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Dragon Editor’s Complaint Against Two Councillors to Be Heard After 16 Month Investigation

Published on: 25 Sep, 2022
Updated on: 26 Sep, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

A “simple matter”, a complaint against two councillors by The Guildford Dragon NEWS’ editor, Martin Giles, for referring to him as a “pea-brained editor” and a “grubby little boss” is coming up for a formal public hearing on Tuesday, September 27, almost 16 months after the complaint was made.

The insults were in emails, WhatsApp messages and tweets from Cllrs Paul Spooner and Graham Eyre, both Conservative Guildford Borough Council (GBC) members for the Ash South & Tongham ward. They were sent after Giles had sought corroboration from another Conservative councillor of the vote which had elected Spooner the leader of the Guildford Conservative group in June 2021.

An email from Cllr Spooner had told the Dragon’s Ash reporter, David Reading to “get stuffed”.

The Dragon editor made the complaint as he considered the two councillors had broken the councillor’s code which states: “You must treat others with respect.”

Dragon editor Martin Giles

A GBC internal review conducted by its deputy monitoring officer, a lawyer, in consultation with one of the council’s “independent persons”, found that it appeared the councillors may have breached the code and recommended an informal resolution, ie that they apologise as requested, but they both refused.

An independent investigator, Simon Goacher, was then appointed in January 2022.

In the investigation that followed, Giles told the investigator that “it was not the biggest thing in the world and there should be an apology and everyone should move on”. He said he “did not think council taxpayers’ money should be spent on this”.

The investigator’s report concluded in July that the councillors had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct.

Nothing could be reported until now because of the confidentiality rules relating to GBC complaints.

GBC’s Hearings Sub-Committee, an offshoot of the Corporate Governance & Standards Committee, armed with the 143-page report into the matter, will finally decide whether the two councillors have failed to comply with the Code of Conduct for Councillors and, if so, what sanctions, if any, should be applied.

Questions about the GBC complaints process and the time it takes to come to a resolution have been raised before by councillors and Dragon readers (see Strong Argument For Publishing Outcomes Of Complaints Against GBC Councillors Says Committee Chair).

Cllr Paul Spooner

The complaint against the councillors stemmed from an email from Cllr Spooner to Dragon reporter, David Reading, (June 26, 2021). It stated: “I am seriously unimpressed that Giles has sent other members of the group my responses for collaboration. So you can get stuffed”.

A further WhatsApp message from Cllr Spooner to Reading on the same matter referred to Giles as “your pea-brained editor”.

Public tweets from Spooner said: “What a seedy rag @guildforddragon is. They send me qns (sic) for answering. I do that promptly and to the best of my ability and then they circulate to other members of the group as they don’t believe my responses. Balanced? Laughable.”

“They send me set questions from their Ash correspondent   David Reading. Giles as editor doesn’t like the collegiate responses and starts contacting other Group members as he doesn’t believe me and wants scandal. It really is a dirty little rag.”

An email from Cllr Eyre to Reading on June 26, 2021 said: “The latest little bending of the truth regarding Paul being elected as Group Leader. Your grubby little paper, or should I say your grubby little boss, cannot accept anything he doesn’t like, so he just prints lies and insinuations.”

In his interview with the investigator, Cllr Spooner had said “he thought that Mr Giles should have apologised to him” as he had felt Giles was “directly questioning” his integrity.

Cllr Graham Eyre

Eyre in his interview with the investigator said that “Mr Giles is a tory baiter who hates Conservatives and loves to wind them up and print untruths. He stated that he felt Mr Giles had gone too far and his article (Paul Spooner Is Leader of GBC’s Conservatives Again) basically called Cllr Spooner a liar”.

He said his email had been to David Reading and not to Martin Giles and “there was no way he was going to apologise for something he didn’t even say to the guy”.

Giles had told the investigator there “had been a difficult relationship between The Guildford Dragon NEWS and Paul Spooner”.

He said he thought it was a “simple matter”. He said he had “offered a resolution involving the publication of the informal decision of the deputy monitoring officer so people could make up their own minds”.

In an email to the investigator, Giles said he totally rejected the claim that he had an “anti-Conservative agenda or bias” and that he had perfectly cordial relationships with many Conservatives.

The investigator found both Cllr Spooner and Cllr Eyre had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct. The comments made by Cllr Spooner in his email to Reading telling him to “get stuffed” clearly showed a lack of respect as did referring to Giles as his “pea-brained editor”. Cllr Eyres’s reference to Reading’s “grubby little boss” was also clearly disrespectful.

But the investigator found the tweets by Cllr Spooner referring to The Guildford Dragon NEWS as a “dirty little rag” and “a seedy little rag” were “political puff and rhetoric and not personal comments”. He said: “Whilst journalists and the editors may take exception and be affronted by such comments and feel it questions their professionalism as journalists they are not comments which amount to a lack of respect within the meaning of the Code.”

Cllr Eyre has told the committee he did not intend to attend the hearing.

The Guildford Conservative Association chair Sallie Barker quickly apologised to the Dragon editor, at the time the complaint was raised in June 2021, for its retweet of a Twitter message from Cllr Spooner.

Ms Barker’s assistant wrote “…she’s asked me to apologise on her behalf. I have removed the retweet and looking into how this has happened. Please be assured that Paul’s post isn’t something the Management Team at GCA would choose to retweet.”

But the association chair distanced herself from the complaint investigation. She responded to the independent investigator’s request for an interview stating: “Further to our conversation last week, I am writing to inform you that I will not be taking part in your investigation of Martin Giles’ complaint as it is in relation to GBC and not Guildford Conservatives.”

The Guildford Dragon NEWS has asked GBC for an estimate of the cost of the complaint to date.

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test 5 Responses to Dragon Editor’s Complaint Against Two Councillors to Be Heard After 16 Month Investigation

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    September 25, 2022 at 11:10 am

    Guildford Conservatives seem to run a totalitarian regime. They cannot tolerate any independence of thought. They expect their supporters to be like football fans – cheering their team even when the team has stupid policies.

    Fortunately, most people in England are more loyal to Truth than they are to any political party.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    September 25, 2022 at 3:13 pm

    This is all on a par with Cllr Spooner’s abuse of the public complaints procedure in 2017 to persecute then GGG councillor David Reeve.

    Having destroyed the Conservatives’ decades-long dominance of power in Guildford with his hated Local Plan, it is a mystery why this councillor remains leader of the Tory group.

    The sooner his local association [Surrey Heath] colleagues ditch him the better will be the party’s prospects in next May’s borough elections.

  3. Wayne Smith Reply

    September 25, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    Conservative representatives for Ash and Tongham, and Ash Parish Council – there seems to be a common theme that rules and common decency are for others, not them.

    I suppose yet another refusal to engage with the Guildford Dragon will be forthcoming but don’t let that stop you from holding their actions to account, Dragon.

  4. Stuart Barnes Reply

    September 26, 2022 at 9:13 am

    The whole affair is just incredible.

    The Dragon is a very useful small, local news site and, as far as I can tell, has no particular bias.

    These are mature men, why can they not just act like grown ups?

  5. Susan Fox Reply

    September 26, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    I am amazed to find I agree with Stuart Barnes.

    Manners cost nothing and are hall marks of respect.

    Thank you Guildford Dragon for all your endeavours.

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