Intrigue @ SBC: Allege Bullying? Get Bullied!
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, revealing how an anonymous SBC Officer has reacted to allegations of “sexist bullying” by threatening civil and/or criminal legal proceedings against the (maybe) Complainant.
For readers unfamiliar with the “sexist bullying” allegations published over the Christmas break, the background to the matters addressed in this article can be reviewed by reference to four of my earlier articles:
- describing how a Filey resident emailed her MP, Kevin HOLLINRAKE [Con.], copying in all 50 SBC Councillors and others, alleging “sexist bullying” by SBC Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] and Mayor Elect, Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.]. Councillor PLANT responded by threatening legal action.
“Cllr. PLANT Does a Swift U-Turn” (24/12/17)
- describing how Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.], SBC Cabinet Portfolio Holder and Chair of the SBC Conservative Group, performed a swift U-turn and directed the Complainant instead to the unworkable Council’s Complaints Procedure.
- describing MP HOLLINRAKE’s New Year’s Eve Tweet, U-turning on his earlier advice to embrace the SBC Complaints Procedure and directing the Complainant away from SBC and towards Tory Central Office instead – the second Tory U-turn in a week – which tells its own story about the MP’s confidence in the local SBC process.
- describing how Cabinet Portfolio Holder Joe PLANT [Con.], being the sole and last-minute nominee, had been ‘demoted’ to the ceremonial rôle of Mayor (2018/19). As one Councillor observed, “They have moved him sideways”.
Together, these four articles illuminate the knee-jerk politics of the SBC Tory Leadership.
a.k.a. ‘Beulah JARMAN’
In preference to referring to the Complainant as ‘the Filey member of the public’, I propose to refer to ‘her’ – as a matter of convenience only – by a pseudonym: ‘Beulah JARMAN’. It is not my place to reveal ‘her’ true identity, but I re-affirm my earlier assertion that it is not me, nor do I know who it is.
On 28th January 2018, ‘Beulah JARMAN’ sent another email to Kevin HOLLINRAKE MP, again copying in all 50 SBC Councillors, this time alleging “misogynistic bullying”, departing slightly from the earlier characterization of the alleged bullying as “sexist”, and at the same time identifying the alleged victim as a woman. It refers to a series of deleted Tweets from the evening of Friday 7th October 2016, which I have retained in their entirety. I believe they are key to the whole affair.
Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s contemporaneous Statement covering the preceding events has been in the public domain since 12th September 2016. Page 12 of the Statement refers to the events that would appear to form the substance of the ‘Beulah JARMAN’ allegations.
These allegations have never, to my knowledge, been refuted or investigated, even perfunctorily, though it is clear that they amount to allegations of the severe browbeating of a woman in an exceptionally vulnerable state – a Safeguarding failure of the highest order.
But are they true?
The Court Procedure Rules ‘Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation’ decrees that actions for defamation must be brought within one calendar year of the publication of the offending statemen(s). This would suggest that Councillors BASTIMAN and PLANT felt unable, for whatever reason, to challenge the truth of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s Statement at the time, or indeed since, in the knowledge (perhaps) that a Defendant in a defamation action must only establish the truth of the published allegations to achieve a complete and infallible defence.
The ‘Beulah JARMAN’ allegations closely overlap with the foregoing and would therefore appear to be largely immune to a defamation action for the same reasons.
In consequence, I find it extraordinary that an anonymous Officer of Scarborough Borough Council, using an email address which appears to have been newly created for the express purpose of sending the email (in my nine years of scrutinising SBC, I have never encountered this email address before), has sent the following heavy-handed email to ‘Beulah JARMAN’, copying in Kevin HOLLINGRAKE MP and all 50 SBC Councillors (thereby guaranteeing that it would find its way to the Enquirer – intentionally, or just dumb?), threatening both civil and criminal action against her. The message is clear: whosoever raises concerns about bullying will themselves be bullied.
As an aside, this heavy-handed broadside is highly reminiscent of the letter before action email sent out by SBC’s Lisa DIXON on 28th March 2013 to myself, Tim THORNE, Tim HICKS and Glenn KILPATRICK making similar wild allegations that, when challenged, she was entirely unable to substantiate. It was bluster. Mrs DIXON denied to the BBC that she had attempted to have Mr KILPATRICK’s website (Real Whitby Magazine) “terminated”, then suffered the public humiliation of being proved a liar in front of nearly a million viewers by BBC ‘Inside Out’ presenter, Chris JACKSON.
As we see, SBC has ‘form’ for bullying. I could cite other examples – notably, those members of the public who have been ‘deemed’ “vexatious” for having evinced the temerity to raise complaints or to criticise the Council.
Turning now to this present attack on ‘Beulah JARMAN’, I present the email here in its entirety, with only the primary recipient’s email address redacted:
Allow me to share with readers some observations of my own – just my opinions, be it understood.
1) Note the apparently unique address of the sender – General@scarborough.gov.uk. General who? PINOCHET?
2) Note the absence of a signature or sender’s name or even his/her corporate position within the Council.
3) Note the reference (1st para.) to “very serious allegations as well as disparaging and defamatory comments”. As noted above, substantially the same allegations have stood uncontested, in the public domain, for around 18 months and are therefore time-barred in respect of libel/defamation action. Publishing ‘disparaging remarks’ is neither a tort nor a crime and is not susceptible to any kind of legal action.
4) Under the sub-heading Allegations, the Complainant is directed to the Council’s Complaints procedure – which Kevin HOLLINRAKE, having first advised, subsequently reversed, directing ‘Beulah JARMAN’ to Conservative central Office. This would appear to confirm a difference of attitude between the MP and the Council (or the General?) who would prefer to keep it ‘in house’.
5) Under the sub-heading Defamatory Comments, the accusation is levelled that the Complainant has produced no evidence. However, the Council cannot be unaware of the Statement of 12th September 2016 (in particular, the section cited above) – or of the series of Tweets of 7th October 2016 (though the Council has never requested copies of any of this evidence from me).
The assertion that ‘Beulah JARMAN’ has made defamatory statements is pure bluster. Only a Judge can make that determination. As things stand, the Council’s assertion is a mere allegation and may itself prove to be defamatory.
The information that the emails have been passed to the North Yorkshire Police is fatuous and irrelevant; it cannot be a crime to raise a Complaint and the Police play no part in civil actions. (Unless, of course, they are suing citizen journalists for exposing the truth).
6) Under the sub-heading Unreasonably Persistent and Unreasonable Complaint Behaviour, it is difficult to see how complaints raised by a Filey resident (in the parliamentary constituency of Thirsk & Malton, but also in the Borough of Scarborough) to her MP, Kevin HOLLINRAKE (who has directed her away from the SBC Complaints Procedure) can be any business of SBC Officers. If Councillors BASTIMAN and PLANT feel they have cause of action, they should consult their own solicitors, at their own expense, instead of leeching off public resources.
To my knowledge, only a handful of SBC Councillors have reacted to the allegations – two of them most offensively. Only Councillor PLANT (supported by hebephile-apologist Councillor John NOCK [Con.]) has reacted (in fact, over-reacted, as he does) with hostility, whereas others have expressed concern over the effect of all this on Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF, notably Councillor Dilys CLUER [Green], whose Tweet of 23rd December 2017 confirms that all was not right and the truth of it has yet to be told:
In private conversation with a number of Councillors (who I have no intention of identifying), I learn that there are two contending theories doing the rounds regarding the true identity of ‘Beulah JARMAN’ .
Some hold that:
(i) ‘Beulah JARMAN’ is an SBC Councillor or member of staff who had immediate knowledge of the events of 8th September 2016 (when Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF was unceremoniously dumped by the Leader, with apparent disregard for her desperate mental condition). In short, ‘Beulah JARMAN’ is a whistleblower who has no confidence in the SBC Whistleblower Procedure. Someone who may, perhaps, have observed at close quarters the “complete whitewash” (the Judge’s words) over the Ben MARRIOTT fraud and corruption allegations?
whereas others hold that:
(ii) ‘Beulah JARMAN’ is, in fact, merely a pseudonym used by Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF in an ill-advised attempt, having been advised by Kevin HOLLINRAKE to proceed other than via the SBC Complaints Procedure, to have her grievances properly addressed – if only in the Court of Public Opinion.
Those who favour the latter theory must be appalled at the idea of an anonymous SBC Officer threatening an elected member (one with documented mental heath problems and a history of severe depression) with criminal and/or civil legal action, with all the attendant risks involved of ending up with blood on her/his hands. The absence of a signature indicates a degree of discomfort about sending out the email. Is this an indication that it was sent under duress?
7) The concluding paragraph is bizarre. Having threatened ‘Beulah JARMAN’ with criminal and/or civil action, the sender directs her to the Police and/or the Council, in the knowledge that the matter has nothing to do with the Police and that ‘Beulah JARMAN’ has already been steered away from the Council – by her own MP, no less!
In short, the appearances are that the Council is either:
(a) bullying a Complainant thought to be a member of staff or an elected Councillor (i.e. a whistleblower) for having raised concerns about the bullying of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF, or
(b) bullying a Complainant thought to be Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF, the victim of the first round of alleged bullying, or
(c) bullying a Complainant whose identity is unknown (presumably, following an unsuccessful search of the Electoral Register, as well as 192.com and/or social media sites.
8) It is also curious that no action was taken by SBC Officers in response to the first five emails from ‘Beulah JARMAN’. After four weeks of silence, the most recent email (28th January 2018) seems to have been the ‘final straw’ that provoked the ‘all guns blazing’ approach. This leads one to wonder whether or not there must have been something new – and more disconcerting – in the sixth and most recent email.
9) Tangential to the present matter, I note, with interest (and some amusement) that the SBC email bears, at its foot, a Disclaimer, within which we find the following tacit admission that SBC monitors incoming and outgoing emails:
Please note: Incoming and outgoing e-mail messages are routinely monitored for compliance with our policy on the use of electronic communications.
So ‘Big Brother’ is intercepting residents’ emails to Councillors (which we knew) as well as Councillors’ emails to residents (or each other, or anyone else).
I know a number of Councillors who find this threatening email totally unacceptable.
But now it is time to examine the entire ‘Beulah JARMAN’ correspondence record – or, at least, as much of it as has found its way into my possession:
Setting aside the open hostility of Councillor Joe ‘Methinks he doth protest too much’ PLANT [Con.] and Councillor John NOCK [Con.] (whose attitude to Safeguarding is a matter of record), there would appear to be little here that we have not already discussed – except for the possibility of some ‘trigger remark’ having ben contained in that 28th January 2018 ‘Beulah JARMAN’ email which may have prompted SBC’s anonymous threatening email.
The Final Straw
The sixth and most recent ‘Beulah JARMAN’ email, therefore, deserves special scrutiny. Transmitted from a previously unknown email address, it may well be from a previously unknown sender – a possibility apparently overlooked by ‘General’:
The Subject Line characterizes the alleged bullying as “Misogynistic”, in contrast to “sexist”, as per the earlier emails, thus identifying the victim as female. It is also possible that the choice of a different adjective reflects the different vocabulary of a different author.
The first paragraph is ominous:
“Well a couple of emails before Christmas and suddenly Joe is ‘moved’ to Mayor. Apparently he will be known as Joe ‘Jaconelli’ Plant when the truth comes out”
What can it mean – “Joe ‘Jaconelli’ Plant”? Is it intended to predict only that Councillor PLANT, like Councillor JACONELLI [Con.] before him, is destined bring great disgrace upon the Council? Or something far more sinister?
There are other clues. Firstly, there were four emails before Christmas – not “a couple” – then a fifth, on 1st January 2018. The real ‘Beulah JARMAN’ would be aware of that, so why refer to “a couple of emails”? This, too, points to the possibility of a different author – though not conclusively.
But it goes deeper. My redaction of the ‘Beulah JARMAN’ email address has deprived readers of the information that not all five were sent from the same one.
This opens up the possibility that not all of the first five ‘Beulah JARMAN’ emails were written by the same person.
But the sixth and most recent email (28th January 2018) came from a new – a third – email address. To my eye, there is a discernible difference in style. This raises the possibility that there may have been up to three different individuals sending emails as ‘Beulah JARMAN’, each from a different email address. They may have been working independently, or in concert. ‘General’ has apparently not considered this possibility.
And this raises the further possibility that either someone at the the Council is particularly disturbed by the content of this sixth email, but may actually be reacting in error to a sender other than the real ‘Beulah JARMAN’ or the real Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF – or, indeed, to whoever sent any of the first five emails.
Oh, what a tangled web . . .
Interestingly, emails to ‘Beulah JARMAN’ (at the most recent email address) sent shortly after the SBC ‘shot across the bows’ email have all bounced back – indicating that the account may have been deleted. Before or after the arrival of the SBC email – that is the question. It remains possible that Kevin HOLLINRAKE and the 50 SBC Councillors have all received the ‘General’ email, but not the primary recipient – the most recent incarnation of ‘Beulah JARMAN’.
Moving on . . .
The second paragraph seems to suggest that the change of advice offered to ‘Beulah JARMAN’ by Kevin HOLLINRAKE MP bespeaks the possibility of an intervention from higher up in the Conservative Party hierarchy. That usually entails a ‘damage limitation’ initiative, which would explain Mr HOLLINRAKE having seemingly distanced himself from the Scarborough & Whitby Conservative Association (S&WCA). Like Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF, Mr HOLLINRAKE is a member of the Thirsk & Malton Conservative Association (T&MCA). Is there a schism brewing between S&WCA and T&MCA to match the burgeoning rift between Councillors and Officers at SBC?
The third paragraph refers to the aforementioned series of since-deleted Tweets by Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF on the evening of 7th October 2016. I have copies of those Tweets. They tell a chilling tale of a woman in the most extreme anguish, alone and isolated, bereft of appropriate care and undergoing fears of being drummed out of the of the Conservative Party and/or Scarborough Borough Council (having already been booted out of the SBC Cabinet, out of the SBC Conservative Group and the S&WCA and out of the NY Police & Crime Panel, as well as being deprived of half her Allowances – which amounted at that time to about £8K per annum, a significant part of her livelihood), and having already seen her hitherto exemplary public reputation trashed, all for the unforgivable sin of suffering a mental breakdown following the devastating early death of her husband. Within hours of those Tweets, which amount to a suicide note, Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF really had taken an overdose and can count herself lucky to be alive.
Does she have my sympathy? Damn right she does. Did she have BASTIMAN’s and PLANT’s? Your call, members of the public.
Ironically, the day of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s dismissal from Cabinet was Day 1 of National Hate Crime Awareness Week, during which machinations were apparently in full flow to perform a political assassination on her – in the service of ‘reputational management’. What reputation did SBC have to lose? Not much. It was shot to pieces by the 2005 Highpoint Rendell scandal and has been in free fall ever since.
The fourth paragraph questions why no-one rendered Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF any assistance. It is a good question. The Duty of Care obligations of the Council were conspicuous by their absence – at least from the material at my disposal.
The question “Cover Up to protect Joe and Derek?” is precisely that – a question. It is another good question. Asking questions is neither a tort nor a crime. It is certainly not defamatory. No aspect of this entire affair sheds a sympathetic light on Councillors BASTIMAN and PLANT (if that is who is intended by “Joe and Derek” – which we cannot know) and the same can be said for the Monitoring Officer, Mrs Lisa DIXON, who is still evading my straightforward request for the date and time of her response to Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s “cry for help” email of of 8th September 2016 at 17:21:11 BST. It is my strong suspicion that there was no response – that she simply ignored it, leaving Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF bereft of any support from her Support Officer or anyone else at SBC.
The fifth and final paragraph – especially the second sentence – gives the first suggestion of a statement that could be construed to be defamatory, though who exactly may have been defamed is not entirely clear. It seems to exhibit knowledge of hitherto undisclosed aspects of the Councillor Heather PHILLIPS matter which may be nothing more than an extrapolation of information available on the public record. On the other hand, it may refer to first-hand inside knowledge – we cannot know:
“Heather Phillips was bought off with money to Chair one meeting.”
This would appear to be a reference to the fact that a Complaint to the SBC Conservative Group and/or the S&WCA against Councillors BASTIMAN and PLANT would fall under the purview of Councillor Heather PHILLIPS [Con.] who, according to the public record, attended (as Deputy Chair) and voted at a meeting of the Audit Committee (22/03/16) on a motion supporting the merging of the Standards Committee with the Audit Committee – a merger which stood to deprive Councillor PHILLIPS of £1,300+ per annum in Special Responsibility Allowance for chairing the Standards Committee.
Councillor PHILLIPS’ interest in the outcome of that Resolution was a pecuniary interest – in my view, a disclosable pecuniary interest (DPI) – though the record shows that it was not declared at the meeting; nor, it appears, was an application for a Special Dispensation advised, requested or granted. Failure to declare a DPI is a criminal offence. Will ‘General’ be anonymously threatening Councillor PHILLIPS with legal action? Or is Councillor PHILLIPS appropriately compliant, and therefore immune from attack?
On 29th January 2018, I published an Open Letter to Councillor John NOCK [Con.] in his capacity as Portfolio Holder for Legal & Governance, asking a series of public interest questions about Councillor PHILLIPS’ non-declaration. He has yet to respond. Perhaps he is busily engaged in drafting a threatening email to me (to be sent unsigned, one might hazard, from that General@scarborough.gov.uk email address). “Our policy is open and transparent” states Councillor NOCK in his 20th December email to ‘Beulah JARMAN’. He should have blind-copied the Marines.
One possible interpretation of the comment cited above is that Councillor PHILLIPS’ loyalty to the Tory Leadership and her compliance with any putative cover-up (which may or may not have been concocted to exonerate the subjects of any forthcoming Formal Complaint or civil action) was a corrupt act. I have no evidence to support that conclusion – which is not to say that ‘Beulah JARMAN’ (whoever she/he/they may be) does not. If ‘Beulah JARMAN’ is indeed a Councillor or a member of Town Hall staff, she/he would be well placed to know. She/he certainly seems to have specialied knowledge of Council procedures and protocols.
The final sentence is another question (“Enjoying your ‘hush’ money?”) – not an assertion. But it is very troubling. It hints at the notion that loyalty, secrecy and bias can be a route to reward and/or promotion within the SBC Conservative Group. Perish the thought.
A Curved Ball
There has been a most curious repercussion to the unsigned SBC threatening email from ‘General’ at Scarborough Borough Council (whoever that may be). That Councils assign the title ‘Officer’ to their senior staff is a well-known fact. But ‘General’? Could that be Jim DILLON under delusions of military grandeur?
Certainly, it would now appear (at least on face value) that a number of SBC Councillors are appalled by the email threatening ‘Beulah JARMAN’ – judging, at least, by the remarkable email below from a certain ‘Unhappy Councillor’ (‘Councillor’ in the singular, be it noted; though the text suggests a group, perhaps a small group, of like-minded Councillors):
From: Unhappy Councillor [Email address REDACTED]
Date: 11 February 2018 at 15:11:47 GMT
Cc: [REDACTED – (NYE pseudonym ‘Beulah JARMAN’)], firstname.lastname@example.org, All 50 SBC Councillors
Subject: Re: Various Allegation – Not in Our Name
We are disgusted at SBC’s attempt at thuggery against [REDACTED – (NYE pseudonym ‘Beulah JARMAN’)]. I have spoken to other councillors who agree. SBC did not sign the email so we won’t sign our email.
We believe [REDACTED – (NYE pseudonym ‘Beulah JARMAN’)]. Kevin Hollinrake DOES NOT deny the story. We know there was a cover up.
[REDACTED – (NYE pseudonym ‘Beulah JARMAN’)], do not be afraid. We know the truth. Hollinrake is not going to give up on being a minister for those two. If you want to talk then please email us.
Jim/Lisa maybe you should spend some time thinking about the victim and how that email will affect her. Kevin Hollinrake the same to you.
The truth is the truth. Threats will not make it go away.
Barely an hour later, the following email from Councillor David BILLING [Lab.] popped into my in-tray, adding another voice to the protests expressed above:
Date: 11 February 2018 at 16:20:52 GMT
To: Unhappy Councillor [Email address REDACTED]
Cc: General@scarborough.gov.uk, Jim.Dillon@scarborough.gov.uk, Lisa.Dixon@scarborough.gov.uk, [REDACTED – (NYE pseudonym ‘Beulah JARMAN’)], email@example.com, All 50 SBC Councillors.
Subject: Re: Various Allegation – Not in Our Name
Anonymous emails should be treated with the contempt they deserve.
What ever pseudo-justification is being concocted.
Labour councillor Central ward
Home 01723 361415
Addressing his email ‘Dear Colleague’ suggest that Councillor BILLING believes himself to be addressing a fellow Councillor, perhaps even a fellow Labour Councillor. Perhaps he is aware of the identity of ‘Unhappy Councillor’? I am not.
But I would agree with Councillor BILLING; it is indeed contemptible for a public authority to send threatening emails with no signature (and therefore no semblance of accountability) to an unidentified recipient who, for all we know, may be suffering from suicidal depression. Who the hell does this ‘General’ think she/he is? A contender for another Private Eye award?
And I would agree, too, with Councillor BILLING’s view that there can be no legitimate excuse or justification for the threatening email, especially given the obvious Safeguarding implications.
And so, for the moment, the matter rests. But not, perhaps, for long. There is a Cabinet meeting tomorrow (Tuesday 13th February 2018). Unlucky for some.
Meanwhile, the stand-off between right-thinking Councillors and the Directorate intensifies. Following last year’s Vote of No Confidence shenanigans and the email interceptions, this latest disgrace has thrown fuel on the fires and the flames are rising. The ‘General’ is losing his grip.