Additional reporting by political editor Paul Francis
A councillor’s conduct has been branded “inappropriate” after he made comments about a woman’s appearance - before taking her hand and moving her wedding bands around her finger.
Kent County Council (KCC) received complaints from two women that Cllr Alan Marsh, who represents Herne and Sturry, made them feel uncomfortable during interactions during and after committee meetings.
Cllr Marsh has been suspended for 21 days by the Conservative group at County Hall, which is considering what action should be taken. It could lead to his expulsion from the party.
One complainant says the former Conservative councillor asked for her private phone number - and also commented on her age and appearance at a meeting last year.
Another woman claimed Cllr Marsh had commented on her clothes and appearance, asked about her age and stood very close to her.
She also alleged that after a committee meeting in January last year, he moved her wedding bands around her finger while holding her hand.
But Cllr Marsh claimed he interacted with both women “in order to be friendly but remained professional throughout”.
The authority’s cross-party standards committee, which considers complaints made about misconduct and is responsible for maintaining high standards of behaviour, considered the allegations at a hearing in January.
A report published this month has concluded he breached the code of conduct in both allegations made by the two women.
Mr Marsh has been a county councillor since 2005 and was an aviation consultant and test pilot for 40 years.
He had been chairman of the council’s planning committee but has been removed from that role pending the outcome of the investigation.
He is now listed as an independent councillor on KCC’s website after the Conservative whip was removed last year while the investigation into the allegations was carried out.
Cllr Marsh was re-elected in 2021, comfortably winning the seat with a 60% share of the vote.
In a report released on Friday, KCC’s standards committee detailed that it had received complaints Cllr Marsh made two women “feel uncomfortable” during and after committee meetings.
The first complainant made allegations the councillor asked for her private phone number - and also commented on her age and appearance at a meeting in January last year.
The report said: “Mr Marsh interacted with the complainant in an inappropriate manner, in terms of being too close - both in terms of personal space and in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic - and making comments about her age and appearance.
“The panel determined there was no sexual motivation in this behaviour but noted that there was an inherent power imbalance between Mr Marsh and the complainant and this contributed to the behaviour being inappropriate.”
However, the committee accepted he had a “reasonable justification to seek professional contact details” as part of his “understanding of future working arrangements”.
And it accepted his intention was not “malicious” and his comments about age related to “assessing professional experience”.
But the report added the panel determined the request for private contact details was itself “inappropriate” in terms of member and officer relations. It found the complaint represented a breach of the code of conduct.
The second complaint detailed how Cllr Marsh commented on the woman’s clothes and professional appearance, asked about her age, stood very close to her and did not appear to welcome or engage with her professional contributions.
It was also alleged Mr Marsh took her left hand to look at her wedding bands and moved them around her finger following a committee meeting in January last year.
The report said: “The panel found Mr Marsh demonstrated a lack of awareness and consideration in making statements relating the complainant’s professionalism to her appearance.
“It was determined his conduct in approaching and taking the complainant's hand, so as to inspect her wedding ring, was inappropriate.
“The panel noted Mr Marsh should have considered the need to respect people’s personal space.”
KCC’s standards committee determined his conduct had caused harm to the complainants and had brought the authority into disrepute.
The hearing recommended “consideration should be given as to the appropriateness” of appointing him to any committee position or portfolio responsibilities.
It has also instructed for relevant training to be given to him.
Cllr Marsh declined to comment when approached by KentOnline.
Councillors are required to abide by KCC’s code of conduct, which is based on the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by an inquiry into standards headed by Lord Nolan in 1994.