Romford councillor’s Alzheimer’s comment amounted to ‘freedom of expression’, standards panel finds
PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:37 15 May 2014
A councillor who publicly proclaimed that a Conservative colleague had become “very confused because her husband has Alzheimer’s [disease]” did not breach Havering Council’s code of conduct, a standards panel found.
Instead, the comment, made to the Recorder last February by Tory councillor Damian White about Cllr Georgina Galpin, whose husband suffers from the brain disease, amounted to freedom of speech under the Human Rights Act, according to the council’s deputy monitoring officer Stephen Doye.
Cllr White’s words came on the back of the decision made in January last year by the Romford Conservative Association (RCA), of which Cllr White is deputy chairman, to replace Cllr Galpin as a candidate in the Hylands ward in this month’s borough elections.
But Cllr Galpin, who has stood in Hylands for more than a decade, claimed she was only made aware of the decision in a small announcement entitled “So long, farewell!” as part of RCA leaflets distributed throughout Hornchurch.
When contacted by the Recorder at the time, Cllr White said Cllr Galpin didn’t understand that plans made for her to run in a different ward prevented her from standing in Hylands.
He said: “She has become very confused because her husband has Alzheimer’s.”
The comment sparked complaints from four people to the council, including by Cllr Galpin and by Residents’ Association member Cllr Barbara Matthews.
They claimed that Cllr White’s statement caused offence because it: amounted to “disability discrimination”; “questions Cllr Galpin’s mental state”; was “highly offensive to everyone caring for someone suffering from this condition”; “crossed the line in decency”; “suggests that Cllr Galpin has somehow ‘caught’ her husband’s dementia”; and “bullies and belittles Cllr Galpin”.
But the standards sub-committee, which heard evidence in March, disagreed.
Instead, the members backed Mr Doye’s findings that Cllr White had not been acting in his capacity as a councillor when talking to the Recorder, so did not break the council’s code of conduct, and that even if he had been, the comment was “not unlawful” and was his freedom of expression.
Mr Doye said: “I think it is also noteworthy that Cllr White cannot see that there is anything offensive in the statement.”
Cllr White did not want to comment on the report.