NHS Shetland - Survey - March 2021

Wills cleared by Standards Commission

SHETLAND councillor Jonathan Wills has been cleared of all 10 complaints made against him to the Standards Commission for Scotland by the local authority’s most senior councillors and officials.

The complaints by Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness, vice convener Josie Simpson, former chief executive Dave Clark, acting chief executive Hazel Sutherland and monitoring officer Jan Riise were made last October.

They followed a strongly worded statement issued to all council staff by Dr Wills following a council investigation into his allegations that the former chief executive had threatened to kick his teeth in.

The internal inquiry found insufficient evidence to prove the threats were made, but Dr Wills said the investigation had “trampled” on his civil rights by refusing to consider crucial evidence and legal arguments, preventing him from questioning witnesses or having a lawyer with him.

His public statement entitled “Hardly a Surprise” was sent to more than 3,000 employees via email, triggering the complaints from the council leadership that he had failed to uphold the councillors’ code of conduct.

Since then Mr Clark has left the council after receiving a substantial tax free payment, and local government watchdog The Accounts Commission has announced it will be holding a public hearing into recent events at Scotland’s northernmost authority.

This week the chief investigating officer with the Standards Commission, Stuart Allan, has written to Dr Wills and the complainants with his 37 page decision that the code had not been contravened.

In a statement on Wednesday, Dr Wills said: “The past seven months have been stressful for me and my family, as I could have been banned from holding public office for up to five years if found guilty.

“However, upon reading the exhaustively detailed, forensic investigation that exonerates me, I now understand why it has taken so long to complete.”

He also issued a public apology to SIC head of planning Iain McDiarmid for publishing a letter he had written about the way a planning application for Lerwick’s new £50 million Anderson High School had been handled, after the Standards Commission said it was “extremely unwise”.

“I acted in the heat of the moment and this was an error. I do not, however, withdraw a word of what I said in the letter,” the councillor said.

He quoted the report, which has not yet been made public, that said: “The purpose of the Code is not to stifle comment made by difficult, tenacious, stubborn, thrawn or recalcitrant politicians, if there is a stateable – even remote – public interest argument, as self evidently there is in this case.”

Dr Wills added: “I wish to thank my family, my constituents and those of my elected colleagues who have stood by me during this most unpleasant experience.

“Thrawn as I am, I will continue to ask awkward questions about public business, without fear or favour – but also to give SIC staff credit where credit’s due (as it almost always is in this council).”

He added that he would continue to ask that the complainers, who he refers to as “The Dave Clark Five”, to repay more than £3,000 – “the cost of SIC legal and administrative resources employed in their failed attempt to make me a scapegoat for the Clark affair, and to have me excluded from the council chamber.”

Mr Clark refused to comment on the decision, while both Ms Sutherland and Mr Riise said they were bound by the confidentiality provisions of ethical standards legislation and therefore could not comment. Mr Simpson was unavailable for comment.

Last week the Standards Commission cleared Shetland West councillor Gary Robinson over comments he made about local knitwear company Judane (Shetland) Ltd and fellow councillor Caroline Miller, an unpaid consultant to the firm.