In June, the SKWAWKBOX published evidence of the involvement of Sandwell councillor Simon Hackett – an employee and close ally of Labour deputy leader Tom Watson – in a potential breach of laws regulating the allocation of council housing.
The council’s housing system recorded Mr Hackett involved in a housing allocation, to a local woman, that bypassed the council’s protocols and waiting lists:
The publication of the article triggered a rapid attempt from the council’s legal department to force the removal of the article, on the grounds that an internal review had found ‘there is no evidence’:
The SKWAWKBOX responded that the information published was accurate and would not be removed and that Hackett had been given ample opportunity to comment – and also sent the following questions for immediate response from Mr Tour or the council:
- a copy of the report that exonerated Mr Hackett – the investigation was conducted with public money and there is an obvious public interest, so there should be no issues at all in providing it
- the ICO confirmed that the council initially found Mr Hackett had committed a data breach but later ‘rescinded’ this. Who made the original finding and why was it overturned?
- Ms [redacted] was not on the waiting list for a property and was already a council tenant in adequate accommodation. Please clarify why she was even considered for the new property
- Mr Hackett was allegedly involved in Ms [redacted] obtaining tenancy in [redacted] Road. Please provide full details of the process by which she was allocated that address. She will not be named in any articles ensuing.
The emails containing the questions was sent 22 June.
Multiple reminders were sent – and Mr Tour has emailed very quickly to try to force the removal of other articles about the council in the interim – but almost four months later, he has not responded to any of the above questions of obvious interest to the public in the borough and beyond.
Simon Hackett also featured recently in controversy over the council leader’s recorded – but inaccurate – claim that an information leak by Hackett was not a breach of data laws, when in fact the Information Commissioner had ruled a definitive breach.
The legal firm that conducted the investigation into council leader Steve Eling subsequently took the blame for the false information in its report – but only after the SKWAWKBOX published details, when the council had been warned for months about the discrepancies in its report.
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