THE former Conservative group leader of Bury Council has been cleared of breaching the code of conduct in an independent review of the council's handling of an historic safeguarding case.

The standards committee met yesterday to consider Cllr Ian Gartside's actions during the Newsam Review into the council’s reaction to the allegations about former councillor Simon Carter.

A subsequent report, the Bourne Review, looked at the conduct of members of the council in respect of issues raised in the Newsam Review.

Cllr Gartside was brought before the panel to answer allegations he had failed to co-operate with the Newsam Review as leader of the Conservative group at the time, that as Conservative leader he was a conduit for information to and from his group and so it was crucial he co-operate and that he did not disclose a letter to the review which he received in 2015.

The letter was an email sent on November 27, 2015 by then chief executive Mike Owen, which set out a timeline setting of the council’s response to being informed about a police investigation into Carter.

This letter was never submitted to the Newsam Review and Cllr Gartside never met with Mr Newsam.

Giving evidence at the panel, Cllr Gartside detailed action he and the Conservative group had taken before the Newsam Review began, including sending Freedom of Information requests and asking questions in council and of officers, like Mr Owen.

One of which resulted in Cllr Gartside receiving the letter and distributing it to the Conservative group.

As the letter was sent in 2015 and the Newsam Review began more than a year later, Cllr Gartside said at the time he was not aware of its importance and that at the time of receiving it there had been ‘no alarm bells’.

He said repeatedly that at the time he felt "reticent" to participate in the Newsam inquiry because he did not know the terms of the investigation.

He added he had not disclosed details that Malcolm Newsam was investigating because he felt bound by a gentleman’s agreement between himself and Labour Cllr Rishi Shori.

Both Cllr Gartside and Cllr Shori, who gave evidence as a witness, agreed a telephone conversation had taken place in which Cllr Gartside expressed ‘reticence’ about taking part.

Cllr Shori recalled Cllr Gartside as saying he was not the "lead" on the Conservative group on the matter and so another councillor would be better assisting Mr Newsam.

Cllr Gartside said he did not remember this context but felt there were "others that were more interested".

Cllr Gartside said no one else in the Conservative group knew the Newsam report was being carried out until Cllr James Daly was told about it the day before he became the Conservative group leader in February, 2017.

Cllr Gartside said: “I agreed to keep conversations confidential and didn’t think it was incumbent on me to approach the councillor. But, what I did expect was Cllr Shori or a senior manager to contact them and invite them to participate.”

Carter, a former Tottington ward councillor, pleaded guilty in July, 2015, to 16 counts of making indecent images of children and was given a community order at Bolton Crown Court in September that year.

The Newsam Review began in December, 2016, and the panel was shown documents showing Mr Newsam wished to speak with Cllr Gartside to address "any concerns you have and that you have the opportunity to discuss these with him".

A time was set aside for Mr Newsam to call but Cllr Gartside missed the call and he gave evidence that he was working at the time.

The panel was shown an email from Mr Newsam to Cllr Gartside, which asked the councillor to arrange a convenient time and said: “If you do not want to take part in this review I would be grateful if you could formally acknowledge that.”

Cllr Gartside gave evidence that he had never read that email.

A Bury Labour Group spokesman said after the hearing: "Cllr Gartside actively frustrated an independent investigation, by failing to disclose key evidence which is, quite frankly, extraordinary.

"This documentation would have led to much swifter disciplinary action being taken against senior officers rather than them being suspended on full pay for months at the taxpayer's expense.

"Cllr Gartside admitted at the hearing that in ‘hindsight’ he should have disclosed the information and also that he was ‘reticent’ to take part in the investigation.

"The Conservatives' words do not match their deeds. Throughout, they have claimed to champion this issue, but inexplicably failed to disclose information that only they had.

"In fact, their actions helped hinder an independent investigation, instigated by the Labour Party, that was designed to hold the most senior officers in the council to account.

"All politicians need to learn from this, and act with the highest level of honesty and integrity that the public rightly expects.”