Investigation rejects Robert Doyle’s 'signal' excuse for grabbing councillor’s thigh

Robert Doyle has strenuously denied all claims of sexual harassment against him. Source: Getty

An investigation of sexual misconduct claims against Robert Doyle has made damning findings against the former Melbourne lord mayor.

Former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle groped female councillors and tried to kiss one after drinking "substantial amounts of red wine", an independent investigation has found.

Four adverse findings have been made against the long-serving mayor backing harassment claims made by former councillor Tessa Sullivan and Councillor Cathy Oke.

Ian Freckelton QC was brought in to investigate after Ms Sullivan resigned from the council and made the allegations in December.

His report, made public in part on Tuesday, made findings including that Mr Doyle grabbed Ms Sullivan’s breast in May 2017 when the pair were in the chauffer-driven mayoral car.

In another instance, Mr Doyle put his hand on Ms Oke’s thigh several times, the report found, and he attempted to kiss her after he asked her into his office following a meeting.

According to the council summary of the report, investigators rejected Mr Doyle’s explanation that “his touching of Ms Oke was a signal to her that he was impressed by a candidate for a job”.

Mr Doyle, who resigned as lord mayor after the allegations were levelled, has strenuously denied all claims.

He was admitted to hospital after the claims were aired.

Councillor Cathy Oke, one of Doyle's accusers, at a special council meeting on Tuesday.
Councillor Cathy Oke, one of Doyle's accusers, at a special council meeting on Tuesday.

The investigation used what is known as the “Briginshaw standard” which requires them to be “reasonably satisfied” of specific allegations. It is a lower standard of proof than the criminal standard which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The council report also notes that Ms Sullivan raised a number of other matters about Mr Doyle’s conduct that was not upheld by investigators.

Investigation into third complainant suspended

An investigation into allegations by a third complainant has been suspended until Mr Doyle is well enough to respond.

Melbourne City Council CEO Ben Rimmer said if Mr Doyle had not resigned in February, “it would undoubtedly have been necessary for the Council and I to consider what further action to take in light of the adverse findings”.

He said Ms Sullivan had taken a “courageous personal step” in making the complaint that prompted the investigation.

“It is a matter of regret that Ms Sullivan felt she had no alternative than to resign as a Councillor. Ms Sullivan's complaint was taken extremely seriously from the moment she raised it with the administration.”

An emotional Ms Oke told a special council meeting on Tuesday the experience had taken a toll.

“Women don’t speak out because we fear that if the wrong person is unwittingly spoken to it could mean a leak, a breach of confidentiality,” she said.

Mr Rimmer said the council will review its policy on the consumption of alcohol at the town hall on Tuesday evenings.

Mr Rimmer also said the full report will not be released for privacy reasons.

Doyle still "extremely unwell": wife

Mr Doyle's wife, Emma Page-Campbell, said in a statement that her husband continues to deny all allegations. 

She noted that only one of eight original allegations raised by Ms Sullivan were upheld. 

"This finding, however, is not accepted by Robert," she said. 

Ms Page-Campbell said Mr Doyle had apologised for his previous behaviour that may "no longer be appropriate by today's standards", describing it as a result of his "cheerful and oftentimes animated personality", rather than sexually inappropriate. 

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