Domestic abuse charities accuse West Northamptonshire Council of 'inaction' over ex-leader claims

Jonathan Nunn, leader of West Northamptonshire Council, is under pressure to resign.
West Northamptonshire Council's former leader Jonathan Nunn stepped down over allegations of domestic violence and abuse. Credit: ITV Anglia

Charities have criticised a council for "inaction" over domestic violence allegations against its former leader, warning it sends a "dangerous message".

Jonathan Nunn, who was leader of West Northamptonshire Council, last week faced fresh allegations of abuse and assault.

He denied the "unfounded" allegations, but resigned as leader on Thursday following pressure from opposition groups, saying that the matter had had "a massive impact on [his] mental health and wellbeing".

The council's chief executive, Anna Earnshaw, said the authority encouraged victims to seek support and report to police, but did not have powers to remove any councillor.

She was responding to an open letter by five domestic charities, expressing "deep concerns" over how the council handled the matter.

The letter read: "The council have said repeatedly that domestic abuse is a personal matter and investigation is a matter for the police: this is a dangerous message."

They said it suggested such allegations, in the council's eyes, were "not a serious matter, is not important, nor is it your (the council's) business".

They add that "it risks setting our campaign against domestic abuse back years - and closer to where domestic abuse was seen as a private family matter that happened behind closed doors and definitely not talked about".

The letter was signed by Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service, Eve, Northamptonshire Rape Crisis, Creating Equalz and Black Women’s Domestic Abuse Group.

Mr Nunn already has a conviction for assaulting his former wife in 2004.

The charities said "only a third of victims contact the police; therefore, framing it in this way is both damaging for our work in the sector and dangerous for victims".

"In any other professional environment, an employee would be suspended pending investigation," the letter adds.

"It is curious and unfathomable that you would not do the same, at the very least to safeguard vulnerable people and to protect the reputation of West Northamptonshire Unitary Authority."

They said suspension would be a preventative and protective measure, not an assumption of guilt.

They ended the letter saying the council had "the unusual opportunity to send a strong message of zero tolerance to domestic abuse, which could influence generations to come".

In response, West Northamptonshire Council chief executive Ms Earnshaw said she understood the concerns and "how the council’s actions may be perceived".

“They are right to raise these issues as there is a clear danger of mixed messages or an incorrect perception that the council and myself do not stand by all victims and organisations who fight to stop all domestic violence.

“I would like to assure them that at no time has the allegation of domestic abuse received by the council been downplayed or downgraded."

She said officers did not have legal powers to suspend or remove an elected councillor.

Councillors can only be removed under certain circumstances, including bankruptcy, holding convictions within the last five years, committing sexual offences or not attending meetings, she said.

Ms Earnshaw said she would be contacting the charities to propose a meeting.

As he stepped down, Mr Nunn said: "With all this having a massive impact on my mental health and wellbeing, I have decided to step down as council leader while I deal with these issues.

"I have never been anything but open and honest about my previous conviction for assault and a community order 20 years ago, speaking about this publicly and this being a matter of public record for many years, since before I was elected as a borough and now a unitary councillor by members of the public and became council leader."

He had previously said that domestic abuse was "never acceptable" and he regretted his past mistakes.

He had been due to face a confidence vote on his leadership on 9 May.

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