A lengthy investigation into the behaviour of a parish council chairman during a land dispute has found him guilty of several code of conduct breaches.
Aston Clinton Parish councillor Richard Maskell became embroiled in a bitter land dispute with Dr Ed Peile and his wife Linda in 2012 after he claimed that the stream on the Peiles’ land at their home on Old Rectory Farm, belonged to the village.
Despite evidence that the stream was part of the Old Rectory Farm, plus strong legal advice warning him the council’s case would not win in court, Mr Maskell instructed the council’s groundsman to remove the fence along the edge of the stream.
The Peiles issued a complaint against Mr Maskell in April 2013, claiming he had abused his position to pursue the boundary dispute, and now after nearly two years, Aylesbury Vale District Council’s hearing sub-committee heard the findings of an independent investigator.
Councillor Maskell was found to have acted with misconduct likely to bring the council into disrepute; failed to provide leadership to the parish council by personal example; failed to take decisions for a good or substantial reason and failed to pay due regard to advice from the parish clerk.
Mr Maskell’s actions cost the council £80,000 in compensation and legal fees after settling with the Peiles out of court and as a result, the council tax precept soared by 40%.
In a statement the couple said: “We take no satisfaction from seeing anybody humiliated. However, we think it is essential that Councillor Maskell is made to face up to his wrongdoing and learn from the experience.
“We have been through a very painful experience. It should never have happened, and we are grateful to AVDC for the thorough investigation and hearing which have gone a long way to restoring our faith in democracy.”
Since the Peiles lodged their complaint, the pair have ‘commended’ the efforts of several councillors who tried to hold the chairman to account, but said the council’s ‘toxic culture’ during that period meant that four of them had no choice but to leave.
Mr Maskell, who has been chairman of the parish council since 2011, said: “The report sums it up and there’s nothing more to say. It’s in the public domain now, there it is.”
The chairman and parish councillors will now receive further training in governance under the recommendation of the hearing sub-committee.