Friday 16th November 2018,
North Yorks Enquirer

SBC Town Hall Lockdown Explained: CEO Bowing out?

SBC Town Hall Lockdown Explained: CEO Bowing Out?

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on the unravelling of a Scarborough Borough Council ‘urban myth’, from the Lockdown to the Showdown to the Lowdown.

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The Lockdown

Readers will recall that Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF has been disbarred from attending Council and Committee Meetings, from entering Council premises, and from directly contacting SBC Officers, since the beginning of March 2018. Much misinformation has been propagated by ‘the Council’ throughout the whole of this period.

Perhaps the most pernicious piece of misinformation supporting the Chief Executive’s contention that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF posed a significant danger to members, staff and public is the dramatic ‘lockdown’ of Scarborough Town Hall, undertaken at the very same time as her disbarment.

What more persuasive ‘demonstration’ of a very real danger could a CEO possibly invoke?

The once open and welcoming Town Hall became a fortress overnight, with members directed to use only the security door at the rear of the building, allegedly for their own safety.

Thus, the narrative was set, and has twice been confirmed to all members, in writing, by the Chief Executive (here and here), framed in such decisive terms as to leave room for a U-turn.

Anyone familiar with the anodyne style of Council speak will know that the CEO’s assertions may just as well have been set in flashing neon lights – “Cllr Donohue-Moncrieff poses a danger as clear and present as does terrorism”.

That narrative, though utterly false, has been passively allowed (and actively encouraged) to persist. It has festered throughout the past eight months. It has served to help block and silence questions from members of the public and to make Councillors feel that they would risk undermining ‘security’ or supporting a pariah if they so much as raised a question. It has been used to silence local media (to their shame) with the notable exception of the North Yorks Enquirer’s diligent publication of the truth.

The whispered and not-so-whispered scandal – “You know it’s all true what they say … they had to lock down the Town Hall because of her” – was encouraged, endorsed  and expanded with each repetition until the deception became the perceived ‘truth’. But the CEO and the Monitoring Officer did nothing to halt the rumours.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been told of this. It is so frequently mentioned, by anyone and everyone with whom the topic has arisen in general conversation, that it has become the ‘truth’ of a Council-sponsored ‘urban myth’ – one that has served Mr DILLON and Mrs DIXON’s agenda rather well. So far.

But their nonsense is now unravelling and, backed into a corner by public challenge, and by increasingly persistent Councillors, Mrs DIXON has now quietly conceded that the ‘lockdown’ melodrama had nothing whatsoever to do with Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF.

The increased security measures and the introduction of ‘smart’ passes had all been a part of the Council’s plans for some considerable time now and were actually introduced prior to the events that were alleged to have been their raison d’être.

Ironically,  far from a dutiful and necessary response to protect everyone from ‘the monstrous member’,  the Senior Officers have for years failed to set in place the proper controlled-entry security system that exists at most other Councils’ Town and County Halls – many dating from the time of the Poll Tax riots 0f 1989/90, when elected members may well have been genuinely at risk.

The very suggestion that security was being increased in response to unsubstantiated allegations against Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF was an insidious lie.

But SBC has indeed exposed staff members and visitors to danger – that danger being the incompetent management, ironically failing for 30 years in the very duty they are now attempting to deploy in justification of the unlawful disbarment of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF.

Not that this comes to light in virtue of Mrs DIXON making a full public statement. Oh, no. She chose, instead, to disclose it en passant in an ‘oral update report’ to the recent un-filmed and seldom-reported Audit Committee, the Agenda for which contained the following standing Item:

5. BUILDING SECURITY

To consider an oral update report from the ICT Delivery Manager about the Smart Access Control project for access to the Council’s buildings. 

Of course, no-one will see the Minute recording Mrs DIXON’s “oral update” (read “confession”) until the Minutes are approved at the next meeting – scheduled for 31st January 2019. Perhaps not then . . .

How very convenient.

Such a U-turn – such a game-changing admission that the disbarring of the Councillor has been predicated on hyped-up nonsense – deserves full public disclosure, not some cowardly ‘slip-it-in-where-it-will-never-be-noticed’ whitewash.

The simple truth is that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF has never posed the slightest danger to the entire elected membership and paid staff of the Council and the ‘increased security measures’ were, in fact, totally unrelated. She shouted at Councillor Heather PHILLIPS [Con.], who is now allegedly so afraid that she has gone out of her way to attend Parish Council meetings, with the Leader, Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] by the way – where they sat together in a relaxed and comfortable manner, within easy range of a violently swung handbag.

But why would Mrs DIXON make such an unscheduled intervention now, within that heavily-camouflaged “oral update”, after consistently failing to challenge the calculated misinformation which, for the last eight months, has been so deeply damaging to Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF’s reputation and, more importantly, her health?

Why now?

The word on the Council grape-vine is that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF was seen entering the Town Hall shortly before the said Audit Committee meeting.

In my view, that would seem to suggest that the ban may have been discreetly lifted. U-turn by stealth, no less.

In my view, the ban was always unnecessary – and unlawful.

Readers may well speculate as to whether or not these events are connected . . .

Start by joining the dots . . .

The Showdown

To suggest that a lifting of the ban – i.e. a reinstatement – would wipe the slate clean would be as absurd as to contend that a man, having stolen a car and driven hell-for-leather round a stock-car circuit, bumping and boring, axle-deep in mud, for eight solid months, may then return it to the owner without so much as a word of apology and expect all to be forgiven and forgotten, no charges pressed. But that analogy offers a reasonable representation of the extent of the damage inflicted upon the Councillor’s reputation.

My expectation is that Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF is now free to attend Full Council on Monday 5th November 2018.

Nevertheless, her reputation has been sullied. Monies have been diverted. A wrong has been done – a tort. The law provides remedies to torts. And, in our society, it is accepted that breaches of the law incur penalties, and serious breaches of the law incur serious penalties. This is should be no less applicable to Chief Executives and Monitoring Officers than it is to you or me. After all, we are all equal under the law – or?

Nor does a reinstatement obviate the need for the lawfully requisitioned Extraordinary Meeting which, let us remind ourselves, calls “upon the Leader and Cabinet to satisfy this Council that actions by the Authority to exclude/disbar any elected member from entering Council premises, attending meetings of Council/Committees and engaging with Council Officers, are lawful, proportionate and compliant with due process, as set out in the Council’s adopted and published Constitution, Protocols and Procedures, under the laws of England and Wales.”

A series of extraordinary evasions and procrastinations on the part of Mrs DIXON in fact augments the urgent need for the CEO’s actions to be examined by Full Council. Subject to any attempt at Amendment, those Motions will be:

1) That the Council immediately reinstate, without restriction, any member or members so disbarred;

2) This Council commission a member-controlled, full, unlimited and independent external enquiry into
the disbarment of Elected Members.

It has, of course, been understood from the outset that the Tory Whip will comfortably dispose of any Motion to have the CEO investigated.

Readers should prepare themselves for a shameless attempt by Mrs DIXON to suggest that a reinstatement renders the first Motion redundant. It does not. At the very least, the CEO must be instructed to rise and explain the circumstances of his actions. Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF is the first amongst many entitled to a public apology; the elected members and the residents of Hertford also deserve special mention.

But the second Motion – the stinger – stands to reveal exactly which Councillors are happy to be exposed as a dogs’ bodies who are happy to be wagged by the tail. Those in marginal seats will find the prospect of exposure far less than attractive.

What is clear is that Mrs DIXON, on behalf of Mr DILLON, is breaking an arm and a leg to stall the legitimately Requisitioned Extraordinary Meeting. She has informed the Proposer that the delay, though unfortunate, is unavoidable because she has (once again) found it necessary to seek external legal advice. The real reason, of course, is that Mr DILLON does not want to have his soiled laundry washed in public.

The very idea that Mrs DIXON is unable to grasp for herself the very straightforward requirements of the Local Government Act 1972 Schedule 12 Part One, 3(1) & (2) (see below) without seeking external legal opinion, at some considerable cost to the taxpayer, begs the question: just what can she do for her £74,950 per annum? The Act is not ambiguous:

3(1) An extraordinary meeting of a principal council may be called at any time by the chairman of the council.

(2) If the chairman refuses to call an extraordinary meeting of a principal council after a requisition for that purpose, signed by five members of the council, has been presented to him, or if, without so refusing, the chairman does not call an extraordinary meeting within seven days after the requisition has been presented to him, then any five members of the council, on that refusal or on the expiration of those seven days, as the case may be, may forthwith call an extraordinary meeting of the council.

But the Chair (Mayor/Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.]) has opted not merely to ignore the Requisition (which is shabby enough), he has passed it over to the CEO, who (as the above legislation makes absolutely clear) has no part in the process. Mr DILLON seems unaware of this, but he has a Director of Legal to advise him. Is she unaware of the requirements of the Act, too? Of course not. Her task is to swerve around them.

Nevertheless, the embattled CEO and his Monitoring Officer have been sitting on that Requisition since 27th September 2018. The statutory seven days have stretched to five weeks – with no end in sight.

And now Mrs DIXON awaits (or claims to be awaiting) the opinion of the Council’s external legal advisor (usually Bevan Brittan LLP – in the person of her former Deputy, Mr David P. KITSON). Cosy is as cosy does.

My guess is that a solicitor from afar will be drafted in to brief members on a cherry-picked ‘opinion’ supportive to the CEO. ‘Opinion’ is not law. Of course, the CEO knows that. But it will provide the spin necessary to create the impression that the CEO has done nothing at all wrong.

The Lowdown

Perhaps the inner-circle rumour igniting the networks over the past week could be true? As it was expressed to me, “The Council is getting a new Chief Exec”.

I believe we can expect an announcement: “Personal reasons and a desire to spend more time around the family hearth”. And watch a bit of ‘footie’.

Whilst emphasising that my closing remarks come directly from the wildest frontiers of the wide world of speculation, my best guess is that Mr DILLON will  leave the Council at the end of the year – the Council year, that is, in early May when the new Councillors are ‘sworn in’.

Not only will his departure be presented in a warm and congratulatory glow of thirteen (unlucky for some) selfless years of exemplary service to the Councillors of the Borough, he will cop for the significant additional payments he receives as Returning Officer for the local elections on Thursday 2nd May 2019. If he is really lucky, he may even cop for the vastly greater fees associated with holding the post of Returning Officer for a general election . . .

I am not anticipating any admission of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, negotiations over pensions and severance, etc, are likely already to be under way. A familiar enough story.

Finally, for those who have not yet analysed HHJ Mrs COCKERILL’s findings in the R (Harvey) -v- Ledbury case, the following video from the law practice of Anthony COLLINS (who represented Councillor HARVEY in that case) spells it out in plain enough language. I most earnestly recommend it – not least to Mrs DIXON.

Also of interest is the following report by Ledbury ‘man on the spot’ Rich HADLEY:

Download the PDF file RICH_HADLEY_301018.

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