Former council leader calls mayor ‘daft cow’ while unmuted on Zoom

A councillor called the local mayor a “daft cow” during an online council meeting after not realising his microphone was unmuted.   Alan Smith, who was the leader of Allerdale Borough Council in Cumbria until elections in July, was heard swearing and then directing the epithet at Hilary Harrington, a fellow councillor currently serving as mayor.   The Labour councillor’s ire had been provoked by Ms Harrington briefly taking advice from a council official off-screen during the otherwise routine meeting.  

Seconds after he called her a “daft cow”, Mr Smith’s face fell as he realised his microphone was turned on and his commentary had been broadcast not only to his fellow councillors but also members of the public watching from home.   Ms Harrington made no reference to the slur, but later in the meeting other council members condemned Mr Smith as “disgraceful”.   “I would just like to say how disgusted I am with the actions of Councillor Smith, absolutely disgraceful language for a former leader of this council,” George Kemp said.  


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“It’s an absolutely disgraceful thing he has done and he should be ashamed of himself.”

The embarrassed Mr Smith had quickly apologised after a brief adjournment for his “derogatory remark”, explaining “it was totally out of conduct for me to have my microphone unmuted, I didn’t know I was unmuted”. Ms Harrington said she accepted his apology, although noted she did not make such remarks about people whether her microphone was on or off. Later she asked other councillors to stop bringing up the incident, before it brought her to tears.  

The council later removed a video of the meeting from YouTube, with a spokesman explaining they were concerned the outburst might have breached the video sharing website’s terms and conditions.  

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Since the pandemic forced most political institutions online, there have been a string of fiascos with councillors and MPs not realising they could be seen or heard.  

In May, the Conservative MP Heather Wheeler could be heard swearing at her computer while battling with an IT problem, which came just a few weeks after Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, was caught swearing about a colleague when he accidentally left his microphone unmuted during a cabinet meeting last month.

Juan Emilio Ameri, who was quickly suspended for what was described as a “serious offence against the normal decorum” of the legislature, explained he had thought he was disconnected from the session and was only trying to celebrate his partner’s recent breast implant surgery.  

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