York councillor cleared of all wrongdoing after ‘being brought to the brink’

Cllr Nigel Ayre
24 Jul 2019 @ 5.36 pm
| News, Politics

He was sacked from his top council job over ‘serious allegations’ and £98K of taxpayers money was spent on a council investigation.

But today, finally, Cllr Nigel Ayre has been cleared of all wrongdoing.

Ultimately there was no evidence against Cllr Ayre, and he didn’t even face a hearing.

Instead, the outcome of an extensive two-year process was a simple note in a report to today’s joint standards committee: “The monitoring officer received investigation report which found no breach. MO agreed with findings and the case was determined on 23.4.2019.”

Today Cllr Ayre blasted the “abject failure” of the process, telling the meeting:

  • The past two and half years have been some of the most stressful and emotionally draining experiences of my life…

    My own personal experience has brought me to the brink on several occasions and had a lasting impact on my marriage, my family and placed a huge strain on those closest to me.

‘Vexatious allegation’

Former council leader David Carr, from a City of York Council webcast
Cllr Ayre’s nightmare began two and a half years ago, when what he describes as “vexatious allegations” were made against him by an individual member of council staff, who was facing their own allegations of misconduct.

He was abruptly removed from his role on the executive of City of York Council on 29 August 2017 by then council leader David Carr.

Mr Carr justified his decision by saying that Cllr Ayre faced ‘serious allegations’. Fellow Liberal Democrat Keith Aspden was also sacked the same day – he was cleared of all but the most minor infractions in January and is now council leader.

Cllr Ayre, now the finance and performance portfolio holder at the council, told the meeting:

  • the only time he was anonymised during the whole investigation was when his name was cleared
  • the investigation began despite a submission from his lawyer that there was no case to answer
  • he has had no explanation of why it took two years to complete
  • he wasn’t made aware of the update on his case or given a chance to comment.

Cllr Ayre said there was “an abject failure to control the process and the costs” and asked “why standards procedures were not followed and those under investigation were publicly named”.

Taken its toll

Cllr Keith Aspden was also cleared and is now City of York Council leader
Cllr Ayre revealed to the committee how the investigation had taken its toll on him and his family, saying:

  • At a time when my wife was acutely unwell having being diagnosed and receiving treatment for cancer I was, without warning, precedent or recourse to law, sacked from my job and subjected to a process which has appeared at every turn to be a desperate attempt to find guilt, rather than investigate the facts.

    I have been denied access to key pieces of evidence and numerous pieces of exonerating information have been wilfully ignored.

    Of the five allegations first made against me, three were dismissed prior to any investigation, one was refuted following tertiary investigation and the final was clearly never supported by any evidence.

He said it was crucial that the council learned from the mistakes. Otherwise talented people could be put off running for the council “in the knowledge that they are afforded no employment rights and treated, at times, it seemed with the scantest of respect”.

Cllr Ayre added:

  • I would urge the committee to take control of the situation. As a minimum, I believe Cllr Aspden and myself are due a formal apology, but more crucially, lessons need to be learned.

    There should be further scrutiny of what was allowed to happen, so we have assurance that no one else will be subject to the same damaging process that was inflicted on two elected members.

‘Outrageous treatment’

Gwen Swinburn speaking at a previous council committee. Photograph: City of York Council / YouTube
Local government expert and York resident Gwen Swinburn condemned the “outrageous treatment metered out to Cllr Ayre, which in many ways is so much worse than the appalling treatment of Cllr Aspden.”

She told the committee:

  • From the very start there were so many errors in the process that I could not begin to list them or the personal, professional and financial damage that the statutory officers knowingly inflicted upon both of those men.

    This could have happened to any of you, and as I see today, could happen again tomorrow.

    I hold the current and past statutory officers responsible for it is they to whom it very councillor turns to for advice.

    Their actions and inactions resulted in the effective demise of the joint administration, cost us £98k in recorded expenditure and no doubt much more in futile officer effort and the still secret cost of the non-disclosure agreement.

Ms Swinburn called for a public and full apology to both councillors.

It should be followed by the council devising a “new draft process on standards, whistleblowing and police reporting”.

“This is to ensure that a witch hunt such as this will never happen again in the authority.