WTC: Docs Doctored?
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on a case of apparent ‘in flagrante dilecto’. Whitby Town Mayor Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE has passed on an opportunity to comment (‘Right of Reply’) on this article – i.e. he has chosen to neither confirm nor deny its accuracy. But I believe that the evidence presented below strongly suggests that a rather significant offence has been committed – one which ‘the powers that be’ seem all-too-keen to brush under the carpet.
I must preface this article by referencing the 2021 Independent Panel convened by the then Home Secretary, in whose report it is stated:
I am the first to acknowledge that the best of us is capable of making an occasional mistake; anyone can have a ‘bad day at the office’. That is what gives rise to the well-known expression “human error”. No-one is perfect.
But it is something quite different, having committed a genuine “human error”, to falsify the record in such a way as to conceal that an error ever was made. According to the Independent Panel, this “constitutes a form of institutional corruption”.
Of course, it is entirely possible that I have misinterpreted the evidence collated within the following article and that there exists an innocent explanation, devoid of any hint of misconduct, serious misconduct or gross misconduct. If such is the case, then I sincerely apologise . . .
With this in mind, please read on . . .
On Saturday 4th November, I began my customary inspection of the Whitby Town Council Agenda Pack for the then forthcoming meeting of Full Council on Tuesday 7th November 2023.
This is a lengthy PDF document running to some 65 pages. I confess that I cannot grant it sufficient scrutiny at one ‘sitting’.
So I accessed it again on the 5th, 6th and 7th November to continue my examination, and then again on 8th November to re-confirm a specific detail in preparation to submit an article for publication:
I was interested in the draft Minutes for the meeting of Full Council on 5th September 2023 and, particularly so, the draft minutes for the Extraordinary Meeting held on 26th September 2023 – both due to be Approved/Ratified at Tuesday 7th November’s meeting of Full Council, thereby becoming a formal legal document ‘written in stone’.
(Draft Committee Minutes are merely ‘Received’ by Full Council – not Approved/Ratified. That task falls to each of the individual Committees, who are thus granted the freedom to ‘mark their own homework’).
I have reported elsewhere on the subject of the Extraordinary Meeting of the 26th September 2023 and its consequences.
The Agenda Pack for Tuesday 7th November 2023 meeting was marked (see below) as having been authored by ‘Town Clerk’ on ‘Thursday, 2 November 2023 13:45:01’ – the legal bare minimum time for publication on Thursday 2nd November 2023, ‘three clear days’ ahead of the meeting scheduled for Tuesday 7th November 2023.
Above is the meta-data (the sub-code underlying computer files not normally seen by the general user) showing when the PDF was created.
Crucially, in the context of this article, this is the document that went before Full Council and was duly Approved/Ratified at Full Council on the evening of Tuesday 7th November 2023. I was there.
These draft Minutes, as they appeared in the Agenda Pack on Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th, Monday 6th, Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th November 2023 (the day after the meeting), including Minute 203/23, displayed like this:
Please note that Minute 203/23 concludes with the Recorded Vote of 7 Councillors FOR THE MOTION and 7 Councillors AGAINST THE MOTION – in fact, TIED.
A TIED Motion cannot be RESOLVED. A TIED Motion is, by definition, UNRESOLVED.
For this TIED vote to be RESOLVED would require the casting (or second) vote of the Chair/Mayor (either FOR or AGAINST the Motion) – which is exactly what took place, as witnessed by all members present and perhaps 40 members of the public, myself included.
In fact, the Chair/Mayor used his casting vote FOR the Motion. This took the result to 8/7 FOR the Motion, by which means it was RESOLVED, as is proper practice.
But this RESOLUTION was not recorded in the draft Minutes, as shown above. Minute 2023/23 makes no mention of the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote.
Thus, the Minute is incomplete and invalid and, in my view, it is thereby rendered unlawful.
I note that, according to “KNOWLES on Local Authority Meetings (A Manual of Law and Practice)”, it is stated, at 8.32:
8.32 Once the minutes have been confirmed, they must not be altered in any circumstance whatsoever”.
Thus, I believe that any such an alteration to Approved/Ratified (or Final) Minutes, without the knowledge of, or the prior Approval/Ratification by, Full Council, is contrary to law.
The Properties-data for the above ‘screenshot’ from 8th November 2023 (the day after the Full Council meeting) looks like this:
The date on the above Properties ‘screenshot’ is the date on which I downloaded the PDF document from the Council’s website.
Again, the meta-data for the downloaded PDF itself (created on 2nd November 2023) looks like this:
This meta-data confirms that the Agenda Pack was created by ‘Town Clerk‘ on ‘Thursday, 2 November 2023 13:45:01 UTC‘, the day it was published – the very last day before the expiry of the necessary “three clear days” notice required by law between the day of publication of the Agenda and the day of the meeting itself.
However, having attended the Extraordinary Meeting on 26th September, I knew very well – as did the forty or so other members of the public who also attended – that, in fact, the Chair/Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE, was forced to use his casting vote to break the deadlock and only thus was the Motion RESOLVED.
But that is not what the draft Minutes in the Agenda Pack recorded. There was no mention of the Chair/Mayor using his casting vote.
To repeat: this was still the case when I took the above ‘screenshot’ on Wednesday 8th November 2023 – the day after the meeting, the day after the Minutes were Approved/Ratified – containing no mention of the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote and the consequent lawful RESOLUTION of the Motion.
To be quite clear, the draft Minutes for the two meetings (Tuesday 5th and Tuesday 26th September 2023) were Approved/Ratified during the meeting on Tuesday 7th November 2023 – at which point, they each became a legal instrument, set in stone. To alter them after the fact is rather like tampering with someone’s will.
On the day after the meeting – Wednesday 8th November 2023 – the incomplete but by now Approved/Ratified Full Council Minutes were still displayed on the website as published in the Agenda Pack on Thursday 2nd November (the same day it was created), and one day after they were Approved/Ratified by Full Council).
Only in very exceptional circumstances, with the approval of Full Council, could it be lawful to annotate them, but NEVER – under any circumstances – for anyone to alter them autonomously:
In fact, it is illegal for them to be ‘doctored’ in any way at all. It is an offence.
So far, so good.
But from here on in, we are entering . . .
On Thursday 9th November 2023 – two days AFTER the meeting and one day AFTER publication of my report on the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote having been omitted from the draft and subsequently Approved/Ratified Minutes – I had occasion to revisit the WTC website and again download the Agenda Pack for the 7th November 2023 meeting of Full Council (in connection with my interest in the draft Minutes of the meeting of the Human Resources Committee on Tuesday 3rd October which also appeared within the same Agenda Pack).
For the moment, though, let us follow the path of the Agenda Pack for the 7th November meeting of Full Council, where the draft Minutes were Approved/Ratified by members as a ‘true record’, including the glaring blank where the record of the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote should have appeared – but did not.
Then . . . on Thursday 9th November 2023, I took yet another ‘screenshot’ of Minute 203/23 because – horror of horrors – the section containing the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote had suddenly materialised out of thin air – almost as if my article had prompted someone to correct the glaring error!
Suddenly . . . miraculously . . . a revised version of the ‘true record’ of the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote had made a belated public appearance on the WTC website!
Here is a ‘screenshot’ of the Properties-data of the above ‘screenshot’, confirming its creation on 9th November 2023, two days after the meeting were the incomplete Minutes were Approved/Ratified:
The meta-data of the PDF itself looks like this:
This confirms that this version, too, was authored by ‘Town Clerk‘ – but on ‘Thursday, 9 November 2023 08:03:57 UTC‘ – TWO DAYS AFTER the meeting of Full Council on 7th November 2023 when the earlier version created on Thursday 2nd November – with the Chair/Mayor’s casting vote omitted – was Approved/Ratified by members AND (and this is the damningly significant fact), ONE DAY AFTER my report outlining the true course of events! (Readers may speculate as to who could have been reading my report).
The ‘File Size’ of the ‘new’ version is 727.7 KiB.
The ‘File Size’ of the ‘old’ version was 725.6 KiB.
The 2.1 KiB increase is presumably due to this ‘implant’:
The ‘doctored’ version is, in fact, an accurate portrayal of events – BUT it is NOT the official ‘true record’ that was Approved/Ratified by members at the 7th November 2023 meeting of Full Council, which is now no longer available to electors, having been removed and replaced by the above post facto corrected version (for which there has been no recorded authorisation by Full Council).
Electors’ lawful access to the properly Approved/Ratified Minutes has thus, de facto, been ‘OBSTRUCTED’ – thereby “concealing or denying” (to quote the Home Secretary’s Independent Panel) the original error, for the sake of appearances:
Of significant concern is the question as to whether this ‘unofficial’ (and unlawful) post facto correction of what was, perhaps, a regrettable but forgivable “human error” was an isolated event – or whether it is the tip of a deeply unsatisfactory iceberg comprising a series of ‘unofficial’ (and unlawful) post facto corrections, indicating a habitual and entirely cavalier attitude to the supposedly pristine integrity of the public record.
The law has something to say about post facto corrections – in particular, s.228 of the Local Government Act 1972 (Sched. 12) – note 7(a) and 7(b):
For convenience of reference, here follows s.225 of the Act (mentioned in s,228, above):
And here is Charles ARNOLD-BAKER’s interpretation of the law:
And, finally, the ‘KNOWLES’ interpretation once more:
As stated, I am not a lawyer. But I can offer an opinion based on my own understanding of the two expert interpretations cited above – which is that an offence has been committed.
WTC’s External Auditor, PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP, has been provided with (and acknowledged receipt of) the above information.
The North Yorks Council Monitoring Officer has been provided with (and acknowledged receipt of) the above information.
The Whitby Town Mayor and Councillors of Whitby Town Council have been provided with (and acknowledged receipt of) the above information.