An investigation into former Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle concluded 3 instances of sexual harassment occurred after ‘substantial amounts of red wine’

Former Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

Former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle grabbed the breast of a former fellow councillor, tried to kiss another councillor and behaved inappropriately in another instance, an investigation into the incidents has found.

The long-awaited independent report by Dr Ian Freckelton QC, into allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct made by Tessa Sullivan and Councillor Cathy Oke, will not be released on confidentiality grounds, but a summary was presented to the council on the public record this afternoon by CEO Ben Rimmer.

It made four adverse findings that Rimmer said “relate to conduct that is inconsistent with the values of the organisation”.

It concluded that the former mayor “consumed substantial amounts of red wine” prior to each incident.

Doyle resigned as Lord Mayor on February 5, and is currently in hospital with health issues.

The Freckelton report, about the allegations by Sullivan and Oke, was handed to Rimmer on March 11. The CEO said he expects a further report into additional allegations by a third complainant, but that investigation has been suspended until Doyle, who had cooperated with the initial inquiry, was well enough to respond.

The report says Doyle “stated clearly throughout the investigation that he either did not engage in the acts constituted by the allegations or that his conduct in engaging in them was not sexually inappropriate”.

Rimmer said that had Doyle stayed on as Lord Mayor “it would undoubtedly have been necessary for the Council and I to consider what further action to take in light of the adverse findings”.

The CEO said the report led him to conclude that “Council was not a safe workplace for the two women involved” and the conduct the investigators found proven could constitute both sexual harassment and gross misconduct under the relevant Acts.

When Sullivan resigned as a city councillor last December, she made a series of complaints about sexual harassment by Doyle during 2017.

The majority were not upheld by the investigators, because they “were not sufficiently satisfied of based on the Briginshaw [balance of probabilities] standard”, but they did find that last May, the former mayor grabbed Sullivan’s right breast with his hand after they’d been driven home together.

Here is the summary given to council of the incidents the report accepted had happened and the circumstances:

1. On Tuesday 2 May 2017, the following incident occurred in circumstances of sexual inappropriateness. The Lord Mayor’s driver transported both Councillor Sullivan and the Lord Mayor from the workplace to their homes.

The Lord Mayor was driven home first. He was seated in the front passenger seat and Councillor Sullivan was seated directly behind him.

The Lord Mayor got out of the car at his address, opened the passenger door where Councillor Sullivan was seated, embraced her with his right arm and with his left hand, deliberately reached in and placed it on her right breast.

Councillor Sullivan slapped his hand away, causing him to cease his conduct.

2. On or about 4 December 2014 whilst Ms Cathy Oke was a Councillor, the following sexually inappropriate conduct occurred.

Councillor Oke, the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mayne and another were at Lupino Bistro and Bar at 41 Little Collins Restaurant as part of an informal process to select a candidate for the position of Chief Executive Officer.

The Lord Mayor had consumed alcohol. Councillor Oke was seated beside the Lord Mayor.

On a number of occasions, the Lord Mayor placed his hand on Councillor Oke’s thigh so that his fingers were below her groin area stretched over her thigh. He moved his hand in a sexually inappropriate manner on her inner thigh, including on her inner thigh.

On each occasion Councillor Oke brushed his hand away. This occurred three to four times until Councillor Oke prevented him from continuing his conduct by moving her chair from the vicinity of the Lord Mayor.

3. On another occasion in late 2016 or early 2017, on a Tuesday evening after a Council meeting, namely whilst Ms Oke was a Councillor, the Lord Mayor behaved in a sexually inappropriate way toward her in the following way. He asked her to come into his office on her own after both parties had consumed alcohol at a Tuesday post-Council meeting dinner.

Councillor Oke went with the Lord Mayor into his office but before she could leave he embraced her and attempted to kiss her on the mouth, causing her to push him away and resulting in her leaving his office to get away from him and avoid his overtures.

4. Each of these matters (1, 2 and 3), which have been found established, occurredin the context of the Lord Mayor having consumed substantial amounts of red wine.

Following its release, Sullivan used Twitter to say she was “relieved the truth is out”.

Doyle’s wife, Emma Page-Campbell, issued her own statement saying her husband continues to deny the allegations, but conceded his “cheerful” personality “may no longer be appropriate by today’s standards”.

The Acting Lord Mayor and Councillors issued a statement saying, in part:

Council deplores violence against women in all of its forms.

As Councillors, we are deeply concerned about the findings of the independent investigation, which concerns our workplace and colleagues. As a Council, we are united in ensuring such behaviour does not occur again.

Further, we are hopeful that this difficult period for the City can serve as an example to other organisations and pave the way for significant reform, particularly for the workplace safety for councillors across Victoria.