Councillor cleared of making underwear comment to female colleague

Saturday August 26th 2023

Councillor Bryan Pottinger Midlothian

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A Midlothian councillor has been cleared of an allegation he made a ‘disrespectful’ comment to a female colleague about her underwear at a local event.

A complaint was lodged against Scottish Labour Councillor Bryan Pottinger with the Standards Commission alleging the Midlothian East ward member had “behaved disrespectfully and harassed a female councillor by making an inappropriate comment about her underwear during a verbal exchange between them”.

However at a hearing by the commission in Midlothian Council chambers this week, the panel cleared the councillor of breaching the Councillors’ Code of Conduct after saying it was possible the female complainant, who was not named, had ‘misheard’ him.

The panel acknowledged witnesses had testified the complainer was upset after the conversation which served to support her version of events but added the only witness who had overheard the conversation was clear in her testimony that Cllr Pottinger had not mentioned the complainer’s underwear.

They said given this and the fact that the panel was unable to choose between Cllr Pottinger’s and the complainer’s versions of events, it was unable to conclude, on balance, that it was more likely than not that Cllr Pottinger had made the comment as alleged.

The panel said it considered it was possible the complainer had misheard what was said.

Helen Donaldson, chair of the hearing panel, said: “The panel was in no doubt that the allegations before it were serious, and would have amounted to a breach of the Code.

“However, in light of the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel did not find the complaint to be established n the balance of probabilities.

“The panel found both the complainer (the female councillor) and respondent, Cllr Pottinger, to be credible and reliable witnesses.

“Having heard from various other individuals who had been at the event, the Panel was unable to conclude, on balance, that it was more likely than not that Cllr Pottinger had made the comment as alleged.

“A breach of the Code therefore could not be found.”

A full written decision of the Hearing will be issued and published on the Standards Commission’s website within 14 working days.

Cllr Pottinger has been contacted for comment.

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