COUNTY councillors took a small step towards transparency this week by allowing the public into a probe of complaints against elected officials — only to censor the discussion.

Herefordshire Council’s standards panel convened to review a sample of complaints dealt with between October 1, 2018, and April 30, this year.

There were 15 complaints against 19 councillors during that period and the panel looked at how 11 of those had been dealt with.

But panel members kept any details which would identify those concerned with the complaints secret from discussions.

One case involved a complaint from someone who was allegedly racially abused by a councillor.

Despite this particular case resulting in a formal public apology from the councillor, the standards panel did not reveal his or her identity in agenda papers nor during the meeting.

Councillor Nigel Shaw asked if that specific case should have been referred to another authority due to its potentially criminal nature.

Speaking at the start of the meeting, independent person Jake Bharier, who chaired the panel, said standards and the behaviours of councils and councillors are matters of great public interest.

“To hold a review of that behaviour in private might be seen as detrimental to the interests of the council,” he said.

“There is also the question of whether it is possible to consider any of the material without identifying.

“Against that is the risk that during the course of the discussions we actually identify individuals in a way that would not be appropriate.”

Coun Peter Jinman said the principle of openness is one the council voted for last year.

“The question that arises in this particular instance is always one of individuals and the naming thereof,” he said.

“Indeed if you hold any of this in open session there is the question of can we withhold the name while dealing with the essence of.”