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Leader of Welsh council suspended for seven months for code of conduct breaches, vows to appeal

The Adjudication Panel of Wales has suspended the Leader of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, Cllr Kevin O’Neill, for seven months for breaching the local authority’s code of conduct.

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr O’Neill has vowed to appeal the panel’s ruling.

The panel had received a referral in July 2020 from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in relation to allegations against him.

The panel’s decision notice said there were six allegations:

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  • The first allegation was that Cllr O’Neill had failed to declare orally the existence and nature of a personal interest in the business of the authority relating to a property at Luther Lane at an inter-agency meeting on 15th August 2018.
  • The second allegation was that he had a prejudicial interest in relation to the business of the authority regarding the property at Luther Lane and was in breach of the Code in not withdrawing from the room when the property was being considered at the inter-agency meeting on 15th August 2018.
  • The third allegation was that the respondent, Cllr O’Neill, had a prejudicial interest in relation to the business of the authority regarding the property at Luther Lane and was in breach of the Code in that he was seeking to influence a decision about that business and made oral representations at the inter-agency meeting on the 15th August 2018.
  • The fourth allegation was that Cllr O’Neill’s email to the Director of Social Services on 16th August 2018 failed to include details of the respondent’s personal interest in the business of the authority in relation to the property at Luther Lane, and that the email sought to influence a decision about that business and made written representations about that business in which he had a prejudicial interest, in breach of the Code.
  • The fifth allegation related to whether the respondent’s actions in speaking at the meeting of the 15th August 2018 and sending written correspondence to an officer in the form of an email to the Director of Social Services on 16th August 2018 were seeking to influence a decision about the business of the property at Luther Lane in breach of the Code, and whether such conduct, if proved, could reasonably be regarded as bringing his office or authority into disrepute, in breach of the Code.
  • The sixth allegation related to the meeting with the former chief executive of the council on the 5th March 2019 and whether the respondent’s conduct towards the former chief executive was inappropriate and failed to show respect and consideration to him in breach of the Code.

The case tribunal determined its adjudication by way of written representations, in accordance with Cllr O’Neill’s wishes, at meetings last month by Cloud Video Platform.

“The Case Tribunal found by unanimous decision that the Respondent had failed to comply with the Code with regard to all of the allegations,” the decision notice said.

The Case Tribunal decided, also unanimously, that Cllr O’Neill should be suspended from acting as a member of the council for a period of seven months or, if shorter, the remainder of his term of office. The relevant period starts on 23 December 2020.

Cllr O’Neill has the right to seek the leave of the High Court to appeal this decision.

The Case Tribunal also recommended that the council’s monitoring officer (or their delegate) provide further training to Cllr O’Neill on the Code of Conduct, the meaning of ‘prejudicial interests’ and the approach to be taken to, and the status of, the advice of the Monitoring Officer. “Such training to be undertaken within one month of the Respondent returning to his post following the service of his suspension.”

Responding to the ruling, Merthyr Tydfil said: “During this period, Kevin O’Neill will be treated as a member of the public, not as a councillor.

“In the meantime, Deputy Leader, Councillor Lisa Mytton will represent the Leader’s office.”

In a statement given to the Local Democracy Reporting Service and reported on the BBC, Cllr O'Neill said he would give a "full explanation" on the matters concerned "if and when the time is right".

"I was shocked by the tribunal's decision and surprised it has been picked up by the press before I have been given the reasons for it."

He added: "My motivations during my time in office have been (and will always be) doing right by the people of Merthyr Tydfil.

"I don't believe that commitment has ever been questioned during this process.

"I will be scrutinising the reasons closely with my legal team as soon as they're received. My firm wish is to appeal so I can return to public service as soon as possible."

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