Council leader loses appeal over bullying case

Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan

Nesil Caliskan told to apologise and make statement to full council meeting, reports James Cracknell

Council leader Nesil Caliskan has lost an appeal against a ruling that she broke Enfield Council’s code of conduct – and has been told to apologise.

The council’s councillor conduct committee heard Cllr Caliskan’s appeal on Wednesday evening, three months after a ruling by the authority’s monitoring officer that her handling of a decision to temporarily remove Yasemin Brett from her cabinet post broke the council’s code of conduct and “amounted to bullying”.

Cllr Caliskan’s appeal claimed that the investigation into her conduct had been “biased” and part of a “smear campaign” and “witch hunt”. But after hearing evidence both from the council’s monitoring officer and the independent solicitor hired to investigate the incident, the conduct committee ruled against Cllr Caliskan.

The Labour leader has now been instructed to write an apology to Cllr Brett, attend a meeting to help understand “respectful communication” and make a statement to a full council meeting “acknowledging the decision to remove Cllr Brett was done with undue haste and in an inappropriate fashion, contrary to the code of conduct”.

The conduct committee was not attended by Cllr Caliskan or Cllr Brett but heard a fierce defence of the council’s handling of the incident from its director of law and governance and monitoring officer, Jeremy Chambers. He said: “I strongly rebut allegations the investigation was biased. These are serious allegations, without foundation, which calls into question my professionalism. I am deeply offended by these allegations and have asked for an apology – no such apology has been received.”

Cllr Brett, the former cabinet member for public health, was suspended in November 2018 after declaring a non-pecuniary interest in the North London Waste Plan, to avoid voting on it. She has long opposed plans to designate Pinkham Way for waste disposal. The Bowes ward councillor made a complaint in January over the way she had been treated. The dispute centred on the decision by Cllr Caliskan to discipline Cllr Brett before meeting with her to discuss the matter. After the ruling in June that her behaviour amounted to bullying, Cllr Caliskan refused to apologise and lodged an appeal.

A statement from Cllr Caliskan was read to the committee. It said: “My decision to remove Cllr Brett was within my right. I don’t believe it is within the right of unelected officers to question my decisions. There is no barometer for the speed decisions are taken. When I removed Cllr Brett I did so knowing she understood collective decision making. She understands that if she breaks the whip there are consequences.”

Independent solicitor Frances Woodhead, who investigated the incident, said Cllr Caliskan’s statement did not alter her verdict. She told the committee: “There is nothing new in what Cllr Caliskan said. She is making her views known that it [the investigation] was politically motivated.

“Having carefully considered the evidence, done a thorough investigation, reached a balanced view, and written a detailed report, it does seem slightly disrespectful to have that challenged in the way it has been.”