Wales

Fresh homophobia case against councillor Graham Down

Graham Down Image copyright Twitter/cllrgraham_down
Image caption Graham Down served as a county councillor from 2012 to 2017 and is now a community councillor

A councillor suspended for homophobic comments has appeared before a tribunal over allegations of a fresh outburst.

Graham Down allegedly called homosexuality a "sickening and depraved practice" after being given a two-month suspension from Mathern Community Council near Chepstow last year.

The original allegations related to comments he made in 2016 while serving on Monmouthshire County Council.

He could face a 12-month suspension or disqualification for up to five years.

Email scrutiny

An investigation was first launched by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales into comments made by Mr Down in 2016 while he was an independent county councillor, representing Shirenewton from 2012 to 2017.

Mr Down was critical of the authority's support for LGBT rights and allegedly referred to homosexuality as "unnatural", "perverted", "immoral" and "wrong" in emails to Monmouthshire's chief executive Paul Matthews.

Following an Adjudication Panel for Wales decision to suspend him from Mathern Community Council for those comments, Mr Down is alleged to have been unrepentant.

It is claimed he told the courtroom: "I cannot be part of a system that requires me to suppress my conscience", adding that he would not be made to promote "hideous and sickening perversions".

This prompted a fresh investigation by the ombudsman into a breach of the community council's code of conduct.

Immunity from prosecution

The panel was told that on 23 August Mr Down sent an email to the ombudsman that read: "I believe homosexuality is a sickening and depraved practice and I shall continue to say so."

The councillor argued at the tribunal hearing in Cwmbran that his comments following the previous tribunal were protected by absolute privilege.

Absolute privilege gives people immunity from prosecution for allegedly defamatory statements made during judicial proceedings.

Mr Down also claimed that being unable to examine witnesses against him violated his human rights.

Panel chair Richard Payne adjourned proceedings to a later date to allow both sides to provide further information to support their legal arguments.

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