East Devon District Council could not have taken any action against former Exmouth councillor John Humphreys while he was under investigation for sex offences, an independent report has concluded.

In August 2021 Humphreys was jailed for sexually assaulting boys. He had been arrested in 2016 and continued as a district councillor until 2019 – later that year being given the title of Honorary Alderman, which was removed after his conviction.

Following speculation about who within the council had known about the allegations against him while he was a serving member, EDDC commissioned an independent report, which has now been completed.

Confidentiality issues

It concludes that, while there were rumours about the investigation, the only person who had been officially told about it was EDDC’s Monitoring Officer. He was made aware before Humphreys was arrested, but he was told by police not to share the information because this could prejudice their inquiries.

The report says this put the Monitoring Officer in an ‘unenviable position’, and adds that it is not clear why such strict confidentiality was still needed after Humphreys’ arrest.

But between his arrest and his conviction, it was up to Humphreys to disclose this information to EDDC. The report states: “There is no evidence that Humphreys directly told anyone about his arrest, pending investigation or trial. The behavioural standards set for councillors primarily rely on individuals doing the right thing in an honest and open manner. Humphreys did not do this.”

Child safeguarding

The report also looked at child safeguarding issues. It found that Humphreys did come into contact with children and young people at council premises while he was under investigation. There is no evidence that any harm occurred to any child or young person present during this time, but the report did raise concerns: “Irrespective of where the responsibility lies, one of the effects of the way this case was handled was that someone who had allegedly committed serious sexual offences held positions of responsibility until he was tried and convicted.

“None of his formal positions at EDDC, or his work in the community at large was ever subject to a risk assessment that may have identified whether any children or young people were at risk from him.”

The report's recommendations

The report, by independent consultants Verita, puts forward several recommendations, and these will be discussed at a special meeting of the full East Devon District Council on Thursday, March 23.

They include new guidelines on the council’s safeguarding policy, and refresher training for employees and councillors alike. The report also recommends that EDDC should reform the process of appointing Honorary Aldermen.

East Devon district councillor Jess Bailey (Independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare) said: "This report contains really important recommendations for EDDC which I hope the council will accept in full. 

"I worked really hard to initiate this investigation in the face of considerable reluctance from some quarters, including some council officials. In my view safeguarding must be a priority to ensure that we protect the young people in our district. This report will help us achieve that."