Lancaster councillor calls for internal inquiry after saucy emails to junior officer are leaked

A Lancaster city councillor has called for an internal investigation after leaked personal emails led to him being disciplined over a relationship with a junior council officer.
Coun Darren Clifford.Coun Darren Clifford.
Coun Darren Clifford.

Coun Darren Clifford today had his knuckles rapped over a five-month relationship with a member of council staff.

A Standards Committee found that the Heysham councillor had breached council guidelines by using official council equipment during office hours to send the woman risque emails.

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However, they agreed that a full investigation was not necessary.

The council’s own constitution was ‘not clear’ about its requirement to disclose internal relationships, they said.

But it was found that the Labour councillor had misused council equipment and the email system to send intimate emails to the woman.

Human Resources had referred the matter to the Standards Committee after receiving an internal complaint.

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The employee, who was a relatively junior member of staff, was subject to a separate internal process, and officers said it was imperative that her identity be protected.

However, Coun Clifford’s intimate email exchange with the member of staff was leaked to the Daily Mail before the Standards Committee had reached its conclusion.

The tabloid printed a string of personal messages sent by Coun Clifford and the woman.

And the councillor said he has now made an official complaint to the council.

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Coun Clifford said: “I don’t comment on personal matters, but along with other colleagues am dismayed that confidential information was leaked to a newspaper prior to the standards committee meeting compromising the independence, integrity and confidentiality of the work of the committee.

“This is now subject to a complaint by me to the council and the information commissioner and will form a part of an internal investigation.”

During a disciplinary hearing on Monday, the Standards Committee was told the five-month relationship began last August but is now over and the woman involved is no longer a council employee.

Divorced dad Coun Clifford, who is also chair of Morecambe Town Council, admitted misusing the email system, failing to disclose a relationship with an officer and ‘misuse of officer time’.

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He said he had been at fault and had shown a lack of judgement.

The cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism acknowledged that he should have told the council about the relationship, but the committee found that it was not necessary under their guidelines, although said this would now be re-examined.

They accepted Coun Clifford’s admissions and the committee agreed that there has been a breach in Standards in Public Life and Code of Conduct with regard to the misuse of council equipment and email system and misuse of officer time.

Members agreed that it would be appropriate to remind all councillors of the council’s IT protocol.

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It was also suggested that councillors be invited to refresh their Code of Conduct training.

As an elected councillor, Coun Clifford could not be sacked, but the committee could have recommended his removal from any or all committees.

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