Thomas Bridge 06 January 2015

Councillor quits role after ‘vile’ comment about alleged rape victim

A councillor has quit as leader of a Liberal Democrat group after suggesting an alleged rape victim was too ugly to have been assaulted.

East Hampshire District Council said it was ‘appalled’ by comments made on Facebook by Cllr Philip Drury, who remains an independent councillor after resigning from his role.

Cllr Drury made the comments in response to a thread about 21-year-old Serena Bowes. Ms Bowes - who has waived her right to anonymity - claims to have been sexually assaulted in Italy yet is now facing extradition because Italian police dispute her claims.

He wrote: ‘Not sure anyone would want to even think about it looking at her lol.’

The comments prompted a number of complaints from members of the public and an MP, with Facebook users branded the claims ‘awful’ and ‘vile’.

Discussing the comments, Cllr Drury told Solent News Agency: ‘I was excessively tired and was working nights. I had just come back from an excessive Chinese business trip. I was tired. I will remain on the council.’

An independent disciplinary investigation into the remarks undertaken by the town hall found no further action needed to be taken because Cllr Drury was ‘not acting in his capacity as a councillor’.

However East Hampshire council leader Cllr Ferris Cowper said the decision by the monitoring team was ‘incredible and deeply disappointing’.

Cllr Cowper is now writing to chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Bew, to request that councils are given access to ‘strengthened’ enforcement procedures.

He warned that following the removal of Standards for England - the national body overseeing councillor conduct – local authorities had been left with ‘no effective sanction that can be applied to councillors guilty of this degree of unacceptable conduct’.

‘For the record and as you would expect, this council finds the crime of rape to be deeply deplorable not only because of the physical invasion but also the lasting psychological consequences. Our only interest as a council would be to offer the victim all the sympathy and assistance possible,’ Cllr Cowper said.

‘Although East Hampshire District Council has now exhausted its legal options, the council remains disappointed both with the actions of the councillor and also the effectiveness of the regulatory regime.’

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