Councillor Ian Stevenson has been suspended for the remainder of his term in office (until 6 May 2019) following a decision made by the Acting Local Government Commissioner for Standards in Belfast yesterday.
The decision follows an Interim Hearing at which the Acting Commissioner Ian Gordon found that there was ‘prima facie evidence’ that Councillor Stevenson had breached the Local Government Code of Conduct as a result of his conviction for sexually assaulting a female work colleague in November 2018.
Evidence from the Deputy Commissioner’s investigation into a complaint against Councillor Stevenson was presented to the Hearing, including a statement from the Chief Executive of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
It stated that the Chief Executive believed that the councillor’s conduct had brought both his position as a councillor and the council into disrepute.
Ms Michaela McAleer, representing the Deputy Commissioner, stated that the matter was about public confidence and that such confidence is inextricably linked with disrepute. It was her belief that there would be a further loss of confidence if the councillor remained in office.
Councillor Stevenson was unwilling to make any submissions as to the potential breaches of the Code and possible sanction, expressing a belief that the proceedings should not continue as he expected his conviction to be overturned at an Appeal.
The Acting Commissioner stated that the potential outcome of any Appeal is not material to a decision on Interim measures, which must be taken in accordance with the law.
After considering the submissions, the Investigation Report, and the Commissioner’s Guidance to the Code, he was satisfied that there was prima facie evidence of a breach of the Code.
He also found that it was likely to have caused reputational damage to the Council.
In considering a sanction, he accepted the Deputy Commissioner’s belief that a conviction for sexual assault is likely to lead to loss of confidence if the councillor were to continue in public office. An interim suspension was therefore necessary to preserve public confidence.
His decision, made under Section 60(1) of Part 9 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014, was to suspend the councillor for the remainder of his term of office, until 6 May 2019.
A full Adjudication Hearing is to take place before the Commissioner at a future date.
The sanction is to have effect from Tuesday 19 March 2019.
The councillor may appeal to the High Court against this decision.