By STEVEN DOWNES, Editor, Inside Croydon
More than six months in the making, Al Jazeera’s investigations unit last night released the fourth part of their documentary series The Labour Files, this episode called “The Spying Game”, a detailed report on the lawless conduct of the Labour Party in Croydon.
The programme focused on the illegal and malicious hack attack against this website in February 2021 and how unlawfully obtained data was used by party officials to hound and harass Labour councillors and long-serving local party officials.
But from documents obtained by the Al Jazeera producers that did not form part of their programme, it is clear that the Labour Party and its leaders in Croydon had been conducting a campaign to gag Inside Croydon since 2016.
And we also know that at least one of those featured in last night’s programme, Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, had indulged in spying activities against fellow Labour Party members and elected councillors as long ago as 2012.
We know this because we reported on it in 2013, soon after Reed had been elected to parliament after his time as the leader of Lambeth Council.
Following our report, Reed threatened us with libel action, action that never materialised because what we had reported was the truth, all drawn from an official report from Brixton Town Hall.
The report showed how the Lambeth leader had ordered council officials to monitor the email accounts of councillors, as Reed conducted a witch-hunt into who had been leaking information to a group protesting against cuts to local services.
Reed’s Labour group at Brixton Town Hall was described at the time as being “paranoid about any dissension” and “determined to clamp down on independent thinking”.
Kingsley Abrams, a BAME councillor for Vassall ward and union official, was suspended from Lambeth’s Labour group in May 2012 as a result of the investigation.
In the past week, Reed has made regular appearances in the episodes of The Labour Files, popping up almost as often as David Evans, now the General Secretary of the Labour Party, who was also at the centre of various webs of intrigue.
Evans, of course, has strong connections to Croydon.
In the years after he helped Tony Blair to win General Elections in 1997 and 2001, Evans established his lobbying and PR firm, The Campaign Company, based in offices in Suffolk House on George Street.
Evans also helped the local Labour leadership, Tony Newman and Alison Butler, with their 2014 campaign to win control of Croydon Town Hall.
In the years following that election success, The Campaign Company was awarded contracts amounting to more than £200,000 from Croydon Council, something that was first reported by Inside Croydon.
Evans and Butler had in the past been lovers; they share a child. One of Butler’s other children got work with Evans’s The Campaign Company when it somehow landed a consultancy contract with Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing company which Butler was responsible for setting up.
Formally, on being appointed Labour Party General Secretary in 2020 by Keir Starmer, Evans relinquished his control of The Campaign Company; it is now run by his wife, Aline Evans.
Steve Reed was elected as MP for Croydon North in November 2012. Today, he is the shadow justice secretary on Keir Starmer’s front bench.
Inside Croydon quickly learned that Reed sees little wrong in delving deep into what should be the private correspondence of others.
In May 2012, in a formal response to a councillor question, Lambeth Council said, “Where we suspect any non-compliance by any officer or member there is an unqualified right to investigate the use of the council’s IT systems which is sanctioned by the council’s internal audit team.
“A recent discreet investigation was carried out, following concerns of confidential information being leaked, with emails from a handful of officers and members audited to ensure they were adhering to the ICT protocol. It was as a result of this investigation that a councillor was found to be acting in contravention of this policy.”
The formal answer went on to identify who had prompted the investigation that would ultimately force Abrams out of the Labour Party: “Concerns were raised by the then Leader of the Council”, the council response stated, meaning Reed, “… regarding a suspected breach of the Council’s ICT policy. In line with the protocol, the then Chief Internal Auditor sanctioned enquiries to be carried out.”
The Labour Files confirmed that nine years later, Reed was again at the centre of another dodgy trawl through other people’s correspondence, this time involving a 77.9MB file of maliciously hacked emails and documents from Inside Croydon.
The documents obtained by Al Jazeera show that Reed and Evans were both copied in to correspondence regarding the unlawfully obtained emails, and that the files had been handed to a Labour councillor, Clive Fraser.
“Thirsty” Fraser was Tony Newman’s choice as Labour chief whip at Croydon Town Hall. Before taking retirement, Fraser’s day job had been as a senior housing officer at Lambeth Council, including during the time that Reed was council leader.
And working in Steve Reed’s office at the House of Commons since 2012 has been Louise Szpera, the partner of Tony Newman.
As Labour chief whip, Fraser was supposed to be responsible for “party discipline” at the Town Hall. But when veteran councillor Pat Ryan – reputed to be a regular drinking buddy of Reed – broke ranks in a vote over low traffic neighbourhoods being introduced in Crystal Palace, Fraser took no action at all.
It was a member of the anti-LTN group, Open Our Roads, who provided Fraser with the hacked files from Inside Croydon. We know this because Open Our Roads brazenly published an email from Fraser on their social media.
Fraser’s email shows him to have had some knowledge of the illegal hack attack against this website and its Twitter account. Fraser refused 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. He appeared to be ignorant of the fact that the handling of stolen goods, and documents, is a criminal act.
His successor as chief whip, Jerry Fitzpatrick, a retired barrister, did know that receiving stolen documents is unlawful. Al Jazeera obtained several emails from Fitzpatrick to David Evans and Labour Party HQ advising them of this fact and seeking undertakings from the party. Fitzpatrick received no such undertakings. Indeed, he never got even got a reply.
Shortly after, Fitzpatrick stood down as Croydon Labour chief whip. The reason given at the time was “health grounds”.
Lawless Fraser was re-appointed to the Town Hall job – pocketing an extra £1,000 per month in council-funded drinking vouchers for his trouble.
Back in post, Fraser resumed his persecution of three colleagues who the hackers had selectively chosen emails from: councillors Stephen Mann (a figure of hate among the Open Our Road motorists’ group), Robert Canning (the only Labour councillor to successfully oppose Brick by Brick schemes in his ward), and Andrew Pelling, a former Tory MP who Newman in particular disliked. Fraser also decided to go after David White, the former secretary of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party.
None of the three councillors stood as Labour candidates in the local elections this year. Pelling and White were separately both expelled from the party.
Through all this, Fraser’s own unlawful actions seemed of no concern.
But then, it would not be the first time that Fraser had failed to fulfil his legal and civic duties.
In 2019, he, together with Tony Newman, failed to report to the police a 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. It is clearly the sort of public accountability which makes Fraser more than a little uncomfortable.
Around half of his published email to the Open Our Roads supporter consists of Fraser 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.
Fraser’s email was sent from his official local party account, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2021, “Thirsty” Fraser was de-selected as a candidate for the 2022 local elections by Labour Party members in his home ward, South Norwood. He somehow managed to get selected to stand for the party in the May 2022 elections in Addiscombe West instead – the third different ward he had sought election at in three successive council elections.
The current leadership of the Labour group at Croydon Town Hall have appointed Fraser to the council’s ethics committee…
Read more: MP Reed ordered investigation of councillor emails at Lambeth
Read more: Chief whip worked with group that attacks council policy
Read more: Constituent gets visit from police for asking questions of MP
Read more: MP Reed in possible data breach over South Norwood flats
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