Confessions & Promises
an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD.
It Has Been Alleged . . .
It has been alleged, by the Legal & Democratic Services department of Scarborough Borough Council;
that I have published defamatory articles. [28/03/2013]
that I have committed the crime of harassment. [28/03/2013]
that I have committed fraud. [15/05/2014]
that I have abused the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [28/03/2013]
that I have lodged unreasonable complaints, with unreasonable persistence. [28/03/2013]
Of these, the first two allegations have been allowed to lapse and are now time-barred. Officers of the Legal & Democratic Services of SBC have been offered the opportunity to particularise instances of defamatory publication or evidence of harassment and have never been able to cite a single example. These allegations remain totally unsubstantiated. That may be because the articles I have published have been rigorously scrutinised by independent legal experts and found to be totally vindicate.
The third allegation has been investigated by the Department of Work & Pensions and found to be false and malicious.
The fourth and fifth allegations are not allegations at all, insofar as the actions that I am alleged to have committed are not prohibited by law. In fact, I have complied with the statutory processes at every step.
The entire raft of allegations is false, malicious – and obviously desperate.
Why would Officers of the Legal & Democratic Services of Scarborough Borough Council exercise themselves in the business of making false or malicious allegations against a citizen investigative-journalist – or any citizen, for that matter – acting voluntarily in the public interest, who reports on wrong-doing and criminality on the part of SBC Councillors and Council Officers?
Might it be, perhaps, that Officers of the Legal & Democratic Services of Scarborough Borough Council hope to discredit anyone who criticises the actions of the Council? Might it be that it is the irrefutable and well-documented accuracy of the NYE exposés that is so threatening to the ‘powers that be’?
That may seem a little far-fetched. After all, it falls squarely within the normal and accepted remit of investigative-journalism to expose wrong-doing on the part of public servants, both paid and elected. Surely, the Council would not resort to such dishonourable measures? Not much.
From the moment that they accept public office, Cabinet Portfolio-Holder Councillors and Executive Officers are acutely aware of their duty of accountability to the public; criticism “goes with the territory”, as the saying goes. Surely, the Council could have nothing to hide?
But when the criticism goes far beyond mere disapproval or disagreement about policy and practice, and enters the arena of substantiated allegations of financial impropriety or (worse) perversion of the course of justice, then the stakes are much higher – though allegations can be ominous only to the guilty.
When such allegations are not only valid (and vindicated by impartial examination by legal professionals at established institutions such as the BBC, Private Eye and the national press), but are also meticulously documented with hard evidence and multiple witness statements, then those accused may feel the net closing; they may resent having to provide answers. When this happens, their only option (as we have repeatedly seen) has been to resort to corporate bullying and intimidation – and “dirty tricks”.
The mind-set of the prime movers has shifted from the customary knee-jerk “damage limitation exercise”, ever in the direction of an all-out gloves-off “them or us” aggression-fest – the battle-lines have been drawn.
SBC’s Legal Director Lisa DIXON wrote a circular to Officers on 22nd July 2014, instructing them not to enter into any correspondence with “these persons” (myself and others, who have been ‘deemed’ “vexatious”), and to report “all communications” to her (“Big Sister Is Watching Me”), such is Lisa DIXON‘s conception of democracy.
Fortunately, some public servants do remember their public duty; deep throats abound.
Lisa DIXON has lost sight of the fact that public servants are accountable to the public.She has lost sight of the fact that the public has an inalienable right to hold public servants to account. So stung is she by the tsunami of criticism of her inadequate competency and integrity, that she imagines that simply by ‘deeming’ inquiring correspondents “vexatious”, she has the power to make us go away. There is no basis in law for that. The Information Commissioner cites Judge JACOB, who has ruled:
“The test of when a dialogue develops to the stage where it may be said to have become vexatious will be an objective one, not based on the particular sensitivities of the individual or individuals dealing with the person making the request. This particular factor will carry weight in the overall assessment only if distress or irritation would be caused to a reasonably calm, professional and resilient officer of a public authority.”
Lisa DIXON is anything but.
The deeming of FOIA requestors as “vexatious” is also described as “unlawful, defamatory and vindicative”. It is the last resort of a Council with something to hide.
The OED, by the way, defines “vexatious” thus:
- Causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry.
- [Law] Denoting an action or the bringer of an action that is brought without sufficient grounds for winning, purely to cause annoyance to the defendant.
What could be more “vexatious” than SBC Solicitor David KITSON, who has no medical qualification, accusing a member of the public (whom he has never met) of an “unhealthy” psychological disorder? Yet that is exactly what he has done – in writing, in an email dated 21st July 2014. How appallingly unprofessional and insulting – “I don’t want to answer your questions, so I will dismiss you as a nutter”. It reminds me of the scene in John GRISHAM’s “The Rainmaker”, when the big insurance corporation lawyer tells the dying cancer patient’s mother that:
“You must be stupid, stupid, stupid.”
A Nerve Touched
Clearly, a nerve has been touched at the Council – and several nerves frayed.
Which nerve (or nerves) could that be? Or, rather, whose nerves are now so obviously stretched to the breaking point?
All around the country, people are coming to the conclusion that Councils and Police Forces have been guilty of institutional empire-building. This is bad enough.
It is over forty years now since the present system of local governance was established under the terms of the Local Government Act of 1972.
The world has changed immensely in those forty years – perhaps more than in any comparable period of our history. Legislation and regulation has become too complex for the common man to comprehend in any real depth. Even elected Councillors have become progressively more reliant on the specialised knowledge of their Legal departments to assure them of the legality of their own actions.
Council Legal departments have also been empire-building.
They appear to see themselves as élite and indispensible ‘movers-and-shakers’, whose prerogative it is to mould elected Councillors to the corporate will – the corporate ideology. That is bad enough.
Councils take the long view. But unlike the Councillors, who must run the gauntlet of the ballot-box every four years, the Officers are assured of their tenure indefinitely. They take an even longer view – always remembering that any policy that they may seek to initiate must be ‘signed off’ through the majority assent of the elected Councillors. That is the democratic process. It takes to to subvert it.
Inevitably, liaisons are made. Nowhere more than in politics does the adage “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” apply.
These liaisons are not so much real friendships as unwritten treaties. In the framing of these unwritten treaties, the Legal Officers enjoy a considerable advantage; they are lawyers – the Councillors are not.
This is why fraternisation between Councillors and Officers transgresses all legal, moral or professional norms forbidding certain categories of social contact across legally defined classes in local government. If a Council Leader and its Chief Exec were to engage in heavy drinking bouts together – and were seen to have done so – any pretence of professionalism in their relationship must be abandoned. The spectre of collusion looms large.
When Councillors feel themselves to be ‘under attack’ – perhaps by members of the public who have rumbled them over some abuse or other of their positions – the Legal Officers bring out the ‘big guns’ in their defence. For them it is usually a classic “Win/Win” scenario; if the defence is successful (and it almost always is), the Councillor in question is forever indebted and his/her gratitude is as ‘money in the bank’ to the lawyers; if the Councillor simply cannot be saved (as was the case with former Councillor Tim LAWN, who failed to disclose his business manoeuvers in his Register of Interests), the Legal Officers can make mileage from their own demonstrable impartiality and high moral excellence. All it takes is a well-spun press release grabbing the credit. Well, that is all it used to take.
But that strategy has failed in the face of the sustained exposure by the NYE of wrongdoing within Scarborough Borough Council.
As I stated above, there has been much empire-building in local government for far too long now. The Local Government Act 1972 is long overdue a thoroughgoing reform. Small cadres of Councillors and Executive Officers (and remember; many Executive Officers are qualified solicitors) have formed long-term strategic alliances, collaborating (some would say colluding – conniving, conspiring, even) in policies that are informed exclusively by their own personal ambitions, which are threefold;
the further entrenchment of ‘power’ (and pensions),
an exploitative entrepreneurial expansionism, underwritten by the public purse – the tax-payer,
- the money
Of these, the first is the most malignant, because it is all about the security and enhancement of the status quo. They have never had it so good.
It is an alliance of, on the one flank, second-league politicians who will never make it to Westminster, and, on the other flank, second-rate lawyers, who draw their pay from a captive client with an effectively bottomless pocket – being unlikely to succeed in the more competitive private sector.
For both parties, the status quo is almost an end in itself; they can only lose by being subjected to intense scrutiny. It is significant to note that when the former Head of Legal Ian ANDERSON left SBC after a series of refusals to kowtow to the demands of his Chief Exec, his position was filled internally by promoting Lisa DIXON (with a massive £13K salary increase, since boosted by a further £7.5K), despite – or because of – her inexperience and malleability. Her understudy, David KITSON, joined the Council as a school-leaver; he lacks any experience at all of the wider world.
The second ambition – playing the ‘big-shot’ entrepreneur – is fuelled by two passions; ego – the desire to play ‘big fish’ (even in this parochial pond) – and plain old greed. Temptations are many in local government; all the major investment opportunities pass through the Council before reaching the public domain. Cosy relationships are formed. How else could SBC’s former Strategic Director David ARCHER slip so swiftly into a directorial position with York Potash? Transgressions rarely, if ever, result in prosecutions.
The third ambition – the money – speaks for itself. In fact it screams.
These two flanks – Executive Officers and elected Councillors – are at full stretch to hold the flanks together. The flanks are without a centre. They lack leadership and vision. That is why they accomplish so little to serve the public – and resort to ever more aggressive exploitation of every imaginable revenue stream – (off- and on-street parking and traffic wardens, planning fees, licensing fees, dog fouling and access prohibition ‘fines’, concessions and rents – and these are just the Council’s allegedly ‘authorised’ activities) to underwrite their entrepreneurial disasters.They want your money.
None of this enhances or facilitates life in the Borough – it exploits it. Amenities have been lost. Businesses have struggled and ultimately failed. The Council’s influence on the lives of residents in the Borough is not benevolent, or even symbiotic – it is parasitical. It is inimical to its host – our communities. It is disastrous.
These alliances are truly unholy alliances. They do not serve the public interest – quite the reverse; they foster secrecy and unaccountability and they exploit the public purse. I am not alone in my view. Former Councillors (and present, too) support that view.
And there is something to be gleaned from the fact that Det. Supt. Steve SMITH (the leader of Operation Hibiscus) continues to thank me profusely for my frequent assistance in providing significant information to his investigation regarding the Peter JACONELLI sex crimes. Councillor Tom FOX (the leader of Scarborough Borough Council) does not. Instead, his Council is busily bending the law to breaking-point in a desperate attempt to silence me – or anyone who confronts the Council with the truth..
So I confess. I have lodged Freedom of Information requests seeking to elicit the raw evidence to prove wrongdoing.
My FOIAs have been ignored. I have found my evidence elsewhere.
I confess. I have lodged Formal Complaints, in full compliance with the Council’s mandated Complaints Procedure, against Councillors and Officers whose conduct I have been able to demonstrate falls markedly short of the standard demanded by the Council’s Codes of Conduct, the Seven Nolan principles of Public Life, and the Localism Act of 2011. My Formal Complaints have been ignored.
I confess. I was investigated by the DWP for benefit fraud and I have demonstrated that not I, but the person whose department provided the DWP with the false and malicious allegations against me, merited investigation on the basis of prima facie evidence of benefit fraud. And there is no doubt in my mind that my Formal Complaint is being ignored – indeed, Borough Solicitor David KITSON has confirmed as much.
I confess. I have interviewed victims and witnesses of the paedophilic crimes committed by Jimmy SAVILE, Peter JACONELLI and over a dozen others in the Borough of Scarborough – some dead, some living, some well-protected and even some tried and convicted. Those victims/witnesses have been ignored, too. Ask Scarborough victim support charity H.O.P.E. (Healing Our Past Experiences).
But I will not ignore them. I will publish their allegations.
I have lost count of the number of victims/witnesses who know from bitter personal experience that they were ignored, seemingly in order to protect the offenders and to protect those who protected the offenders. Officers have been named. They did not act alone, but in a clique and a culture that percolated ever upwards through the ranks, just as a school-leaver joining the Police Cadets in 1969 could ascend to considerable rank before retiring after thirty years service. Dan Davies’s biography “In Plain Sight – the Life & Lies of Jimmy Savile” confirms Jimmy SAVILE’s imappropriate relationship with sereal Forces, not least the North Yorkshire Police. It also confirms NYE’s allegations regarding his co-offenders in Scarborough, Peter JACONELLI and Jimmy CORRIGAN, who enjoyed an intinate realtionship with the Council.
It is not a commonplace for two elected Councillors to enjoy an intimate collegiate acquaintanceship with the very top stratum in the regional and local Police Force or its governing Police Authority (as was). It facilitates the forging of a very formidable ‘unholy alliance’ – especially in combination with direct authority over the Council’s Legal Services, and the more especially if Legal Officers are malleable – and well rewarded for their obedience.
In my view (and I may hold a view, and express it freely through any medium and with no regard to frontiers) – in my view, Scarborough Borough Council is in the hands of a relatively small group of unscrupulous mediocrities who by now are fighting tooth-and-nail to save their own political careers.
So I will close with this final confession:
I confess that it is my steadfast determination to show these public servants in the stark light of truth.
And, lest there be any doubt, my concerns embrace members of the Cabinet and the Senior Management Team, including (but not limited to):
Councillor Tom FOX [Con.] – Leader of the Council – [All. & Exp. 2011/12: £18,110.80]
Councillor Jane KENYON-MILLER [Con.] – Portfolio-Holder: Finance, Procurement & Legal Services [plus A&E 2011/12: £7,954.85]
Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.]– Portfolio-Holder: Strategic Planning & Regeneration [plus A&E 2011/12: £9,836.26]
Councillor Penny MARSDEN [Con.] – Portfolio-Holder: HR, Performance, Transport and IT [plus A&E 2011/12: £8,183.05]
Councillor Andrew BACKHOUSE [Con.] – Mayor of Scarborough 2013/14 [plus A&E 2011/12: £7,930.92]
Councillor David JEFFELS [Con.] – Chair: Health & Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee [A&E 2011/12: £4,036.77]
Jim DILLON – Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service – [Salary: £106,400 p.a. + Corp. Credit card:£2,492.57]
Hilary JONES – Deputy Chief Executive – [Salary: £95,300 p.a.]
Nick EDWARDS – Director of Business Support and s.151 Officer – [Salary: £72,700 p.a.]
Andy SKELTON – Director of Service Delivery – [Salary: £72,700 p.a.]
Lisa DIXON – Director of Legal & Support Services and Monitoring – [Salary: £72,700 p.a.]
David P. KITSON – Scarborough Borough Solicitor
In my opinion (which I may freely disseminate in a free country, these are the public servants whose conduct now invites intense scrutiny – and not only by the North Yorks Enquirer.
Collectively, they are costing the tax-payer HALF A MILLION POUNDS A YEAR net (without insurances, pension contributions, superannuation, theatre tickets and curries, etc).
Readers should be clear that scrutiny of the conduct of public servants is not prohibited by law in this country. Not only is it not prohibited; it has been pro-actively encouraged by Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government Eric PICKLES. That is how democracy works. Eric PICKLES stated:
“Freedom of speech is a vital part of local democracy. Councillors must be able to challenge waste and inefficiency, and should not have to get permission from state officials to speak to the press.
I am concerned that this Stalinist guidance [from the National Association of Local Councils] will have a chilling effect on public life.
I am making clear its contents are utterly opposed by the Government and it should be withdrawn immediately.
We should be championing the independent free press, not trying to suppress it.”
So with the full support of the Secretary of State, I offer readers my solemn promise that I will continue to scrutinise public servants and to report my findings in the public domain.
I offer readers my solemn promise that I will continue to welcome information provided by other members of the public, in the public interest.
I offer readers my solemn promise that I will continue to welcome information provided by public servants whose sense of right and wrong is sufficiently developed as to empower them to ‘whistle-blow’ to me, in the public interest.
In my view, there is absolutely no place for corruption in public life. The Council’s Constitution does not permit Councillors and/or Officers to attempt to conceal corruption. Wherever I find it, I will expose it – in the court of public opinion.
I will not tolerate abuse of office and
I have held these views for a long time. I refer readers to a posting by me on the Real Whitby Magazine web-site at 7:16pm on 25th July 2013 (the other readers’ comments are informative, too):
Whilst fully concurring with those who take the view that this FOIA response [see here, and here] is an insult to the wider public (those whom Dave KITSON is employed to serve), it represents precisely the sort of conduct that has brought Scarborough Borough Council Legal & Support Services into such widespread disrepute. It is, of course, a natural concomitant of SBC’s determination to promote internally. If memory serves, Dave KITSON is thirty-three. He is not at fault for lacking the experience and vision that the general public might properly expect from one who, until recently, bore the grandiose title ‘Senior Solicitor’.
His elevated status may have gone to his head. But that is an outcome common at SBC, where promotion beyond competence has been a defining characteristic of the Council for some years now. It will change only when the fraternisation between leading Councillors and Executive Officers is brought under control – as it was previously, though temporarily, back in 2005.
It is difficult to see how propping up the bar at the local hostelry together, beyond the bounds of sobriety, could be classed as anything other than fraternisation.
Trebbles all round!
NB: The word “Trebbles” is not misspelled; it is a reference to SBC’s former Chief Exec, who disappeared under a cloud in 2005, in the wake of the High Point Rendle procurement scandal (the Council published a bogus report) that ended the political career of former SBC Leader Councillor Eileen BOSOMWORTH [Con.].
*** READERS WHO HAVE BEEN DEEMED “VEXATIOUS” MAY WISH TO REGISTER WITH THE VEXATIOUSNESS NATIONAL DATABASE, HERE. ***