CYC Leader Cllr. James ALEXANDER – Assault Allegations
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on the progress of an extraordinary FOIA request concerning allegations of an assault by City of York Council Leader Councillor James ALEXANDER [Lab.].
Many readers will already be familiar with a government-sponsored web-site – WhatDoTheyKnow.com .
The site offers a very helpful service comprising a number of very useful features. Members of the public may register a username and an email address (never visible to other users) FREE OF CHARGE.
The site allows users to direct Freedom of Information requests to an extensive list of authorities who fall subject to the FOIA. The site notifies users when FOIA requests have received a response (be it partial, exhaustive or refused) and, in the case of requests that have reached the 20 working day time-limit imposed by the Act, prompts users to proceed to Internal Review, thence (if still unfulfilled) to prepare a case for the Information Commissioner’s Office.
But the value of the site goes far beyond being merely a convenient secretarial assistant.
The entire FOIA exchange between the user and the authority in question appears on the web-site for all the world to see.
This offers two benefits.
Firstly, users writing for a potentially wide readership tend to consider the form of words of their requests with some care. It has been wisely said that the secret of writing good FOIAs lies in the precision of the questions.
‘Sloppy’ questions are easy for authorities to slap aside. Indeed, even ‘tight’ questions do not always receive the frank disclosure that the law demands (not ‘alf). Nevertheless, there are often important insights to be gleaned from a clear picture of the information that authorities are determinedly refusing to disclose.
Secondly, other users may view users’ requests – and add annotations. Often, such annotations offer helpful advice to requestors. Some of this advice is very wise. Some not.
But, I repeat, by far the most important aspect of the WhatDoTheyKnow.com service is that it is all in the public domain.
This makes for transparency.
But it also imposes upon the user the full rigour of the libel legislation. The user is the publisher of any allegations and is personally responsible for the veracity of his/her allegations, as included in his/her FOIA requests.
So it is sometimes very interesting to read other people’s FOIA requests. It is a fine art. Some people write hundreds and never get any better. Others are far from prolific. Once in a while, one encounters a WhatDoTheyKnow.com user who is very finely focussed.
And once in a while, one encounters an FOIA of astonishing daring.
Consider this one, to City of York Council:
Dear City of York Council,
There is widespread talk in this city of a blazing row between the Council Leader Mr James Alexander and the Council monitoring officer Mr Andy Docherty.
It is alleged that a meeting between the two men deteriorated into an angry exchange with the Council Leader calling the monitoring officer “useless” and that after a further deterioration in the meeting the Council Leader “took a swing” at the monitoring officer.
Behaviour of this kind is not what one expects in Local Government and is of very great public interest. If true, it is a breach of Codes of Conduct.
You are asked to confirm or deny this verbal report currently in wide circulation around the city.
If it is correct please provide details of when and where this exchange took place and under what circumstances.
If it is correct please provide details of any formal or informal complaint currently being considered; and also any Code of Conduct disciplinary action currently being considered.
Yours faithfully, etc
This extraordinary allegation has been in the public domain on the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website since the FOIA was lodged on 24th August 2014.
Readers may wonder what are the chances of stumbling around WhatDoTheyKnow.com on a wet afternoon and coming across an allegation as flagrant (and damaging) as this.
Well, in my case, the odds were dramatically shortened by the fact that I did not stumble upon it by chance.
The very same allegations were reported to me a few days ago by a Councillor who told me an identical story.
First stop – Google.
I typed the following terms into the Google ‘Search’ bar:
- “City of York Council Leader James ALEXANDER Monitoring Officer Andy DOCHERTY”
This is what came up:
The first of these two links (from the Bradford Telegraph & Argus of 13th December 2013) tells a rather interesting tale. I quote:
“A report brought before City of York Council’s audit and governance committee at the request of leader Coun James Alexander and his deputy, Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, this week recommended speakers should not criticise the authority’s officials, should avoid “party political” and “frivolous” points and should ensure anything they say is “factually correct”.
However, the committee ruled the report, written by assistant director for governance Andy Docherty, should be deferred ahead of a wider consultation on the council’s constitution, because it could restrict democracy.”
It could indeed restrict democracy.
There is something rather disturbing about a man known for his dominant (not to say domineering) style of Leadership seeking to shut down criticism. Disturbing because it has a despotic (amost sociopathic) ring to it.
Fortunately, reason would appear to have prevailed.
Sources close to the Leadership have suggested that Andy DOCHERTY’s report was produced under some duress. Some have suggested that it was designed to fail. Some have suggested that Councillor James ALEXANDER became wise to this possibility. Whatever the state of relations between Councillor James ALEXANDER and Andy DOCHERTY before this episode, it is probably fair to say that it did nothing to sweeten the mix.
City of York Council Monitoring Officer Andy DOCHERTY has a perspective on this that is also in the public domain on WhatDoTheyKnow.com:
The above image shows only the most recent in a thread of exchanges between DOCHERTY and Councillors Tracey SIMPSON-LAING and Ruth POTTER – well worth a thorough read.
But it was the second of the two Google returns (pictured above) that led me to the FOIA request cited – and to its response – or rather, its Refusal Notice, though it is not explicitly stated as such – on 27th August 2014:
In response to your email on the 24^th August 2014 regarding the Council Leader and Monitoring Officer, I would like to advise that this is not a request for recorded information and therefore is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
If you would like information about making a request under the Freedom of Information Act, guidance from the information commissioner can be found through the following link:
However, I can confirm outside of the Act that there have been no incident such as that described in your email and I can on behalf of the council verify that the verbal report you say is circulating is false.
Should you wish to make a request for recorded information in future, this will be considered under the Act.
Erin Francis Long | Information Compliance Officer
t: 01904 554145 | e:  [email address]
City of York Council | Complaints Team, Customer & Business Support Services
This is unequivocal:
- “I can on behalf of the council verify that the verbal report you say is circulating is false.”
Erin Francis LONG has issued, no doubt with the full approval of Councillor James ALEXANDER, a robust and categorical denial.
One may be reminded of the celebrated response, from the witness-box, of Mandy Rice DAVIES in the Profumo trial – “he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.
Annotations to the FOIA on the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website (on 28th, 30th and 31st August 2014) only add to the intrigue.
- [PS – 28/08/14] Typical York Council response to an FOI request – evasion.
- [JH – 30/08/31] I too have heard this story. Not directly from a direct witness but from somebody I trust who did speak to a direct witness. City of York Council need to take the utmost caution in replying to this FOI. I understand the witness is preparing to make a public statement and should that happen the outcome could include both civil and criminal charges. Give recent events in Rotherham, CYC must be on guard to ensure it shines a light on abusive behaviour at all levels. Officers may feel they gave to protect their leaders but as we can now see, when the lid blows those same officers find themselves directly in the firing line.
- [PSC – 31/08/14] I wonder if Erin Long’s sudden departure from City of York Council got anything to do with this ‘sensitive’ issue?
This ‘unofficial’ Refusal Notice was, of course, challenged by the original requestor on Monday 23rd September 2014, the first working-day following the expiry of the statutory period of 20 working-days allowed by the Act for authorities to respond.
City of York Council had delayed its robust and categorical denial until the last possible moment. Was the denial not so robust and categorical during any of the preceeding nineteen days since the question was asked? Why the delay?
Had there, perhaps, been some fierce in-fighting about how (or whether, even) to provide a frank and honest response, as the law requires?
The requestor’s challenge elicited the following response from Erin Francis LONG:
I have now left City of York Council. Please forward your email to [City of York Council request email]<mailto:[City of York Council request email]> or telephone 01904 554145 so that your enquiry can be dealt with by a member of the Complaints and Feedback the team during office hours.
Outside office hours:
If you have an urgent social care concern please call 0845 0349417.
For details of other emergency numbers including urgent housing repairs please call 01904 551550.
Now call me old-fashioned, but one must surely admit that this case now bears at least some of the classic hallmarks of a Council cover-up operation.
I decided to investigate further.
At 4:44pm on Tuesday 23rd September 2014, I emailed City of York Council Leader Councillor James ALEXANDER and asked him myself:
Councillor James Alexander – Leader – City of York Council
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
I regret that you have found yourself unable to treat me with the modicum of respect innate in a personal acknowledgement and response to my two earlier emails. That was remiss.
I now found it necessary to correspond with you for a third time, hopefully with better results. Failure to treat all with respect, as you may be aware, is a breach of the Seven Nolan Principles of Public Life:
May I specifically request that you do not fail to show me the respect implicit in a personal acknowledgement and response to this email? Thank you.
I have been approached by a human being who asserts to having been an eye-witness to an altercation between yourself and City of York Concil Monitoring Officer Mr Andrew DOCHERTY. The same human being asserts also that the incident included an assault or an attempted assault.
These are very serious allegations.
I see, from Googling around for a few moments, that I am not the only party who has been made privy to these allegations. This suggests to me one of two possibilities:
- (1) the allegations are false and malicious and utterly without foundation, and thus subject to remedy under legislation dealing with defamation – for such allegations, if untrue, are certainly defamatory and injurious to your public repute (and, hence) fitness for public office,
- (2) the allegations are substantively true.
My question is this:
Which is it? (1) False, or (2) True?
I offer you this opportunity to make a personal statement ahead of publication of an article based on the allegations that I have outlined.
I can well appreciate that you may prefer not to comment and to invoke your ‘right to silence’, with its concomitant ramifications of perceived guilt. That is a matter for you.
My perspective is somewhat different. I take the view that an innocent man would have no hesitation in offering a frank and honest rebuttal of any and all allegations founded in untruth and injurious to the good repute of the Leader and, by extension, his Council.
The irony of this present situation is that, had you responded personally to my earlier correspondence, openly and transparently, I should have quickly forgotten your name. The present allegations would have been of only minor interest.
Now, they are of considerable interest.
But I do want to be certain that I have given your the courtesy of a reasonable opportunity to state your position and your case.
Please do so not later than close-of-play (5:00pm) on Friday 26th September 2014. Failure to respond in a timely manner to this courteous and generous opportunity to set the record straight may well be interpreted by 100,000 readers to be a tacit admission that the Leader of City of York Council is little more than a common thug, lacking the strength of character to admit to a momentary loss of composure in the face of extreme provocation. That, too, is a matter for you.
Yours, with very kind regards,
I received a read-receipt from Councillor James ALEXANDER thirty-six minutes later at 5:20pm the same day.
I believe that I had captured Councillor James ALEXANDER’s attention.
But not his open and transparent response.
What possibly reason could Councillor James ALEXANDER have even to need think twice about issuing the robust and categorical denial that ex-Data Compliance Officer Erin Francis LONG had already published into the public domain back on 27th August 2014.
Is Councillor James ALEXANDER having second thoughts about whether or not it is still his position that the allegations published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com on 24th August 2014 are false – or are they true?
But the line has gone dead. Jimmy Boy has gone to ground. I can only conclude that Councillor James ALEXANDER has elected to take his chances with the thousands and thousands of readers now eminently likely to believe, by default, that he is little more than a bully – a common thug – rather than provided them with an open and transparentpersonal assurance of his innocence.
But let me close this report by allowing WhatDoTheyKnow.com the last word by quoting the final entry on the ‘thread’, from WhatDoTheyKnow.com volunteer moderator Richard TAYLOR.
It makes clear that City of York Council has requested that WhatDoTheyKnow.com removes certain annotations which, according to the Chief Executive Officer, include defamatory statements against a specific member of staff (should that read “former member of staff”?).
More to the point is the fact that the Chief Executive Officer has not requested the removal of the original FOIA request containing the explicit allegation that Leader Councillor James ALEXANDER “took a swing” at Andy DOCHERTY. This would seem to indicate that the allegation is not defamatory – because it is true, and the truth can never be defamatory:
The Chief Executive Officer of City of York Council is Kersten ENGLAND. Kersten is saying nothing.
CYC Head of Legal is Andy DOCHERTY. Andy is saying nothing.
All we have is CYC ex-Data Compliance Officer Erin Francis LONG’s vicarious denial – and Erin Francis LONG has mysteriously disappeared from view.
CYC Leader Councillor James ALEXANDER is saying nothing – though a personal robust and categorical denial is now absolutely essential – if we are to believe that the assault allegations are false. Without Jimmy Boy’s personal denial, the default assumption has to be that the allegations are true.
And nobody still in position at City of York Council is denying it.
Finally, readers who have taken an interest in the disgraceful City of York Council “Lendal Bridge Scam”, as covered in our earlier articles:
may find this piece from the Harrogate Informer of interest.
The country’s leading traffic lawyer Nick FREEMAN has apparently also called on North Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Dave JONES to investigate City of York Council Leader Councillor James ALEXANDER for theft.
With ‘live’ allegations of assault and theft, how tenable is Councillor James ALEXANDER’s position on the Council?
And I think it is fair to say that City of York Council finds itself in something of a mess at the present time – which will, perhaps, explain why the council is exhibiting all the tell-tale hallmarks of an authority in “cover-up” mode.