York Liberal Democrats criticise decision to ban woman from council meetings

The York Liberal Democrats group has criticised the City of York Council for banning a woman from public meetings for three months.

Gwen Swinburn, who often attends meetings at the West Offices in York on matters of governance, had a ban officially enforced after a senior council officer recommended a three month period away from council meetings.

Ms Swinburn was accused of libelling a council officer by saying they ‘do not have a clue what they are talking about’.

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The ban was officially enforced from 8am on February 26, until 8am on May 26, 2024.

Gwen SwinburnGwen Swinburn
Gwen Swinburn

Leader of the council, Coun Claire Douglas, said: “We do not comment on the handling of individual cases.

“Every member of the public has a right to be heard but the council equally has a legal duty of care to protect its staff from unwarranted attacks or criticism where staff are unable to defend themselves.

“So long as members of the public avoid personalised attacks in their comments they have nothing to worry about in exercising their democratic right.

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“We support the organisation in prioritising staff wellbeing.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands advice was sent from a senior council officer that any attempt to “circumvent” the restrictions would “be seen as an attempt to bully and demean staff.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “We have been asked not to comment on the specifics of this case.

“Members of the public should exercise caution when addressing members and officers.

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“Where individuals have overstepped the mark we would encourage them to apologise.

“However, we do not believe that banning residents from speaking at public meetings is the right course of action.

“There are concerns with the process of how this decision has been taken and such action if ever necessary should be a matter of last resort as indicated by the law.

“The council has brought more unfavourable media intention on itself by banning Ms Swinburn and by doing so has potentially caused more harm to the staff members involved.”

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