District councillor removed as chairman of standards committee following comments about alleged sexual harassment at Presidents Club dinner

Councillor Tina Knight

Councillor Tina Knight - Credit: Archant

A district councillor has been removed from her position as chairman of the standards committee following comments on national radio about the alleged sexual harassment at the Presidents Club charity dinner last month.

Around 70 people attended a protest outside UDC offices on Saturday January 27 calling for Cllr Tina

Around 70 people attended a protest outside UDC offices on Saturday January 27 calling for Cllr Tina Knight to step down. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Councillor Tina Knight was removed from her position at a full Uttlesford District Council (UDC) meeting last night (February 22) after leader of the council, Councillor Howard Rolfe, put forward a motion saying Cllr Knight’s comments were ‘inconsistent with the role of chairman of its standards committee’.

Cllr Knight, the member for Debden and Wimbish, joined Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 on January 24 to discuss the alleged sexual harassment at the Presidents Club dinner with undercover Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage. Cllr Knight referred to the hostesses working at the charity dinner as ‘airheads’ if they didn’t understand what the evening was going to entail after signing a non-disclosure agreement and being asked to wear ‘black knickers, strapless bra, high heels’ to the event.

Cllr Knight’s comments on the subject were criticised on social media and a petition was handed to Cllr Rolfe after a demonstration outside the council offices calling for her to be removed from UDC.

At Thursday’s meeting, a total of 12 public speakers spoke both in support of Cllr Knight and in support of the motion to remove her from her position.

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Susan Perry called the council to ‘move with the times that represents a truly modern council’ and said Cllr Knight’s comments had shown ‘lack of judgement’ and ‘visible ignorance of legislation’ and Sarah Ellis said that Cllr Knight was ‘showing herself ignorant of the most basic laws around sexual assault’.

Amelie Gerard, a 15-year-old member of UDC’s youth council, said to Cllr Knight: “As representatives of the youth coming up through the council we look to our councillors as an example.

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“I would feel ashamed and belittled coming to you to report sexual harassment...the standards committee needs to uphold the highest standards.”

In support of Cllr Knight, Anthony Robertson, a grandfather of four girls, said: “This motion has been activated by hysteria. The demonstration [outside the UDC offices] showed poor judgement and bad parenting.”

Angela Foster said those responsible for the removal of Cllr Knight should be ashamed of themselves for what she has had to go through and those on the standards committee ‘should be looking at cases of harassment towards Tina Knight’. Doug Perry agreed and said the situation with regards to Cllr Knight had ‘been handled badly’ and the council had ‘acted as judge, jury, and executioner’.

Cllr Rolfe’s motion was seconded by Councillor Alan Dean, who has known Cllr Knight for more than 40 years, but he said it ‘should have been possible to deal with the matter in another way’.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Knight said: “At no time have I been given the courtesy of discussing the situation that has developed from the Facebook response of a number of women with what I believe in some cases is a hidden political agenda, based on totally unfounded accusations and deliberately misinterpreted.

“This whole situation could have, and should have, been handled a lot better. Where is the democracy in this situation?

“I spoke as an individual and did not speak as, or disclose, that I was a district councillor...the PC police are having a field day.”

She added: “I don’t believe anybody male or female has the right to impose their views on others, how they should live their lives, what jobs they should do, particularly from a position of ignorance...what concerns me is this decision was made not by anything I have done wrong, I was speaking in a personal capacity as a successful businesswoman, I was not acting as a spokesman for anybody.

“I was not given a chance to discuss the matter or settle this privately. A group of women would appear, demanded my resignation and held the council to ransom.”

Some 17 councillors voted in favour of Cllr Rolfe’s motion to remove Cllr Knight as chairman of the standards committee, two voted against, and four abstained.

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) leader Councillor John Lodge said the 11 R4U councillors would not participate in the vote due to accusations of political motive, but supported the council’s ‘affirmation of its belief that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect’.

Cllr Lodge said at the meeting: “It just so happens that one of the many people involved in that campaign group is married to an R4U councillor. Certain politically motivated activists have sought to hijack the equality agenda by publicly insinuating that because of this connection R4U is behind this kind of smear campaign.

“This false accusation is designed to distract from the real debate and that debate is securing gender equality...R4U refuses to be drawn into this activist petty party political game, because both equality and free speech are more important.

“R4U councillors do not intend to speak further on this motion and we will not participate in that vote. We do however support the council’s affirmation of its belief that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it is in the workplace or beyond, which includes not being subject to harassment.”

Councillor Derek Jones was elected as the new chairman of the standards committee.

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