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Mayor resigns as backlash grows over 'sexy' comment to schoolgirl, 13
OXFORD’S Lord Mayor has resigned after “inappropriate and disrespectful” comments he made to a schoolgirl prompted a backlash.
Lib Dem city councillor Alan Armitage was censured by fellow politicians last week after a standards hearing found he had broken the councillors’ code of conduct by allegedly telling a 13-year-old “it’s sexy when you bend down like that”.
He has since been criticised for claiming the word “sexy” did not have sexual connotations, and for questioning the integrity of witnesses’ evidence.
In his resignation letter, issued yesterday, Mr Armitage said: “Despite the decision of the standards committee on February 27 which stated that ‘there was no reason why Councillor Armitage should not continue to undertake the full range of his mayoral duties’, I have been made aware in recent days that this does not represent the view of all councillors.
“I therefore resign from my position as Lord Mayor, with immediate effect, so that the council may find another person in whom they all have confidence to carry out the duties of the role.”
He declined to comment further. Last week the council’s standards committee ruled that it was “highly probable” Mr Armitage made an inappropriate comment to a member of an under-13 sports team at an event last June.
But the committee said there was “no reason” Mr Armitage should not continue as Lord Mayor. Oxford Mail readers disagreed, however, with 83 per cent responding to an online poll saying he should stand down.
And yesterday, before the resignation was announced, a group that works with vulnerable children and young adults across the county said it would not use city council venues for its events until Mr Armitage stood down.
Anne Louise Avery, of Flash of Splendour, said Mr Armitage’s planned presence at the Queen’s visit to Christ Church Cathedral later this month would give “a very worrying and disturbing subtext about the city’s treatment of children and young women”.
The investigation into the comments made last June has marred most of Mr Armitage’s time in office, which has now been cut short in the wake of significant local and national media attention.
Council leader Bob Price said: “I think the fact that he had been found to have said something which was unwise and quite inappropriate meant that he lost the confidence of a large proportion of members of council.”
Labour city councillor Oscar Van-Nooijen called for Mr Armitage to apologise for “the distress that this event and the subsequent proceedings have caused the young person concerned and her family”.
And Green Party councillor Craig Simmons said: “He has lost the confidence of many councillors, and the public, partly because, even after the standards committee ruling, he has failed to recognise the significance of his actions.”
The Liberal Democrats’ regional branch is currently deliberating about whether or not it will take internal action against Mr Armitage.
City council Lib Dem group leader Jean Fooks said she thought it was the “right decision under the circumstances”.
A special council meeting will be held this week to appoint a new Lord Mayor to serve until May.
Oxford's current deputy Lord Mayor Mohammed Abbasi is expected to be appointed to the post until May, when fellow Labour councillor and current Sheriff of Oxford Dee Sinclair will take over.
The 70-year-old retired telephone engineer is expected to automatically rise to the role next year anyway after serving a year as sheriff, but will now get an early taste of life in the Mayor’s chair.
He was not aware of Mr Armitage’s resignation until he was contacted by the Oxford Mail yesterday afternoon.
He said: “If I have to do it, I will do it and I will be honoured to do it.
“I think he has made the right decision because there was a lot of pressure on him.”
July 3, 2012: In an interview, Mr Armitage denied making the “sexy” comment. He said that he “recognised they were children but, in order not to patronise them, he treated them the same as everyone else”.
July 26: Mr Armitage wrote an email to all city councillors. He claimed there was “no truth in the allegation” and that he was “determined to fight this one until I get a retraction and am cleared by the standards committee”.
August 2: Mr Armitage wrote to the city council monitoring officer, claiming the report from county officers did not “adequately describe the occasion at which the alleged incident took place”. He added: “There is no handbook that I know of which tells you precisely how to cope in such situations without running the risk of offending somebody.”
October 10: Following an interview with Mr Armitage, independent investigator Richard Penn said: “He cannot guarantee that he did not say something to the child involved because he did engage with some of the children. Councillor Armitage accepted that he may have used the word ‘sexy’ but said that this word no longer had the same connotation as it has had previously.”
January 16, 2013: A standards committee hearing was opened. The council confirmed Mr Armitage had told legal chiefs he wanted to challenge some elements of the report.
January 25: Mr Armitage contacted the council claiming the county council evidence had been reproduced without challenge or comment, and said: “Was the evidence of the girl witnesses seriously contaminated as a result of them talking among themselves during the week after the incident?”
February 27: The standards committee concluded that Mr Armitage had breached the code of conduct, and censured him. In response, he told the Oxford Mail: “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.”
February 28: Mr Armitage told the Oxford Mail: “I am certainly not planning to give up the position of Lord Mayor because the city council has said they wanted me to carry on.”