FORMER Chester City Council leader John Price MBE has been cleared of bringing his office or the council into disrepute.
The Labour group leader and Blacon councillor faced allegations connected to his friendship with a council officer who went to prison for 20 months for stealing £90,000 from his former employer and disabled people.
But the Standards Board for England decided no action should be taken against Cllr Price following a complaint by the city council’s audit committee, chaired by Tory Cllr Ed Jonas.
However, Cllr Price was ticked off for failing to declare an interest during a discussion in cabinet about the city council-funded disability charity Chester Access Group, from which former city council principal access officer Tim Metcalfe stole the money.
Cllr Price was profoundly affected by what he considered to be betrayal by his former friend.
He said he was relieved the matter was over and felt the inquiry had gone on far too long. He believes he was the victim of a political campaign by the Conservatives.
Cllr Price, a passionate believer in improving access for disabled people, became close to Metcalfe when he chaired the Chester Access Group (CAG) and Metcalfe was treasurer. Metcalfe defrauded the council by raising fraudulent cheques.
He managed finances for the Frodsham Street-based Shopmobility scheme – which hired out scooters – including salaries, using cheques drawn from the CAG account. Councillor Price was one of the two signatories needed on CAG cheques in addition to the officer’s.
The ethical standards officer noted that Councillor Price was acting in his capacity of chairman of CAG and not in his capacity as councillor when he signed the cheques.
There was no evidence on his part of personal gain or of any awareness that the officer was acting dishonestly.
The ethical standards officer therefore did not find that Councillor Price had brought his office or authority into disrepute when he counter-signed the cheques.
However, on June 9, 2005, the cabinet, with Councillor Price present, considered a report which contained positive references to the principal access officer and proposals for CAG, some of which it was later found had been fabricated.
The ethical standards officer found that, in not declaring an interest in this item, Councillor Price breached the council’s code of conduct.
The ethical standards officer found Cllr Price should have recorded his position within CAG in the council’s register of interests for 2005 and 2006 but she was unable to conclude whether he had done so or not.