CROYDON LABOUR IN CRISIS: Council’s senior legal official moves to exclude elected members from all Town Hall business after they failed to attend any meetings – even remotely – for six months.
EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES
Pat Ryan, who was first elected as a councillor to represent Upper Norwood nearly 30 years ago, and Shafi Khan, a Croydon councillor since 1994, have been removed from office for failing to attend any council meetings for more than six months.
John Jones, the council’s senior legal official, wrote to both men at the start of January to advise that they were now disqualified for breaking the law that requires elected councillors not to be absent from council business for a period of six months or more.
The Labour group at the council is said to be furious with the decision, which reduces their Town Hall majority from 12 councillors to a still comfortable 10, with just over two months until the local elections.
Exhibiting their somewhat warped sense of priorities, and flawed understanding of the law (not to mention their very poor internal organisation), the Labour group lobbied Jones for some kind of special dispensation for their pair of absentees. Jones, as the council’s monitoring officer, determined that the law is… well, the law.
Both Ryan and Khan are understood to have been unwell, with Ryan having to spend a period in hospital at the end of 2021.
Both were receiving the basic councillor allowance of a little more than £11,000 per year. Both are still listed as councillors on the council website.
Both might have expected to be made Honorary Aldermen of the borough later this year, an honour usually bestowed on councillors when they step down, in recognition of long or conspicuous service. It is not known whether, with this stain on their records, this will still be possible.
According to the council’s own records, Ryan last attended a council meeting in March 2021. Khan was present at a scrutiny committee on July 6 last year. Neither councillor attended the full council meeting held on July 5, and it is understood that Monitoring Officer Jones wrote to each of them in the first week of January – after the six-month deadline – to advise that they were now disqualified as councillors.
Ryan was seen in the Town Hall chamber earlier this month, at the Extraordinary Council Meeting to discuss the Fairfield Halls fiasco and the auditors’ Report In The Public Interest.
Katharine Street sources say that some members of the opposition Conservative group, aware of the veteran councillor’s long absence from his duties, had questioned Ryan’s attendance. Ryan did not speak at the meeting, and it is also understood that he was not permitted to cast any votes.
Neither Ryan nor Khan were to stand for re-election at the Town Hall elections in May: Khan, a councillor in Norbury and Pollards Hill ward, had decided to stand down because of his ill-health. “He’s been very, very ill,” according to a colleague councillor.
Ryan, an increasingly controversial and cantankerous figure, failed to be re-selected by Labour members in his ward, where he first became a councillor in November 1992.
Ryan is known for being close to Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, attending regular Friday night drinking sessions in an Upper Norwood pub with the likes of John Wentworth, the former councillor and Reed’s election agent, and Joel Bodmer, the former Lambeth Labour official recently parachuted into positions of power in the party in this borough.
It may be this closeness to Reed that has afforded Ryan “protected status”, despite his questionable conduct.
Ryan served as chief whip, the Town Hall “enforcer”, in the first term of the discredited Tony Newman’s Town Hall administration from 2014.
More recently, Ryan has alienated his Labour branch party after loud and angry outbursts at ward meetings, including verbal attacks on women officials. A formal complaint to the Labour Party about his conduct saw no disciplinary action taken.
Ryan’s frequent abuse and confrontational attitude towards a young ward colleague councillor, Stephen Mann, is understood to have persuaded the latter not to seek re-selection in 2022.
And through 2020 and 2021, Ryan became notorious for openly campaigning against the Labour council’s own measures to shut-off rat runs and create low-traffic neighbourhoods in Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace, siding with the Tories and car-loving gammons. Ryan even broke his party whip to vote against the measures. Again, Ryan escaped any disciplinary action.
Nonetheless, council colleagues are astonished that the disbarring of councillors Shafi Khan and Ryan was ever allowed to happen by the Labour group’s chief whip, Clive “Thirsty” Fraser.
“There was literally no reason why they could not have logged in to one meeting in the past six months on their council-issued laptop,” said one Labour councillor.
“This could all have been avoided very easily. I really don’t know how the chief whip did not look at the attendance log on the council website and see that they were at risk. They really couldn’t organise a piss-up in the proverbial – goodness knows how they are being trusted to have anything to do with the election campaign.”
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