Sunday 23rd June 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Potto Nepocracy [Pt.2]

March 19, 2023 Potto
Potto Nepocracy [Pt.2]
  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD investigating the apparently entrenched corruption and manipulation of the business at Potto Parish Council by its Chair, Councillor Andrew WILDE, and by the seemingly brow-beaten RFO/Clerk, his daughter, Mrs Joanne STOREY. This issue was highlighted to me by a reader who recognised that the Chair’s manipulation of meeting Agendas, as exposed in my “Potto Nepocracy Pt.1” article, was only a small part of a much bigger picture.
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In this article, I will examine some of the extraordinary measures adopted by the Chair and the RFO/Clerk of Potto Parish Council to maintain secrecy when challenged to disclose public documents evidential of wrongdoing. I will cite two examples that ‘book-end’ almost a decade of defiance – the first in excruciating detail; the second relying entirely on the ruling handed down by Judge Alison McKENNA as recently as 23rd December 2022 – but mysteriously unreported in the Potto Parish Council meeting Minutes.
A North Yorks Enquirer reader has asked me to investigate and report on the Chair’s even more serious manipulation (including impersonation of the Clerk), concerning the cancellation of Council meetings, to suit his personal whims and covert agenda.
The First Example – 9th December 2013.
The first example in this article, fully-evidenced, has been independently verified and is available in the public domain, as a result of becoming the subject matter of input from the HDC Monitoring Officer, an ICO Decision Notice [link], an Information Rights First Tier Tribunal Hearing [link] and a mortifying Appeal to the Upper Tier Tribunal [link].
The following Timeline is illuminating:
9th December 2013 – Chair wants Potto Parish Council’s scheduled December 2013 meeting to be ‘postponed’
It seems that a long-running dispute was likely to be concluded at the December 2013 Potto Parish Council meeting and Chairman Councillor WILDE needed to be present in person in order to ‘supervise’ the meeting, presumably to ensure that the dispute was ‘settled’ in accordance with his personal preference (as opposed to following proper practice, procedures and protocols).
Unfortunately for Councillor WILDE, it so happened that he needed to go overseas on urgent busines which meant that normal procedure (as per Standing Orders) – which requires the meeting to be held as scheduled and chaired, in his absence, by another Councillor (elected at the start of the meeting by such members as happen to be present) – was quite unacceptable to him.
The Chair’s absence could have facilitated proper process and thereby unravelled a year of wary manipulation. Consequently, it seems – and the record supports this – that  the Chair deployed a rather cunning and entirely unethical plan to ensure that he retained absolute control of events.
To achieve this (the evidence reveals), he instructed the Council’s RFO/Clerk (his daughter, Mrs Joanne STOREY) to send an email to all Councillors asking for their approval to postpone the meeting to another date. However, as there was still a quorum (the sufficient minimum number of Councillors necessary for a meeting to take place, even in the absence of the official Chair), there was no legitimate reason to postpone or cancel, and the RFO/Clerk should (if independent and competent) have refused the Chair’s instruction. She did not (perhaps coerced into not doing so).
The RFO/Clerk’s email below, dated 9th December 2013, makes it clear that the scheduled meeting was not going to be held and two alternative future dates were offered:
Readers will note that the form of words implies that Councillors will (of course) acquiesce to postponement and state their respective preference for one or other of the proffered alternative dates.
Members responded in their own words, as we shall see – but we must first traverse a minefield of prevarication, obfuscation and bare-faced lies . . .
13th December 2013 – meeting formally postponed
The following email was then circulated by the RFO/Clerk:
The strong implication conveyed in this email is that a majority (or all) of the Councillors had responded and had supported the Chair’s desire to postpone/cancel the scheduled December meeting.
As we shall see, this was not the case.
The precise nature of the Councillors’ responses was withheld by Potto Parish Council – despite various attempts at enforcement escalating to the District Council, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Information Tribunal and, finally, the Tribunal Judge. It remained throughout unclear, therefore, whether or not all (or any) Councillors had approved the postponement of the December meeting, whether or not they had registered their Apologies for Absence, or whether or not any one (or all) of them had registered a preference for the meeting to be held in January 2014.
20th February 2014 – Multiple attempts were made to obtain copies of the Councillors’ responses, with only one evasive response (but no copies) from the RFO/Clerk:
The Chair and RFO/Clerk refused to co-operate openly and the Councillors’ responses remained secret. Alarm bells were now indicating something quite serious could be amiss.
25th March 2014 – The matter was escalated to the then HDC Monitoring Officer, Mr Martyn RICHARDS, who contacted the Chair. The requestor then raised the matter with the RFO/Clerk, see excerpt:
Chairman WILDE’s response (that he had ‘considered’ the requests for copies of any Apologies for Absence and apparently decided to refuse) is nonsense, with no standing in law; the Council has no power to conceal the public record.
Nevertheless, and unsurprisingly (to me, at least), the Chair thereby ensured that Councillors’ responses (or Apologies for Absence) remained secret.
 8th April 2014 – The requestor then made a seventh and final attempt to obtain the concealed information:
10th April 2014 – RFO/Clerk responds
The RFO/Clerk did respond, but in an antagonistic and confrontational tone. Readers will note the RFO/Clerk’s quite false claim (couched in a form of words closely reminiscent of the customary style of her father – the Chair) that her first email (as copied above), of 20th February 2014, ‘answered’ the question about Councillors’ responses (or offers of Apology for Absence) – obviously, it did not:
It was now crystal clear that the RFO/Clerk was NOT going to provide copies of the Councillors’ reponses, or confirm whether these responses included Apologies for Absence from the scheduled December meeting. The whole matter was escalated to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), since the Council had (and has) a legal duty of transparency and nothing in the nature of the request justified exemption from disclosure.
17th June 2014 – the ICO Case Officer ‘wrote’ (I use this word with great care and emphasis) to Potto Parish Council, in the first instance informally [link to whole document]. Please see the excerpt, below:
The 10-day period came and went – but there was no response to the ICO from Potto Parish Council. The excuse later confabulated by the Chair and/or the RFO/Clerk was that Potto Parish Council did not receive this correspondence from the ICO. Readers may conclude, as I do, this ‘absence of receipt’ was extraordinarily convenient for the ‘Appellants’ – the Chair and the RFO/Clerk. Certainly, the Tribunal apparently supported my view on this, having subsequently issued the following statement about the claimed ‘absence of receipt’ of the ICO’s correspondence to the Council:
15th July 2014 – the ICO served a formal Decision Notice (DN) [link] to Potto Council, ordering a response to be made “within 35 calendar days”; see excerpt below:
“Contempt of Court”, eh? Serious business.
Matters were now spiralling seriously out of control for Potto Parish Council’s Chair and RFO/Clerk. Heaven only knows what the RFO/Clerk thought about her father’s management of events. Clearly, if the other Councillors’ responses had indicated they did prefer the December 2013 meeting to be postponed, as the RFO/Clerk’s email on 13th December 2013 implied, release of these responses would have concluded the matter professionally within the ambit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the matter would have been closed, without further ramifications.
If, on the other hand, the Chair and the RFO/Clerk had conspired to cancel the meeting without legitimate cause – because the Councillors’ responses/Apologies DID NOT acquiesce to the proposed postponement or cancellation of the 16th December 2013 meeting – then release of the other Councillors’ responses could only serve to confirm that the Chair and the RFO/Clerk had acted deceitfully to contrive the cancellation.
This left the Chair and the RFO/Clerk floundering – and in the unenviable position of having no move to make other than ‘playing for time’, in the forlorn hope that the perseverance of the ICO would wane. Drastic action was needed to keep the Councillors’ responses secret.
Absurdly, the Chair and the RFO/Clerk lodged an Appeal against the ICO Decision Notice – a last-ditch attempt to keep the Councillors’ responses/Apologies secret.
18th July 2014 – Potto Council appealed to the Information Rights First Tier Tribunal
Chairman WILDE wrote and signed the Notice of Appeal with his numbered ‘Points’; see excerpts below:
One would imagine that this arrogant, antagonistic and utterly false claim was bound to irritate the Commissioner – I think it did.
The Councillors’ responses, as we shall see, made no reference to cancellation (or postponement) or to the scheduled meeting’s proximity to Christmas; another wild fantasy.
The stand-out statements (in Point 4, above), as readers will surely note, are that the RFO/Clerk had claimed “a simple “Yes or No” answer was obviously inappropriate” and that Chairman WILDE stated to the Tribunal  ALL council members….. responded that the meeting should be cancelled as it was so close to Christmas….”.
Point 5 notes “…the Agenda for the January 2014 meeting…” and states the Agenda was “…posted on the Potto website”.
However, the record shows this Agenda was NOT emailed to Councillors and it was NEVER ‘posted on the Potto website’. Indeed, I note that whilst the Archive section of the Council’s website (www.potto.org.uk/ppc) has a ‘tab’ for 2014 Agendas, clicking this tab discloses that the January 2014 Agenda has still not been published to this very day – the archive for 2014 starts with the February Agenda. Accordingly, I suggest the details asserted by the Chair in Point 5 above are totally untenable.
Lastly, as an aside – and noting that my article “Potto Nepocracy Pt.1 focussed on the Chair’s manipulation of Agendas – Potto Parish Council’s failure to publish this January 2014 Agenda 10 years after the meeting was held must herald a new record – I have never encountered such an extreme level of deceit and obstruction at any other authority in this or any other jurisdiction.
In an astonishing act of semantic contortionism, the Chair summarised his Appeal as follows:
In this Summary statement above, the Chair states ‘…no public information can possibly have been withheld…’I suggest the Chair’s ability to convince himself that his deceit could really reflect the truth indicates self-delusion on the grandest scale. Nevertheless, it is signed off with the following Statement of Truth:
Ha!
28th August 2014 – Council’s additional letter, emailed to Tribunal
A five-part letter [link] was sent to the Tribunal, apparently signed by Potto Parish Council’s RFO/Clerk. This letter is one of the most dysfunctional, deluded and corrupted letters I have ever read; it states a number of extremely serious falsehoods and I urge readers to click on the link and read it in full. For brevity and convenience of reference, however, a few excerpts are reproduced below:
In Part 1, entitled Information, the RFO/Clerk states:
  • “It is clear the information is not held by Potto Parish Council”. [Yes it is; it is now in my possession]
  • “The requested information is not available to be provided”.[Yes it is; it is now in my possession]
  • “We can only reiterate … there is no information to provide”. [Yes there is; it is now in my possession]
  • “As noted there is no information to provide and the complainant is fully aware of this fact”. [Yes there is; it is now in my possession]
  • “The Parish Council have responded in a timely manner and have maintained a fully open access to any available information”. [A flat-out lie]
In Part 2, entitled Exemptions, the RFO/Clerk notes three types of Exemption may be applicable. However, having claimed persistently and vociferously that there was no information, it is then quite absurd to claim an ‘Exemption’ to the disclosure of information that allegedly does not exist! By definition, an Exemption is only applicable if the information is held by the Council, but the Council is actually seeking a justification not to release information which it holds, but claims not to hold. I would suggest that the ICO must have concluded that the Appellant was an idiot or a liar – or both. Who could do otherwise?
The RFO/Clerk then listed seven bullet-points that she believed resulted in what is known as an ‘Absolute’ Exemption – all utterly risible.
The RFO/Clerk concludes this section by stating:
  • “It is very clear that Potto Parish Council has never made any attempt to restrict the flow of information in any form”.

This unequivocal statement is absolutely stunning – it is evidence of delusion and demonstrates a capacity for breathtaking deceit and self-denial of the facts. It is utterly outrageous.

In Part 3, entitled Decision Notice, the RFO/Clerk (or whoever was holding her pen) states that Potto Parish Council:
  • “…remains extremely concerned over the handling of this case’ (by the ICO).

The Council claims it did not receive the ICO’s correspondence dated 17th June 2014 (the Tribunal Judge decided this claim was not true) and the RFO/Clerk concocted a fantastical story suggesting that a date the correspondence was printed somehow verified that it was not sent (effectively calling the Information Commissioner a liar). I would characterise this as a quite absurd and pathetic fantasy, obviously without any basis of fact, rationality or common-sense.

In Part 4, entitled Email from ICO Solicitor, the RFO/Clerk creates a narrative around the word ‘wrote’ which is so bizarre, so preposterous and so ludicrous that I must copy it in full below:
I am compelled to suggest that any sane or competent person would acknowledge that when the Commissioner ‘wrote’ to the Council, the word ‘wrote’ obviously indicated written text – in whatever format or species of document. But in the wildly distorted perception of the RFO/Clerk, this is contorted to prove that the ICO did not contact the Council at all.
It has been a very long time since I read such a ludicrous concatenation of bovine excrement – so fanciful as to indicate the acute desperation of an author incapable of facing reality.
But there is more . . .
The RFO/Clerk then summarises her letter:
I am no medical practioner but I am entitled to form and express an opinion and I would suggest that if the above diatribe is not sufficiently indicative of serious delusion or mental incapacity, then this final statement most certainly  is:
Welcome to the Funny Farm.
The RFO/Clerk’s capacity to write utterly implausible and demonstrably preposterous nonsense (perhaps with the hand of another holding her pen), and then convince herself it could be true, is treating anyone who reads it with absolute contempt. It indicates an incredible capacity for self-deceit that suggests that the RFO/Clerk was not acting rationally or responsibly.
But, wait . . .
I suspect – and the peculiarly idiosyncratic mangled syntax supports my suspicion – that the above asinine drivel was actually composed by the Chair, who then fraudulently signed it off using the RFO/Clerk’s name. The Chair’s impersonation of the RFO/Clerk is verified (ironically by the RFO/Clerk) in her email dated 15th April 2012 at 17.00pm, as reproduced in my article “Potto Nepocracy Pt.1”:
11th Dec 2014 – The GRC Tribunal dismisses Potto Council’s Appeal and the ICO Decision Notice remains valid
The Tribunal considered the Papers on 23rd October 2014 and published its Decision on 11th December 2014.  The WILDE’s appeal against the ICO’s Decision Notice was DISMISSED. The ICO Decision Notice, therefore, remained valid and Potto Council had 35 days to provide the Councillors’ responses/Apologies.
12th January 2015 – Potto Parish Council applied for Permission to appeal the Tribunal’s verdict
I have not been able to obtain a full copy of this Permission to Appeal. Markedly, this correspondence, as well as the nature of all the other correspondence generated about this matter, has been excised entirely from the Council’s published public records. It is not even included in the Council’s records of correspondence, as published on each Agenda.  I will leave it to readers to conclude for themselves (it should not be too taxing) why the Council’s records are so materially incomplete.
However, it seems from the Judge’s Ruling that the Council had no new Grounds of Appeal:
16 January 2015 – Potto Council’s Appeal Dismissed
The WILDE’s attempt to Appeal the Tribunal Judge’s Ruling – that the responses/apologies had to be provided – was refused. The Judge’s Ruling is here [link]; see excerpt below:
“No prospect of success”. A waste of time and public resources.
The Chair (and/or) the RFO/Clerk then sent the Tribunal a torrent of abuse so offensive that, when a copy was requested, it was said to be too sordid to provide for public inspection, even with redaction.
20th January 2015 – Potto Council at long last provides copies of the Councillors’ responses/Apologies
The 35-calendar-day period specified in the Decision Notice had elapsed, the final ‘last chance saloon’ opportunity to create yet further chaos and delays had been quashed by the Judge and Potto Parish Council was now facing imminent prosecution for Contempt of Court.
Hence, there remained no further (spurious) obstacles that could be deployed to delay what was always the inevitable.
On 20th January 2015, the RFO/Clerk at long, long last (having wasted over a year and who knows how much public monies) finally emailed copies of the Councillors’ responses/Apologies to the information requestor. Readers may recall these responses were about the possibility of postponing the December 2013 meeting and are copied in full, below.
Councillor #1 Elma GRIFFIN’s response was:
This speaks neither for nor against the postponement of the meeting scheduled for 16th December 2013.
Councillor #2 (not a current member) responded:
This speaks neither for nor against the postponement of the meeting scheduled for 16th December 2013.
Councillor #3 (not a current member) had already expressed a wish to attend the scheduled 16th December meeting:
This reiterates a vote in favour of holding the meeting on 16th December 2013, as per schedule.
Readers may wish to note that the 2015 meeting Minutes failed to record that these responses had at last been published and failed to record the nature of the responses – thereby continuing to conceal the Chair’s and RFO/Clerk’s prevarication and deceit from the Council’s published records, and hence from the public.
16th February 2015 – Potto Council’s meeting Minutes – and this is the Grand Finale
The following utterly astonishing statement was recorded – a telling testament to Councillor Elma GRIFFIN’s gullibility and compliance:
I would have expected that any and every decent Councillor, acting with probity, would be annoyed or angry at being misled and hence demand an explanation from the Chair and the RFO/Clerk about why they cancelled the December 2013 meeting in clear defiance of all the Councillors’ responses. It was a farce and a mockery of due process for the RFO/Clerk to seek Councillors’ responses if the Chair had already predetermined that the meeting would be postponed – in fact, cancelled, since it was never reconvened.
Councillors should have recognised that the Chair’s vociferous responses to the ICO and to the Tribunal were obviously substantively deceitful and not in the Public Interest.
Councillors should have determined for themselves that the Chair’s Appeal was dismissed for sound reasons. They should, at the very least, have questioned how and why this debacle took over a year to conclude.
Accordingly, I suggest that Councillor Elma GRIFFIN’s act of proposing a Vote of Confidence is utterly and absolutely bizarre and is the exact opposite of rational, just, due process.
Mrs Joanne STOREY, the key (albeit silent and ineffectual) partner in the Chair’s deceitful machinations, must surely be in breach of her service contract and be subject to immediate dismissal.
Furthermore, the fact that such a crazy proposal was “unanimously agreed” indicates that malfeasance has infected every Councillor.
My interest has been sufficiently inflamed by Councillor GRIFFIN’s proposal, which is clearly contrary to the Public Interest, so I will henceforth direct the focus of my investigations toward her other contributions to Potto Parish Council – perhaps a further article is necessary to cover this and related topics.
I suggest that anyone who has read this far cannot fail to agree that the External Auditor’s damning July 2022 Public Interest Report, recording “serious weaknesses of Governance and Accountability”, was not only fully justified; it was, in fact, fully justified several years earlier.

The Second Example – 23rd December 2022
On 17th August 2022, Potto Parish Council served Notice of Appeal against a Decision Notice issued by the Information Commissioner of 15th August 2022 requiring the Council to conduct “fresh searches” for information it claimed was not held by the Council.
On 16th September 2022, the Information Commissioner applied to the Judge to “strike out” the attempted Appeal and grounds that it had “no reasonable prospects of success”.
On 23rd December 2022, Judge McKENNA ruled that the Appeal disclosed “no triable issue”, describing it has having only “fanciful prospect of succeeding”.
The Judge’s ruling is available in full here.
Readers will readily discern that the Chair and the RFO/Clerk of Potto Parish Council had once again exhausted every ruse and machination to prevent disclosure of documents sought in evidence against them, in vain.
Quite why Judge McKENNA’s ruling of three months ago has yet to be brought before Council is a question that I cannot definitively answer.
My suspicion is, however, that while previous attempts to withhold evidential documents have passed largely unnoticed by the Potto public, the interest aroused by (i) the damning PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP Public Interest Report and (ii) the clinical dissection of the Council’s activities in the North Yorks Enquirer, has shone the blinding light of scrutiny on Councillor WILDE and his daughter with such intensity as to banish all prospect of further deception.
All in all, today may be considered an appropriate day to draw the final curtain on a disgraceful parody of local government.

The Table below summarises the key events of 2013/15 litany of deceit (Example 1):


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