‘Sleeping’ SNP councillor quits board over row

Aberdeen Council headquarters. Jaffrey has left her post on the licensing board. Picture: TSPL
Aberdeen Council headquarters. Jaffrey has left her post on the licensing board. Picture: TSPL
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A VETERAN SNP councillor in Aberdeen today claimed she had been “bullied and hounded” out of office after she quit her post on the licensing authority following claims that she had fallen asleep during a crucial vote.

Muriel Jaffrey, a former convener of Aberdeen Licensing Board, was accused of nodding off during a hearing where councillors voted to suspend the license of a city nightclub.

Last month Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle reversed the board’s decision, and lambasted the board for “misleading the court” by denying that the 73 year-old councillor had fallen asleep at the meeting.

Mrs Jaffrey, a Bridge of Don councillor who holds one of the largest majorities on the council, announced today that she was standing down from her role on the board because she had had enough of the “nonsense” surrounding her actions at last October’s board hearing.

She declared: “I am fed up of all this nonsense. It’s a load of rubbish and it is detracting from the main work of the licensing board and the serious business they have to get on with. And all this nonsense is keeping recurring and recurring.

“I have stepped down for the good of the licensing board and the reputation of Aberdeen City Council,”

Mrs Jaffrey, a widow who has been on the board for 11 years and was convener for five years, claimed: “I have been hounded and bullied by the press and the media. My constituents are absolutely furious about the rubbish they have been regurgitating. And every member of the council - all 42 other councillors of all political parties - have been fantastic, as have my constituents.”

She did, however, admit that she did not know for certain whether or not he had fallen asleep at last October’s board hearing.

Mrs Jaffrey explained that she regularly took strong painkillers for a problem in her lower spine. She continued: “I take medication and it does make one drowsy. I had a full meeting that morning. We only got half an hour for lunch because we were doing a second appeal and I think I did take more medication for the pain at lunchtime. So I may have nodded off - I don’t know.

“I can’t tell you if I fell asleep. I often sit with my eyes shut and listen to things and then come out with a pertinent question or whatever. I couldn’t tell you - even if I went on the witness box - if that day I actually fell asleep or not.

“But the way it has been portrayed has annoyed me . But I am a fighter - I fight for my people and I certainly fight for myself.”

Mrs Jaffrey, who also serves on the enterprise, planning and infrastructure committee, the development management sub committee and the Older People’s Group, said she had no intention of standing down from any of her other council posts.

She said: “I have been a councillor for nearly 14 years and I am one of the hardest working councillors in Aberdeen. If I don’t drop dead in the interim, I will be 77 at the next election and I am intending standing down then. But my constituents want me to keep going.”

Mrs Jaffrey found herself at the centre of the controversy following the licensing board’s decision last October to suspend the licence of a city nightclub, the Peal Lounge, following police reports of underage drinking and violence.

Sheriff Principal Pyle reversed the decision in a judgement issued last month, ruling that there were “serious breaches of natural justice” during the board’s hearing in October - failures that were put down to the “incompetence” of the board.

City council solicitors at first had denied that Mrs Jaffrey fell asleep during the hearing, but later said they would not contest the appeal.

In his ruling, Sheriff Pyle stated: “By denying Ms Jaffrey had fallen asleep, the defenders misled the court. That is a most serious charge – in many respects more serious than the breaches of natural justice during the hearing.

“It is particularly disappointing to record that about a public body which exercises a quasi-judicial function.”

He added: “In my opinion, (Aberdeen City Council) should look closely at the circumstances of this case to see what lessons can be learned, a recommendation that applies even more so to the members of Aberdeen Licensing Board.”

Councillor Callum McCaig, the leader of the SNP Group, said: “Muriel has decided to put the good of the council and the licensing board ahead of herself. I know that she enjoys the licensing board, however the pressure being put on her and the distraction this meant from the work of the board and her constituents has made this the only option.

“Muriel became the focus of the last appeal but it is very clear other procedural failings led to the successful appeal.”

He added: “I think it is a very honourable for her to step down in the interests of the board that she served on for so long.”