A Conservative local councillor who was found guilty of public order offences after making homophobic comments, but later had his conviction overturned, has been criticised by the Standards Board for England.
The board said Peter Willows, from Brighton, was guilty of bringing his position into disrepute.
76-year-old Mr Willows was a member of Brighton and Hove City Council with 12 years service when he was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge at Brighton Magistrates Court in December 2006.
Magistrates were satisfied that he had made intentionally offensive remarks.
However, at an appeal in February this year he was cleared. The judge said she was satisfied he did not intend to be insulting.
On May 18 2006, Mr Willows had been present at a civil reception at Brighton Pavilion, hosted by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove.
At the event, Councillor Paul Elgood was told by former Labour mayor Harry Steer that Willows had been making offensive comments about gay people.
James Ledward, publisher of Brighton magazine G-Scene, was with Mr Elgood at the function.
The pair approached Willows towards the end of the function to ask him why he had said that all gay people are paedophiles.
Mr Ledward told the court that Paul Elgood asked Willows, “Why are you saying all gay men are paedophiles?”
Mr Ledward said Willows replied “they are.”
He then asked Willows, “You know Paul is gay, do you think he is a paedophile?”
Mr Ledward told the court that Willows replied, “I know he’s not, it’s all the other gays.”
Many prominent members of the gay community and gay media were at the function.
Mr Elgood told the court at the trail in December 2006 he was insulted by Willows’ comments and said he felt it was “malicious.”
Willows’ defence barrister Irena Ray-Crosby appealed to the magistrates, asking them to take into account Willows’ excellent character and lack of any previous convictions.
Magistrate Pauline Quinton, after just under an hour of deliberation, found Willows guilty.
After his conviction he resigned from his post as Councillor for Hangleton and Knoll Ward in Brighton.
Although later cleared on appeal, councillors in Brighton had already reported him to the Standards Board for England.
The board, which investigates breaches of the Code of Conduct, waited until the conclusion of the legal action before they began examining the case.
Every local authority is required to adopt a Code of Conduct that sets out rules governing the behaviour of its members.
All elected, co-opted and independent members of local authorities, including parish councils, fire, police and national park authorities, are covered by the Code.
Former Labour council leader Simon Burgess, who complained to the Standards Board about Mr Willows’ comments, told The Argus newspaper:
“Making a false association between being gay and being a paedophile is about as offensive as it gets.
“For it to come from someone who has been elected to serve the whole community at an official function is inexcusable.
“I am pleased that the Standards Board has recognised the seriousness of former Councillor Willows’ actions.”
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