Scarborough Bully Council – abuse of entrusted power?
- an ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward, reporting on the increasingly authoritarian mind-set informing the actions of a Council desperate to conceal endemic corruption defined as “The abuse of entrusted power for private gain” (Transparency International).
Now that the North Yorkshire County Council elections are behind us and THREE of SBC Leader Councillor Tom FOX’s seven Cabinet Portfolio-Holders (all double-dippers) have seen the sharp end of public opinion, what can we expect next from this Cabinet, seven of whose present composition have suffered severe criticism in the national and local press over their double-dipping of Allowances and thereby lost the confidence of the electorate i.e. those who finance them?
And let us not forget that, in the Northstead division, former Portfolio-Holder (and another double-dipper) Cllr Peter POPPLE turned a 63-vote majority into a 179-vote defeat to UKIP’s anti-corruption candidate Graham TAYLOR – a 242-vote turnaround that must surely have been influenced by his exposure as a double-dipper).
But before analysing future prospects, let us have a closer look at what has befallen four of Cllr Tom FOX’s present Cabinet since their 2009 NYCC election victories.
In the Mayfield-cum-Mulgrave division, double-dipper Cllr Jane KENYON stepped down from the County Council, citing health issues.
In the Eastfield & Osgodby division, double-dipper Cllr Brian SIMPSON turned a 262-vote majority into a 148-vote crashing defeat – a 410-vote turnaround that was surely influenced by his exposure as a double-dipper.
In the Woodlands division, double-dipper Cllr Bill CHATT lost his tenuous grip on his seat (a majority of 4 votes) into a crashing 105-vote defeat (third place) – and that, too, surely had plenty to do with Bill CHATT’s unrepentant double-dipping, as well as his astonishing bullying tirade against Corruption Buster Tim HICKS.
In the Filey division, double-dipper Cllr Mike COCKERILL turned a 100-vote majority into a 118-vote defeat – a 218-vote turnaround that again must have been influenced by public feeling over double dipping. His arrogant attitude and general ignorance of the special-interest areas of his Portfolio may perhaps also have had a hand in his downfall; although the Resolution passed by Whitby Town (Parish) Council at a Meeting of Full Council on 5th February 2013 seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the general public.
- Resolved that this Council requests that Borough Councillor Cockerill employs a more informed, resourceful and diplomatic response to the many critical issues which confront him in our Town in his dual role as Portfolio Holder for Harbours, Assets, Coast and Flood Protection and Chairman of Whitby Harbour Board” – (Ten votes for, one vote against and two abstentions).
So three of SBC Leader Cllr Tom FOX’s hand-picked Cabinet (eight strong – the Leader, plus seven Portfolio-Holders) have rather emphatically been given the order of the boot from their County Council seats and another decided not to stand, citing health issues (which are apparently not so grave as to prevent her from performing her rôle as SBC’s Portfolio-Holder for Finance, Procurement & Legal) – thus leaving the Cabinet’s credibility in complete tatters, and the Leader’s along with it.
But that brings us, conveniently, to the Borough Council’s latest bully-boy attempt to silence criticism.
On 15th April 2013, SBC’s David KITSON – whose position is now described as ‘the Solicitor’ (presumably to obviate the embarrassment caused by his previous title – ‘the Senior Solicitor’ – often ironically abbreviated to ‘the SS’) – sent a letter to the Clerk of Whitby Town (Parish) Council intimating that, by passing the Resolution quoted above, ALL of its elected members could be in breach of three articles of the Code of Conduct. And he contemptuously insinuates that Whitby Town (Parish) Council has conducted itself like a “talking shop” – which the FreeDictionary defines thus:
- “a group or committee that has discussions that never result in action”.
He also instructs that any future criticism of Scarborough Borough Councillors be made via a Formal Complaint to the Monitoring Officer – Lisa DIXON – under the terms of the Code of Conduct, based on the seven Nolan Principles. In other words, he is using implied threats to inhibit the Town Council’s right to criticize SBC, in exactly the same way that Lisa DIXON tried to prohibit free speech in the form of further criticism of SBC on Real Whitby.
David KITSON is Lisa DIXON’s Deputy Monitoring Officer. In addition to being Monitoring Officer, Lisa DIXON is also SBC’s Director (formerly Head) of Legal & Support Services. It was Lisa DIXON who approved those “solicitor’s letters” attempting to close down Real Whitby and threatening its main contributors with civil and criminal legal action.
I have lodged a Formal Complaint against the SBC Solicitor David KITSON. I have also FOIA’d for his authorisation to write and send the letter. I believe his letter breaches the Code of Conduct in precisely the same ways that he himself has cited against the Whitby Town (Parish) Councillors. .
It would appear that institutionalised bullying is now the first choice of action for the SBC Legal team.
Notwithstanding Lisa DIXON’s attempts, six weeks ago, to close down Real Whitby unless every single reference to Scarborough Borough Council was removed from the site within seven days, as well as threatening civil and criminal legal action against the site’s owner and three main contributors, we now know (from the Minutes of the SBC Cabinet Meeting of Tuesday 23rd April 2013) that, by her own admission, she was jumping the gun:
- “The Chairman reported that Agenda Item 17 on this meeting’s agenda (and Item 5 in the Forward Plan under the Finance, Procurement and Legal portfolio) had been deferred at the request of the Council’s lawyers. The reason for this was that progress continued to be made but there were a substantial amount of items to be considered in this context. It was important that the work was undertaken thoroughly and not rushed. Members were asked to bear with the team while it continued its investigations and analysis.”
Charles Arnold-Baker, in his seminal work “Local Council Administration” – universally recognised as the Councils’ “Bible” – has this to say on the subject of defamation:
“Fair comment on a matter of public interest is not actionable. The acts and proceedings of a local council are matters of public interest, and a local council or other local authority as such cannot maintain an action for defamation if it is criticised even if such criticism is intemperately expressed. Criticism must, however, be fair and if it is so worded that it can reasonably be held to impute unworthy or corrupt motives to particular members they would, as individuals, be entitled to take action”.
 Purcell v Sowler (1887) 2 CPD 215; Hampshire Co Council v Times Newspapers (1992) 90 GR 221.
 Local Government Act 1972 Sch 12 paras 13(2) and 29(2)
“They would, as individuals, be entitled to take action”. Paid for by themselves – and initiated through their own solicitor(s) under their own names, not anonymously through the Council’s solicitor, paid for by the public purse.
In my view, we are here confronted by a Cabinet and/or Council seeking to use its own Legal Services department as a tool to silence public criticism – whether by Real Whitby investigative-journalists or by Whitby’s own elected representatives, the Whitby Town (Parish) Council – in an effort to conceal from the wider public knowledge of double-dipping of Allowances and other serious breaches of the public trust, at the public’s expense!
Clearly, the Council as a whole is deeply embarrassed by its decision to reward former Councillor, Mayor and Jimmy SAVILE associate Peter JACONELLI with ‘Honorary Alderman of the Borough’ status (proposed by former SBC Leader Councillor Mavis DON OBE and seconded by Councillor Tom FOX’s immediate predecessor as Leader, Councillor Eileen BOSOMWORTH, of Highpoint-Rendell fame).
We know this because Councillor Tom FOX continues to evade my question of 18th of February 2013:
- “What is the intention of the Leader in respect of the many serious allegations, every bit as horrific as those against Jimmy SAVILE, against former Councillor and Mayor Peter JACONELLI, in respect of his status as Alderman of the Borough. Is there a process in train for the Council to adopt the same approach as in the SAVILE case?”
Readers will remember that it was only days later, on 22nd February 2013, that Councillor Geoff EVANS came forward to the Scarborough News (“Ex-Mayor was a sex pest”), and in Real Whitby (“Savile Associate Jaconelli Finally Exposed As Paedophile”), confirming that he himself was a victim of Peter JACONELLI and that:
- “Authorities, including the police and council, were aware of the issue but did not take any action.”
This statement entirely corroborated an earlier statement by Trevor HARRINGTON:
- “I can confirm from personal experience that all of the allegations published about this man are entirely correct and he was a predatory paedophile, who preyed on local children.”
Meanwhile, the list of people confirming that the Council and the Police were fully aware of JACONELLI’s sexual exploitation of young boys continues to grow. Councillor Tom FOX spent around thirty years with the NYP, retiring as (acting) Chief of the Scarborough Police. His continuing failure to concede that JACONELLI was honoured as Alderman in flagrant disregard of his well-known and illegal proclivity for abusing minors is eroding Cllr Tom FOX’s own personal credibility to the point of farce.
But to return to the present; WTC Town Clerk Mrs Pam DOBSON’s letter to Lisa DIXON of 16th April seems to suggest that the Town Clerk has been sufficiently cowed by SBC Solicitor David KITSON’s letter as to abbreviate the full form of words of the Council’s Resolution of Tuesday 9th April, which was not (as she states) “this Council deplores the use of Scarborough Borough Council’s legal and Support Services to try to suppress freedom of speech”.
In full, it reads:
MOVED by Cllr Ian HAVELOCK, seconded by Cllr Amanda SMITH
This Council deplores the use of Scarborough Borough Council Legal and Support Services in order to:
Restrict the right of individual electors and residents to freedom of speech
Restrict the right of individual electors and residents to publish both opinions and comment concerning the business of SBC
A recorded vote was requested.
|FOR THE MOTION
|AGAINST THE MOTION
|Cllr Amanda SMITH
|Cllr John FREEMAN (Chair)
|Cllr John DICKINSON
|Cllr Steve SMITH
|Cllr Susan CLOUGH*
|Cllr Dennis COLLINS
|Cllr Mike MURPHY
|Cllr Terry JENNISON
|Cllr Niall CARSON
|Cllr Ian HAVELOCK
|Cllr Joyce STANGOE
|Cllr Noreen WILSON
|Cllr Simon PARKES
|Cllr Heather COUGHLAN
|* (Cllr Susan CLOUGH has since resigned from the Council)
It is interesting to note that, in sharp contrast with the rest of his Council, only the Chair (Mayor) Cllr John FREEMAN was not in principle opposed to SBC’s attempts to restrict free speech and public criticism.
The Clerk perhaps anticipated that if David KITSON (“the SS”) could wax so aggressive over a richly-deserved criticism of Cllr Mike COCKERILL, then Lisa DIXON may well blow a gasket when on learning that Whitby Town (Parish) Council actually DEPLORES Scarborough Borough Council’s attempts to restrict freedom of speech and restrict the right of individuals to criticise Scarborough Borough Council, even though Cllr Ian HAVELOCK had this to say:
- “The [Lisa DIXON] letter was extremely threatening. It has clearly touched a nerve and there is a lot of things I feel they [Real Whitby] were justified in bringing to the attention of the public.”
“Justified in bringing to the attention of the public”.
Indeed. All our efforts are in the public interest. The puzzle is, why would an administration guilty of no wrongdoing and confident that it was acting in the public interest be so aggressively hostile to scrutiny and comment by anyone, if the allegations of misconduct leveled against it were unfounded?
But we now learn, in an FOIA response, that Lisa DIXON takes sole responsibility for her threatening letter (though it was drafted by ‘a member of the Council’s legal team’):
- “I can confirm that the letter to which you refer was drafted by a member of the Council’s legal team to be sent by Lisa Dixon. Lisa Dixon approved the letter. The authority delegated to Lisa Dixon is contained in the Council’s Constitution, a copy of which can be found on the Council’s web site at www.scarborough.gov.uk”.
Although the delegated authority mentioned in the Constitution [7.(v)] does seem to extend to firing off threatening solicitor’s letters, it does not authorise personally motivated attacks in reaction to the criticism of Lisa DIXON performance as Monitoring Officer published on Real Whitby and in Private Eye – or actions contrary to the Constitution.
The following matters are also excluded from Lisa DIXON’s delegated authority:
(i) Claims or legal proceedings involving Members;
(ii) Claims or legal proceedings which, in the Head of Legal and Support Services’ view, are non-routine or have policy, high profile or significant financial implications.
This would appear to confirm that Lisa DIXON cannot act on behalf of elected members, and she cannot claim that the present issues are anything other than “non-routine or have policy, high profile or significant financial implications”.
Ergo, she needed the authority of the Council to threaten Real Whitby with closure – and its three main contributors with civil and criminal legal action. It appears that she had no such authority; in fact, she would appear to have abused her position and gone beyond her delegated authority – i.e. acted ultra vires.
After all, if Lisa DIXON’s action in writing to Real Whitby’s Internet Service Provider demanding that it terminate the Real Whitby website was authorised and justifiable in law, why did she approve a Press Release to Whitby Town (Parish) Council and the Whitby Gazette denying that she had written the letter that we now know she had personally approved?
And why will she not specify what it is that she alleges Real Whitby has published that is (allegedly) defamatory?
The Constitution of Scarborough Borough Council also tells us this (my highlights, in bold):
Purpose of the Constitution
The purpose of this Constitution is to provide a framework which will enable the Council to provide clear leadership to the local community and efficient, effective, transparent and accountable decision-making by:
(i) supporting the active involvement of local people in the process of local authority decision-making;
(ii) helping Councillors represent their constituents more effectively;
(iii) enabling decisions to be taken efficiently and effectively;
(iv) creating a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to public account;
(v) ensuring that no one will review or scrutinise a decision in which they were directly involved;
(vi) ensuring that those responsible for decision making are clearly identifiable to local people and that they explain the reasons for decisions; and
(vii) providing a means of improving the delivery of services to the community.
(viii) ensuring that the work of the Council promotes its vision and aims, which are
Our Vision is:
‘to achieve the renaissance of the North Yorkshire Coast by 2020’
Our Mission is:
‘to be the best’
That was the aspiration.
The reality is different – we have an autocratic Leader surrounded by a nucleus of increasingly unsupported Councillors who think nothing of accepting double and even triple their Allowance money, and will not even come clean and pay it back when challenged.
On 23rd May 2013, the individual Cabinet Portfolio-Holders will decide whether or not to use Council resources (i.e. the public purse) to silence the very people that their Constitution promises will be “actively supported” in “holding them to account”. In doing so, the Cabinet is at risk of breaching Items (i), (iv), (v) and (vi) of the Council’s own Constitution.
Particularly disturbing to me is “no one will review or scrutinise a decision in which they were directly involved”,because six of the eight Councillors who comprise the Cabinet are directly involved in this absurd threat of legal action against Real Whitby and its main contributors – as double-dippers, three of whom have lost out badly in the County elections, clearly they had something to lose personally by the continuing double-dipping scandal – their County seats – worth a minimum of £8,994 per annum (and that is only the NYCC Basic Allowance – there are other Allowances to be enjoyed).
Only County Councillors David CHANCE and Derek BASTIMAN amongst the Cabinet Membership are not double-dippers, having been elected to the County Council at last week’s elections. The Cabinet cannot take any action whatsoever with only two Portfolio-Holders present. Presumably, we should now expect a ‘Cabinet re-shuffle’!
Remind me. Where are we living? Under what sort of a regime?
The former USSR? The People’s Republic of China? North Korea?
We live in that part of North Yorkshire where ‘strong’ Leader Cllr Tom FOX presides over Scarborough Bully Council – operating in flagrant disregard of its own Constitution.
Hypocrisy + Autocracy = Lunacy