“It Can’t Be Put Right!”
Inspired by the ever-expanding series of Enquirer articles on Potto Parish Council, MANDY THOMPSON, Labour Town Councillor 2013-17 (hereinafter “the whistle-blower”), writes to relate her own ‘insider’ experiences of corrupt local government at Peterlee Town Council.
The words quoted in the above image are the Peterlee Deputy Town Clerk’s exact and witnessed response when challenged by the whistle-blower about data in the Internal Auditor’s report. Preferring not to call in the Police, and being prevented from contacting the H.R. Dept., the whistle-blower just asked the Deputy Clerk to “put it right”.
The former Town Clerk and the Deputy’s good personal friend (and godmother to the former Clerk’s daughter) had received 100% of salary as sick pay, whereas the public sector arrangement for entitled employees is full pay for 6 months, half pay for 6 months, then statutory sick pay. A public sector Executive Director of Finance/Chartered Accountant estimated, in November 2015, that this overpayment had cost the Town Council around £40,000.
Alongside this, a separate and legally correct sick pay system was followed for a junior staff member (i.e. the same policy applied with two diametrically opposed interpretations).
The Internal Auditor was acting in response to the Council’s ‘Anti-Fraud & Corruption’ Policy being invoked by the ‘whistle-blowing’ Councillor, who was concerned about apparent misappropriation of public money. In his report, the Internal Auditor described the Councillor as a ‘whistle-blower’ and recorded the irregularity about the former Town Clerk’s sick-pay, citing there were “questions to be answered”.
The Deputy Town Clerk had made a Code of Conduct complaint against the whistle-blower and had contacted the former Town Clerk’s close friend (Director of an Employment Organisation) to conduct a ‘Grievance Investigation & Report’ into the whistle-blower. However, this was improper procedure, as the Council had previously received eminent legal advice that such a commission was unlawful (affirmed: Harvey vs Ledbury Town Council).
Extract from ‘Particulars Of Claim’:
The proper and lawful process to adjudicate upon Code of Conduct complaints about Councillors is to utilise Durham County Council’s Standards Committee, as per s.28(6)(a)(b) Localism Act 2011. This Standards Committee had already determined a combined Resolution for three referrals – Opposition Cllrs, Deputy Town Clerk & former Town Clerk – which was that a training session was to be delivered to Peterlee Town Council; albeit that, in the event, only Councillors attended.
The point at issue here is that there is no appeals process for Decisions made by a Standards Committee, which is the only legal process of adjudication.
The Employment Organisation’s ‘Grievance Investigation’ was therefore inappropriate, invalid & unlawful.
During 2014 and 2015, the whistle-blower was subjected to a protracted campaign of intimidation and abusive treatment, including comments in the Council’s minutes (examples below; citing name, rather than ‘a member’):
Comments were made in person, in the Council offices, by the Deputy Town Clerk refusing to record Resolutions or action the requests proposed by the whistle-blower:
Resolutions proposed by the whistle-blower and properly served at Peterlee Town Council’s 3rd February 2014 Establishment Committee were never recorded in the meeting minutes, despite being provided electronically to enable ‘cut & paste’ (a failure to record Resolutions is a breach of s.7(1) Openness Regulations);
3rd Feb 2014, Establishment Committee Resolutions approved by vote;
Resolution 1: “In view of the independent confirmation that corporate governance is lacking then until we have assurance that it is robust, we need to ensure that alternative systems and processes are in place to protect public money, the residents of Peterlee, the staff and the members. This situation and lack of transparency leaves the Council and especially staff, wide open to criticism and suspicion. We need to address this. I propose the sick leave is independently looked at with a report to the next meeting; DCC HR would be ideally placed to do this”.
Motion: Whistle-blower. Seconded: Cllr A
The Town Clerk properly declared an interest and would take no part.
Resolution 2: The Deputy Town Clerk to take the lead on the above Resolution.
Motion: Cllr B. Seconded: Cllr A
Markedly, these 2014 minutes were NOT published until 2021, which exposed this irregularity being incorporated into ‘meeting conversation’ (the maximum statutory period to publish Minutes is within one month of the meeting, as per s.29 Transparency Code):
Furthermore, this pattern of intimidation extended to abusive contact in public areas and intimidation and threats of violence towards the whistle-blower’s family members. All of this was reported to the Durham Constabulary (Incident No. DHM-14022014-119 and Incident No. DHM-11042014-0388). These Incident Numbers are the day/month/year – followed by a sequential number.
Shockingly, the whistle-blower’s dog was poisoned with a particularly severe toxic substance which destroyed bodily organs as it travelled through her body, resulting in a beautiful pet, who loved everyone, having to be put to sleep. Blame not confirmed, just suspected. The following email excerpt (3rd April 2014) provides the gist:
Following advice from Action Fraud, the whistle-blower then reported allegations of fraud to the Durham Constabulary, as reported in the Northern Echo on 30th November 2015. (link here).
However, although the reviewing Durham Constabulary Detective had stated “The theft was beyond doubt”, the Police CID investigation was thwarted because a crucial legal document was (mysteriously) unavailable; to wit, the ‘Town Clerk Terms and Conditions of Employment’ – Time Owed In Lieu (TOIL) had been removed, prior to appointment by Employment Organisation Director & Senior Town Councillor.
Police reported to the whistle-blower, that the Deputy Town Clerk had stated during ‘Interview Under Caution’ (PACE), that the Town Clerk had used TOIL; but, inexplicably, the signed copy of this document was ‘missing’.
How did the Deputy Clerk know? Puzzling . . . . .
During 8th Sept 2014, Clerk’s Advisory Committee, the Deputy Town Clerk then ‘engineered & facilitated’ the disclosure of the whistle-blower’s personal information, including health information, onto the internet – posted by an opposition Councillor (who was not a Committee member, just an observer).
Having informed the Deputy Clerk that he was going to record the meeting, the Deputy Clerk chose not to use the ‘Exclusion of Press & Public’ clause (thereby facilitating audio/visual recording). Shockingly, the Deputy Town Clerk also stated, during her data breach:
The whistle-blower reported this data breach to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and the Deputy Clerk initially denied there was a recording or of having any involvement, until challenged by an audio recording with transcript posting on the internet of this Data Protection Act Breach – another example of an Officer ‘untruth’.
ICO Case Manager’s email of 29th November 2015 is reproduced here:
The Deputy Town Clerk didn’t even plagiarise a template Action Plan for the correct Act from the internet.
This deeply hurtful and unlawful activity initiated Court proceedings during 2020/22 for the serious Data Protection Act breach, which were concluded when a ‘Notice to Admit Fact’, wholly attributing blame upon the Deputy Town Clerk, was served on the Council. The Council immediately offered an ‘Out of Court’ financial settlement.
Importantly, there is NO non-disclosure agreement in place. The financial settlement was paid by the Council’s insurers, so it will not show in the Council’s annual accounts.
This successful legal action does not even appear to show in published Council minutes: do Peterlee Town Councillors even know it occured?
The whistle-blower’s legal advisers, BHP Law Darlington ( initially, Trainee Solicitor, then when training contract ended, Partner / Head of Dispute Resolution plus a pro bono London Barrister) were exceptional, providing the perfect legal support team. On advice, the whistle-blower compromised on costs, not wanting to take compensation / public money personally (all entitled Participation Allowance had previously been donated to charities). BHP Law Darlington made up the shortfall, so not a penny was lost (BHP Law, Darlington, are essentially owed £3k).
Astonishingly, the replacement and current Town Clerk (recruited in 2016) claims to have investigated and resolved the whistle-blower’s outstanding 2014 bullying allegation against the former Town Clerk and Deputy Town Clerk, despite not yet having access to the case documents, evidence, witnesses, interviews, or even the defendant’s statements as an Investigating Officer was awaited. Super human powers?
Clearly, there is still much progress to be made in the Council’s Governance and Accountability standards.
Therefore the bullying allegation remains outstanding. There is no legal time restriction. An Independent Competent Investigating Officer is still awaited.
It is unknown how much public money has been misappropriated on this whole scenario – perhaps it has now reached £½million, most of which needs to be recouped as it was knowingly based on unlawful practice.
If such monies are spent, management practice should mirror that of the private sector i.e. Officers should be offered loans.
The people of Peterlee deserve so much better – a Town Council that acts with transparency and integrity, whilst upholding the Nolan Principles by both Councillors & senior Council staff.
This is public money: OUR MONEY.
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