Lawyers take blame for Sandwell leader report discrepancy – but council was warned inaccurate 7 weeks ago

On Friday, the SKWAWKBOX highlighted a glaring discrepancy in Sandwell council’s report exonerating council leader Steve Eling – a close ally of right-wing Labour MPs John Spellar and Tom Watson – of involvement in damaging leaks to a local blogger. The report has been described by locals as a ‘whitewash’ – and as ‘falling apart’ after an Eling statement to investigators was shown to be fundamentally inaccurate.

The discrepancy highlighted today was a reported claim by Eling that he did not know former assistant chief executive Melanie Dudley had also been the council’s Monitoring Officer, responsible for the council’s and its councillors’ standards of conduct. The claim was shown to be untrue by an email from the council’s chief executive to all councillors, including Eling, advising them of Dudley’s interim appointment.

Ms Dudley has featured on the BBC this week, stating that she was bullied online after being forced out of her job following her refusal to reverse her ruling that a close ally of Eling committed a data protection breach.

Only after the publication of the article revealing the email did the council email a letter from the solicitors who conducted the investigation. The letter said that the discrepancy was the solicitors’ fault and that Eling’s signed statement made clear he had known Dudley was the Monitoring Officer.

The letter was dated today. Before its transmission, Eling had failed to respond to a SKWAWKBOX enquiry about the discrepancy.

Letter 5.10.18 J.Goolden to S.Tour.png

The letter sent by the investigators, showing today’s date

The letter begins,

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.

suggesting that the letter was in response to a newly-made request by the council – even though the report claiming the opposite of what the lawyers now say Eling actually said had been online for weeks. The letter does not explain how such a fundamental error came to occur.

But the council was warned almost eight weeks ago of inaccuracies in its report – by Melanie Dudley herself.

dudley bbc

The BBC’s report this week on ‘online bullying’ of Melanie Dudley

On 13 August, Ms Dudley sent an email to the council’s current Monitoring Officer to complain about inaccuracies and ‘factual contradictions’ in the report – and the addition of information ‘at the last minute’

Dear Surjit

Thank you for sending me a copy of the report and the statements.

I note that this is the final report and therefore assume that it is too late to make any further comments. Whilst, of course I am pleased with the fact that my complaint has been upheld in its entirety, I am disappointed that a significant amount of additional evidence has been introduced at the last minute in what appears to me to be a concerted attempt to refute anything that may incriminate the leader or the Chief Executive.

It is highly unfortunate that the report should be in such an imperfect state. There are, for example  a number of factual contradictions between the report itself  and the appended statements as well as contradictions to public statements previously made by the Leader.

In addition the somewhat haphazard approach to redactions does not cover the Council in glory.

Nevertheless, given that my earlier representations have consistently been rebutted (often by the Council taking great lengths and time to do so), I wish to see the end of this matter once and for all. Therefore I see no point in itemising my specific points only to have the matter delayed further. If people or the press choose to interest themselves in this matter the contradictions inaccuracies and untruths are apparent. 

By the time the hearing has taken place, my complaint will be one year old and the key (but not the only) protagonist in this sorry saga has long since ceased to hold office.

I hope to be attending the meeting. As it is a public meeting I am sure that other members of the public may also be present.

Yours Sincerely

Melanie

Ms Dudley reports that she received no response whatever to her email.

The council was contacted for comment. Surjit Tour, the same Monitoring Officer to whom Melanie Dudley sent her warning of the inaccuracies, responded:

Dear Sir,

The complaint made by Melanie Dudley was made solely against former councillor Richard Marshall. The matter was investigated and during the course of that independent investigation, Melanie Dudley was provided with a copy of the full draft report and invited to comment upon it. Melanie Dudley provided feedback on the report which was considered by the independent investigator and details included within the final report. Melanie Dudley therefore has had the opportunity to raise any issues and/or make comments on the investigation and investigation report.

Melanie Dudley attended the Ethical Standards and Member Development Committee on 28 September when this investigation report was considered and afforded the opportunity to directly address the Committee, which she duly did. At no time did she raise concerns over inaccuracies in the report or the manner in which the investigation was conducted.

Moreover, at no time has Melanie Dudley made a complaint against councillor Steve Eling or indeed any other councillor. This is consistent with the evidence of former councillor Richard Marshall who admitted that he was the only person involved in the ‘What’sApp’ exchange and that no one else was involved.

You have been advised to amend or remove the misleading article appearing on your site given the clear clarification that has been provided to you concerning councillor Eling’s awareness of Melanie Dudley’s temporary role of Monitoring Officer. You have failed to do this despite being aware of the correct position. Your failure to address this issue satisfactorily can only be to cause unnecessary and unjustified distress to councillor Steve Eling. Please address this issue immediately.

Surjit Tour
Director – Monitoring Officer
Solicitor
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

The SKWAWKBOX responded in turn:

Surjit,

For the avoidance of doubt, Melanie Dudley sent you this email 13/8. She asserts not only that she received no response to it but that numerous efforts to raise the issues had been rebuffed:

Start quote:

Dear Surjit

Thank you for sending me a copy of the report and the statements.

I note that this is the final report and therefore assume that it is too late to make any further comments. Whilst, of course I am pleased with the fact that my complaint has been upheld in its entirety, I am disappointed that a significant amount of additional evidence has been introduced at the last minute in what appears to me to be a concerted attempt to refute anything that may incriminate the leader or the Chief Executive.

It is highly unfortunate that the report should be in such an imperfect state. There are, for example a number of factual contradictions between the report itself and the appended statements as well as contradictions to public statements previously made by the Leader.

In addition the somewhat haphazard approach to redactions does not cover the Council in glory.

Nevertheless, given that my earlier representations have consistently been rebutted (often by the Council taking great lengths and time to do so), I wish to see the end of this matter once and for all. Therefore I see no point in itemising my specific points only to have the matter delayed further. If people or the press choose to interest themselves in this matter the contradictions inaccuracies and untruths are apparent.

By the time the hearing has taken place, my complaint will be one year old and the key (but not the only) protagonist in this sorry saga has long since ceased to hold office.

I hope to be attending the meeting. As it is a public meeting I am sure that other members of the public may also be present.

Yours Sincerely

Melanie

End quote

Making a sweeping statement that her comments were considered will simply not wash when she told you and the council of the ‘factual contradictions’ – and when just such a contradiction between the content of the report and Steve Eling’s signed statement has only yesterday been admitted by yourselves and Wilkin Chapman.

Your comment that this is about causing ‘distress’ to Steve Eling is absurd. Elected officials run for office in the expectation of being accountable for their actions. However, in the current instance, whether Ms Dudley’s complaint was about Mr Eling has no relevance at all. This is about demonstrably shoddy process involved in the creation of the report and the questions it raises about the accuracy and trustworthiness of the report.

As for your comments about the article recently published about Mr Eling’s words according to WC’s report, the article was entirely accurate according to the information contained in the report. The accuracy of the report was the council’s and WC’s issue. I’ve amended the article to contain in full Wilkins Chapman’s ‘mea culpa’ and have amended the title. The article now portrays both the situation as it was initially – the quoted wording from the report and its portrayal are accurate and the information that you failed to provide before publication has been added in full.

Given your lack of timely response before the initial article was published, I’ve been extremely accommodating and nobody reading the article with due care will fail to recognise either that the wording in the report was inaccurate or that Sandwell Council and its agent created a (now-admittedly) inaccurate report and left it online uncorrected for weeks as a supposedly true and accurate record. Those perfectly accurate points are entirely down to the council and its agent.

After the new article is published, readers will also understand that you were warned about such inaccuracies almost two months ago and failed to correct them. That is also your and the council’s issue. For balance and accuracy, I will of course include the response you have provided in full. Readers will have all the facts and will make up their own minds.

Steve
Editor
The SKWAWKBOX

SKWAWKBOX comment:

Melanie Dudley’s description of ‘factual contradictions’ would certainly fit the conflicting comments attributed to Steve Eling about Dudley’s role as Monitoring Officer by the report and then today by Wilkin Chapman.

Yet in spite of Ms Dudley’s warning in mid-August that there were discrepancies between the reports and the appended statements. she did not receive any response and an inaccurate, self-contradicting report was left in the public domain as a supposedly authoritative document.

The fact that the council was warned weeks ago that there were ‘factual contradictions’ with the report, yet have only now corrected the record and asked the report’s authors to ‘clarify’, will raise serious questions in the minds of informed Sandwell residents about the integrity of the report, the validity of its conclusions and the competence of those involved in its creation.

Especially when the SKWAWKBOX already exposed another such ‘contradiction’ – the claim by Steve Eling in the investigators’ report that a data leak involving another ally of local right-wing MPs was not a breach, when in fact the Information Commissioner had already ruled and confirmed in writing that it was.

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2 responses to “Lawyers take blame for Sandwell leader report discrepancy – but council was warned inaccurate 7 weeks ago

  1. Well done Steve, so encouraging to see those entitiled individuals who will go to untold lengths to mislead are being found out and exposed.

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