CARL SHILTON, our Sutton investigations editor, on the latest self-inflicted crisis to hit LibDem council leader Ruth Dombey and her increasingly rattled sidekick Jayne McCoy
A director at a company specialising in investigating complaints over the conduct of local authority councillors and staff has been forced to issue a grovelling apology this week after highly confidential reports commissioned by Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton Council were sent to the wrong person.
Ch&I Associates were called in by Sutton earlier this year to investigate allegations of bullying and harassment brought by senior LibDem figures against three opposition councillors. One of the complainants, Jayne McCoy, who was recently demoted from her position as deputy leader of the council, even submitted a complaint to the police.
For less than two months’ work on the investigation for Sutton, Ch&I are reckoned to be paid about £12,000.
But when it came to Ch&I Associates submitting their draft reports to Sutton Council’s senior legal official, monitoring officer Tim Martin, they emailed the “wrong” Tim.
The four confidential reports regarding the conduct of independent councillor Nick Mattey and Conservative councillor Tim Crowley, as well as a counter-complaint about LibDem Patrick Ogbonna, were sent, instead, to Crowley.
The investigation was conducted by Alex Oram, who founded Ch&I Associates 12 years ago, after having worked as Standards for England’s principal investigator, and by Mark Hedges, who was a police detective for 21 years before joining the company.
The misdirection of the reports represents a significant data breach under the Data Protection Act.
This week, Oram responded to complaints that they had sent the reports to the wrong people by writing, “I can confirm that unfortunately earlier this morning our office emailed Councillor Tim Crowley four draft investigation reports in error after the email autofilled his address instead of that of Tim Martin… I hope you can accept my apologies for any distress this may have caused you.
“I contacted Councillor Crowley by email and telephone as soon as the error became apparent (which was within an hour of the reports being sent) and he immediately agreed to delete the email and all of the draft reports. Please be assured that we, as members of the ICO, will be reporting what has happened to them as required.”
Oram explained that the reports were being distributed to Martin to seek approval before wider circulation for comments ahead of final recommendations.
“Once again, I am sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.”
Some of the complaints date back to July last year, and inevitably centre on Sutton LibDems’ craven accommodation of Viridor and its polluting incinerator in Beddington.
Pretty anodyne comments made at a planning meeting and in subsequent emails, which the accused councillors characterise as having been hugely exaggerated for party political advantage, formed the feeble basis of the complaints, which were filed by “Calamity” Jayne McCoy and her LibDem stooges Marian James and Barry “Biggles” Lewis.
Dombey and McCoy’s bitter animosity towards Mattey – who was kicked out of their party in 2015, shortly after becoming a councillor, for his whistleblowing over the dodgy incinerator deal – has never slackened, as Sutton LibDems have tried multiple ways to silence him.
In the case of Crowley, “It was a 46-page complaint from Jayne McCoy accusing him of everything with the exception of the Great Train Robbery”, according to one council source.
Mattey says that the whole business is now subject to his own complaint to the Metropolitan Police, suggesting that LibDem McCoy has been wasting police time in increasingly desperate efforts to discredit her political opponents and critics.
Mattey says that the complaints to the police “are orchestrated and obviously sanctioned by Sutton’s LibDem leadership”, and “wasting police time is a real, and a serious offence”.
Mattey suggests that McCoy’s attacks have come since she lost the deputy leadership of the council, and she has become an electoral liability over her mishandling of the incinerator and the loss-making SDEN – Sutton Decentralised Energy Network.
“McCoy overstated the financial viability of SDEN, the heat network,” Mattey said.
“Now the council is stuck with a heat network that is losing money. And should Viridor fail to connect the heat network to the incinerator, the losses could be even greater.
“Sutton council planning officers tried to get planning approval for a new, larger fuel tank at the incinerator plant, and saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate the council’s loyal support for Viridor.
“I got the application brought before the planning committee, where Viridor executives were shocked to see how unpopular their incinerator was.
“Seems to me that Councillor McCoy thought that smearing Tim Crowley and me would somehow placate Viridor. Now, even that has back-fired, and all after costing the Council Tax-payers of Sutton a chunky five-figure sum for a futile investigation conducted on behalf of the vindictive LibDems.”
Read more: Viridor incinerator breaks its toxic VOC permit for 40th time
Read more: Heat network’s plan depends on 75 homes that don’t exist
Read more: Opposition renews call for full-scale fraud probe into SDEN
Read more: Sutton heat network director quits as fraud inquiry begins
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