to hear the complaint and also an independent person who advises the council.
"I am pleased that the independent person categorically advised the hearing panel that he did not believe my action, comments or the photograph to have had any sexual aspects.
"The breach of conduct was in relation to me having been disrespectful to the female officer by placing my arm around her while posing for a photograph in public.
"I have offered my apologies to the staff member concerned and, as a result, both myself and other senior councillors at South Holland District Council will be undertaking equality and diversity training as soon as possible."