CROYDON IN CRISIS: Evidence has emerged that shows a Labour councillor negotiating with an anti-LTN group over illegally obtained documents. And now he’s been put in charge of party discipline at the scandal-hit council. By STEVEN DOWNES
The Town Hall’s Labour councillors have this week managed to reappoint as their chief whip a colleague who has been working with a group of residents that are seeking to undermine and reverse the council’s own policies on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
Clive Fraser has been in correspondence with the same Open Our Roads group which has opposed the traffic-reducing road closures and restrictions in and around Crystal Palace, Upper Norwood and South Norwood. As well as its members celebrating acts of vandalism against council property and the LTNs’ infrastructure, Open Our Roads has also threatened to take legal action against Croydon’s Labour-controlled council.
Last year, Open Our Roads raised nearly £10,000, telling supporters that the money would be used as a legal fighting fund. But the campaign appeared to be more than a little embarrassed when it was revealed that among their donors were members of freight haulage groups and a leading official of the Association of Bad Drivers.
Since the crowd-funding exercise, and despite repeated requests, Open Our Roads has refused to disclose how the money is being accounted for or used. Among the leading lights of Open Our Roads is Eliska Finlay, whose hostelling business went bankrupt in early 2020.
LTNs were introduced in haste in Croydon early in 2020, when government money was made available in the first covid lockdown for traffic calming and social distancing measures which discouraged vehicle use and made streets less hostile places for cyclists and pedestrians. Initially, the policy was implemented in Croydon by Stuart King, now the council deputy leader. More recently, responsibility for LTNs has been passed to cabinet member Muhammad Ali.
In the face of the often hostile opposition to the LTNs, the council has this year decided to remove physical barriers from many of its schemes, and introduce instead a system of ANPR – automatic number plate recognition cameras – which would impose penalty fines on any vehicles using the roads without a residents’ pass or authorisation.
Given the amount of council time and money invested in the LTN schemes, it may surprise some to discover that some members of the Labour group which controls the council have been collaborating so closely with Open Our Roads.
Inside Croydon has previously reported how Pat Ryan, the veteran Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood councillor, openly acted against the Labour council’s LTN policies, even “liking” on social media posts that celebrated the vandalising of public property. It is understood that Ryan’s belligerence over the LTN issue was a significant factor in his ward colleague, Stephen Mann, deciding to stand down as a councillor.
As a former council chief whip under the discredited former leader Tony Newman, Ryan will have been well aware that his open acts of party disloyalty could easily have led to disciplinary action, including possible suspension, or worse.
But the chief whip in charge of Labour discipline at the time of Ryan’s self-centred acts of rebellion was “Thirsty” Clive Fraser, and this website has seen correspondence which offers some explanation for the lack of any action in Ryan’s case: Fraser has been plotting with Open Our Roads, too.
The lengthy email from Fraser was not obtained by any nefarious or illegal means. It was posted on social media, somewhat brazenly, by Finlay.
Fraser’s email shows him to have had some knowledge of the illegal hack attack against this website and its Twitter account, carried out in February this year. Fraser was provided with documents, illegally obtained during the hack, which he wanted to use as “evidence” of alleged wrong-doing by his colleagues – while he failed to hand over the stolen documents to the police or report how he obtained them, as might be expected of any law-abiding citizen, never mind someone who holds civic office.
The hack attack against Inside Croydon remains a matter under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Metropolitan Police’s cybercrime unit is waiting on the ICO’s report before deciding on its course of action.
Ahead of the local by-elections staged last May, Finlay wrote provocatively on the Open Our Roads Facebook page, “If Croydon Labour can’t fix themselves, how will they ever get better?”
Finlay added that she had been given permission to share Fraser’s email, even though it had not been sent to her directly.
Fraser’s email was dated March 21. It amounts to an admission that he has carried out illegal activity over the hacked documents.
Fraser wrote of “the information supplied”, to him, “on the three Labour Group colleagues”.
He wrote, “As I recall, the conversation that led to the investigation started around the Crystal Palace and South Norwood Local Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN).” Keen-eyed readers will note that despite being a member of the council’s Cycle Forum, Fraser does not know the correct title for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
In an effort to pretend they had no direct knowledge of the source of the stolen documents, Fraser’s email continued, “As you explained to me… you did receive from a source unknown to you a number of emails that appeared to come from the email account of the Inside Croydon account.”
Fraser then goes on to detail how he decided, with the support of Labour’s London Region office, to use the illegally obtained documents as evidence against three of his council colleagues.
Despite being advised that the hack was subject to a police investigation, Fraser wrote, “Having previously taken Labour Party legal advice, this is not a defence I would accept.”
Fraser, though, is no Perry Mason. Otherwise, he would realise that the handling of stolen goods, and documents, as he had done, is a criminal act.
“It is unacceptable for Labour Group members not to answer for their actions to their colleagues,” wrote the chief whip who failed to take any action over Ryan’s public breach of party policy.
Fraser has in the past had a somewhat selective approach to the application of the law, too.
In 2019, he, together with Tony Newman, failed to report to the police the violent sexual attack against a young woman by one of their Town Hall colleagues, Niro Sirisena. Instead, Newman and Fraser tried to cover up that scandal by forcing Sirisena to resign as a councillor and quit the Labour Party.
This sordid episode was reported by Inside Croydon at the time, and is clearly the sort of public accountability which makes Fraser more than a little uncomfortable. Around half of his email to the Open Our Roads supporter consists of his venting his spleen about how unfair it is that elected councillors (like him) and well-paid council officials (as he once was, when working for Lambeth) should be subjected to any kind of public scrutiny or news coverage.
Inside Croydon, Fraser whinged, slightly incoherently, takes “any titbit of information, and turning it [sic] into a personalised attack on councillors, council officers and members of public [sic] that come into its line of fire”.
Fraser continues to make a number of further claims, many wild and mostly untrue.
“It is my understanding that the proprietor of the IC Blog site, if you call him that, Steve Downes, has not signed up to the Journalistic Code of Conduct.” A complete distortion of the facts, based on Fraser’s evident ignorance of media regulation.
“But instead promotes the fact that blog site [sic] is a member of the Independent Community News Network…”, which is a fact, “… which I doubt has the capacity to investigate or uphold journalistic standards… ” which is Fraser’s own, wild and baseless speculation.
Fraser, clearly feeling more pompous by the minute, then admits that he used his then position as chair of Croydon Labour’s Local Campaign Forum “to hold Mr Steven Downes to account”, claiming that Inside Croydon had acted “as an unofficial press outlet without permission”. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. Perhaps Newman’s nark is narked that we didn’t ask his permission?
He also then accused the website of “using [Labour Party] membership lists supplied to him… for financial gain through promoting the bog [sic] site to members in order to increase views and advertising turn over [sic]”. Which, as you might expect, is utterly untrue.
Fraser’s email was sent from his official local party account, email@example.com.
He signed himself off as “Labour and Cooperative Councilor, 07783 152 322, (former) Croydon Labour Group Chief Whip”.
Fraser wrote his email as he was standing down from the chief whip position to which he had been installed as Newman’s nark in 2018.
There had been a suggestion that he would not seek reselection to stand in next year’s council elections, too, although it appears that was unfounded, or Fraser has had a change of mind.
But this month, a health scare for Jerry Fitzpatrick, the man who replaced him as chief whip earlier this year, saw a vacancy open up, and Fraser stepped right back to fill it. There is, after all, an extra £1,000 per month in allowances to go with the chief whip’s job – which buys a fair few pints in the hostelries of South Norwood.
Fraser was not elected unopposed, as Louis Carserides, the aide to Croydon North MP Steve Reed, also stood for the position. Perhaps ignorant of Fraser’s fast-and-loose attitude to the truth and the law, 23 of his councillor colleagues voted for him on Wednesday night, while new boy Carserides was supported by just 11.
How those Labour councillors will feel now about Fraser’s lies, deceit and collaboration with a campaign group trying to bring down their own party, only time will tell.
Read more: Upper Norwood’s street battle could be settled this week
Read more: Residents concern as South Norwood’s ‘culture war’ turns toxic
Read more: Town Hall leadership hatched plan to break election budget
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