Former assistant chief executive of Sandwell council in the West Midlands, Melanie Dudley, has this week told the BBC that she was bullied online after ‘disrespectful messages’ about her were sent by a councillor to a local blogger.
Sandwell council leader Steve Eling, a close ally of Labour First MPs John Spellar and Tom Watson, told an investigation that he had no connection with the WhatsApp messages. Although Eling had appeared to respond by email to comments in the WhatsApp chat by the blogger, the council said it found ‘no evidence’ that he had leaked information to Julian Saunders, known locally as the ‘Sandwell Skidder’.
However, locals had already begun saying that Eling’s exoneration was ‘falling apart’ after the council leader was shown to have told the investigation a data incident had been ruled as no breach by the council and ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) when the ICO had ruled it as a clear breach.
But now conflicting evidence about another of Eling’s statements to the investigator can be revealed – this time relating to Melanie Dudley, who before her departure was also the council’s Monitoring Officer, responsible for monitoring the council’s and its councillors’ standards of behaviour.
Ms Dudley says she was forced out after refusing to reverse her ruling that an Eling ally had breached data laws in the incident described above. Eling denied any role her departure and told the investigator that he didn’t even know that she was the Monitoring Officer:
However, the SKWAWKBOX has obtained an email sent by the council’s chief executive advising all councillors of Ms Dudley’s appointment and their planned activity – and Steve Eling was among the recipients:
Mr Eling has not responded to an enquiry whether he could explain the discrepancy. He has previously indicated that he considers such questions a waste of time.
Update 14.20hrs 5 October 2018:
The council has just now provided a letter, obtained from Wilkin Chapman, the solicitors it appointed as investigators and dated today, claiming that Ealing’s statement in the report should not have said that he was unaware of Melanie Dudley’s appointment:
STANDARDS INVESTIGATION – FORMER COUNCILLOR MARSHALL
You have asked me to clarify the words used in paragraph 4.16(g) of our report relating to the complaint made by Melanie Dudley against former councillor Richard Marshall.
The final sentence of that paragraph records Councillor Eling stating that he was not aware that Ms Dudley was ever appointed to the position of Monitoring Officer (MO).
Councillor Eling provided a signed statement dated 20th July 2018. In that statement he said it was his recollection that Ms Dudley had only acted in the MO role temporarily to fill the gap between the departure of the previous MO and the recruitment of a replacement. Councillor Eling was aware that Ms Dudley was the MO and the report should have made that clear.
No explanation has been provided for such a fundamental inaccuracy occurring.
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