Politician who ‘bullied’ teacher loses bid to have suspension reduced
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A councillor who was found to have bullied a teacher has lost a bid to have his suspension reduced.
Gareth Baines, who sits as an independent on Chirk Town Council, was handed a three-month suspension from his post in June last year.
Mr Baines stepped down from his role as chair of the Clwyd South Conservative Association last year over a separate issue. He was the agent for Conservative MP Simon Baynes at the 2019 election.
The resignation as chair of the local Tory branch came after he made comments on Twitter, calling A&E patients “fat mums in pot noodle-stained leggings/pjs”.
The suspension was handed to the politician after Wrexham Council’s standards committee was told how he contacted complainant Rachel Allen’s employers to try and get her into trouble after she raised a grievance against him.
It was alleged that in sending an e-mail to her bosses in November 2019 he attempted to “smear her name in the workplace”.
Mr Baines later appealed against the punishment to the Adjudication Panel for Wales (APW), which recommended in December that his suspension be reduced to two months.
However, standards committee members have upheld their original decision following a meeting yesterday (Tuesday, February 1).
Setting out the reasons for the meeting, the council’s chief governance officer Linda Robert said: “Members of the panel recommended at the hearing that the matter should come back to standards committee.
“They considered that the starting point for the length of suspension for the accepted breaches in this case would be three months and then mitigating and aggravating matters should be applied.
“They considered the mitigating factors of full cooperation with the ombudsman and committee, the appellant’s hitherto unblemished record, his expression of contrition and noting the breaches arose relating to one e-mail that was not further pursued.
“The tribunal recommended that a suspension of two months is appropriate in this particular case.
“Your decision is either to remain at the three-month suspension or to consider the two-month suspension.”
The committee previously found Mr Baines had breached parts of the council’s code of conduct which require councillors to show respect and to not use bullying behaviour or use their position to create a disadvantage for other people.
Members said the fact he copied the Education Workforce Council into his e-mail about Mrs Allen was an aggravating feature.
Other sanctions imposed included for Mr Baines to undertake training and send a letter of apology to the complainant and the chair of Chirk Town Council.
Committee member Geoff Edwards said he felt the initial decision was still appropriate.
He said: “We did discuss it at length, and it’s well documented why we went for the three months.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed and we rejected his initial appeal for the same reasons, so personally I would prefer to stick with the three months.”
In relation to the bullying allegations, Mr Baines said he was under “extreme stress” at the time due to juggling his role as town councillor with working as an international director for a multi-billion euro business based in Germany.
He did not attend the APW appeal hearing in December as he said he was flying to Munich.
Erddig councillor Paul Roberts (Cons) said he was concerned about sticking to the three-month suspension as it could prevent Mr Baines from standing in May’s local elections.
He said: “I don’t know Mr Baines at all but if that person is currently a councillor and intends possibly sitting in the May elections, I was thinking about the time line for the nomination papers.
“Would the three months possibly eliminate him from his democratic right?”
Officers said they were unsure if it would prevent him from standing, but it was not a matter the committee should consider.
Members chose to uphold the three-month suspension, which will come into effect today, by six votes to one with only Cllr Roberts against.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.