A controversial councillor on the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has lost his appeal against being censured for insulting two pro-Palestinian activists who criticised waste firm Veolia.
Brian Coleman, left, was ordered to apologise by Barnet council’s standards committee over emails sent in his role as its representative on the NLWA, having been censured for failing to treat others with respect under a code of conduct then in force.
Ron Cohen, a member of the public, wrote to Cllr Coleman to protest against a bid for an NWLA contract from Veolia Environmental Services UK because of the group’s waste contracts in Israel.
Cllr Coleman replied that he would “not entertain this anti-Israel nonsense”.
When Mr Cohen revealed himself to be an Israeli and said he supposed Cllr Coleman would “entertain an illegal occupation”, the councillor accused him of disloyalty to his country.
Another member of the public, Charlotte Jago, emailed in similar terms and Cllr Coleman described her message as “another cut and paste anti-Israel email duly ignored”.
When Dr Jago protested about Coleman’s remarks to NWLA chair Clyde Loakes and to Barnet’s then leader, the late Lynne Hillan, she received a further response from Coleman which said: “And I will continue to ignore this campaign from you and other anti-Zionists. In my book anti Zionism is just a modern form of anti-Semitism. I suppose 70 years ago you would have been in the Blackshirts”.
Coleman argued his remarks were protected against being found disrespectful because they were part of political debate, and were in any event made in private correspondence.
The tribunal considered whether the exchanges were political or “whether they were no more than expressions of abuse, annoyance and ill humour”.
It said Mr Cohen had been courteous and had been entitled to raise issues the issues concerned, but Cllr Coleman had “crossed the line into personal, offensive and insulting abuse which lacked any reflective content”.
His responses to Dr Jago were not political but “ill-tempered, irascible personal abuse”, it said.
The tribunal noted: “Both had the right to make the comments they did without being demeaned, abused and insulted for doing so by an elected representative, acting in their official capacity on behalf of the council.”
It also dismissed the argument that these were private insults since the correspondence went through Barnet’s system and was part of its record accessible under Freedom of Information legislation.