Grangemouth councillor invited to explain

Councillor Robert Spears
Councillor Robert Spears

A veteran councillor has been invited to explain statements he made to local government watchdogs investigating a complaint against him.

Robert Spears, an elected member for Grangemouth for over 25 years, was reported to the Standards Commission for directing a straight arm salute and the words “Sieg Heil” at Provost Pat Reid during a meeting of Falkirk Council in March last year.

A hearing panel found Councillor Spears, leader of the two-member Non-Aligned Independent Group (NAIG), had broken the Councillors’ Code of Conduct and censured him for being disrespectful. He was also warned about his future conduct.

However controversial comments he made during an interview with the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, D. Stuart Allan, have led to calls for him to explain himelf when the council meets to consider the hearing panel’s findings on June 25.

In his report, Mr Allan says: “I find his evidence to be inconsistent. He appears to have moved from denying the conduct complained of to accepting he used the words “Sieg Heil” but under the explanation he was not being disrespectful to the Provost but making an aside to Councillor McCabe [Mr Spears’ NAIG collleague].

“I find his stated view the gesture is merely a form of salute and the words complained of are used as a form of encouragement to German school children to be, at best, disingenuous and extremely disrespectful.

‘‘They are both associated with Nazi Germany and adopted by the Nazi Party to signal obedience to Adolf Hitler and glorify the German war effort.

‘‘I understand the use of this salute is currently a criminal offence in Germany.

‘‘Councillor Spears has the right to freedom of expression, but that right is not absolute and does not cover personal abuse of this type.”

Yesterday (Wednesday) Mr Spears said: “I have accepted the censure and will most likely be in attendance.”

He also pointed to the findings of the hearing panel which agreed there was “no merit” in suspending him and accepted that he had “shown regret and made an immediate apology to the Provost” and “made a significant contribution in public life in Scotland”.

Councillor Craig Martin, leader of the council, said: “At the very least Councillor Spears has shown a serious lack of judgement by making these remarks. I find them absolutely shocking.

‘‘After 14 months of claiming he has been the victim of a politically motivated smear campaign the true facts have been unearthed.

‘‘I’d hate to think anyone living in a free society believes what he said.”

nLast week Councillor Martin urged the SNP Group to support Labour’s call for a “united front” to prevent Falkirk Council being brought into disrepute - but told by Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn Labour was guilty of “double standards” by not taking any action against a colleague who had allegedly referred to the SNP as “fascists”.

Mr Martin said: “This allegation from 2002 is absolutely untrue and I have asked Councillor Meiklejohn to produce evidence to the contrary.”