Thurrock councillor told to apologise for ‘racist’ Facebook post

A Thurrock councillor has been ordered to apologise after he shared a “racist” social media post about an election candidate on Facebook.

Thurrock Council held a code of conduct hearing after it was claimed that Independent Gary Byrne used a Stanford-le-Hope group Facebook page to suggest a candidate had used photoshop to lighten their skin colour to gain votes in the run up to last year’s local elections.

Two complaints were said to have been made, branding the post “disrespectful and morally wrong” and that it was “blatantly racist” to make such comments on the site which has 38,000 followers.

Cllr Byrne told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he had been the subject of a “witch hunt” and stated that although he shared the post on Facebook, he was not the originator.

The code of conduct panel’s investigating officer said: “The post by Councillor Byrne falls into the category of abusive behaviour and could be reasonably regarded as adversely affecting the public’s confidence in them being able to fulfil their role, as the post was, even by Councillor Byrne’s own admission, poorly judged, and posted without thought to any offence it might cause to anyone including members of the public.”

The officer added that regardless of whether it was Cllr Byrne’s intention or not, the inference that a person would have to lighten their skin to get votes, is “offensive to an individual’s characteristics, promotes negative stereotypes and amounts to behaviour that is racially discriminatory”.

The code of conduct panel said: “Cllr Byrne used a private Facebook page where he is widely known as a local councillor and posted to 38,000 followers of that page. The inference that candidates with lighter skin meant there was a greater chance of them gaining votes, was a racist comment that wasn’t deleted immediately when an objection was raised.

“There was acknowledgement that the post could be considered racist and that it was ill judged and ill advised. No apology has been given, and no remorse has been shown thus far. The panel noted that breaches of behaviour not only impacted on the council members, officers and community but set a tone of culture and behaviour that is not acceptable in Thurrock Council.”

The panel added: “In considering the sanctions to impose, the members took into account the seriousness of the breaches in terms of disrepute, respect and equalities and felt that it fell below the standards required of expected members at Thurrock Council.”

The panel called for Cllr Byrne to make a private apology in writing and attend training on equalities and diversity, and social media.

The decision will be discussed at a standards and audit committee meeting on Thursday.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter