Council threatens injunction over reports it published itself

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Having published two confidential reports on its own website last week, today Croydon Council’s top legal official threatened this website with a High Court injunction. By STEVEN DOWNES

The myth that Jason Perry, Croydon’s part-time Mayor, has any intention of ever publishing the long-delayed Penn Report in a format where it has not been gutted by vast swathes of redaction was laid bare today, when the council’s monitoring officer wrote to this website and threatened to shut us down if we re-published related documents that had already appeared on the council’s own website.

Katherine Kerswell, the council’s chief executive, continues to call all the shots over the Penn Report, which was commissioned to look into any possible wrong-doing in the years leading up to Croydon’s financial collapse in 2020.

Although Kerswell herself drafted the Penn Report’s terms of reference – including “11. The report will be presented to the council” – she has spent nearly two years keeping it under strict lock and key, and avoiding implementing any of its recommendations for action against those at the centre of the council’s financial collapse.

Cover-up: Katherine Kerswell has refused to release the Penn Report

Kerswell has briefed elected councillors – most of whom have been denied sight of the full report (at least, until Inside Croydon started publishing it) – that the report cannot be released because of the possibility that those named in it might sue the council for libel. That’s right: the council is scared that they might “damage” the reputations of the people who crashed the Town Hall’s finances, the likes of Jo Negrini and Tony Newman.

As if that wasn’t laughable enough, today Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, the council’s director of legal services, wrote to this website to plead with Inside Croydon not to publish some legal advice that we had obtained… from the council itself.

Kerswell has spent tens of thousands of public money commissioning additional legal advice on the findings of the Penn Report and to investigate the possibility of fraud over the £67million refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls. The two reports discovered on the council website both related to the findings of the Penn Report and the possibility of recovering some of the £437,000 golden handshake paid to former CEO Jo Negrini.

As if Croydon was not already a laughing stock in local government circles, Lawrence-Orumwense’s latest threatening letter might soon become the stuff of legal legend. And not in a good way…

Under the misspelt heading: “Urgent: Request to refrain from publication of highly confidentail [sic] and sensitive information”, and demanding a response by 5pm today, one of the council’s top-paid civic servants wrote, “I understand that you have been able to access the following highly confidential and exempt reports to the Council’s Appointments Committee Meeting on Wednesday 27th April 2022.

“a. Consideration of various recommendations placed before the Appointments Committee of 23 June 2021 – Matters pending the publication of the second Report in the Public Interest regarding the refurbishment of Fairfield Halls

“b. Response to Formal Query from the External Auditor raised in regard to the settlement agreement with the former Chief Executive

“The council is conducting its own enquiries on how you were able to access these confidential reports.” Save yourself the time: we got them from your website.

“The council is also in the process of reporting the matter to the Information Commissioners Office.

“You will no doubt be aware of the highly sensitive and confidential nature of the information contained in the reports and the potential damage that disclosure and publication would cause to former employees and councillors unless due legal process is followed and which the council has committed to follow.

“The council has not given permission to anyone to share or publish the reports or any parts of it,” said the man from the council that had published the reports on its own website.

Having a laugh: Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense

“Your publication of the reports or extracts from the reports will be in breach of the confidentiality and unlawful.” Lawrence-Orumwense fails to specify how such re-publication of material that had already been placed in the public domain by the council itself could possibly be unlawful.

Lawrence-Orumwense’s attempt to cover-up another Croydon Council cock-up continues: “It also frustrates the council’s ongoing process to deal with the failures in good governance arising from the two Reports in the Public Interest with which you are familiar. Also, it undermines the council’s ability to hold those responsible to account.”

This week marks the second anniversary of Croydon admitting it was bankrupt. Since when, it has taken absolutely no disciplinary action against anyone who might possibly have been responsible for the clusterfuck that led to the collapse of its finances. Although in that time it has managed to issue P45s to around 500 lower-paid employees, who have paid for senior management’s incompetence with their jobs in a round of swingeing cuts.

Anyhow, the council’s top lawyer – salary: around £150,000 per year – continued his appeal: “Therefore, we hereby request that you refrain from publishing, sharing, or causing others to share the reports or any extracts from it.

Useful advice: part of the KC’s considered opinion on the conduct in office of Jo Negrini which her successors at Croydon Council don’t want you to see

“Also, that your [sic] permanently delete or destroy any electronic or hardcopy of the reports including any photographs or screenshots that are in your possession or control or to which you have access.

“Please confirm by 5pm today that you will be taking these actions.” That’s the first use in the whole letter of the word “please”, but in the context of complying with the council’s demands.

“Failure to comply with this request could result injunction proceedings against you.”

We replied, just before 5pm.

Our answer was not quite as brief as in the celebrated instance of Arkell v Pressdram, but we like to think it was pithy enough…

“How lovely to hear from you again.

“It’s a pity that you bring yourself, and your employers, into disrepute by bandying around threats and attempts to intimidate.

“If the council is so incompetent, or stupid, as to make such documents publicly available on its own website, we have a duty to our readers to share their contents with them and offer what interpretation we can.

“I will not co-operate with the council when it resorts to clumsy threats in its lengthy campaign to protect the reputations of the people responsible for bankrupting this borough. This brings into serious question whether you are acting against the public interest. Perhaps you could seek some advice on this point from Jane Mulcahy KC?”

Our report on the first of the documents can be found here.

Our continuing coverage of the Penn Report (which Lawrence-Orumwense also asked us to return to the Town Hall), can be found here.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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5 Responses to Council threatens injunction over reports it published itself

  1. Ian Bridge says:

    Excellent, what a bunch of muppets…

  2. This is a reminder of phenomenon that has been labelled “the Streisand effect”.

    Wikipedia sums it up thus:

    “The Streisand effect is a phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information, often via the Internet.

    It is named after American singer and actress Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to suppress the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her cliff-top residence in Malibu, California, taken to document California coastal erosion, inadvertently drew greater attention to the photograph in 2003.

    Attempts to suppress information are often made through cease-and-desist letters, but instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity, as well as media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, which can be mirrored on the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.

    In addition, seeking or obtaining an injunction to prohibit something from being published or remove something that is already published can lead to increased publicity of the published work.

    The Streisand effect is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, they are significantly more motivated to access and spread that information.”

    No more cover ups at Croydon council!

  3. James Seabrook says:

    Well done IC. Through your continuous factual and entertaining reporting this dire council and it’s utterly devastating incompetence has been laid bare once again. Please keep it going; we’d all like to see something moving to get these incumbent self-gratifying numpties well away from here.

  4. moyagordon says:

    It is encouraging that the council state they are, ‘dealing with the failures in good governance’, and that they, ‘will be holding those responsible to account’, however if they want people to cut them some slack on demanding action they need to make it clearer why there is a delay. It is only natural that we, the paymasters (local council tax payers) want to know what is going to be done about the poor governance of our council taxes.

  5. Donated! Happy to support this. But WTF won’t the effing council communicate with anyone, especially IC??? What’s the detail of this terrible advice? Councils cannot use public funds to sue for reputational damage because they have ‘no reputation to defend’, or words like that. But individuals? I just cannot credit it

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