Criminal charges could be bought against councillors found guilty of misconduct in office as investigations continue into questionable planning decisions in Castle Point.

An investigation into the conduct of Tory councillor Bill Sharp cleared him of any wrongdoing, but it also raised wider concerns into the conduct of councillors.

The investigation, carried out by independent Ch&I Associates, warned that people could perceive that some Castle Point councillors were too close to developers.

Castle Point Council are continuing to investigate the issue, stating that any councillor failing to act properly is leaving themselves open to a criminal inquiry.

A spokesman said: “Further inquiries are presently being undertaken into any planning decisions which may be erroneous and any relationships which may exist between applicants and members of the council.

“As such the council is not able to provide specific details other than to say that these inquiries focus on the planning service.

“The leader of the council, councillor Colin Riley, places great importance on councillors being fully open, and not doing anything that harms the image of the council or public confidence in it.

“Any councillor failing to act properly is leaving themselves open to a criminal inquiry into their behaviour and the possibility of being convicted of a criminal offence.”

The initial investigation was launched after it was claimed Mr Sharp asked for developments to be discussed by councillors so that he could use his power to approve them when officers had, in fact, recommended them for refusal.

The investigation came after councillor Dave Blackwell alleged Mr Sharp repeatedly abused the council’s call-in process, particularly in relation to planning applications in Norwood Drive and Nashlea Farm in Benfleet.

The report stated: “Councillor Blackwell alleged councillor Sharp improperly used his position to ensure that planning permission was granted.

“Councillor Blackwell alleged that councillor Sharp was motivated by the fact that he knew either the applicants or their agent.”

Mr Blackwell also alleged Mr Sharp could “strongly influence” the vote of other Conservative committee members.