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Old Windsor councillor breached code of conduct by retweeting doctored image

James Bagley, Local Democracy Reporter

Old Windsor councillor breaches code of conduct with 'offensive' retweet

A councillor who retweeted a doctored image of Tory members has been found in breach of the council’s code of conduct.

Last year, councillor Neil Knowles (Old Windsor Residents’ Association: Old Windsor) retweeted a doctored picture of Conservative councillors Stuart Carroll, Donna Stimson, and now former-Tory member Gurch Singh during the election campaign holding a sign smiling and thumbs up with the words 'Dudley resigns' pasted on the sign.

The words referred to the previous Royal Borough council leader Simon Dudley who had resigned not too long before the image was posted on September 12, 2019.

Councillors Phil Haseler, Stuart Carroll, Gurpreet Bhangra, and Gurch Singh (who later withdrew his complaint) submitted a complaint believing the re-tweet was 'offensive, misleading, and disrespectful' and gave a 'false impression' that those in the photograph were happy the former leader resigned.

During the hearing at a members standards sub-committee, Cllr Knowles said it was meant to be political satire like Private Eye, believing any 'reasonable person' would not believe the image to be true.

It was found there was no evidence that Cllr Knowles doctored the photo himself – but admitted he knew it was edited and chose to re-tweet it regardless.

Cllr Knowles said he knew the re-tweeted picture would likely cause embarrassment to the councillors in question and if he had thought the complainants were genuinely offended he would never have re-tweeted it.

He also said the complaint was a 'waste of time' believing the complainants were genuinely not offended by the image.

When asked why he didn’t remove the image knowing it had caused offence, Cllr Knowles said it was a 'form of bullying', an attempt to 'shut him up', and added he was unable to remove it from his Twitter timeline.

One panel member believed Cllr Knowles did not break the council’s code of conduct where the offence caused was not genuine, but rather a 'politically vexatious stunt'.

Jennifer Lee, who conducted the investigation, found the picture did paint a 'false view' that the councillors in the picture were pleased with the former council leader’s resignation which caused 'personal embarrassment' to those members.

She added the post was not part of a political debate or expression of a political view.

On September 16, two out of the three members of the sub-committee decided Cllr Knowles did breach the code of conduct and the monitoring officer requested the councillor apologise to the complainants and remove the doctored image from his Twitter page if he can.

Cllr Knowles did not wish to comment.

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