Wales

Pembrokeshire councillor denies making racist Facebook posts

paul dowson
Image caption Paul Dowson has represented Pembroke Dock Central since 2017

A controversial councillor has denied he shared images on social media that were racist, hateful to women and people of different religions.

Paul Dowson said the images, alleged by the union Unison to have come from his Facebook account, were "manufactured" by political opponents.

He told BBC Wales: "Give me 24 hours and I could come up with the same screenshots in your name."

Mr Dowson "categorically" denied sharing the allegedly offensive posts.

He also denied he was racist.

Mr Dowson was elected with a majority of four votes to represent the Pembroke Dock Central ward in 2017.

Unison is calling for an investigation by Pembrokeshire council and the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, after passing a "dossier of posts" which it says "appear to originate" from Mr Dowson's social media.

It said the posts were "grossly offensive" and "fall well below that expected of a community leader".

Image copyright Pembrokeshire council
Image caption The council said allegations about conduct would be dealt with by the ombudsman "in the first instance"

The ombudsman's office confirmed it was "currently investigating a complaint that councillor Paul Dowson, of Pembrokeshire County Council, may have breached his authority's code of conduct".

It said it would not comment on a live investigation or give a timescale for its conclusion.

Mr Dowson said it was clear to him the posts had been "created by someone as part of their vendetta against me".

Asked why he had deactivated his Facebook account after the allegations surfaced, he said it was "on the advice of the police" and because he was being notified his Facebook account was being accessed from other locations.

"I just took it away because it can always be replaced by another," he said.

He denied his actions had any bearing on the investigation, and said there were Facebook friends on his account that "were like double agents and I didn't know who they were, so I thought it was best to start afresh".

'Grossly insulting'

Manuela Hughes, branch chair of Unison's Pembrokeshire county branch, said it had been made aware of the allegedly offensive posts by members and the public.

"We found them highly offensive and grossly insulting," she said.

"They were targeted towards women, LGBT+, various religious beliefs as well as the black community.

"We would expect our leaders to lead by example, embracing the communities they represent in all its diversity and not to sow division or create offence.

"We all have freedom of speech but this comes with consequences.

"If you're holding public office, you have a conduct to follow, the elected members' code of conduct which is very clear what is acceptable and what isn't."

She said the union had collated "a large dossier" of social media screenshots which had been sent to the ombudsman and the council with a request to fully investigate Mr Dowson's actions and conduct.

She admitted it was an unusual step for a trade union to take such steps against a councillor.

"Part of our core values is to fight for equality and to stand up to discrimination in all its forms," she said.

"It's our duty to call out and challenge hateful behaviour and conduct."

Though some posts seemingly predate his time as a councillor, Mr Dowson said he thought the images had been "created recently".

He said he had made a complaint to Dyfed-Powys Police that he had been the subject of harassment and malicious communication, and the police were "considering 600 pieces of evidence".

Dyfed-Powys Police confirmed it had received from Mr Dowson an allegation of "harassment and malicious communication" and was investigating.

It said it could not comment further at the moment.

Mr Dowson said he was considering taking civil action against Unison for "publishing blatant lies and defamation of character".

Image copyright Twitter/Ruth Richardson
Image caption George Floyd died after being arrested in Minneapolis, United States

In June Mr Dowson objected to a council press release which said County Hall would be illuminated in purple to commemorate the death of George Floyd, in support of the protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

He said: "All lives matter. Black lives matter. White lives matter. People see that as racist, because I won't support their cause."

He denied using the phrase "white lives matter" was unwise, as it has been associated with white supremacists.

"Unison took out all the context," he said. "They do matter. So do black lives. So do all lives.

"I don't see any connotations to that phrase. People create the connotations to serve their purpose. They use racism as a weapon."

Pembrokeshire council said any allegations about the conduct of individual councillors would be dealt with by the ombudsman "in the first instance".

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