Councillor under fire over Scientology remark

South Wales Echo, UK/Jul 20, 2010

A comment on a social networking website about Scientology has left a councillor facing disciplinary action.

Cardiff councillor John Dixon is likely to have breached the code of conduct for local authority members with the short message last year, according to Wales' public standards watchdog.

The Church of Scientology, whose famous followers include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirsty Allie, made an official complaint after spotting the posting last year.

The Church, created by American science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, has a reputation for being fiercely litigious.

Councillor Dixon, who is Cardiff council's executive member for health and social services as well as being a web developer and microbiologist, is contesting the complaint, saying he was writing in a personal capacity.

The Liberal Democrat posted the controversial message on his Twitter account, then called CllrJohnDixon, when he was in London last year buying his wife-to-be a wedding ring. It said: "I didn't know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off."

In a follow-up comment after the Scientologists registered to receive all his Twitter posts, he posted: "Just realised the Scientologists are following me. Quick everyone, pretend you're out."

Coun Dixon did not want to comment yesterday and said he would make a public statement after the disciplinary process is completed.

He has since changed his name on the Twitter website to JohnLDixon to emphasise he is posting in a private capacity.

The complaint was made to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in December last year, nearly six months after the messages were posted on Twitter.

The Church alleged that the messages impinged on the right to religious freedom and were being made in an official capacity given the name CllrJohnDixon.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has issued a summary judgement in which he found that there is likely to have been a breach of the code of conduct and referred the complaint to Cardiff council's standards and ethics committee.

It is one of the more serious of the four options open to the ombudsman if he investigates a complaint, which are: to find there is no evidence; to uphold the complaint and take no action; to uphold the complaint and refer it to the relevant council's standards committee; or in the most serious cases to refer the finding to the adjudication panel for Wales.

No date has yet been set for the committee to hear the complaint against Coun Dixon, who represents the city's Adamsdown ward.

The Church of Scientology did not reply to requests for a comment yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales said ombusdman Peter Tyndall's decision would not become a matter of public record until it was used as evidence for the standards and ethics.

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