Hackney councillor breached the code of conduct
Cllr Benzion Papier was found to have breached the councillors’ Code of Conduct by Hackney Council’s Standards Committee - some of whom expressed concern a similar situation could happen again after he did not apologise.
The code exists to ensure councillors do not abuse their position, and governs disclosure of interest and withdrawal from meetings where councillors have relevant interests.
At a planning subcommittee in January, New River ward Cllr Papier denied having an interest in a controversial application to build an Orthodox Jewish boys school in Stamford Hill, and remained in the meeting while it was being discussed.
Planning officers had recommended the application was refused, but Cllr Papier was one of 10 councillors who signed a petition before the meeting to ensure the application for Torah Veyirah of Satmar boys’ school in Amhurst Park was heard before the committee.
Cllr Ian Sharer who had also signed the petition declared a conflict of interest and left the room.
However Cllr Papier denied having an interest when asked directly by Chair of the planning sub-committee Cllr Vincent Stops, who then filed a complaint against him the next day.
“I knew nothing of the stuff that was going on,” Cllr Stops told the Standards Committee.
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“What I read in the Hackney Gazette before the meeting was an application had been refused, and that it was then coming to planning committee – that is an unusual state of affairs, it was clearly a strange one.
Cllr Stops had spoken with Graham Loveland, assistant director of council planning services, before the meeting and discovered Cllr Papier had also attended a meeting between council officers and the applicant, the Gilmore Benevolent Fund.
Mr Loveland had warned Cllr Papier there could be a “perception of his not having an open mind” when it came to planning meeting, and he should reconsider his “close involvement” with the application.
“I was reasonably clear that Cllr Papier had been involved in this application more than you would ever imagine a sub-committee member would be, the idea he would be in a meeting with the applicant and officers and not have an interest in the meeting was impossible to accept,” explained Cllr Stops.
Monitoring officer Gify Edila told the meeting how she had been unable to make contact with Cllr Papier to compile her report, despite making numerous phone calls, sending letters and emails.
He did pick up his mobile on October 16, but when she said who she was he put down the phone, so she was unable to get a statement from him before the meeting.
However at the meeting Cllr Papier disputed having a conflict of interest: “I was not in favour of it and not against,” he told the standards board, explaining he believed new evidence in favour of the application - which has since been passed on appeal - had been unfairly ignored by council officers.
The entire Standards Committee found the code of conduct had been breached, apart from Conservative party’s Cllr Steinberger.
They decided to take the strongest possible action available, making the full council, Cllr Papier’s whip in the Conservative Party, and Hackney’s elected Mayor aware of his conduct, as well as sending him on training.
Cllr Geoff Taylor said it was important to understand how serious the matter was: “It’s not just a matter for a particular party or a particular individual, we very rarely deal with cases like this but it’s important people understand the gravity of this sort of matter.”
Cllr Patrick Vernon added: “It would have been great if you said, “I’ve messed up and I’ve learned this,” what concerns me if you think, “I’m still right,” it’ll happen again.”