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Councillor ‘Not Acting in Official Capacity’ When He Called Police Commissioner a ‘Dishonest, Transphobic Bigot’

Published on: 23 May, 2023
Updated on: 25 May, 2023

Cllr George Potter & PCC Lisa Townsend

By Martin Giles

George Potter, a senior Lib Dem borough (Burpham) and county councillor (Guildford East) has been cleared of wrongdoing after calling the Conservative Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend “a dishonest, transphobic bigot” in a tweet sent nearly two years ago. Today he remains unapologetic.

In a confidential report on the complaint, written in January this year and recently seen by The Guildford Dragon NEWS, it says: “The Complaint arose following tweets made by the councillor on 22 August, 2021. Cllr Potter published three tweets with the following content:

“So our Police and Crime Commissioner is a dishonest, transphobic bigot. Fantastic.”

“(funny how she never mentioned her extremist views in her election literature)”

“(I mean most crimes in Surrey go unsolved and hardly any rapes or sexual assaults get prosecuted, but good to know that our PCC’s top priority is stopping a training programme just for saying that trans people should be allowed to live their lives in peace”

Potter’s tweets followed another made by Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson: “Well done @_Lisa_Townsend for speaking up in your role as #Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner for the rights of women and girls. #Guildford #Cranleigh and our villages…”

All the Twitter messages followed an article that had appeared in the Mail on Sunday, in which the PCC had challenged Stonewall’s position around gender self-identification, and raised concerns about the safety of women and girls.

In November 2021, the police and crime panel, formed of Surrey county councillors, found the police and crime commissioner (PCC) had not breached the code of conduct in the Mail on Sunday article and no further action was needed.

See: Surrey PCC’s Transgender Comments Did Not Breach Code of Conduct, Panel Finds

In the complaint, it was alleged that George Potter had “failed to engage in a high standard of communication, and had failed to show respect in relation to the views of a fellow elected official”.

The complainant told The Dragon: “My reason for the original complaint was that, frankly, I have found Cllr Potter to be an incredibly rude individual and I find it disappointing how he deals with many of the residents he represents, his council colleagues and the wider political figures he should be working with.

“I don’t feel the poor attitude he often displays brings a benefit to anything other than his own ego and I believe that is bad for the council. As we have seen, division was heavily stoked around election time and feel this kind of thing needs to be called out, regardless of political persuasion.”

See: Complaint About Lib Dem Councillor Sent to Party Leader Sir Ed Davy

In his first response to the complaint, Cllr Potter stated that the content of his tweet had not breached the Councillor Code of Conduct, and in any case, he had not been acting as a member of the council when he posted it.

An initial assessment determined that the councillor had been acting in his capacity as a member of the council because he had identified himself as a councillor on his Twitter feed and it was recommended that the matter should be resolved via informal resolution.

But following separate meetings with GBC’s monitoring officer and its “independent person”, on March 28, 2022 Potter maintained his position and rejected the informal resolution, requesting that the matter proceed to a formal investigation. Such investigations normally cost the council several thousand pounds.

The investigator from the legal firm Bevan Brittan, appointed by GBC, gave his judgement as: “Having carefully considered the issues, the available documentation and other relevant information, we have concluded that on balance the councillor was not acting in his official capacity as a member of the council at the relevant time, and therefore the [Councillor] Code did not apply.”

Angela Richardson said today: “Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend has a record of standing up for the rights of women and girls and the protection of single-sex spaces to keep women safe. It is a record that regrettably Surrey Lib Dems have tried to undermine and block at each stage.

“I stand with Lisa and have a record of my own speaking out against abuse, assault and in favour of measures that respect women and girls and their right to be safe. The comments by George Potter about Lisa Townsend were sadly nothing less than we have come to expect from a member of a Lib Dem party that seems unable to agree that a woman is defined as an adult human female.

“We have all seen how this debate has moved on – so I hope George has had time to reflect on his comments and I wonder whether he now understands how they disappointingly undermine every woman and girl in Guildford.”

In a statement sent this afternoon, Cllr Potter was not remorseful: “It is a sad comment upon modern society that some people find it more offensive to point out when someone is being dishonest or bigoted than for someone to actually be dishonest or bigoted.

“Elected representatives should not abuse their positions to attack some of the most vulnerable, marginalised and discriminated against people in society. I have no regrets or qualms about following in the long and proud Liberal tradition of standing up against such bigotry.

“One of Lisa Townsend’s first acts upon election was to take part in a newspaper interview in which she abused her position to scaremonger about trans people and make dishonest claims to advance a transphobic and bigoted viewpoint that trans women simply existing in society is some sort of inherent threat to cis women. Her behaviour has previously been ruled by the Police and Crime Panel to have breached the PCC code of conduct.

See: PCC Breached Code of Conduct When Quoting J K Rowling in Transgender Tweet

“At the time Lisa Townsend and her political allies were quick to spuriously claim this ruling was an attack on freedom of speech and an attempt to silence her. I am fascinated to see whether she and her colleagues will take the same stance when it comes to this failed attempt to silence me for daring to publicly express an opinion two years ago.”

PCC Lisa Townsend was invited to comment.

“There is definitely a strong argument for publishing the outcomes of complaints…”

For much of the period during which the complaint against Cllr Potter was being considered he was the chair of the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee at GBC and, as part of his role, oversaw the complaints process.

When Potter was asked by The Dragon, in March 2022, when he was still chair of the committee: “Given that, ‘…justice needs to be seen to be done,’ don’t you think accepted complaints, ie where a prima facie case has been established, should be made public?”

He responded: “This is an incredibly difficult question to answer, given that there is such a wide range of potential complaints which could be made.

“Complaints are not accepted when a prima facie case has been established, but simply when the complaint meets the initial jurisdiction test which in essence is when there has been a cursory initial judgement that there might be an issue which falls within the scope of the complaints procedure.

From Thompson Reuters Practical Law website

“So an accepted complaint is not the same thing as an indication that a breach of the code of conduct has actually taken place.

“There is definitely a strong argument to be made for publishing the outcomes of complaints in some form, and potentially of those which proceed to a full investigation, but I think it would be excessive, and confusing, to publish every complaint which simply passes the very low initial bar necessary to not be thrown out at the initial jurisdiction stage.”

See: ‘Strong Argument’ for Publishing Outcomes of Complaints Against GBC Councillors, Says Committee Chair

Other relevant articles:

Councillors Failing to Follow Social Media Guidance Is the Cause of Most Complaints

Dragon Interview: Pt 1 – Council’s Complaints Process Is ‘Not Fit For Purpose’ – Says Retired Chief Exec

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Responses to Councillor ‘Not Acting in Official Capacity’ When He Called Police Commissioner a ‘Dishonest, Transphobic Bigot’

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    May 23, 2023 at 7:24 pm

    Some times I think bedroom matters should remain in the bedroom, as should any commentary on these matters.

    Public airing of such things only leads to driving the wedge of diversity spliting our community,

    We should be working towards community cohesiveness.

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