Southend Tory leader refuses to accept complaint panel judgement

Southend’s Conservative leader has been ordered to undergo training after a panel of councillors upheld a complaint accusing him of bullying a schools boss.

Southend Council’s standards board is understood to have upheld a complaint against Tony Cox, who was accused of breaking the councillors’ code of conduct.

But Cllr Cox, who did not attend the meeting, has said he will refuse to accept the decision.

The complaint came after he publicly called for the resignation of Ruth Brock, chief executive of the Southend East Community Academy Trust (SECAT) which oversees six schools in Shoebury and Southend.

Ms Brock accused Mr Cox of harassment, bullying, and using his position improperly after he called for her resignation in an open letter published by the Echo.

Ms Brock herself stood accused of bullying behaviour after five governors of Bournes Green Junior School in Thorpe Bay stood down following a “breakdown in trust” with SECAT in 2020.

Cllr Cox, who represents West Shoebury on the council, has now been told to undergo training for his behaviour.

He is yet to be notified of the result of the hearing, which he refused to attend – a long-standing position held by the Conservatives.

Accusing the Labour, Lib Dem and Independent administration of using the complaint for political purposes, he said: “They have used this as a show trial before an election because that’s all they have left. Leaking the result before telling me shows the system is not fit for purpose.

“I have been called a bully for representing residents and teachers when the governing body was purged and when teachers lost their jobs unfairly.”

Cllr Cox added: “I am not going to take any disciplinary from the committee when we have had standards misapplied to the Conservative group. I will donate my bullying training to SECAT.”

Martin Terry, Independent councillor for Thorpe ward, said: “I think it is a very sad situation that councillor Cox didn’t attend and that he has removed his whole group from the meetings.

The board has very high calibre members including a police officer. I believe they think there is some sort of bias but I have never experienced that.

“I don’t think it’s a good look for the Conservatives.”

SECAT was approached for comment.

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter