FOUR senior officials at Argyll and Bute Council who had 14 complaints against one of its councillors rejected by the Standards Commission are to face “serious questions” about their conduct at a future council meeting.

The council confirmed to The National yesterday that a report will go to councillors on the Standard Commission panel’s decision to censure independent councillor Michael Breslin on one complaint that he showed a lack of courtesy to senior official Charles Reppke, the council’s head of governance. The National understands that Reppke did not associate himself with the complaints.

Nine complaints made last year to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life were dismissed at an earlier stage. Five of the six other complaints considered this week were dismissed with the panel saying that Breslin was allowed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to ask the questions and make the criticisms that he did.

The panel’s chairman Ian Gordon made it clear that Breslin’s freedom to make “robust” statements on political matters was protected under ECHR Article 10 on freedom of speech.

The complaints were made by Sally Loudon, the former chief executive of the council who is now the chief executive of Cosla; Cleland Sneddon who replaced her as chief executive at Argyll and Bute; and senior executive directors Pippa Nimmo and Douglas Hendry. Breslin had sent strongly-worded emails to the four regarding matters that included controversial issues such as the council’s sale of Castle Toward to a private developer rather than a local community company, as well as safety issues at Rothesay Harbour. Because the four most senior officials took out a complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, alleging that Breslin had breached the local government code of conduct, the councillor was effectively silenced as the rules on such complaints forbid any further discussion of the matters at question.

Councillor colleagues of Breslin have already spoken out to say that the commission’s decision on ECHR grounds will encourage members to say what they really feel about matters at the council, which has been subject to political upheaval in recent years.

One councillor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The first thing that will happen given the overwhelming rejection of their complaints is that the three remaining officers that we have with us will be asked serious questions when this matter comes up before the council.

“For instance, how long did they discuss these matters and how long did they spend preparing complaints that ran to over 100 pages? Did they have any meetings and if so were minutes taken or emails exchanged which the council has the right to see?

“I am sure they will also be asked if they took advice from any politicians about this case, and it may well be asked why they did not know about the European Convention rights since there is plenty of case law and every authority was told about this 10 years ago.

“The council also has an internal grievance procedure and we need to find out why this was not followed.”

Asked for his view, Breslin said that he would make no comment until the council meeting.

The National put the following questions to each of the four individuals who made the complaints: “In light of the Standards Commission panel’s outright rejection of five of the six complaints … are you considering your positions and do you feel able to carry on in your posts with the confidence of all councillors?

“Did you individually and/or severally, take out the complaint against Councillor Breslin in order to prevent him asking questions on the matters contained in the complaints you made to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, knowing that once your complaint was made, Councillor Breslin would have to desist from all further comment or questions on the issues he raised with you?

“Given that the council has a code of conduct and an internal grievance procedure, can you explain why individually and/or severally, you did not make use of that procedure?

“Were you advised by any politician or outside organisation as to what you should do?”

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council replied: “We note that Councillor Breslin has been found to have breached the national code of local government conduct and been censured by the Standards Commission, in respect of a matter put before them by the Ethical Standards Commissioner. We await details of the written decision which will be put before elected members in due course.”

A spokesman for Cosla, replying on behalf of Loudon said: “We understand that at a hearing of the

Standards Commission, Councillor Breslin was found in breach of the national code of local government conduct and that the hearing panel imposed a sanction of censure.”