Analysis Breaking Exclusive

Exclusive: Merseyside Police say ‘real concerns’ about fraud in council-run ‘BICo’ company

‘Operation Aloft’ detective inspector asks Community Independent councillors to submit case of company run by senior right-wing Labour councillors to ‘Action Fraud’

L-R Cllrs Nick Small, Steve Munby, Ann O’Byrne

As Skwawkbox reported earlier today, Liverpool Community Independents (LCI) on the city council have called for proper clarity on the findings of an investigation into the activities of ‘BICo’, the ‘Beautiful Ideas Company’ – and for the suspension of three senior right-wing councillors involved in running it.

BICo was a council-run company that managed two match-day car parks, supposedly to reinvest the cash in the local community, but a preliminary council report leaked via Skwawkbox revealed, among other things, unreceipted takings, discrepancies between expected and reported parking levels and the use of cash for things such as providing a job for the daughter of Ann O’Byrne, one of the councillors involved in the running of the company.

But now Skwawkbox can reveal that Merseyside Police have also asked LCI councillors to refer the issue to ‘Action Fraud’ – the UK national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime – because a senior police officer working on ‘Operation Aloft’, the force’s investigation into council-awarded building and development deals, believes there are ‘real concerns’ about the company’s dealings.

Everton Councillor Alfie Hincks, who raised the matter at the council’s influential Finance Committee and reported the issues to the police, said of the council’s refusal to release the unredacted report on its investigation into BICO’s affairs:

It should not have taken four years for the findings to come to light. Questions were initially raised by then councillor Frank Prendergast about the unticketed collection of money at two Anfield car parks. The persistence of investigative journalist Matt O’Donohue eventually persuaded the Information Commissioners Office to act and force transparency.

His Warbreck colleague Cllr Alan Gibbons demanded the suspension of councillors Nick Small, Ann O’Byrne and Steve Munby and added:

BICo is the tip of the iceberg. We have seen fractional sales such as the Vauxhall Road development, the Chinatown scandal, the handing over of property for a nominal fee or even for nothing including nine acres of land granted for nothing to [a property developer, name redacted pending request for comment], then a BICo director, the failure to collect rent from property developer [redacted pending request for comment] for the running of the Beetham Plaza car park, shocking conditions at a property and more. It is time to clean up this city.

And Merseyside Detective Inspector replied to Cllr Hincks (and two other Merseyside police officers) in response to the latter’s report:

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Hawitt Christopher Philip
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2022, 12:28
Subject: RE: BICo report Liverpool CityCouncil
To: Alfie Hincks

Hi Alfie,

Thank you very much for your email and apologies for the delayed response, I was away. I have looked through the report and whether there is crossover into the Operation Aloft investigation. At time of writing there is not, and it is not something we would be able to look at I’m afraid. We have quite strict parameters around our investigation in relation to what we are looking at, as without this we could quite simply grind to a halt unfortunately given the amount of information and allegations of wrongdoing we have received.

However, as the report rightly points out there are some real concerns about a few matters, specifically the appointment of Rachel O’Byrne and the awarding of payments to [redacted pending request for comment].

Can I ask, if you are able to, would you be willing to refer this to Action Fraud? The reason being that it then picks up any links or ongoing national issues with any of these people involved or companies and it is then disseminated to the most appropriate force if thought a likely criminal investigation.

The web address to report it is Reporting fraud and cyber crime | Action Fraud

Equally I am happy to discuss further at any point if you want to give me a call and we can go through it.

Many thanks

Chris Hawitt
Christopher Hawitt
D/Insp Operation Aloft
INV Economic Interventions

The council’s redactions to the report appear to have included removing the names of Nick Small, Ann O’Byrne and Steve Munby, the three councillors involved in the company’s activities, as they reportedly do not appear anywhere in it despite their positions, which included signing off expenditure to employ O’Byrne’s daughter.

The Community Independent councillors have demanded to know whether their names were removed and what else was redacted – and have called for the three’s suspension pending investigation.

All three councillors were contacted for comment last week. None responded.

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7 comments

  1. (Not so) Fun Fact:

    The plod had concerns about grant
    shafts’ internet *ahem* business

    So much so, that they went public, stating the sale of the software he was peddling : ” “may constitute an offence of fraud”

    But nowt came of it – because the then DPP (A certain keef smarmer, in case anyone had forgotten) resigned from the position that very same day!!

    1. You mean that Keir completed his 5yr term in office as DPP on the same day that the misdeeds of Shapps was reported and therefore logically left it for his successor to deal with.

  2. Just received an email drawing my attention to a 1943 Essay by Horkheimer “Without a socialist party, there is no class struggle, only rackets.”
    Rackets…

  3. IF the police have real concerns “over BICs…then a visit to HQ southside bunker to meet said criminals in the bunker starmer and the Evans help us gang….. would make their “eyes water” .ITs about time that the police got involved at the HQ and rooted out these parasites infecting parliament and democracy..After a general election will be too late to clear out the stink of a foreign government bankrolling the labour party.The people deserve better than this car crash government and a dodgy Opposition party.

  4. I have lived on Merseyside since 1976 & always a Labour Party member (Riverside) but despaired at the ‘local practices’ of networking friends & family. I now live in Sefton & recently declined the pleasure of supporting my MP by resigning from the Party, although my wife continues as a Labour councillor (often fun @ breakfast). One more recent decision made by Liverpool City Council that I find baffling is the selling of prime building land on the Liverpool Docks for a song & then granting planning permission to build a football stadium to house Everton FC. My wife’s entire family are Evertonians but none of them can explain the logic of building a new football stadium so close to the city centre that can only increase congestion on match days & further increase pollution levels from cars & coaches. Incidences of asthma & bronchial problems in & around Bootle are among the highest in Britain. The Aviva Northern line will not be enough.
    I have no axe to grind over being a blue nose or a red as I am a Bristol Rovers supporter, but the chaos & increased pollution alone should ring alarm bells. A good deal for Everton shareholders, but not local people. All new football stadiums should be built on the outskirts of urban populations & use existing road & rail networks that benefit both home & away fans.

  5. The police appear to have dragged their feet on this. Their concerns are long overdue – their delay in dealing with this needs to be investigated too .

  6. Controversial match day cash company set to be dissolved
    Accounts show the Beautiful Ideas Company has liabilities of £302,541
    lThe Beautiful Ideas Company managed match day car parks for Liverpool and Everton fans (Image: Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo)
    The directors of a match day parking company which is now under investigation have applied for it to be dissolved.
    Last week it was confirmed an investigation had been launched into the conduct of individuals following the publication of a Liverpool Council internal audit report about the Beautiful Ideas company (BICo). It has now been revealed that probe has been extended to assess five members of the local authority.

    https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/controversial-match-day-cash-company-25552505

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