As the SKWAWKBOX published on Monday, Sandwell council leader Steve Eling – a close associate of right-wing Labour MP John Spellar – was asked seven questions by this blog about the leaking of confidential information to a local, anti-Labour blogger and about his failure to react appropriately when a close council ally fell into disrepute.
Cllr Eling responded “Do not waste my time asking about this rubbish.” So here is some of the ‘rubbish’ we shouldn’t be wasting his time asking about.
The Whatsapp messages
The local blogger, Julian Saunders, has exposed a range of WhatsApp messages between himself and Richard Marshall – Eling’s close ally described above.
These messages included mention of discussions with local MPs about bringing down other councillors, lewd comments about female councillors and other incriminating information. Cllr Eling has denied involvement, but one email suggests otherwise according to Saunders:
Another WhatsApp-email pair shows, according to Saunders, that Eling had leaked hints about the impending dismissal of a staff member before that decision had been finalised, let alone the staff member informed.
Eling had replied to a Saunders enquiry about a then-staff member:
And a subsequent WhatsApp message showed that Mr Scarrott had been dismissed:
Another WhatsApp message concerned the assistant chief executive, who was ‘sent home to consider her future’ – information made available to the blogger before it was ever public. The officer in question has said that she was constructively dismissed for refusing to alter reports regarding a data breach – certainly a matter of considerable public interest with which to ‘waste’ the council leader’s time, yet he dismissed questions about the leaking of the information.
The private email address
As long ago as 2011, the government was slapped down by the Information Commissioner over the use of private email addresses by officials hoping to avoid scrutiny via Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests.
Yet five years later, in 2016, Cllr Eling wrote to Saunders stating that he was responding from a personal email address specifically in order to avoid scrutiny by other Council officials.
While Eling did not mention Freedom of Information requests in his email, the council has been castigated for its handling of them.
The libel threat
As the relationship soured and Saunders released information about the damning series of WhatsApp chats, Cllr Eling and his ally claimed they did not exist. Saunders was forced to threaten libel action.
The messages are now in the public domain on his blog – including extremely sexist and offensive comments made by Eling’s former council ally:
The public interest in questions about these and similar matters is obvious. But when asked to comment on them and the issues they raise, council leader Eling considered it a waste of his time – and was not shy about saying so.
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