John Fareham's 'retard' tweet ban quashed: Hull councillor wins appeal
A CONSERVATIVE councillor's ban for calling protesters "retards" on Twitter has been quashed on appeal.
The suspension was imposed on Tory group leader John Fareham at Hull City Council.
As well as the 20-week ban, the authority's standards committee also ruled he should undergo extra training on diversity issues after deciding he had breached the code of conduct for councillors.
The sanctions were handed out in January at a hearing held in his absence.
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But an independent tribunal has now upheld an appeal by Councillor Fareham.
In doing so, it also quashed both his suspension and the requirement for extra training.
The three-man tribunal ruled he had not posted the tweet in his official capacity as a councillor but as a private individual.
As such, they said he should not have been the subject of disciplinary action by the council's standards committee.
Mr Fareham welcomed the decision but said he was not prepared to comment in detail until the expiry of a 28-day deadline for any appeal by the council against the ruling of the tribunal.
He said: "I do not wish to comment yet on what I have always regarded was a private matter.
"However, I would like to thank those people who have supported me over the past few months."
Mr Fareham posted the message on his own Twitter account after last year's annual budget-setting meeting of the council, which had been disrupted by a series of outbursts from protesters in the public gallery.
It said: "15 hours in council today very hard-hitting day and the usual collection of retards in the public gallery spoiling it for real people."
After being re-tweeted and posted on other social media sites, the council received two official complaints from members of the public, which triggered an internal council investigation.
Mr Fareham also deleted the post and issued an apology.
In an official ruling, tribunal chairman Judge Patrick Mulvenna said: "The tribunal finds, as a matter of fact, that the appellant was acting in his private capacity in making the tweet.
"There is no sustainable evidence that the appellant was conducting the business of the council or the business of his office, or that he was acting, claiming to act or giving the impression he was acting as a representative of the council.
"The tribunal has concluded that, in posting the tweet, the appellant was not acting in his official capacity.
"He was not, therefore, at the material time bound by the code of conduct.
"Accordingly, the tribunal has determined that the appellant did not fail to follow the provisions of the code. His appeal is allowed."
Judge Mulvenna said the tribunal did not "condone or underestimate" the effects of the use of the words "retards" and "real people" in the context of the tweet.
"They were gratuitous and could reasonably have been forseen to cause offence," he said.
"However, no matter how egregious the actions of a councillor, if he is not acting within his official capacity, his actions cannot be impugned under the code of conduct unless there is some criminal or other material element expressively referred to in the code."
The original 20-week suspension from carrying out normal council duties had been suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.