An urgent meeting later this month is expected to outline the Conservative party’s view on John Humphreys – the former East Devon and Exmouth Tory councillor was jailed in 2021 for historic sex offences.
East Devon District Council (EDDC) chief executive Mark Williams this week called an extraordinary general meeting, expected to take place in the week of September 19, after he received fresh correspondence from the Conservative party – thought to be the first since Humphreys was jailed for sexual abuse against two underage boys.
EDDC further postponed making a decision about the need for an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to them to award an honour to the former Conservative Councillor who was later sent to prison, writes local democracy reporter Georgia Cornish.
It follows new information being received from the Conservative party into the case involving John Humphreys, who is serving a 21-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting two teenage boys.
He was a prominent councillor at a time when the Conservatives controlled East Devon.
While the court case ended over a year ago, this is still an open case in the council.
In April EDDC councillors accepted a proposal for chief executive Mark Williams to provide a report to the council about whether it should commission an independent investigation into how, despite his 2016 arrest, Humphreys continued to serve as a councillor until May 2019.
He also retained his position as lead member for Exmouth and was even bestowed the honour of alderman in December 2019.
His arrest was not made public until he appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court in October 2020.
In the cabinet meeting on Wednesday (September 7), members heard from the chief executive, who changed his recommendations within an hour of the start of the meeting.
The report outlined the reasons Mr Williams advised against a separate independent investigation but in the meeting, he requested an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) and that “the CEO bring to that meeting an updated report incorporating the recently received correspondence from the Conservative Party, the proposed motion from Cllr Bailey and others and any other relevant update.”
This correspondence from the Conservatives was said to be the first meaningful exchange of communication from the party since Humphreys was sentenced in August 2021, and arrived just after 5pm on Wednesday, a fact that the leader of the council, Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley), described as “morally completely unacceptable”.
Mr Williams said: “I am sure this type of thing will happen again. Maybe a district council, maybe a parish council, or maybe a town council.”
“So that’s where you should be focusing your attention, in my opinion. But you’re the council, you can decide otherwise. But that’s why I don’t think it would be a proportionate use of public money merely to sort of focus in on Humphreys.” He concluded.
Councillor Jess Bailey (independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare) previously said she believed an investigation was necessary. She told the meeting that Mr Williams was being dismissive of an important issue.
“We spend an awful lot of money on an awful lot of things that are actually considerably less important than this,” she said.
“And I would actually disagree [with Mr Williams]. How many councillors, how many councils in the country have had a councillor convicted and sentenced for sexual abuse and sent to prison for 21 years? I would think there’s very few. It’s exceptionally serious.”
East Devon’s cabinet backed Mr Williams’s recommendation for an extraordinary general meeting. It is expected to take place on the week of September 19.
In April 2022 EDDC Councillors voted to commission an independent probe to investigate the circumstances into how Humphreys was nominated and presented with an aldermanship, and how he was allowed to continue in his position until May 2019, after his arrest in 2016.
In July this year it was announced EDDC members voted to write to Simon Jupp MP, calling for an urgent explanation from the Conservative party to clarify its vetting and safeguarding processes in East Devon – in relation to Humphreys – and seeking reassurance that any issues uncovered would be addressed and resolved.
John Humphreys who represented Exmouth, was awarded alderman status in recognition of his role as member champion for asset management (2010/11) and member champion/lead councillor for Exmouth Town from 2013/18). He held a number of other posts during the 12 years he was with the council, EDDC said.