Sunday 17th December 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

Peter Jaconelli, Councillor Bill Chatt and Councillor Nock

Peter Jaconelli, Councillor Bill Chatt and Councillor Nock

I listened with incredulity to the recent remarks of Councillor Bill Chat at the Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) Cabinet Meeting, which can be seen here. It appears to me that Councillor Chatt’s remarks about a “certain website” relate to coverage by the NYE, or could be perceived as relating to NYE coverage.

I do not cover SBC for the NYE and have not followed the No Confidence vote in Scarborough Borough Council story. So I do not want to comment on the views expressed in the meeting on why both Whitby and Filey Town Councils both declined to meet with SBC Councillors. I do not use social media, so I do not want to comment on Councillor Chatt’s views on use of social media by Councillors either. But I would like to make the following observations concerning some other parts of Councillor Chatt’s speech.

I would also like to comment on the role of local media (both print and internet) in a democratically elected Council. 

Councillor Chatt stated in his speech to the SBC Cabinet that hardly a day goes by without him or Councillor John Nock being accused of being paedophile supporters. I have covered the Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile scandal for Real Whitby, the NYE, the BBC and national newspapers since 2012. At no time have I published such a serious and untenable allegation against either Councillor. I am saddened that they have had to endure this. I think the people that made this allegation have behaved despicably towards both Councillors. However, I would observe that:

  • Whilst he did condemn Peter Jaconelli’s actions, Councillor Chatt refused to support the motion to strip rapist and paedophile Peter Jaconelli of his honorary status as an Alderman. York Press coverage here. I believe Councillor Chatt’s judgment on this issue was unsound and he acted out of misguided loyalty. I understand that. I have also had the experience of discovering that someone I knew was a paedophile. It is horrible, but I faced up to it, condemned his behaviour and broke contact. By refusing to support the motion condemning Jaconelli, Councillor Chatt chose not take a clear line over this issue.
  • Councillor Nock is alleged to have stated that “He [Peter Jaconelli] wasn’t like Savile. He was not a predatory paedophile. He was only handing out money to poor kids for giving him a w**k”. Councillor Nock denies using this wording, but has not issued his version of what was actually said. Full NYE coverage here. Like Councillor Chatt, Councillor Knock has also failed to take a clear line condemning perverts who entice children into prostitution.

Allegations of corruption against Councillor Chatt

Councillor Chatt went on in his speech to say that he was accused of being corrupt and taking cash in brown envelopes.

It is true that Councillor Chatt and nine other Councillors were criticised by the NYE for abusing his position by double-dipping their broadband Allowances. In my view, this criticism was justified and was repeated by the BBC and Private Eye. (BBC comment herePrivate Eye comment here).The comment in all three outlets was balanced and fair and all Councillors had the opportunity to put their point of view. It is a far cry from allegations of bribery.

We should remember that SBC is currently embroiled in a horrendous and very serious corruption and harassment scandal over the disgusting treatment of Ben Marriott, which was covered by the NYE throughout its development. I think this may be the origin of these unfortunate and unjustifiable comments. It should be said that his story was also run in the same highly critical terms by the Scarborough Evening News, here.

To put this in context, I have recently defended the Councillors that are Cabinet members (including Councillor Nock and Councillor Chatt), following criticism of their integrity published in the Scarborough Evening News, over the Ben Marriott scandal. Article here.

Appearances of Councillor Chatt and Councillor Nock before the SBC Standards Committee

Part of being a Councillor is adhering to certain standards of conduct. If you make a mistake you should apologise for it and/or accept the censure of the Council in the form of a judgment from the Standards Committee on the chin.

  • Councillor Chatt complained in his speech that he had been brought before the Standards Committee. I made the complaint in response to correspondence from Councillor Chatt that I found offensive and the complaint was upheld. (Decision Notice 7.12.2012). Until now there has been no repetition and I consider the matter closed.
  • Councillor Nock was also taken to the Standards Committee over his bizarre remarks above. The complaint was partially upheld, but no effective action was taken against him, NYE coverage here. Councillor Nock issued an apology for his remarks and was referred to the Conservative group for it to take further action against him. Councillor Andrew Backhouse, subsequently confirmed he had met with Councillor Nock in the presence of the party’s monitoring officer and the matter had been dealt with. How it had been dealt with was not revealed.

Blaming a complainant for having a complaint upheld, then sing your position as a Councillor to complain about it afterwards, in public broadcast during a session of the Council is chinless.

Role of the SBC Standards Committee

It should be stated that the role of journalists in a democracy is to hold public bodies to account. This is also the role of the SBC Standards Committee. However:

  • The standards Committee failed to take any action over double dipping because the councillors received an allowance, not a reimbursement of expenses.
  • It failed to take any effective action over Councillor Nock’s remarks, because it determined that Peter Jaconelli was a hebephile (someone that abuses children between the ages of eleven and fourteen) not a paedophile (someone that abuses children below the age of eleven). Clearly a perverse judgment, that will be deeply offensive to many parents and victims of childhood abuse.

The conduct of the Standards Committee over both issues demonstrates its failure to hold Councillors to account for misconduct. While discussing the remarks of Councillor Nock that Peter Jaconelli was not a paedophile with a friend of mine who is a parent, she made the observation that the conduct of the Standards Committee was Pythonesque. I agree with that opinion. Criminality, misconduct or sharp practice of any sort by a Councillor, and particularly child sex abuse, is unacceptable. The Council has a duty to come down hard and take a strong line on this sort of behaviour and make it clear that it is unacceptable. On this occasion it failed.

Councils and Councillors should report and oppose paedophilism (not deny its existence), attack those who report it or deny its gravity and its impact on victims, no matter what age they are.

The Scarborough and Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandals were both revealed by journalists. As with the Rotherham scandal, Scarborough Borough Council relentlessly attacked the whistleblowers who revealed it. SBC Solicitor Lisa Dixon tried to use legal action to close down the Real Whitby magazine and also threatened four of its contributors (Tim Thorne, Nigel Ward, Glenn Kilpatrick and myself) with legal action. (BBC investigation here). Had she succeeded, the Jaconelli scandal would probably have been buried. I am proud to say that Tim, Glenn, Nigel and I stood together and refused to take down the website or stop reporting. That is not “chinless”.

The conduct of the Standards Committee is a disgrace and brings the Council into disrepute. Hence, perhaps the outraged comments to Councillors, by their constituents who are outraged by the frivolous and flippant way that the Standards Committee treated Councillor Nock.

The role of the media in Local Government

The European Court of Human Rights recently held that:

“The limits of acceptable criticism are … wider as regards a politician than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalist and the public at large, and must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance”.

As I made clear in a recent letter to the NYE Editor, I think that Scarborough is lucky to have a free and diverse local media that holds local Councils, public bodies, Councillors and Council Officers to account.

Recent letter published in the NUJ magazine “The Journalist”.

Councillors agree to accept press and public scrutiny when standing for office. It goes with the expense allowances and the title of Councillor. If a Councillor can’t accept scrutiny by the press and his constituents, then he is in the wrong job and should resign. 

The wider issue of failure to take action against paedophiles

In my view, there is a wider issue here which goes beyond Councillor Nock and Councillor Chatt. It concerns the attitude of Councils and the Police to sexual offences against children and those that that expose it. The NYE has been right to keep raising this matter and keeping it in the public eye. I think both Councillor Chatt and Councillor Nock have misjudged the public mood regarding child sexual exploitation.

Their views on Peter Jaconelli:

  1. Do not reflect the gravity of Jaconelli’s offending.
  2. Do not reflect the revulsion of their constituents regarding sexual offences against children and the prostitution of children.

Particularly as Scarborough Conservative Group has still not issued an apology for Conservative Councillor Jaconelli’s offending and on the basis that Councillor Nock’s alleged comments appears to see nothing wrong in Councillor Jconelli’s offending.

Ten Councillors, including Councillor Chatt, also misjudged public feeling on a separate issue of Councillors receiving the same IT/Broadband Allowance twice from two separate Councils. Although this may be legal, it is not moral.

The NYE has publicized these controversial issues. That is the duty of a free press in a democratic society. The criticism of which Councillor Chatt complains arises from justifiable outrage of their constituents at the conduct of Councillors – not from unbalanced media coverage. I cannot help but point out that if Mrs Dixon and the Standards Committee (i) upheld standards of conduct which reflect public opinion and (ii) held Councillors and Council Officers properly to account, the NYE would probably not exist.

To finish on a positive note, we should not forget that Councillors work very hard, and for long hours, for the good of their communities; both Councillor Nock and Councillor Chatt are not exceptions to this. I respect this commitment by all local Councillors, including Councillor Chatt and Councillor Nock. However, in my opinion, they are both in the wrong. I think both Councillors would be better off facing up to the situation, accepting that they got it wrong and either (i) issuing a retraction of their views and an apology, or (ii) just moving on. Re-opening the issue by trying to blame journalists for the criticism they have received from their constituents, as a result of their own actions, serves only to generate even more censure, give the NYE more publicity and increase readership.

I am glad the NYE has published Councillor Chatt’s views in full, so that readers can make up their own minds about them. His media profile is expanding impressively and, in addition to the NYE coverage, he now stars on YouTube  – further improving the profile of the NYE and propagating his diminishing reputation, which now extends far beyond Scarborough.

The NYE operates a complaints system and if anyone feels they have been badly treated or there is inaccuracy or bias in our reporting, they can submit a complaint. The NYE will investigate complaints fairly and impartially and always gives any complainant a right of reply.

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