SHETLAND police today (Friday) confirmed that they had submitted a complaint to the procurator fiscal about threats of violence which Shetland Islands Council’s former chief executive is alleged to have made against a Lerwick councillor.
Councillor Jonathan Wills submitted a complaint to the police on 10 September last year, claiming that chief executive David Clark had threatened to kick him in the teeth during a phone call the previous evening.
Initial investigations found insufficient evidence to proceed with any complaint, however this afternoon a police spokesman confirmed that a report had now been submitted to the procurator fiscal after new evidence came to light.
The development comes just two days after Shetland Islands Council agreed to part company with Mr Clark after a fractious eight months in the post, giving him a tax free settlement of around £250,000. The council is covering his tax and legal fees, bringing the cost to the public purse closer to £500,000.
An internal investigation carried out by Shetland Islands Council into the alleged threats failed to find sufficient evidence to stand them up.
This was followed by a complaint to the Standards Commission about councillor Wills’ behaviour following the investigation, when he questioned the way it was handled. The complaint was signed by Mr Clark, council convener Sandy Cluness, vice convener Josie Simpson, depute chief executive Hazel Sutherland and head of legal Jan Riise.
With new evidence coming to light after the police carried out further interviews with senior staff at the council, the matter has been placed in the hands of Shetland’s procurator fiscal depute Duncan Mackenzie.
The development has brought Shetland to boiling point over the issue, with a protest rally planned for noon today (Saturday) at Lerwick’s Market Cross. The rally follows a march on Lerwick Town Hall last Monday calling for the council to sack Mr Clark.
Protesters have called for the resignation of convener Cluness and his colleagues to allow the authority to make a fresh start.
However yesterday local government umbrella group COSLA leaped to the convener’s defence, saying that local people should stop persecuting him.
COSLA president Pat Watters said: “I can understand that the people of Shetland are upset, but councillor Cluness and the council took a decision that they felt was right for Shetland and the people of Shetland and the victimisation of councillor Cluness is not merited.”
He said that councillors had to make tough decisions “day in and day out” and they were held accountable at the ballot box.
“This was the correct decision to allow the chief executive to go on the conditions he did and contrary to media speculation COSLA is convinced that the council has delivered a solution that provides best value and we are sure that this will be borne out by the regulatory body that oversees such matters.
“In the absence of knowing all the facts I would urge the people of Shetland to stop the wilful persecution of a man who has served the island to the best of his ability and a councillor who has never knowingly taken a decision that was not in the best interests of the islands he loves so much.”
Mr Cluness said: “I can fully understand the frustration felt by my fellow islanders. Hands up, it has not been the best period in Shetland’s history – I am the first to acknowledge this. However the reality is that we now need to move on – what has been done has been done and lessons have to and will be learned.
“All of us must now move on and re-double our efforts. We must work together both islanders and the council for the common good of the island.”
Local government watchdog Audit Scotland will be carrying out an investigation of the SIC shortly following the recent turmoil surrounding the chief executive.
Mr Cluness said that if they found that the settlement with Mr Clark did not represent best value then he would step down.
However one of the rally’s organisers, retired Lerwick businessman Ian Inkster, said the best way to move on was for the convener and the rest of the councillors to leave office as soon as possible to allow Shetland to make a fresh start.
“Mr Clark is only a side issue. The issue is the way the council has been operating, and we hope this rally will show the council the anger in this community about what they are doing,” Mr Inkster said.
“Sandy Cluness wants to draw a line under this and that’s what I would like to see happen too. I don’t want to see all the councillors booted out, because not all of them are bad, so the best thing would be for an election.”
People have been furious about what is seen as a waste of public money over issues such as the new secondary school for Lerwick, where more than £5 million has been spent without a single brick being laid, a recent decision to waive a debt of more than £400,000 from a local knitwear company, and budget cuts including free musical instrument tuition in the islands’ schools.
This week northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael said that the council had been suffering from a “systemic failure” and called for a change of culture at Lerwick Town Hall.
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