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Josie says public hearing will reveal all

SHETLAND councillor Jonathan Wills has called on his fellow members to demand the five people who signed a complaint to the Standards Commission against him should pay the legal costs involved.

His call comes after Shetland Islands Council vice convener Josie Simpson said he stands by the complaint he and four other leading council figures made in October last year.

Last week the ethical standards watchdog exonerated Dr Wills and cleared him of breaking the councillors’ code of conduct.

In his report the chief investigating officer, Stuart Allan, was critical of the council itself, especially the way in which it handled an inquiry into allegations that former chief executive David Clark threatened Dr Wills with violence over the phone.

Following this investigation, which found insufficient evidence to prove any threat had been made, Dr Wills published a letter denouncing the way the council handled its inquiry.

His comments triggered the complaint to the Standards Commission by Mr Simpson, convener Sandy Cluness, Mr Clark, acting (then depute) chief executive Hazel Sutherland and head of legal Jan Riise.

On Tuesday Mr Simpson said the complaint had been submitted on the basis of “very strong legal advice” to protect council staff.

He refused to provide any more detail, saying that would have to wait until the public inquiry being held by the Accounts Commission into events surrounding Mr Clark’s eventual departure.

“I welcome the public inquiry because there is a lot of things I would like to say that I can’t say at this stage because we have been advised very, very strongly not do so,” Mr Simpson said in an interview with BBC Radio Shetland.

“We were put in a position where we were meeting on a daily basis with this very complex situation that was facing us at the time and when this advice came through we had to make a decision, we didn’t make it lightly.

“It would have been the easiest thing in the world to walk away from it, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions.

“I stand by what we did, we were put in a very, very difficult position and we certainly didn’t take it lightly.”

Mr Simpson said the council investigation into Dr Wills’ allegations had been “crystal clear” that there was no evidence to back them up, and this had been accepted by the full council.

He added that life had not been easy since the Standards Commission report had been published. “I have been through a very, very trying and worrying period ever since it’s been released,” he said.

Less than an hour after the interview was broadcast, Dr Wills published the following statement and his notice of motion to the next meeting of the full council. Within minutes he had his first supporter in the form of councillor Gary Robinson, who was also exonerated last month by the Standards Commission.

Dr Wills wrote: “On BBC Radio Shetland this evening the Vice Convener was offered the opportunity to accept the findings of the Ethical Standards Commission on the 10 complaints that he and four others made against me last October.

“I fondly imagined that he might express some regrets and possibly even offer an apology for the seven months of stress his actions have caused me and my family. Instead he said he did not accept the decision and hoped the forthcoming public inquiry by the Accounts Commission would reveal the whole truth.

“The Vice Convener appears to be suggesting that a two day hearing by the Accounts Commission into the conduct of council business under his and the Convener’s stewardship over the past two years and more, will somehow reveal new facts about their vexatious and unfounded complaints that an exhaustive, forensic, seven month investigation by the Ethical Standards Commission failed to discover. This is preposterous.

“As he made these offensive and embarrassing comments in public I am copying this letter to all local news media.

“I enclose a draft Notice of Motion for the next SIC meeting which I would ask you all to consider. If you wish to support it please print out a copy, sign it and return it to me via my pigeonhole at Lystina House.

“In view of the importance of council funds only being disbursed with appropriate authority, I am making this public also.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021