Councillor censured over ‘refusal’ to say sorry

Councillor Francis Oppler
Councillor Francis Oppler

A Bognor Regis councillor’s continued ‘refusal’ to apologise for a 2014 standards breach saw him publicly censured last week.

Liberal Democrat leader Francis Oppler was urged to apologise by Arun District Council’s standards committee after he revealed the address of a Conservative councillor who had moved out of the district.

He declined to obey the ruling, arguing his actions were in the public interest.

But a motion to full council last Wednesday revisited the unresolved issue, with councillors registering ‘severe disapproval’ over the lack of an apology.

“His conduct should be beyond reproach,” said Conservative councillor Trevor Bence.

“He should be a leader in more than name and should engender and encourage trust and respect.

“His refusal to apologise is contemptuous.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Dr James Walsh said his colleague’s actions followed Tory disapproval of Lib Dem Jeanette Warr holidaying abroad for three months.

He said Mr Oppler then became aware two Conservative councillors had moved out of the district.

Dr Walsh said Mr Oppler thought it ‘hypocritical’ for the Tories to criticise his colleague and that obtaining and publishing the addresses was ‘in the public interest’.

The standards committee ruled that revealing one of the addresses was a breach of the code of conduct, as it was ‘confidential’. He was asked to apologise but declined.

The matter is set to be returned to the standards committee, with the motion carried by 41 votes to three. Six councillors abstained.

Councillor Paul Dendle said: “There’s only two words that councillor Oppler needs to say. It’s ‘I’m sorry’.

“By not saying that it’s not strength, it’s weakness. It takes strength and character to apologise when you have made a mistake.”

Councillor Ricky Bower said it was unfortunate councillors could not suspend members for breaches of the code.

But Independent councillor Sandra Daniells argued an apology would be worth nothing if he did not mean it.

In response, Mr Oppler, who left the room during the debate, said: “It is an appalling abuse of power.

“They (the Tories) can do whatever they want and whenever they want. It was a ritual slaughter. They have been trying to do this because I have been challenging them hard.

“I think it was a retaliation for making life difficult.”

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