A LONG-SERVING parish councillor has been stripped of his special finance title after being found to have 'bullied' a colleague — but he will not have to write a full apology to the complainant.

Conservative councillor Richard Price, who was Crowthorne Parish Council’s ‘finance champion', was found to have breached the borough’s code of conduct.

Complaints against the councillor came in September 2020 after Crowthorne Parish Council clerk Melanie Saville outlined seven incidents where Cllr Price showed ‘bullying and harassing’ behaviour towards her.

These incidents, which spanned from January 2020 to September 2020, included:

  • Cllr Price ‘slamming his clenched fist’ on to a table Ms Saville was sitting after he ‘became angry’ about a financial issue
  • Email allegations from Cllr Price which ‘undermined’ Ms Saville’s work
  • A ‘verbal attack’ at Crowthorne Market in which Cllr Price ‘shouted’ and ‘gestured angrily’ at Ms Saville, leaving her ‘shaken’ and ‘in tears'

Bracknell News: Richard Price. Richard Price.

Despite an independent investigator upholding Ms Saville’s complaints, a Bracknell Forest Council conduct panel was drafted in to make the final call on the allegations after Cllr Price refuted most of the investigator’s verdicts.

Speaking at the panel meeting, Ms Saville said: “This has had a huge impact on my wellbeing, my health and my sleep.

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“It made a role I absolutely love into something that is no longer a pleasure.

“The fact it has now gone on for over a year unaddressed and without resolution is unacceptable and I don’t know how to move forward from this.”

Ms Saville, who is a qualified solicitor, said Cllr Price’s behaviour meant she had been excluded from important financial processes at Crowthorne Parish Council she should have been a part of, an issue which has put pressure on her junior colleagues.

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She added: “I have worked as a professional in many different industries and I have never had to work in a situation like I am finding myself in at the moment where somebody’s behaviour has been allowed to continue totally unchecked.”

In her written complaint, Ms Saville claimed Cllr Price’s behaviour had caused her “stress and anxiety” but at the meeting, she said she wished for the issue to be resolved “for the benefit of the electorate and the council.”

'Reverse bullying'

Councillor Price, who has served on Crowthorne Parish Council since 1988, claimed he did not intentionally exclude Ms Saville from any financial processes and offered some explanation for his behaviour.

He said: “Nothing I did or said is intended personally.

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“If it was taken as such, I regret it and will ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

When quizzed about the incident at Crowthorne market in September 2020, in which the councillor had reacted ‘angrily’ to the site’s parking layout, Mr Price said he “acted out of the norm.”

This incident was the only one of the seven Ms Saville put forward where Cllr Price agreed he had been ‘strong’ in his approach following an investigation into the complaints back in October 2020.

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As a result of the allegations, Mr Richard Beaumont - a former council employee who conducted the investigation - found Cllr Price to have 'bullied' his colleague on six occasions, failed to treat Ms Saville with respect on six occasions, and brought the council into disrepute.

One month later, Cllr Price sent a letter to Ms Saville apologising for his behaviour at Crowthorne Market but not for his general behaviour towards the clerk — something Mr Beaumont had recommended he do.

Bracknell Forest Council’s borough solicitor, who had been overseeing the complaints process, told Mr Price he was ‘disappointed’ by his letter and that he should extend his apology in a new letter to Ms Saville.

Councillor Price refused and told the solicitor he was “considering making charges of reverse bullying by Ms Saville” because of the allegations she had made.

'Not cognizant'

This failure to find a resolution between the two parties meant borough councillors were called in to judge whether Cllr Price had breached the council’s code of conduct.

At the meeting, councillors agreed that Mr Price had breached the Bracknell Forest Council’s code of conduct.

Mr Price said he would re-write the apology letter following this verdict, saying: “If it [his behaviour] was interpreted as bullying, that was not my intention, and if it was taken that way, I fully apologise.”

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But before the panel agreed on possible punishments, Dr Louis Lee, an independent person serving on the panel, pointed out the councillor’s “reluctance in fully acknowledging he may have caused harm to the wellbeing of Ms Saville.”

He added: “I haven’t seen anything so far which shows a degree of reconciliation between Cllr Price and Ms Saville.

“Therefore, for the future wellbeing of Ms Saville, the council and the parish council has to be careful that future interactions, if they were to lead to Ms Saville’s wellbeing being harmed in any way, the council may be subject to action outside of its powers.”

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Dr Lee said Crowthorne Parish Council should separate Ms Saville and Cllr Price “as far as possible” as this would be “in the best interest of all parties.”

The panel subsequently agreed on a range of sanctions for councillor Price, who has held various senior financial management positions in a 32-year career at a US corporation.

It was agreed Cllr Price should:

  • Not send another apology letter as he was “not cognizant” of his fault and therefore another letter "would not make a great deal of sense"
  • Receive further code of conduct training
  • Be relieved of his role as finance champion at Crowthorne Parish Council for one year
  • Be monitored for his behaviour at by the chairman of Crowthorne Parish Council and Ms Saville
  • Be censured by the parish council at an upcoming public meeting
  • Be the subject of a council press release about his behaviour
  • Undertake anti-bullying training

Councillor Nick Allen, who chaired the conduct panel, praised Melanie Saville’s “courage” at the close of its meeting.

The panel met on Thursday, January 28.