Laptop porn shame of Whitby councillor

AN ESK Valley borough councillor has been censured for viewing pornography on a laptop paid for by taxpayers.

Coun Jim Preston was found to have visited pornographic, obscenee or indecent sites between July 2007 and June 2008.

A police probe found no criminal activity had taken place.

Coun Preston co-operated with the investigation throughout.

Scarborough Council's Standards Committee censured Coun Preston on Tuesday.

A council IT manager raised the alarm after the laptop was brought in for maintenance and evidence found it had been used to access pornographic material.

When interviewed about the allegation, Coun Preston who lives in Iburndale, initially said he had viewed one or two sites which could be viewed as inapproporiate over a fortnight.

But when he was shown a list of sites he had visited produced by the council's computer forensics consultants, he then accepted they had been viewed over a two -year period.

The investigation concluded Coun Preston had breached the council's Internet Code of Practice which prohibits the use of computers supplied by the council to access images of a pornographic, indecent and or/obscene nature.

Coun Preston did not download any images.

The report stated he made the point in his first interview that he did not notice the Internet Code of Practice included in his induction pack and only read it after this matter was brought to his attention.

The scheme to give councillors laptops was launched in February 2003 at a cost of 60,000, which was funded by a Government grant. Coun Preston was one of the first five councillors to get them.

Councillors also get a 225 members allowance towards their internet connection, paper, printer and ink paid for by Scarborough Council

This summer, 35 councillors including Coun Preston, got a 550 new laptop funded by the council's Corporate IT Fund which finances hardware placement, PCs and laptops

The committee's decision report states: "The committee have considered

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ccarefully whether to restrict your access to a laptop computer in future.

"However, the committee were concerned that this would impact upon your constituency work.

"The committee note that you have attended here today before it which has without doubt been an ordeal for you. You have also provided an apology to the council.

"Your apology is accepted by the committee and your conduct is censured and that will be the limit of the sanction imposed upon you.

"However, you should be in no doubt that were there a repetition, the committee would consider a further breach to be a very serious matter."

A spokeswoman for Scarborough Council said they would not release details of the sites Mr Preston visited. She also declined to comment.

Coun Preston said in a statement: "I have appeared before the Standards Committee over alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct. It was investigated fully by the police and the police made a statment finding that no criminal offences had been committed and that the investigation was closed.

"The committee considered the reports and had various options available to them in the form of any punishment and I have been censured and they are returning the laptop computer to me so there's obviously no problem."