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'Inappropriate' - Councillor apologises to female officer for photo incident

PUBLISHED: 11:40 29 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:00 29 July 2019

A South Holland councillor has been found guilty of acting appropriately towards a Breckland council officer. Picture: Google

A South Holland councillor has been found guilty of acting appropriately towards a Breckland council officer. Picture: Google

Google

A councillor has insisted he has apologised to a member of staff at Breckland Council after he was found to have acted inappropriately towards her.

Peter Coupland, a Conservative councillor in Lincolnshire, was investigated following a complaint from an officer over an incident which happened while the pair were posing for a photograph.

Evidence from the officer, published in an investigation report, says Mr Coupland pulled her towards him, placed his arm around her and made a number of references to being in the "back row of the cinema" during an official visit to London in 2018.

The incident left the officer feeling uncomfortable and two weeks later she made a formal complaint against him, having sought advice from an HR consultant.

Earlier this month, a joint standards hearing panel of Babergh and Mid Suffolk Councils determined that Mr Coupland, a senior councillor at South Holland Council in Lincolnshire, had fallen foul of the code of conduct.

The woman is one of a number of council officers working in a shared role between Breckland and South Holland Councils.

The panel did not comment on whether the actions had any sexual connotations, which was alleged by the officer.

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As a result, South Holland Council will offer additional equality and diversity, cultural and ethical training.

A spokesman for Breckland Council said: "Breckland is aware of a complaint involving a South Holland councillor made by a colleague shared between the two councils.

"We take these matters, and the welfare of our staff, very seriously.

"We have supported her throughout whilst the complaint was investigated. Following the completion of that formal process we are pleased the panel has reached its conclusion and outlined the sanctions deemed appropriate."

The hearing panel found Mr Coupland had behaved in an "inappropriate manner showing a lack of respect and leadership".

In a statement issued following the hearing, Mr Coupland said he was pleased the independent investigator had told the panel it was not his belief that the actions had sexual connotations.

He said: "My only breach of conduct was being disrespectful to a female officer by placing my arm around her while posing for a photo in public.

"I have offered my apologies to the staff member."

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