BELLE MONT, our Sutton correspondent, on the pressure mounting on another south London council leader
It’s not just in Croydon where there have been calls for the council leader to resign.
In Sutton, Ruth Dombey, who rules over that borough’s FibDems with a fist of iron, is coming under increasing pressure following the convictions for fraud and theft of a one-time trusted councillor colleague and his connections with council-funded charities and her own mother.
Inside Croydon was the first to report the connection between Alan Salter and Sutton Seniors Forum, one of the charities for the elderly from which he was sentenced last month in a surprise courtroom development which saw the former LibDem councillor castigated by the judge.
When we say “surprise”, it was only a surprise to those who had not read last November’s investigation report from the Charity Commission, which stated baldly: “There is a connected party relationship between the charity and the local Liberal Democrat party”.
When Salter was in court, it was confirmed that the trustees of Sutton Seniors Forum met to discuss their financial crisis, caused by Salter, some nine months before Salter resigned as a councillor and was arrested.
In the meantime, Sutton Seniors Forum made its latest, and successful, application for grant aid from Sutton Council. One of Salter’s co-trustees at Sutton Seniors Forum was Brenda Dombey, mother of the Sutton LibDems’ council leader.
The story made it into this week’s edition of Private Eye, as scandal-hit Sutton Council makes its bid to be the most-featured local authority in the magazine’s Rotten Boroughs column.
And Ruth Dombey now faces questions, and ridicule, when Sutton Council holds its full council meeting at the civic offices on Monday.
Nick Mattey, the independent councillor for Beddington North who Dombey had kicked out of the FibDems because he was too honest about the costs and impact of the Beddington Lane incinerator, has submitted one question for the meeting, in which he asks about the reputational damage that the council has been suffering.
Sutton Council, Mattey’s formal, written question states, “has now featured more times this year in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs than any other council except Liverpool City Council. Could the council be accused of taking the adage that ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’ too literally?”
Surrounded by her overwhelming majority of lobby-fodder FibDem councillors, such ridicule may cause Dombey some uncomfortable moments, but is unlikely to bring her down.
Dombey does, though, face more serious examination in questions from the Tory leader of the opposition at Sutton Council, Tim Crowley.
Key to the matter of whether there was a council-inspired cover-up is the unresolved question of when Ruth Dombey first discovered that a council-funded charity of which her mother was a trustee was having its money stolen by one of her councillors.
One of Crowley’s targeted questions states: “In light of the judge’s comments recently at the sentencing of ex-councillor Alan Salter on indictments of fraud and theft from both Carshalton Friends of the Elderly and also Sutton Seniors Forum, would the leader now state when she or any member of her administration were first made aware of the possibility that there were problems at both these charities from his actions and the timeline for how it was handled by the administration?”
Ruth Dombey has steadfastly denied having any prior knowledge of the financial crisis within Sutton Seniors Forum before Salter’s resignation in June 2016. She and her colleagues in Sutton FibDems may be realising slowly that if they maintain that position, not only does that expose them as being financially incompetent with thousands of pounds of council grants, it also increases the possibility of her own mother facing the consequences of failing to act properly as a charity trustee.
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