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Senior council staff accused of using furloughed employees on private winery will not face criminal charges, police say

Two ex-senior staff at South Somerset District Council who were alleged to have used furloughed council employees to work on a winery will not face criminal charges, Avon and Somerset Police have announced.

Late last year, an independent report commissioned by the council – and seen by the BBC and the Somerset Local Democracy Reporting Service – found that an officer had used council employees on council time to carry out menial work on their winery.

The report, which led to the dismissal of two senior staff, purportedly found that furloughed employees had helped build glamping pods, cut grass and lay turf on the property, the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported

The investigation recommended that at least one staff member should be subject to a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct, the BBC reported. The staff member concerned is understood to have denied the allegations.

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South Somerset first heard allegations in early 2021. By December 2021, the council announced that the two accused officers were no longer working at the local authority following the independent investigation.

The council has not revealed the identity of the staff or any of the report's findings.

Alongside its decision in December, the council released a statement in which it said that the case had been kept confidential "to date to ensure that the appropriate evidence was gathered and any disciplinary proceedings resulting from the investigations were fair and legal".

It added: "It was always the council's intention to inform elected members, staff and the public appropriately at the right time. It would not have been appropriate to comment on this matter publicly during the investigation to respect all of those concerned."  

In a statement Avon and Somerset Police announced it would take no further action after the information provided by the council from its disciplinary investigation "did not meet the evidential threshold for charging a criminal offence".

Officers have not identified any further lines of enquiry which would provide additional evidence to charge anyone, the police said.

However, Avon and Somerset Police added that the enquiry could be reopened should new information come to light.

A council spokesperson said: "We thank Avon and Somerset Police for its diligent work on this matter and its recognition of the comprehensive work that was undertaken by SSDC and the independent investigator. We take all allegations of misconduct and gross misconduct very seriously so that we protect our residents, members, partners and staff."

Adam Carey

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