A member of Brightlingsea Town Council has been removed from public-facing roles after inadvertently sharing "obscene material" to a local WhatsApp group.
Michael Judson was asked by the council to resign as a member after his video message – which Brightlingsea Info understands featured only him and was intended for his partner – went public by mistake. It was seen by several people in the town and subsequently referred to on local social media.
However, Cllr Judson, a councillor for around nine years with 'special area' responsibilities for the Hard and harbour, and transport and highways, refused to step down – and the council has no power to force him to do so.
At a meeting on Thursday, December 9, councillors discussed the following motion: 'This council is aware that Cllr Michael Judson has forwarded obscene material to a WhatsApp group that has unfortunately been forwarded throughout the Brightlingsea community. Cllr Judson does not wish to resign. Whilst he was acting in a private capacity at the time, it is nevertheless felt that the reputation of the Town Council is left at risk of being adversely affected. Hence it is proposed that Cllr Judson is removed immediately from all positions of responsibility, including CCCs and committees, and that he is no longer considered for any outside representative duties."
Town mayor Jayne Chapman said she "never ever thought she would have to read a motion like that" and felt that the Nolan principles of integrity and accountability had been compromised by the "circulation of this unfortunate video which impacts on this council and the public".
Reading a written statement, Cllr Judson said he was "deeply embarrassed and disappointed in myself" and apologised for any embarrassment caused to councillors. "I have made a terrible mistake when sending a private message to my partner. I simply pressed the wrong button," he said.
He told councillors that he would continue to serve the people who elected him and take an active part in the council, claiming that it would be "senseless to waste my efforts" if he was forbidden from carrying out his council responsibilities but still able to attend council meetings. "That would seem to be silly," he said, adding: "I ask you not to throw me on the scrapheap based on one silly mistake. I have talents – please use them."
Deputy mayor Mick Barry said the council accepted that what had happened was a "catastrophic error of judgement" and that its action was "not a case of moral judgment on what was right or wrong". He told Cllr Judson that he had to recognise that he was "not just a member of the public, you're a town councillor and that position as a community leader expects and requires certain standards of behaviour and accountability".
Cllr Barry added: "However it happened, and however private it was intended to be, it has to have some consequences for anyone in the position of councillor. It cannot simply be ignored."
Councillors approved the motion by a majority of 8-2 and agreed that Cllr Judson's position with regard to the council's special areas could be reviewed at some point in the future.