A COMMITTEE was advised not to publish the findings of a disgraced councillor’s punishment, to avoid a ‘negative media backlash’.
Solicitor Rebecca Page, who investigated complaints about Cllr John Cherry, told the Chichester District Council committee: “Don’t give a sanction that would give rise to an influx of media taunting for both Mr Cherry and the district council.
“I would suggest you don’t publish your findings in case of a negative media backlash.”
However, an Observer reporter was at the standards committee meeting – a public meeting – when Cllr Cherry was told he had to undergo diversity and equality training following ‘racist’ comments made in April.
Cllr Cherry faced the committee last Thursday, accused of breaching the council’s code of conduct.
The meeting of the committee followed remarks Cllr Cherry made to The Mail on Sunday earlier this year about Durand Academy’s plans to open a boarding school on the site of the former St Cuthman’s School, in Stedham.
In the interview in April, he said 97 per cent of the pupils would be black or Asian, adding Pakistani children would fail to ‘rise to the top’.
He further claimed: “There are some nationalities where they are uncertain what this hard work is all about.”
Members said he conducted himself in a manner which brought his office into disrepute and failed to treat others with respect.
A formal letter of censure will now be issued to Cllr Cherry, finding him to have breached the code of conduct and the committee’s findings will be reported to the next full council meeting.
It was also recommended that for the remainder of the current council year, until Tuesday, May 20, 2014, Mr Cherry not be appointed or reappointed to any of the council’s committees or sub-committees.
He must undergo diversity and equality training when the next available opportunity arises.
Cllr Cherry said: “I have to admit I was naive and trusting.
“I let my guard drop and unwittingly let myself be drawn into dangerous areas.
“I had not thought of asking the council’s press officer to be with me or at very least asked for their advice.
“As a result, remarks would be attributed to me which without any intent on my part could be capable of a different and more unpleasant construction by third parties. I wish to express my apologies for this without reservation.”
Cllr Cherry said to committee members: “I think you should send me a letter, along the lines of, ‘You have been naive and too trusting. Anyone you speak to has their own agenda – do not let your guard drop in an interview and always ensure you have a council press officer in an interview with you, or at least seek their advice beforehand.’”
He added: “I would like to think we could get something positive out of this. The council should recommend you should always think before you speak.”
An investigation report noted Cllr Cherry issued an apology ‘without challenging the accuracy’ of the article and quotes – which was an ‘admission of guilt’.
Cllr Cherry was standing as the Tory candidate for Midhurst in West Sussex County Council elections, earlier this year before being forced to resign from the Conservative party in the racism storm that followed his comments made to the Mail on Sunday.
A council spokeswoman confirmed the press and public are allowed to attend standards committee meetings and the findings of the meeting can be found online at www.chichester.gov.uk