SBC Statement re Devious Dave’s Email Interceptions
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, examining and analysing SBC’s knee-jerk reaction to the Private Eye exposé of email interception by Deputy Monitoring Officer David P. KITSON.
The statement issued by Scarborough Borough Council, as published on the Scarborough News web-site, contains a small number (single figures) of truths – and a (larger) number of outright lies.
I propose to deal with them in the order in which they appeared. But before doing so, let us take note of the fact that Deputy Monitoring Officer David P. KITSON’s false claim in Full Council (and again in an email to all Councillors) to be acting lawfully under the terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, has been quietly discarded.
Let it be noted, too, that every nuance and connotation of the word “intercept” bespeaks a unilateral intent to negate transparent communication and to conceal information from its intended recipients. It is autocratic. It is dictatorial – and entirely inappropriate conduct on the part of servants of the public.
I have separated the SBC statement into paragraphs for ease of reference:
1) “The council has in place a policy for dealing with ‘unreasonably persistent’ and ‘unreasonable’ complaint behaviour, which can be accessed on the council’s website. Such behaviour is dealt with by a simple, overt, and reasonable practice, which is in operation throughout the public sector for the protection of not only staff and members (councillors), but also to protect limited resources.”
The first sentence is true. The second is patently false; the so-called “redirection” of emails is not “overt”, nor is it “reasonable practice”.
It cannot be “overt” because none of the Councillors with whom I have spoken (double figures) was aware that it was in operation.
That suffices to allow me to describe it properly as “covert”.
It cannot be considered “reasonable practice” for the obvious reason that it is illegal, being defined (and prohibited) as an act of “stalking” under s.2A(3)(d) of the Protection from Harassmment Act 1997:
- (d) monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication,
Nevertheless, according to information received from Councillors around the country, it would appear to be true that illegal monitoring of e-correspondence by public sector institutions is ubiquitous throughout England and Wales and is a clear indication that a totalitarian mindset prevails in many of our public ‘authorities’.
2) The policy states that ‘…the council does not expect its staff or members to tolerate unacceptable behaviour by complainants or any customer’. It sets out examples of complaint and communication behaviour that may be considered to be unreasonable.
Questions: “behaviour that may be considered to be unreasonable” by whom? The Council? How can that be so when Councillors have known nothing at all about it? Just who is it, then, who has “considered” these emails to be “unreasonable”? How, if the claim that the emails are not read by the three Senior Officers were true, can it be known whether or not the content was in some way unacceptable or unreasonable? Under what criteria are they alleged to be “unreasonable”? Is it not the case that what these emails have in common is that they attempt to hold the Council (and, in particular, Officers of suspect integrity) to account over governance issues, electoral issues, Planning issues, Harbour issues, etc, etc? This is certainly true of every one of the many intercepted emails that have passed through my in-tray – and there have been many.
The only party(ies) who may consider emails to Councillors drawing their attention to wrongdoing and/or dishonesty on the part of Council Officers to be “unreasonable” are those whose conduct is being called into question. Is it, quite simply, that having been caught out, Officers do not wish to be challenged by Councillors? An example of this would be emails to Councillors pointing out that Officers have made statements in Full Council which have subsequently been demonstrated to be (at best) indicative of extraordinary incompetence and (at worst) evidence of blatant lies. The only plausible (though utterly unacceptable) reason for such emails to be “redirected” is to prevent elected members learning of Officers’ unacceptable conduct.
Readers will recall, for example (and in addition to the KITSON assertion regarding the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000), the two separate occasions (9th January 2017 and 17th January 2017) upon which Monitoring Officer Lisa DIXON told Full Council that she had been unable to locate any Covenants associated with the Futurist Theatre, despite which a member of the public quickly established, with a single email, that Covenants not only did exist – their existence was easy to demonstrate through the very first and most obvious avenue of enquiry – the Land Registry.
3) “Where an individual or third party is acting in an unreasonable manner they are informed that this is the case, with an explanation as to why their behaviour is considered unacceptable. They are told that should they continue to act in an unreasonable manner, their access to officers and members will be restricted, and that this includes the redirection to a central mailbox of any emails they send to officers or members. This is done in an open and transparent manner.
Should the individual or third party fail to moderate their behaviour, the matter is referred to the council’s Director’s Team to consider whether the individual or third party should now be declared as unreasonable under the terms of the policy. If this occurs, then the measures set out and explained in the warning email are put in place.”
Before publishing such arrant nonsense, Council Officers would do well to consider that many (not all) of the emails “redirected” under this absurd policy were blind copied to the Enquirer. I can therefore state, as a matter of certainty, that is not true that senders were always informed that they had been “deemed” to have acted “in an unreasonable manner”. Nor was the application of the “redirection” reviewed six-monthly, as required by the Council’s own ‘Policy’ (which itself has no legal force, being contrary to primary legislation).
4) “Of course there may be emails sent from such complainants that the council needs to address as part of its range of statutory duties. This is why they are redirected to the unreasonable complainants’ mailbox rather than be deleted or rejected by the system. Access to this mailbox is restricted to three senior council officers, so that any emails which need to be addressed as part of the council’s statutory duties are forwarded appropriately.”
NB: “three senior council officers” who, fearing criticism, insist on anonymity. Snowflakes.
There may indeed have been emails sent to the Council in respect of its statutory duties. It is not clear on what possible basis these should have been “redirected” to the “unreasonable complainants’ mailbox” since they were not complaints at all, rather they were well-intentioned advice and information. To my own personal knowledge, these have included emails concerning electoral infractions as well as actions taken by the Council beyond its lawful authority. Such emails have been disregarded entirely, so it is not known whether or not they were deleted from the system, or simply ignored. Certainly, those that were simultaneously copied to Councillors never arrived.
5) “The amount of people that are subject to email re-direction at any one time is in single figures.”
This would appear to be true. Possibly. But who can be certain?
6) “At no point are these emails accessed via logging into a councillor’s or an officer’s email account. The entire process is carried out in an overt manner, with the complainant being properly advised of the measures and why they are being invoked.”
It is not known exactly how “these emails” have been accessed. What is known is that emails which have reached their intended recipients have been totally anodyne, whereas emails highlighting wrongdoing and/or disingenuousness on the part of Officers and Cabinet Portfolio Holders have ‘mysteriously’ failed to arrive.
Furthermore, recent ‘test’ (i.e. experimental) emails addressed to selected Opposition Councillors (some containing pseudo-cryptic references), to both their SBC and their private email addresses, exhibit the curious characteristic of reaching their intended recipients virtually immediately via their private email addresses – and only several hours/days later (if at all) via their SBC email addresses (and these only since Councillors RANDERSON [Lab.] and JEFFERSON [Ind.] raised the issue in Council).
None of these emails has resulted in the sender(s) being “properly advised of the measures and why they are being invoked”. In short, there is nothing “overt” about the process; it is sneaky, underhand and morally repugnant in the highest degree.
7) “Failure to deal with unreasonable behaviour of this type would result in the council failing to comply with legal duties to protect officers and members. It would also impact upon the use of council resources and hinder the council’s ability to correspond with its customers and deliver its services.” The issue was raised after two councillors found they did not receive an email from a member of the public who had been placed into the ‘unreasonable’ filter.”
Too much is made of this nonsense about the Council being required to “protect officers and members”. From what? Fully justified and well-documented complaints? Important information of a ‘whistleblowing’ nature? Allegations of paedophilia against former Councillor, Mayor and Alderman Peter JACONELLI [Con.]? Not one of the dozens of emails that have been Bcc:-copied to me and/or the Enquirer has contained threats, abuse or even strong language. Not one. All have been forthright but courteous, well-documented and directed to the appropriate Officer(s) and/or Councillors. For the most part, they simply raise questions (abeit questions to which no answers have been forthcoming. In any case, there is primary legislation to deal with grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing emails which the Council would without doubt be eager to pursue – if there were any evidence to support such allegations. I have seen none.
Nevertheless, SBC is now conceding that many or all of “these emails” have been prevented from reaching their intended recipients.
Neither is there any truth whatsoever in the assertion that “these emails” would in any way “impact upon the use of council resources and hinder the council’s ability to correspond with customers and deliver its services”. It is self-evident that an email to, for example, Councillor Tony RANDERSON [Lab.] (whose challenge to this disgraceful abuse of position must be commended in the highest terms) can have no impact whatsoever on “council resources”, rather a probable beneficial effect on the “delivery of services” to “customers” – an outcome often achieved by Councillors in possession of the full facts. It is called ‘casework’.
Even if (and I emphasise “if”) some of “these emails” were expressed in strong terms, is the Council really maintaining that residents/electors may justifiably be denied access to elected Councillors and/or paid public servants for no better reason than that their concerns have been couched in the language used by ordinary Yorkshire people in their everyday discourse, instead of the fathomless gobblydegook spouted by the likes of Mr KITSON? My, but these Council employees must be very sensitive creatures indeed. Snowflakes.
Councillor RANDERSON has responded to an elector, on the Scarborough News Facebook page, in regard to the SBC statement, by commenting:
“I am still on with this, [name redacted]. Councillors are not staff. They are elected representatives and as such should be the only ones to determine when and if certain residents should be blocked through vexatious e-mails not SBC. I do not require protecting. I entered public service open eyed in the knowledge that residents get angry and wound up at times. We as councillors should be willing to deal with that and if not, Councillors should ask themselves ‘should I really be a councillor?’“.
In summary, and to quote the late lamented comedian and commentator Peter COOK, the SBC statement, for all its inclusion of one or two innocuous truths and half-truths, is little better, in my view, than “a transparent tissue of odious lies”.
It is not without significance that it is published unsigned.
It is not without significance that the Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] (‘Leader’ in name only) has not commented on this appalling departure from democratic principle.
We know from whom David P. KITSON receives his orders and we know that they cause him increasing discomfort. Quite rightly.
The true culprit sits further up the food chain. One would hope for not much longer.
In the past twelve months, we have witnessed lies about the Futurist, lies about the Ben MARRIOTT corruption allegations, lies about the Council’s finances, and now lies about the email snooping. All of these lies fall within the remit and responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer – the ever silent Jim DILLON.
That is where the buck stops and I shall watch, with interest, to see what steps will next be taken to prevent the buck reaching its rightful destination – ever mindful of the fact that for our little ship of mini-state to sail a true course, an able skipper will be required.
Speed the day!