Newman’s defence slips: there’s ‘no evidence’ of wrongdoing

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The latest in-depth coverage of the borough’s bankruptcy by a national newspaper sees the former Labour council leader dump blame on his erstwhile colleagues. By STEVEN DOWNES

Nuffink to do wiv me, guv: Tony Newman

The council leader who oversaw Town Hall meetings and gatherings of his own Labour group of councillors which were often unminuted or where no proper records were kept, at a local authority where the auditors and external investigators have reported a worrying lack of documents surrounding key decisions and multi-million-pound deals, has doubled-down on his claims to have done no wrong in Croydon’s financial collapse.

“No evidence of wrongdoing on our part has been found, because no such evidence exists,” Tony Newman was quoted as saying by a national newspaper at the weekend.

The Times, under the headline “How scandal-hit Croydon council went bust with £1.6bn debt”, on Saturday published its second in-depth report on the south London borough, as the second national newspaper to focus on the events at the Town Hall which led to the borough’s bankruptcy in 2020, after six years of Newman’s leadership.

The Times and Daily Mail reports come in a seven-day period which has seen the publication of the Penn Report into possible wrongdoing by the likes of Newman and his appointee as council chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini”, and which on Wednesday will see the crucial budget meeting at the Town Hall, where there will be a debate on the proposal to hike Council Tax by 15per cent to help pay towards Newman and Negrini’s disastrous time in charge.

Since he and his close colleague, Simon Hall, the former cabinet member for finance, resigned from the council two years ago, they have maintained their position of “Nuffink to see ‘ere, guv.” Some have accused Newman of behaving shamelessly in his refusal to apologise or accept any responsibility.

Newman’s latest version of his “you can’t catch me” defence, as published by The Times, manages to shovel the solid matter firmly in the direction of those former loyal members of his cabinet who remain active at the council: Labour’s current leader, Stuart King, plus Stuart Collins, Newman’s former deputy, Broad Green councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, this year’s ceremonial Mayor Alisa Flemming, and Newman’s ultra-loyal “enforcer”, former group whip “Thirsty” Clive Fraser.

Wider scrutiny: Saturday’s article in The Times was the third in-depth report in the nationals in a week

“The Penn report is subjective, inaccurate and defamatory,” said Newman, who has not, as yet, taken any legal action.

When Newman tried to threaten this website with a libel suit, while being funded (we maintain unlawfully) out of Council Tax-payers money, his claims were firmly rebuffed and swiftly abandoned.

Newman told the newspaper that the Penn Report “cannot be taken seriously, given how greatly it diverges from the other independent reports into Croydon’s difficulties and ignores objective evidence”.

He said: “Croydon’s problems have been painful for the entire borough, but the unavoidable truth is that decisions were made in good faith and made collectively by the entire cabinet.” Thems our italics…

“No evidence of wrongdoing on our part has been found, because no such evidence exists.” Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

“Everyone who served as a councillor, myself included, truly regrets Croydon’s financial crisis, and the constraints it continues to put on public services and families in the borough. But it would be wrong to attribute Croydon’s problems just to spending decisions.

“Things can go wrong without there being any wrongdoing. Indeed, Croydon has suffered from chronic underfunding for over three decades and the past few years of austerity have been especially tough.”

Newman’s blame-sharing will be bad news for King and the Labour group at the Town Hall, as their part in the council’s bankruptcy gets raised again.

Croydon Labour has issued a couple of tweets around the Penn Report, the publication of which had been unnecessarily delayed by two years.

“The Penn Report is difficult reading for us, but the public deserve to see the report and read its recommendations. Our residents have a right to know what led to the council’s financial challenges so that we can ensure this never happens again,” they said.

Unlike Newman (and Hall), and no doubt the other members of the clique that controlled the Town Hall Labour group for almost 15 years, the current local leadership said nothing to dispute or undermine the findings of the Penn Report, which discovered a dysfunctional council with a bullying culture among staff and elected members.

Reputational damage: Croydon Labour make take many years to regain public trust after the years of Newman and Hall, Butler and Scott

“Labour in Croydon is under new management and our group culture has changed significantly since the period covered by the report,” Croydon Labour tweeted, a tad timidly.

“We are all clear that we must work hard to rebuild trust with the people of Croydon after such a period of turmoil.”

At last Thursday’s appointments and disciplinary committee, where the decision was to be taken over whether to publish the Penn Report, the three Labour members of the committee – King, Callton Young and Enid Mollyneux – declared that they had each received 11th-hour emails, apparently intended to influence their voting decision over the report’s publication.

The identity of the emails’ author (or authors) was not disclosed in the public part of the meeting. Katharine Street sources suggest that the emails repeated the claim made previously by those singled out by Penn for possible further action that this was in some way “all a political stitch-up”.

King, Young and Mollyneux ignored the pleadings and, along with the Conservative councillors on the committee, voted in favour of publishing the Penn Report.

Significantly, unlike his unrepentant predecessor, King has also issued an unambiguous apology.

“On behalf of Croydon Labour I apologise to the people of Croydon that this ever happened,” King tweeted after the release of the report on Friday.

“Our group culture has changed significantly since 2020 and under my leadership since May 2022 we have been working hard to regain the trust of Croydon residents.”

And, ahead of a tumultuous week for Croydon Council, when a mass demonstration is expected outside the Town Hall ahead of Wednesday’s budget meeting to oppose the 15per cent Council Tax hike, King said that Labour “stands with our residents”, after the Conservative government gave Croydon’s Conservative Mayor permission to impose the increase without need for any rate-payers’ referendum.

King has also referred on social media to the petition, instigated by Inside Croydon, which has attracted more than 25,000 signatures in opposition to the Council Tax increase. The petition will be debated at Wednesday’s meeting of full council.

This action, at least, seems to provide evidence of some change in Croydon Labour. Also quoted in The Times article was Andrew Pelling, now former Waddon councillor who was expelled by the party for whistleblowing. Asked about his time on the council when Newman was leader, Pelling told the paper, “We spent more time in group meetings passing motions condemning Inside Croydon than we did discussing the finances of the council.”

Read more:Penn Report wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: Kerswell still holds out over Penn Report’s recommendations
Read more: Newman breaks his silence to tell Mail: I did no wrong
Read more: Newman fails to gag website over councillor’s resignation

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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9 Responses to Newman’s defence slips: there’s ‘no evidence’ of wrongdoing

  1. Blundercrap Newman

  2. Ian Bridge says:

    ”Pelling told the paper, “We spent more time in group meetings passing motions condemning Inside Croydon than we did discussing the finances of the council.”

    Absolutely brilliant… who needs to worry about council finances

  3. Jim Bush says:

    There is no point in the idiot Newman denying his guilt to the people of Croydon, we don’t believe him. He should save it for the judge at his trial; that is who the Newman chump needs to convince.

  4. moyagordon says:

    The 15% hike in council tax is tough with all the current rising costs, but we voted for the people who didn’t balance the books, so we share responsibility for voting for them. It’s kind of a penalty for not being more careful about who you vote for.

    Lessons need to be learnt from what’s happened in Croydon to make those in authority at councils more accountable for the decisions they make. It’s easy to throw money around when it’s not your own.

    • Michael says:

      Your use of the word “we” is doing a lot of heavy lifting.

      Maybe you can pay twice, as I certainly didn’t vote for this incompetent bunch of losers.

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    Newmans regime seems to have utilised to that wonderful practice of keeping no notes just like delegated planning decisions.
    One wonders what is inside peoples heads when they do so.

    Any decent and experienced investigator not only looks for evidence that is there but also the evidence that should be there but is not.

    Idiots in power always seem to feel they do not have to follow the processes put in place. Fundamentlly ignoring that those processes and meeting notes are also there for their protection from accusations of wrongdoing and cover ups.

    So how many Croydon Council departments are using the no notes ploy ? Well we know of one from the complaint responses received..

  6. Lancaster says:

    “Our group culture has changed significantly since 2020 and under my leadership”

    Would you kindly list these changes please.

  7. Lewis White says:

    I wonder whether the Council Standing Orders (CSOs) say anything like ” full written minutes of all decision making meetings shall be taken and retained for 12 years” and “In case of expenditure and investments in excess of £100,000, a full business case and risk assessment is to to be stated and signed by the decision makers and Borough Chief Financial officer, and shall be retained for 25 years”.

    My guess is that all purchases and contracts of small value are covered already, but the big ones get away….. such as single-bid tenders to untried companies for all singing, all-dancing bus shelters, the setting up and terms of references, and checks and balances on Brick by Brick, the management of Fairfield refurbs, Hotel purchases and sales etc etc.

    The Council needs to make CSOs fit for purpose for the modern era, to make the senior people (as well as everyone else making procurements of property, goods, services and recruitment) accountable.

    The Mayor and all parties need to agree this.

    It may well be that the adrenalin of the gambler flows in the veins of some top people in many councils. Excess caution means nothing ever gets done. Difficult choices come along, requiring brave, but rational decisions. There is risk-conscious and sensible but brave decision making, and there is also gambling. Gambling with public money.

  8. Anthony Miller says:

    To be fair to Newman, he and Negrini etc shouldn’t have been able to dig themselves into the speculation hole without alarm bells ringing much earlier…

    I doubt changing to the Mayoral system has actually put many more restrictions or oversight in place on what the Council can invest in.

    There is a massive oversight problem here and I don’t think it should just be left to elected officials to solve.

    Apart from being too supine to ask difficult questions of their own side I doubt many of them have the skills to ask the right questions like a proper auditor should. Mr Pelling as an investment banker can probably smell a dead financial rat from a greater distance than your average Cllr who although mostly well meaning people are not always the smartest tools in the political box….

    Pursuing a few individuals to criminal conviction if possible might be emotionally satisfying but it’s not on it’s own going to stop this happening again…?

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