Saturday 27th May 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

ELN LATEST: Execrable, Lying & Nefarious Parish Council

ELN LATEST: Execrable, Lying & Nefarious Parish Council

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, exposing the latest utterly despicable nonsense from Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council (ELN). This time they have gone too far. If ever there was doubt, amongst honest men, regarding the vital importance of the right of the public to film/record Council Meetings, here is the clincher.

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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

Background

Regular readers will all ready be aware of the astonishing conduct of Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council, a ‘Rent-a-Mob’ pantomime covered in some detail both in North Yorks Enquirer articles and in Letters to the Editor. For ease or reference, links are provided here, in order of publication:

The response, from parishioners all over the District of Hambleton and beyond has been nothing short of overwhelming. Members of the public are quite rightly outraged by the way that the Councillors and Clerk of ELN have been discharging their duties in the administration of the public purse and the public interest.

But it goes much further. Seemingly, a large number of Parish Councils are conducting the affairs of the public with scant regard for compliance with statute, including (but not limited to):

  1. Inadequate publication of Notices (temporally and spatially)
  2. Inaccurate, incomplete or non-existent Minutes of Meetings
  3. Multiple failures to declare disclosable interests, both for Registers of Interest and for individual Agenda Items in open Council, with particular regard to Planning considerations.
  4. Multiple breaches of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, with particular regard to breaches of the first Nolan Principle (Respect for all others).
  5. Multiple breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.
  6. Multiple overdue and out-of-time Freedom of Information requests.
  7. Non-availability of Minutes.

In the present matter:

  • The North Yorkshire Police (NYP) has been informed.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is investigating.

I have written to Hambleton District Council Monitoring Officer Gary NELSON, copying-in his Chief Executive Phillip MORTON, pointing out the immeasurable damage to public confidence in local government that such blatant disregard of transparency and accountability must inevitably arouse. Given that the Chief Executive Phillip MORTON has enjoyed an astonishing salary increase (from £80K per annum to £125K per annum – a rise of 56%) in the past four years, public perception is bound to be that if the HDC Executive is unable to uphold democratic transparency and accountability in the District of Hambleton, then he is not fit for purpose. In which case, HDC’s profligacy with the public purse, without regard to the straitened times that the general public must suffer, is deeply insulting to the common man.

Regrettably, the response from Hambleton District Council Monitoring Officer Gary NELSON has been unhelpful and evasive. In a nutshell, Gary NELSON has repeatedly asserted that, with the exception of the Register of Interest infractions under the terms of the Localism Act 2011 (and even then, only if ELN formally requests his intervention), these matters are none of his business. He stated:

  • “Although the District Council may at the request of a Parish Council offer such advice and guidance as it feels able to provide, the District Council has no general jurisdiction or regulatory power over Parish Council matters of this type or a legal obligation to become involved.”

It apparently does not enter Gary NELSON’s mind that the position of Monitoring Officer exists to uphold the ethical and moral probity of Councillors as well as the legality of their actions. By retiring behind the moot excuse that he has no legal obligation to become involved, Gary NELSON is offering carte blanche to every self-serving Parish Councillor in the District of Hambleton. He is also consigning them to trial in the court of public opinion, where he will join them in the dock.

Developments

Meanwhile, ELN is presently in ‘lock down’ mode. The following Notice has appeared on the Parish Noticeboard – undated, unsigned, and without any indication of authorisation of any kind. For all we know, it could have been posted by any passing prankster. Perhaps it was.

LOCK_DOWN_NOTICE

One could be forgiven for anticipating that, if recent events are a guide, the Council’s intention to “do its best” will most likely amount to nothing.

In combination with earlier email auto-responses, one can only conclude that Parish Clerk Margaret STEAD has been away from her duties. If such is the case, no-one would wish to trouble her at this difficult time – though as of 20th August, no auto-responses have emerged, so perhaps she is back on the job.

AUTO_RESPONSE

But the Clerk’s recent apparent absence may explain why the Minutes of the last four Parish Council Meetings have NOT been ratified in Full Council as a true record.

However, the absence of a Clerk is normally a contingency well anticipated by most competent Councils; insurances are obtained to cover the cost of temporary arrangements. I recall Whitby Town (Parish) Council contending with the absence of a terminally ill Clerk with the support of both Scarborough Borough Council and the Yorkshire Local Council Association, both of whom offered to provide a well-qualified temporary Clerk.

Moreover, the Clerk’s absence does not appear to have prevented the members of the newly established ELN Complaints Committee – hastily convened (in response to my FOIA request eliciting the information that ELN had no Complaints Procedure in place) on 23rd June 2014, to address a Formal Complaint from a member of the public in relation to the conduct of the Clerk and others – from producing a set of signed (but undated and unratified as a true record) ‘Minutes’ of that Complaints Committee Meeting.

The astonishing truth is that these ‘Minutes’ appear to be the original three-and-a-half page Minutes, complete with the “wet signatures” of Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH (who Chaired the Meeting), Councillor Louis ROBINSON (of undeclared grass-cutting fame) and Councillor John PEIRSON. These ‘Minutes’ have been sent out to with two FOIA responses to Mrs DOLAN and her husband, though no covering letter explains their inclusion. (Incidentally, the FOIA responses arrived on the eleventh day of an Information Commissioner’s Office ruling that the Council must provide responses within ten days, having failed to respond within the terms of the Act).

To make a bad situation worse, these ‘Minutes’ contain a despicable pack of egregious lies, drafted, it would appear, by the Chair of the Complaints Committee, Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH, in an attempt to conceal his own disgraceful conduct at the 23rd June 2014 Complaints Committee hearing, and signed by him and his two fellow Committee members.

By his own hand, Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH has effectively condemned himself as a liar – and he has implicated his two colleagues, into the bargain.

The fact that these ‘Minutes’ have been released into the public domain without Full Council having ratified them as a true record in no way negates the contention that they are defamatory. Make no mistake, these ‘Minutes’ will be grist to the mill of any competent libel lawyer. And they may yet prove evidential in a criminal matter.

In the Meeting, Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH made the foolish error of enquiring of Mrs DOLAN whether or not she was recording the Complaints Committee meeting, which she did not deny. He did not ask whether or not her husband, who was present to support his wife in her complaint (since his own complaints were not scheduled for consideration at that Meeting) was recording the Meeting. Prudently, he was.

A copy of that recording is now in my possession, along with a verbatim transcript. So on this occasion, there will be no WRIGGLEROOM at all for Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH.

The ‘Minutes’

Though Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH’s portrayal of the Meeting is entirely a work of fiction (download link at the foot of this article), several ‘highlights’ are worth reproducing here.

LIE No. 1

Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH states, in his ‘Minutes’, that:

  • “. . . the Clerk had been ill for several months with periods in hospital. The response from the complainant was that this was irrelevant and that she expected immediate responses to any questions and demands submitted to the council”.

As the audio and transcript proves, at no point in the Meeting was the health (or even the absence) of the Clerk ever mentioned – either by the DOLANs or by any member of the Complaints Committee. Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’s statement is pure fabrication, designed to portray the DOLANs as unfeeling and, by extension, unreasonable and self-interested. It is demeaning.

In fact, the Council has failed abjectly in its duty to respond to correspondence within timescales set both by the Council itself and under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. If the Clerk is unable to fulfil these requirements, the Council needs to either extend her hours or appoint an Assistant or Deputy Clerk. What it may not do is disregard the law in the way that it repeatedly has.

In any case, for any member of the Committee to have disclosed information relating to the Clerk’s personal condition would have breached the Clerk’s rights under data protection legislation. Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH has signed off with a false confession to that, and Councillors ROBINSON and PIERSON have signed off with their corroboration.

LIE No.2

Cllr. WRIGGLESWORTH states:

“I pointed out the large file of correspondence the complainant had submitted and that if the volume of documents had to be read by a professional person they would probably charge £500”

What was actually said was:-

RW: This is your correspondence?

MD: Yes.

RW: My law firm would have charged five hundred quid to read that.

Note the use of the words “my law firm”, when what Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH now claims to have said was “a professional person”.

By stating “my law firm”, as opposed to “my clearing house for clients seeking legal advice” – which, by the way, is a far closer characterisation of his business – Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH was making an implication that was clearly intended to intimidate Mrs DOLAN by leading her to believe that she was dealing with a qualified lawyer, solicitor or barrister – which Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH is not. This has serious implications that will become apparent presently.

LIE No.3

WRIGGLESWORTH states in his ‘Minutes’ that:

  • “Then the couple started addressing the chairman as a lawyer, comments which were ignored.”

This is an outright lie. Throughout the meeting, Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH repeatedly projected the impression that he was legally qualified. His tactic was to overawe the complainant with ostensive legal knowledge and “authority”, with remarks such as:

  • “my law firm”
  • “criminal conduct . . .I deal with that. it’s what I deal with”
  • “what I’m telling you as a qualified person”

Following such remarks, only twice was Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH even passingly referred to as a lawyer, and that was by the complainant’s husband, and then in a rhetorical setting. And Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH did not interrupt to correct Mr. DOLAN (though his interruptions were frequent and many), who, having understood Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH’s repeated reference to his law business to mean that he was indeed a lawyer/solicitor/barrister, later in the Meeting commented, “And as a lawyer you should know the implications of what’s been put down in writing” – nor did he correct Mrs DOLAN when she said “being a lawyer, as you tell me you are…“. Contrary to Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH’s ‘Minutes’, these are the only points in the entire transcript that could even remotely be construed as supporting Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH’s claim that:

  • “The couple started addressing the chairman as a lawyer, comments which were ignored.”

The DOLANs felt so confused by Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’s (feigned) qualifications and ostensive legal expertise that, the following morning, Mrs DOLAN telephoned both the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority to establish Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’s true credentials – only to learn that Mr. Ray WRIGGLESWORTH (or Mr. Raymond Andrew WRIGGLESWORTH) is not registered with either body.

It would appear that he is not a lawyer/solicitor/barrister at all. Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’S “law firm” is in fact and the Employment Advisory outfit Emplaw Ltd – a sort of specialist employment law ‘clearing-house’ with no direct involvement in criminal law. Yet Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH actually stated in the Meeting, in regard to criminal law, “I deal with that. It’s what I do.”

This is very serious. It has implications under a number of Acts of Parliament:

(a) FRAUD ACT 2006

2 Fraud by false representation

(1) A person is in breach of this section if he—

            (a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and

            (b) intends, by making the representation—

                        (i) to make a gain for himself or another, or

                        (ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2) A representation is false if—

            (a) it is untrue or misleading, and

            (b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3) “Representation” means any representation as to fact or law, including a representation as to the state of mind of—

            (a) the person making the representation, or

            (b) any other person.

(4) A representation may be express or implied.

(5) For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

It is possible that Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH has committed an offence under this legislation insofar as he would appear dishonestly to have made a false representation [(1)(a)] by implication [(4)], knowing it to be untrue and misleading [(2)(b)], with an intention of exposing another to a risk of loss [(1)(b)(ii)].

I would not know; I am not a solicitor.

(b) SOLICITORS ACT 1974

21 Unqualified person not to pretend to be a solicitor.

Any unqualified person who wilfully pretends to be, or takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is, qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to [F1 a fine not exceeding the fourth level on the standard scale]

It is possible that Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH has committed an offence under this legislation insofar as he would appear to have used, in reference to himself, a “description implying that he is qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor” [21].

I would not know; I am not a solicitor.

(c) LEGAL SERVICES ACT 2007

17 Offence to pretend to be entitled

(1) It is an offence for a person—

(a)wilfully to pretend to be entitled to carry on any activity which is a reserved legal activity when that person is not so entitled, or

(b)with the intention of implying falsely that that person is so entitled, to take or use any name, title or description.

(2) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both), and

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or a fine (or both).

(3) In relation to an offence under subsection (1) committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44), the reference in subsection (2)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.

It is possible that Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH has committed a criminal offence under this legislation, too, insofar as he would appear to have pretended “to be entitled to carry on activity which is a reserved legal activity”, though he is not entitled to do so. [17(1)(b)].

I would not know; I am not a solicitor.

But I do know that this offence carries a penalty of a heavy fine or up to twelve months imprisonment.

LIE No.4

Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH states, in his ‘Minutes’, that:

  • “The couple stated they did not know if the clerk was a man or a woman and didn’t know the clerks name. We knew this could not be correct based on documentary evidence of the complainants’ correspondence with the clerk by name”

Again, this is a bare-faced lie, and another attempt at character assassination. Nowhere in the transcript of the audio-recording did this exchange – or anything remotely similar – take place. It is undiluted bullshit.

And on the subject of the burden upon the Clerk – which subject Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH returns to frequently in the transcript – I found it interesting, reading the Minutes to the ELN Meeting of 3rd March 2014, to note that Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH was happy enough to waste the Clerk’s very limited time on out-of-Parish affairs when it suited his own interests:

Item 7 – Any other business
Councillor Wrigglesworth raised concerns over parking in Bedale. Taxi ranks had been moved – 3 spaces for 12 taxis.  Signage misleading.  White line widths vary since being relined.  Resident mentioned that bays not wide enough to get children out of vehicle if parked correctly.

Decision:  Clerk would speak to Clerk of Bedale Town Council and ask for a joint meeting to discuss problems.

Parking regulations in another Parish do not form a legitimate Agenda Item for ELN, but Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH runs two businesses in Bedale (Emplaw and The Travel Lounge). Using one’s own Council as a medium through which to exert influence over another could be considered under the Transparency International definition of corruption:

  • “CORRUPTION is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.

In my view – and in the view of many right-thinking electors – self-interest would seem to form the greater part of Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’s participation in local government. In mitigation, he is far from alone in that.

LIE No.5

In his ‘Minutes’, Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH states:

  • “The couple seemed to be trying to draw the committee into saying the complainant had harassed and that she had made vexatious requests”.

The fact is that Mrs DOLAN attended this Complaints Committee Meeting in good faith, with her husband in support, to pursue a complaint made by Mrs DOLAN alone on the 28th May 2014, concerning this very issue. Her letters to the Council were ackowledged but thereafter ignored. Her FOIA requests, too. She has asked for information that the Council, in its determination not to disclose just how far it has strayed from the requirements of statute, has wittingly chosen to keep secret – and now defends that unlawful secrecy by counter-accusing Mrs DOLAN of being “vexatious”.

A further dissimulation lies in the fact that, in the second Conclusion paragraph of his ‘Minutes’, Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH actually claims that “the complainant can only be viewed as vexatious” – thereby falling into the hole he had just engineered for himself in that bulleted remark, above. The coupled did not “seem to be trying to draw the Council” into accusing them of being “vexatious” – the Council had already done so – and this is recorded in the already ratified Minutes of the Council Meeting of 8th May 2014.

So the great legal know-it-all has done it again. Duh!

My copy of Charles ARNOLD-BAKER’s ‘Local Council Administration’ tells me :

Minutes as evidence

Minutes purporting to be properly signed may be received in evidence without further proof.

Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH would appear to be damned both ways around.

The ELN Complaints Committee, constituted in accordance with the template provided by the Yorkshire Local Councils Association and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), was convened on 23rd June 2014 specifically to hear Mrs DOLAN Formal Complaints relating to non-responsiveness, failure to comply with the FOIA, and defamatory allegations contained in correspondence sent to her by the Clerk, who – far from being absent at the time – had actually notified Mrs DOLAN about the then forthcoming Complaints Committee hearing on 16th June 2014.

It is worth examining the main tenets of that YLCA/NALC template, which the Local Government Ombudsman has confirmed constitute the basis for a good Complaints Procedure:

  • Well publicized, easily accessible and easy to use;
  • Helpful and receptive;
  • Not adversarial;
  • Fair and objective;
  • Based on clear procedures and defined responsibility;
  • Thorough, rigorous and consistent;
  • Decisive and capable of putting things right where necessary;
  • Sensitive to the special needs and circumstances of the complainant;
  • Adequately resourced;
  • Fully supported by councillors and officers;
  • Provides responses that are proportionate; one size does not fit all; timely; and regularly analyzed to spot patterns of complaints and lessons for service improvement

Unfortunately, the way that Mrs DOLAN’s 23rd June Complaints Committee hearing was conducted under the Chairship of Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH fell so wildly short of these desiderata that, after six days of careful consideration, Mrs DOLAN wrote to the Council to complain about Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’s conduct of the hearing and to confirm his SRA Registration status. The SRA, remember, has confirmed that he holds no Registration; he is not a solicitor. Unsurprisingly, Mrs DOLAN has received neither acknowledgement nor response from ELN.

On the morning of Tuesday 19th August 2014, I ‘phoned the Chairman of Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council, Councillor John KETTLEWELL, to tell him that I would be publishing an article at the end of the week on the huge discrepancy between Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH’s ‘Minutes’ and the established truth – as demonstrated by the audio-recording and transcript of what actually happened. I offered to provide Councillor John KETTLEWELL with copies of the audio and the verbatim transcript, an offer which he declined. I also offered him the opportunity to make a statement for publication. He declined.

He suggested that I should contact Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH via his business address contact details. I pointed out that it would be unfair to risk compromising Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH in front of staff members, who might read an email to his business address before he could. I suggested that the Chairman alert Councillor WRIGGLESWORTH to the circumstances and I gave him until 5:00pm on Friday 22nd August 2014, should either of them wish to comment.

You guessed. Not a word. My conclusion is that the entire parish Council is ethically destitute.

Readers are invited to examine the evidence and decide for themselves, by downloading the ‘Minutes’ and the transcript from the link, below.

The excerpts from the ‘Minutes’ that I have cited above – and I could have as easily cited many more – are high-lighted and numbered, for ease of reference.

In my view, that direct comparison will suffice to show Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH for what he is.

And the ELN ‘Rent-a-Mob’ crowd may wish to consider whether or not they really wish to be seen supporting such despicable lies.

DOWNLOAD LINK

1) Chair Councillor Ray WRIGGLESWORTH’s ‘Minutes’ of the ELN Complaints Committee Meeting of 23rd June 2014.

2) Transcript of the Audio-Recording (i.e. What REALLY Happened).

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