OXFORD’S Lord Mayor has been censured for making an “inappropriate and disrespectful” remark to a schoolgirl.
An investigation was launched after it was claimed Alan Armitage told a 13-year-old girl “It’s sexy when you bend down like that” at a sporting event in Iffley Road last June.
Almost nine months later, the city council’s standards committee met at the Town Hall yesterday and agreed Mr Armitage had breached the councillors’ code of conduct.
The committee felt his behaviour brought both the position of the Lord Mayor and the city council into disrepute.
Yesterday the committee found it was “highly probable” the Liberal Democrat councillor for North ward did make an inappropriate comment to a member of an under-13 sports team.
However, councillors on the committee said there was “no reason” why Mr Armitage should not continue with the full range of his mayoral duties.
The public and press were barred from the hearing, as councillors decided his fate.
Afterwards, the council issued a decision notice which said: “The committee considered the remark was inappropriate and disrespectful.
“The committee decided that Councillor Armitage should be censured for the breach of the code.”
Mr Armitage disputes the version of events in the report by independent investigator Richard Penn, and says he intends to continue his duties as Lord Mayor.
Mr Penn’s report says he interviewed Mr Armitage on October 10 last year and the Lord Mayor accepted that he may have used the word ‘sexy’, but felt the word was now used in common parlance to describe “lots of things”.
“I regret the whole thing very much,” he told the Oxford Mail after attending the hearing, which included evidence from a number of witnesses.
“But there is no single version of what was said that was endorsed by all the witnesses.
“I am absolutely sure I did not say ‘bending’ because in the context it is an inappropriate word to use.
“I think it is very unlikely that I said the word ‘sexy’, and that is what I have said all along, but in any case I do not believe it (the word) has any sexual connotation.
“I think it is very unlikely that I would have used the word ‘sexy’ to a 13-year-old girl, but I cannot remember exactly how the repartee went.
“It was a confused, rowdy event, with a lot of people wanting a photo.
“I may have said something like ‘best if you stand next to me’ and that could have been misheard as containing the words ‘bending’ and ‘sexy’. However, I don’t believe the girls lied.”
The hearing was held behind closed doors on the basis the schoolgirl and other witnesses could not be identified, and that it was “not in the public interest” and following advice from Jeremy Thomas, the council’s head of law and governance.
Last night Jean Fooks, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “We will now look at the report in full to consider whether any disciplinary action should be taken.”
City council leader Bob Price was unavailable for comment.
The county council issued a statement saying it “noted” the decision about Mr Armitage, who is also a county councillor for West Central Oxford.
It earlier investigated the incident as a child protection matter and concluded that Mr Armitage did not represent a risk to children.