A COUNCILLOR has been found to have breached the councillors’ Code of Conduct after being accused of “highly offensive” and “racist remarks”. 

Frinton councillor Nick Turner was made subject of a complaint after his behaviour during two virtual meetings of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) in June last year caused concern.

Ernest Gibson, a councillor at South Tyneside Council and Chairman of the SIG, claimed Mr Turner breached the council’s embers’ Code of Conduct by failing to treat others with respect.

This breach happened during a “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful verbal attack” on an Environment Agency officer during a meeting to provide feedback on the agency’s Shoreline Management Plan Explorer tool on June 5, 2023.

He was also accused of making constant interruptions and behaving in an overbearing manner following a presentation by the RNLI at the group’s quarterly meeting on June 29.

Gazette: Report - Nick TurnerReport - Nick Turner (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Gibson also alleged at the meeting Mr Turner made “highly offensive” and “racist remarks” about people of Afro-Caribbean descent, with the “implication that members of the community were unable or unwilling to learn how to float”.

The complainant added Mr Turner then made “comments about the clothing people of specific faiths wear when in the sea, indicating that in his view, the clothing was inappropriate”.

Melvin Kenyon, of Kenyon Brabrook Ltd, was appointed as the external investigator of the complaints.

Following an investigation, it was concluded there was sufficient evidence to show Mr Turner had breached the code four times.

He explained Mr Turner’s remarks were, “made out of ignorance rather than malice and his language was clumsy and patronising rather than being rooted in what might be described as out-and-out racism”.

After the conclusion of the investigation, the complaints were also considered by a meeting of Tendring Council’s Standards Committee on May 16.

Gazette: Councillor - Nick TurnerCouncillor - Nick Turner (Image: Tendring Council)

The committee agreed with both the investigator and the council’s monitoring officer the evidence demonstrated Mr Turner was acting ‘in capacity’ as a councillor at the meetings and he breached the Code of Conduct by failing to treat other local authority employees, and representatives of partner organisations with respect.

He was also found to have breached the code by failing to promote equalities and behaving in a discriminatory manner and by bringing his own role and TDC into disrepute.

The committee heard Mr Turner did offer an apology at the outset and resigned from the SIG, when the complaint was initially received, but the council’s monitoring officer did not consider that informal resolution was appropriate.

It was not seen as appropriate due to the wide difference of opinions between the complainant and Mr Turner on the manner of the debate.

Having read the investigation report, Mr Turner offered a further apology for offence caused by his actions, described as “unintended and unconscious on his part”.

Gazette: Meeting - the Frinton and Walton town council houseMeeting - the Frinton and Walton town council house (Image: Newsquest)

A defence submission on behalf of Mr Turner raised concerns about the investigation’s integrity.

It said the elements of the complaint around discrimination were "unfounded and do not align with his long-standing record of advocacy for equality in all aspects of council work".

It added: “The incidents in question arose during two meetings, a series of highly charged debates where the boundaries of robust discourse were tested by all participants.

"The incidents cited as evidence of discriminatory behaviour have been taken out of context and do not reflect the intentions or the actions of councillor Turner.

“He was intent on highlighting perceived barriers to swimming education and facilities, rather than intending to make derogatory remarks.

“Councillor Turner has served the council and community with dedication and integrity, consistently striving to enhance the council’s standing and efficacy through his contributions.”

Gazette: Investigation - Nick Turner in FrintonInvestigation - Nick Turner in Frinton (Image: Newsquest)

Councillor Ann Wiggins, chairman of the Standards Committee, said the committee recognises the years of public service undertaken by Mr Turner.

She said: “Nothing in this hearing should seek to undermine that legacy.

“We do not consider that there was a conscious discriminatory intent by the words used at the meeting on 29 June.”

The committee agreed on the sanctions of publishing its findings on the council's website, reporting findings to the full council, and instructing the monitoring officer to arrange training for Mr Turner.

In addition, the committee said Mr Turner should apologise to the Coastal SIG and the council.

Until the training has been undertaken and apologies issued, Mr Turner should not be allowed to re-join any committees or outside bodies.