Image above: Cllr Joanna Biddolph; David Giles’ post on social media
Chiswick councillor Joanna Biddolph gave out confidential information about measures to protect councillors’ security to someone who then published it on social media.
Her action, which could have put councillors in harm’s way, has been investigated by Hounslow Council’s Principal Lawyer Jayne LaGrua, who found Cllr Biddolph, a Conservative councillor for Turnham Green ward (re-drawn as Chiswick Gunnersbury in the coming local elections) had broken the Members Code of Conduct, both by breaching confidentiality and by abusing her position.
Joanna Biddolph has now apologised to the Chair of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny committee. She told The Chiswick Calendar:
“I accept the deputy monitoring officer’s findings and the recommendation of an informal resolution, specifically that I apologise to the chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee which I have, of course, done.”
The incident happened when feelings were running high about the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in September 2021. Opponents of traffic restrictions introduced in Chiswick organised a demonstration outside the Council’s headquarters Hounslow House on Thursday 23 September 2021. They wanted to make their feelings known to members of the Overview and Scrutiny committee.
Security officers at Hounslow House had decided councillors should avoid the demonstrators and enter the building from a side entrance for their own safety. David Giles, a prominent member of the Conservative Party in Chiswick, (since expelled from the party for describing Hounslow Council as the ‘Brentford Taliban’) then published that information on the OneChiswick Facebook group. He posted:
“LBH security told Councillor Joanna Biddolph last night that councillors will not be allowed to use the main front door of Hounslow House on Thursday. They’ll have to use the side gate to go in through the back door. The side gate is on Bath Road on the Western side of the building next to the entrance to the underground car park.
“This is fine for councillors who arrive by tube at Hounslow Central as they will walk past you. Others might not see you. You might have to be creative about how you look for councillors arriving. You may have difficulty recognising some of them apart from John Todd, Ron Mushiso, Sam Hearn,Gabriella Giles or the other Chiswick Councillors”.
Image above: Protesters with placards opposing the introduction of traffic restrictions in Chiswick
Joanna Biddolph broke the Code of Conduct in two ways
The Council Members Code of Conduct says councillors ‘should not disclose information … acquired by them which they believe, or ought reasonably to be aware, is confidential in nature.’
The Code of Conduct also says councillors ‘should not use, or attempt to use, their position improperly to the advantage or disadvantage of themselves or anyone else.’
A member of the public complained that Cllr Biddolph had broken the Code of Conduct and their complaint was upheld in both these respects. The matter has now been referred to the Conservative Group Leader Gerald McGregor.
Putting councillors at risk
Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford & Isleworth, who has herself written about the vulnerability of being in public office, on the receiving end of abuse and threats, told The Chiswick Calendar:
“This is shocking behaviour from a senior Conservative councillor. Disclosing security information puts councillors at risk and we have seen the tragic impact this has had on politicians over the last five years.
“This is a shocking breach of the code of conduct and councillor Biddolph should know better. I hope Chiswick Gunnersbury residents will remember this incident when casting their vote in the upcoming Council elections.”
“Extremely dangerous and misguided”
Cllr Salman Shaheen, Chairman of the Brentford & Isleworth constituency Labour party, told The Chiswick Calendar:
“I welcome Conservative Councillor Biddolph’s apology for abusing her position and leaking confidential security information. It was an extremely dangerous and misguided act, especially when one considers councillors had received death threats over these traffic measures.
“It’s just another example of the Conservatives pouring petrol over the flames with their inflammatory words. Previously we’ve seen Cllr Biddolph cite comparisons between Chiswick High Road and Belfast during the troubles. Chiswick’s residents deserve councillors who will work hard for the whole community and not persist with divide and rule politics by stirring up animosities.”
Cllr Joanna Biddolph has asked us to point out that she had merely repeated a resident’s comment that the traffic changes made Chiswick ‘like Belfast in the Troubles’ rather than originating it. We have asked Group Leader Gerald McGregor for a comment.
Previous threats against councillors
A year earlier a comment on social media in which an opponent of the traffic measures had threatened to shoot Labour councillors was followed up by police. Simon Mabbutt, who stood unsuccessfully as a UKIP candidate in Chiswick Riverside ward in 2014 wrote:
“The council members who agreed this most pathetic changes which has increased pollution, ruined businesses and KILLED PEOPLE RE EMERGENCY VEHICLES NEED SHOOTING. I AM HAPPY TO PULL THE TRIGGER. They are the biggest imbeciles ever.”
He followed this with:
“I think it’s time to find out who and where these imbeciles live”.
His comment was answered by Marlene Johnson, suggesting where he could find the councillors’ addresses. Marlene was then a company director of a lettings agency based in Chiswick and one of the organisers of the Facebook group One Chiswick.
At the time Council Leader Steve Curran said:
“Ever since the murder of Jo Cox MP, we take this sort of threat very seriously.”
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