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.
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.
“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.
“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?”
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