A FRESH probe into whether Middlewich Town Council acted lawfully in its investigation of a former member’s conduct will take place in private.

At Monday’s meeting, councillors voted to pass the matter involving former Labour member David Williams on to the council’s policy, finance and governance committee – which will consider it in ‘part two’, away from the press or public.

It comes a month after David accused the town council of conducting an ‘unlawful investigation’ in light of a landmark ruling involving another council.

Jonathan Williams, clerk at Middlewich Town Council, said: “The issue that is central to the question is a matter that was governed by employment law.

“The advice from our HR consultants is that as such, the investigation should not be opened up into the public domain, in order to safeguard the confidentiality of the individuals concerned and others who provided evidence or statements.”

David was suspended from all committee meetings and banned from directly contacting Jonathan in December 2016, following an investigation by the town council’s personnel committee into his behaviour towards the clerk.

He claims the circumstances surrounding his 2016 probe are similar to those in the legal case of R (Harvey) v Ledbury Town Council 2018 – in which the judges ruled that the town council had breached the Localism Act 2011 by suspending the member despite not being advised by Herefordshire Council’s monitoring officer to do so.

In a statement read out by Cllr Bill Walmsley, mayor of Middlewich, the Cheshire Association of Local Councils (CHALC) – which had provided advice to the town council on the issue – said: “The matter related to employment should be discussed in part two.

“Is there any merit in discussing a matter that happened two years ago? The reference to Ledbury does not change any of the material facts. The position has not changed.”

Labour Cllr Mike Hunter, who put the issue on Monday’s agenda, said: “I’m not necessarily in full agreement with what the clerk is saying because we’ve had this checked legally as well.

“This is a person who has been wronged and he wants an apology.”

The council will now seek further advice from CHALC on whether individuals involved in the original investigation can take part in the new one.

The policy, finance and governance committee will then either handle the new probe itself or, if required to do so, set up a smaller committee made up of councillors who were not involved with the original investigation.

David represented Cledford as a Labour town councillor from May 2015 until resigning last March.