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Posted by: John Brace | 30th April 2014

EXCLUSIVE: £1,800 “confidential” report clears Councillor Chris Blakeley after allegation of Cllr Foulkes that comments in Liverpool Echo were disrespectful

Aretha Franklin – Respect [1967]

Cheshire West and Chester invoice for £1800 for investigating a standards complaint
Cheshire West and Chester invoice for £1800 for investigating a standards complaint (you can click on the thumbnail for a more high resolution version)

EXCLUSIVE: £1,800 "confidential" report clears Councillor Chris Blakeley after allegation of Cllr Foulkes that comments in Liverpool Echo were disrespectful

                         

It was a long time ago (19th March) when I first made a Freedom of Information Act request for the external investigation report (and the invoice) for the standards complaint that Councillor Steve Foulkes had made about Councillor Chris Blakeley. Not surprisingly with such a politically sensitive request, my Freedom of Information request was ignored, so on the 17th April I requested an internal review.

On the 24th April Wirral Council supplied the report itself, an appendix and the invoice from Chester West and Chester Council (for £1,800) for the investigation. On the same day this was released, solicitors that work in Wirral Council’s legal department and the officers that take the minutes at public meetings had a meeting in Committee Room 1, the subject of which was “values and culture change”. The fact that only two lines are redacted in the investigation report and Wirral Council hasn’t claimed an Freedom of Information Act exemption applies to the report and appendix A is one example of how the culture has changed at Wirral Council.

Due to the redaction of two lines on page nine, the seventeen page report is an image, therefore it can’t be spidered properly by search engines. Therefore I’ll be including the seventeen page report below this so it can be properly spidered. The report itself explains who Councillor Blakeley and Councillor Foulkes are so I won’t repeat what is in the report itself. It does however give an interesting insight into Wirral’s politics. Appendix A to the report can be downloaded from this blog. I’ve used a series of equals signs to show where individual pages start and end in the report.

Where legislation or individual cases are referred to I have tried to provide a link where possible in case you want to find out more about the legislation or judgements referred to. If you wish to read the original report as a pdf file you can. The two witness statements referred to in the report as Appendix B (the witness statement of Councillor Foulkes) and Appendix C (the witness statement of Councillor Blakeley) haven’t been supplied in response to the Freedom of Information Act request, but I’ve requested an internal review regarding these. In the report below I have not corrected any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors but left these as they appear in the report.

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CONFIDENTIAL


Report of an investigation by Trudie Odaka acting as investigating officer, appointed by Surjit Tour Monitoring Officer for Wirral Borough Council into allegations concerning Councillor Chris Blakeley.

This report is submitted to the Monitoring Officer for Wirral Borough Council, Surjit Tour.

FINAL REPORT

10th March 2014


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CONTENTS




1. Executive Summary
2. The relevant legislation and protocols
3. The Evidence Gathered
4. Nomination for the Office of Mayor
5. The Allegations by the Complainant
6. Account by Councillor Foulkes
7. The Liverpool Echo article dated 13th May 2013
8. Response from Councillor Blakeley
9. Summary of the material facts
10.Case Law
11.Reasoning as to whether there has been a failure to comply with the Wirral Borough Council Code of Conduct
12.Finding

Appendix A – Schedule of Documents
Appendix B – Statement of Councillor Foulkes
Appendix C – Statement of Councillor Blakeley
 


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Executive Summary

1.1 I have been asked to conduct an investigation in respect of a complaint made by Councillor Steve Foulkes regarding the conduct of Councillor Chris Blakeley.

1.2 The Allegation

An allegation has been made by Councillor Steve Foulkes that Councillor Chris Blakeley failed to comply with the Members’ Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council by failing to treat him with respect. The allegation made by Councillor Foulkes is that in an article that appeared in the Liverpool Echo on Monday 13th May 2013, when referring to Councillor Foulkes’ nomination as for Deputy Mayor, Councillor Blakeley indicated that he would be voting against the nomination. The complaint contains the quote "I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality. Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year? I would be a total hypocrite. I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him".

1.3 I have investigated whether Councillor Chris Blakeley failed to comply with paragraphs 1.1of the Members’ Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council.

Investigation Outcome

1.4 I have investigated Councillor Blakeley’s conduct and in so doing I have considered the article published in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013 which was appended to the complaint. I have taken into account the article as a whole, in order to set the context of any quotes or information contained within it. Whilst concentrating principally on this Liverpool Echo article; I have also considered other articles relating to Councillor Foulkes’ nomination for deputy mayor, articles that appeared in the local press and on the internet. This has enabled me to better understand the background to the complaint, the context of the statement made by Councillor Blakeley and this has allowed me to review the comments made by other members of Wirral Borough Council; members that are not the subject of this complaint but who nonetheless commented publically about the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for the position of Deputy Mayor.


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1.5 I have considered the quotes attributed to the subject member Councillor Blakeley and I have investigated – whether the quotes were made by him and if made; the context.

1.6 I have considered the comments contained within the complaint and I have interviewed both Councillor Foulkes and Councillor Blakeley to listen to their account of events. Through interviewing each member separately; I have paid particular attention to what each of them has said and taken into account how the comments were perceived by them including the intention of the subject member Councillor Blakeley. I have also taken into account the public forum in which the comments were made; being publication of the comments within a newspaper.

1.7 Whilst concentrating the investigation upon the Liverpool Echo article and the conduct of Councillor Blakeley; in reaching a conclusion, I have taken into account the political context at the time by reviewing the press and other public forums where the nomination was mentioned, although the information found is relevant for setting context (as it revealed that others made comments about the nomination) I have not repeated what I have found within this report as it does not relate to the exact detail of this complaint. Copies are contained in the list of documents at appendix A.

1.8 I have investigated whether or not the conduct complained of was directed at Councillor Foulkes as an individual or his personal characteristics.

1.9 I conclude that when quoted in the Liverpool Echo article on 13th May 2013, Councillor Blakeley was acting in his official capacity as a councillor of Wirral Borough Council.

1.10 I conclude that there has been no failure by Councillor Blakeley to comply with paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council in that, the quotes in the Liverpool Echo article constituted the legitimate expression of Councillor Blakeley made in response to a nomination by the council’s cabinet for the position of deputy mayor; the quotes related to a matter within his legitimate concern as a councillor namely the proposed next incumbent for the position of deputy mayor. In making the statements Councillor Blakeley appears to have been seeking to explain the reason why he would be voting against the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for deputy mayor; against the Wirral Council’s established tradition of members not challenging nominations made for the positions of mayor and deputy mayor. Councillor Blakeley is quoted as saying "Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year?" Taking into account all the material facts, I do not find that the quotes


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were expressions of personal malice/anger or personal abuse/attack directed at the Complainant Councillor Foulkes.

1.11 In reaching my conclusion, I have taken into account the fact that Wirral Borough Council being a public body is under a duty to act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights; this includes the consideration of possible breaches of the Member’s Code of Conduct. Article 10 is a European Convention Right that gives protection to the right of freedom of expression, a right which the courts have strongly upheld in cases involving the expression of political opinion, and as such, Councillor Blakeley’s comments to the Liverpool Echo are protected by Article 10.

1.12 I find that there has been no failure to comply with the Wirral Borough Council Code of Conduct.

2. The Relevant Legislation, Code and Protocols

The Code of Conduct

2.1 Wirral Borough Council adopted a Code of Conduct with effect from 1st July 2012 in accordance with the provisions of the Localism Act 2011.

2.2 The Wirral Borough Council Code of Conduct imposes a general obligation on all its councillors, that when acting in their role as a member of the council they will treat others with respect.

2.3 Relevant paragraphs of the Code of Conduct

Paragraph 1.1 of the Code states –

(1) when acting in your role as a Member of the Council;
1.1 DO treat others with respect
 

Relevant legislation

2.4 Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic


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society, in the interests of…the protection of the reputation or rights of others."

2.5 Section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 identifies the rights under the European Convention of Human Rights which have effect for the purposes of that Act. They include Articles 6 and 10 of the ECHR.

Section 3(1) of the 1998 Act provides that so far as it is possible to do so subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the convention rights.

2.6 Section 6 of the 1998 Act provides as follows:

(1) It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a convention right. (In light of this provision I have taken into account the provisions of the ECHR when conducting this investigation).

(2) Disapplies the section in certain very limited circumstances concerning primary legislation. (This does not apply to the present case)

3. The Evidence Gathered

3.1 I have interviewed –

  • The Complainant Councillor Steve Foulkes
  • The subject member Councillor Chris Blakeley
 

3.2 I have spoken to Surjit Tour, the Council’s Monitoring Officer.

3.3 I have been given a copy of Wirral Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct.

3.4 I have been given a copy of Wirral Council’s Member’s Code of Conduct protocol.

3.5 I have obtained copies of other articles within the press relating to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes as deputy mayor found as a result of a speculative search of the internet. Copies of these are contained within Appendix A

4 Nomination for the Office of Mayor

4.1 Both Councillor Foulkes and Councillor Blakeley have explained the process for mayor making to me. My understanding is that in essence nominations to


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the offices of mayor and deputy mayor are made by the Wirral Council Cabinet. All three parties take a rotational turn to put forward their nomination for the role. In 2013 the rotational turn belonged to the Labour Group. I am told by Councillor Foulkes that the selection of the Labour Group nomination is based upon seniority due to length of service.

4.2 In accordance with custom and practice the role of deputy mayor is normally followed a year later by the holder’s nomination to the position of mayor. My understanding is that the naming of a mayor and deputy mayor is not normally controversial in Wirral.

4.3 The nomination to the mayoralty and deputy mayoralty is traditionally unopposed by any of the parties as the position is considered apolitical.

5 The Allegations by the Complainant

5.1 The complaint stems from a statement which appeared in the a Liverpool Echo article dated 13th May 2013 and a quote attributed to the subject member Councillor Blakeley, words taken from the article of :

"I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality."

"Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year? I would be a total hypocrite. I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him."

5.2 Within his complaint Councillor Foulkes explains "I have a proud record of public service over 22 years. During that time I have never been found guilty of being unfit to hold public office. By questioning by fitness to hold the offices of Council Leader, Deputy Mayor and Mayor, Cllr Blakeley is in clear breach of one of the key elements of the Members Protocol, i.e. ‘failing to treat people with respect."

6 Account by Councillor Foulkes

6.1 Councillor Foulkes is an elected Councillor of Wirral Borough Council and following his nomination to the office, he became the Deputy Mayor of Wirral Borough Council.


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6.2 Councillor Foulkes made the complaint on 17th May 2013 following the article that appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013.

6.3 Councillor Foulkes has complained about the comments attributed to Councillor Blakeley within the Liverpool Echo explaining that he took exception to the word ‘unfit’ saying "The use of the word ‘unfit’ implies things, gives connotations that there is criminality involved with your character or malpractice. For this to be true ‘he’ would need evidence. That is what is required to say a holder of a drinks licence or a taxi licence is unfit – you need to explain what makes a person ‘unfit’."

6.4 When interviewed Councillor Foulkes differentiated the comments made by Councillor Blakeley from the other comments contained within the article "The first comment that I found mildly offensive was the comment ‘divisive’ I did not take action about this." "… people are allowed poetic licence even though it was not a great comment; people say many things in political tit for tat. I did not take action over this."

6.5 Councillor Foulkes explained the effect of the quotes on:

  • him as an individual, "The statements made have had an effect on me as an individual. First it made life difficult for me" "People who read it associated it with criminality or malpractice. I was very concerned that this was what people were thinking of me." "I have to survive in the real world. I have a career. If people associate my name with being ‘unfit’ or ‘divisive’ it will discourage people from taking the role of politician if that sort of language continues"
  • him as a politician, "Understanding the local people, I knew the phase ‘unfit’ could be interpreted in a whole host of ways. It took me aback that Councillor Blakeley though he knew something that would show me as unfit. Leaders of Council’s are accountable. This is right and correct. This however was an attack on my character."
  • his family and friends "it has clearly created tension for my friends and family" "I received comments from friends and people that I met "what’s he got on you to call you ‘unfit’?" As I said, normally the use of the word ‘unfit is connected to criminality e.g. in the context of licensing. What have I done? I have never done


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  • anything. If Councillor Blakeley thought that I was unfit on those grounds then he should have made it clearer.”
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
                                            

6.6 Councillor Foulkes explained why he took exception to the quotes attributed to Councillor Blakeley "I would never say that I don’t have respect for someone. I feel that by saying this Councillor Blakeley has gone beyond the normal attacks that occur." "Where Councillor Blakeley says I was unfit it shows a lack of respect this is made worse when his comments are then emblazoned in the press."

6.7 Quoting directly from Councillor Foulkes’ statement he said "Lots of others called for my resignation, others spoke in support. It doesn’t mean that someone who has been the Leader cannot be Mayor. I have done the job as Leader to the best of my ability. I have made mistakes but I do not think that I have done anything to warrant me being called ‘unfit’. This is personalised attack on my character not based on anything I might have done or anything that he believes that I have done."

"At this point in time there is not a blemish on my character. I would say that as a politician I have made mistakes. I made decisions with the best interests of Wirral and the Council I never knowingly did anything that would breach decent behaviour or any Code of Conduct."

7 The Liverpool Echo Article dated 13th May 2013

7.1 The Article which is the subject of this complaint appeared in the Liverpool Echo on Monday 13th May 2013 under the title "Rivals in row over choice of Deputy Mayor" by Liam Murphy.

7.2 The article is introduced with the editorial "A long-standing tradition of not making mayoralty a political issue looks set to be shattered in Wirral tonight"

7.3 The editorial continues "Former council leader, Labour’s Steve Foulkes, is being put forward as deputy mayor; but a leading Tory has said he will vote against him Cllr Foulkes and other members of the Conservative party are expected to join him or abstain."

7.4 The article sets out the context of the mayor making process explaining "the three parties in Wirral council take turns nominating a councillor to the


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mayoralty seen as a non-political role which raises thousands of pounds for chosen charities."

7.5 Within the article Tory Leader Councillor Jeff Green has a quote attributed to him, ‘he was surprised by the decision to nominate such a "divisive figure"’

7.6 The editorial commentary introduces Councillor Blakeley’s quote with "ahead of night’s meeting to nominate the new mayor and his deputy, Tory chief whip Cllr Chris Blakeley said he would be voting against Cllr Foulkes"

7.7 Councillor Blakeley is then quoted as having said "I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality."

"Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year? I would be a total hypocrite. I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him."

7.8 The article ends with a commentary from the complainant Councillor Foulkes "I think the reality is that the conservatives are becoming increasingly desperate to gain some attention for themselves" . "If they have chosen to show what is considered bad manners, politicising the mayoralty, it says more about them than anyone else."

8 Response from Councillor Blakeley

8.1 During my interview with Councillor Blakeley he explained that he felt the complaint was a tit for tat complaint made by the complainant.

8.2 Councillor Blakeley was and is unhappy with the process followed in the handling of this complaint.

8.3 When interviewed Councillor Blakeley described the council as "factionalised politically".

8.4 In relation to the quotes attributed to him, Councillor Blakeley did not remember the exact words used however he did not dispute the words quoted "When I saw the article I was not shocked by what it said. But I


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can’t say if what they printed was correct because I can’t recall word for word what was actually said".

8.5 Councillor Blakeley explained "I am extremely proud that I voted against Councillor Foulkes as Deputy Mayor along with my colleagues who also voted against and those in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Group who also did not support Cllr Foulkes nomination by abstaining."

8.6 When referring to the mayor making process Councillor Blakeley explained "The traditional view is that the Mayor Making is a non-political event. No vote is taken on either role and it is all done with niceties and everyone is pleasant".

8.7 With reference to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for the position of deputy mayor Councillor Blakeley explained "The selection of Councillor Foulkes made it a political event. When Labour nominated Councillor Foulkes, the Labour Group knew what they were doing, sticking two fingers up to the Council and to the people of Wirral. As explained by Councillor Jeff Green’s comment "he was surprised by the decision to nominate such ‘a divisive figure’." If you knew and understood the history of politics in Wirral you would understand that".

8.8 In relation to the use of the wording ‘unfit’ Councillor Blakeley explained "Councillor Foulkes was voted out as Leader of the Council in 2011 because of a vote of no confidence. I voted against Councillor Foulkes when he was leader. I vote against him because we all believed he was no longer fit to lead this Council. We need a majority of Councillors to carry a vote of no confidence, clearly that majority was achieved. It wasn’t my words that he wasn’t ‘fit’ it was the Council motion".

8.9 Councillor Blakeley explained the context of his statements "Wirral Borough Council is a ‘bear put’ of a political arena. Since Councillor Davies took over as Leader of the Council there have been calls for him to resign. If the shoe was on the other foot; I am sure that he would be calling for the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Leader to resign. Calling on Leaders to resign is not unusual in Wirral, regardless of which political party it is, that is the confrontational nature of politics that exists in Wirral".

8.10 Councillor Blakeley went on to explain "Wirral Council is exceptionally political." "..I am sure that both he and I and others have said far


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worse in the Council Chamber than is printed on that newspaper page".

8.11 In conclusion Councillor Blakeley said "Looking at the seven principles in public life that are in the Schedule to the Members Code of Conduct, I have been honest in what I have said. I have been accountable about what I have said".

9 Summary of the material facts

9.1 The comments published in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013 complained about are attributed to Councillor Blakeley.

9.2 The article and all the quotes contained within it including those attributed to the Councillor Blakeley "I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him." all relate to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for deputy mayor.

9.3 It is clear that the comments are connected to the intended departure from a long established tradition of nominations relating to the mayoralty being apolitical "I think the reality is that the conservatives are becoming increasingly desperate to gain some attention for themselves". "If they have chosen to show what is considered bad manners, politicising the mayoralty, it says more about them than anyone else."

9.4 The nomination of councillor Foulkes for the position of deputy mayor led to comments being made publicly about the nomination from a number of Wirral Borough Councillors.

9.5 I note that in relation to the ‘unfit’ comment Councillor Foulkes explained to his employer "that is was just political stuff" I also note that Councillor Foulkes’ response to the comments contained within the article is also quoted (paragraph 7.8 above refers).

10 Case Law

In coming to a conclusion over whether or not there has been a breach of the Wirral Code of Conduct, I have taken into account case law concerning the freedom of expression, in particular political expression and the application of the article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Expression) to complaints under the Code of Conduct. Including the most recent high court cases of R (Dennehy) v London Borough of Ealing [2013]


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EWHC 4102 and R(Calver) v Public Services Ombudsman for Wales [2012] EWHC 1172 (Admin) (03 May 2012). Other cases considered and taken into account include

 

10.1 In R(Calver) v Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Beatson J stated:

"The recognition of the importance of expression in the political sphere and the limits of acceptable criticism are wider in the case of politicians acting in their public capacity than they are in the case of private individuals… This recognition involves both a higher level of protection ("enhanced protection") for statements in the political sphere and the expectation that if the subjects of such statements are politicians acting in their public capacity, they lay themselves open to close scrutiny of their words and deeds and are expected to possess a thicker skin and greater tolerance than ordinary members of the public … Although the protection of Article 10(2) extends to politicians, the Strasbourg Court has stated that where a politician seeks to rely on it, "the requirements have to be weighed in relation to the open discussion of political issues".

10.2 In Sanders v Steven Kingston Wilkie J considered the relationship between Article 10 and paragraph 2(b) of the then Code of Conduct. The provision equates to paragraphs 1.1 of the Wirral Council’s new Code with which this investigation is concerned. In paragraph 69 of his judgement, Wilkie J reviewed a number of authorities. In my view the paragraphs taken from the judgement are relevant to this investigation as they relate to the freedom of expression and political expression in particular.

10.3 In Lingens v Austria Wilkie J noted [at para.69] that the following was said:

"In this connection the court has to recall that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self fulfilment. Subject to paragraph 2, it is applicable not only to "information or ideas" that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to


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those that offend shock or disturb. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad mindedness without which there is no democratic society. More generally freedom of political debate is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society which prevails throughout the convention… In such cases the requirements of such protection have to be weighed in relation to the interests of open discussion of political issues."

10.4 From R v Central Independent Television plc (1994) Fam 192 Wilkie J set out the following passage from the speech of Lord Justice Hoffman:

"Publication may cause needless pain, distress and damage to individuals or harm to other aspects of the public interest. But a freedom which is restricted to what judges think to be responsible or in the public interest is no freedom. Freedom means the right to publish things which government and judges, however well motivated, think should not be published. It means the right to say things which "right thinking people" regard as dangerous or irresponsible. This freedom is subject only to clearly defined exceptions laid down by common law or statute. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that outside the established exceptions, there is no question of balancing freedom of speech against other interests. It is a trump card which always wins."

10.5 From Reynolds v Times Newspapers [2001] 2 AC 127 Mr Justice Willkie quoted the judgement of Lord Nichols:

"Members of Councils are politicians and their actions as such are often political actions. An obvious example is when they are speaking in Council meetings where robust political debate may reflect lack of respect for political opponents or may result in views being expressed which many might regard as offensive. It cannot be the case, in my judgement, that the sole source of obligation in that context is the code of conduct unmediated by consideration of Article 10."

10.6 Collins J in Livingstone v The Adjudication Panel for England [2006] EWHC 2533 (Admin) [at para.39]:

"The burden is on [the Adjudication Panel for England] to justify interference with freedom of speech. However offensive and undeserving of protection the appellant’s outburst may have appeared to some, it is important that any individual knows that he can say what he likes, provided it is not unlawful, unless there are clear and satisfactory reasons within the terms of Article 10(2) to render him liable to sanctions.”


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11 Reasoning as to whether there has been failure to comply with the Code of Conduct

11.1 Two matters fall for determination on the basis of the facts as found:

  • Whether when quoted in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2014, Councillor Blakeley was acting in his role as a member of the Council and
  • Whether Councillor Blakeley’s conduct was such that he failed to treat others with respect.
  •  

    Failure to Treat Others with Respect

    11.2 Failure to treat others with respect will occur when unfair, unreasonable or demeaning behaviour is directed by one person against another. The circumstances in which the behaviour occurred are relevant in assessing whether the behaviour is disrespectful. The circumstances include the place where the behaviour occurred, who observed the behaviour, the behaviour itself and its proportionality to the circumstances, the character and relationship of the people involved and the behaviour of anyone who prompted the alleged disrespect.

    11.3 It is recognised that in politics rival groupings are common and, within this context it is expected that each will campaign for their ideas, and they may also seek to discredit the policies and actions of their opponents. It is very clear from case law that ideas and policies can be robustly criticised, but individuals should not be subject to unreasonable or excessive personal attack, it is also clear from case law that the right to freedom of expression is a crucially important right that can only be interfered with where there are convincing and compelling reasons within article 10(2) to justify that interference "It cannot be too strongly emphasised that outside the established exceptions, there is no question of balancing freedom of speech against other interests. It is a trump card which always wins" (paragraph 10.4 above refers).

    11.4 Councillor Blakeley does not deny making the quotes contained in the Liverpool Echo article.

    11.5 There is agreement by the complainant and the subject member that the quotes contained within the article were as a direct response to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for the position of deputy mayor.

    11.6 I find that the quotes in the article related to a matter within Councillor Blakeley’s legitimate concern as a councillor. I consider that the right of Councillor Blakeley as a democratically elected member of a public authority to free speech is engaged. I find that in making the statements he was


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    seeking to explain why he would be voting against the nomination of Councillor Foulkes as deputy mayor "I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality." This appears to have been said by way of explanation against the accepted Wirral tradition that when such nominations are made by a party for the position of deputy mayor, the nominations are accepted without opposition from any of the other parties’ members "I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him.".

    11.7 Personal Attack or Malice

    In relation to the article, I have also considered whether or not there was a personal attack against Councillor Foulkes contained within the quotes made. I have concentrated in particular on the use of the wording ‘unfit’ and taking into account Councillor Foulkes’ views when he said "I believe Councillor Blakeley used the words ‘unfit’ for effect. Perhaps politicians think in a different way." I have also taken into account Councillor Foulkes’ own account of the use of the wording "’unfit’ in his explanation to his employer "I explained to them that it was just political stuff.

    11.8 I have taken into account that the complainant is directly referred to and is singled out as the subject of the article however I have balanced this with the fact that the article and the comments contained within it relate to a nomination to the very public position of deputy mayor. I have taken the view that in being nominated and agreeing to be put out for nomination the complainant accepted that fellow elected members may or may not approve of the nomination and as a result may voice their support or opposition to the proposed nomination publically using the various media forums available to them. This by the nature of the political arena in which it is set was a direct possibility despite the fact that within Wirral, tradition tended to show that nominations for mayoralty positions are dealt with unopposed.

    11.9 The quotes appear to be an explanation of the voting direction Councillor Blakeley intended to take. I am not satisfied that the quotes in the Liverpool Echo amount to any more than political commentary following a group nomination to the position of deputy mayor.

    11.10 I do not find that the quotes were expressions of personal malice /anger, or personal abuse directed at the complainant Councillor Foulkes.


    16 | Not for distribution. This report is confidential and must not be disclosed
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    11.11 On the basis that the quotes in the article constituted the legitimate expression of a political view by Councillor Blakeley which is afforded the highest level of protection under article 10 and the fact that the quotes related to a matter within his legitimate concern as a councillor; I conclude that there has been no failure by Councillor Blakeley to comply with paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council.

    12 Finding

    Official Capacity

    12.1 I find that Councillor Blakeley was acting in his official capacity when quoted in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013, he spoke in his capacity as a councillor about the nomination for the office of deputy mayor and he spoke of his intention to vote at the mayor making council meeting.

    Failure to Treat Others with Respect

    12.2 I conclude that there has been no failure by Councillor Foulkes to comply with paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council in that the quotes in the Liverpool Echo article constituted the legitimate expression of Councillor Blakeley; quotes relating to a matter within his legitimate concern as a councillor. I do not find that the quotes were expressions of personal malice/anger or personal abuse directed at the Complainant.

    Code of Conduct

    12.3 My finding is that there has been no failure to comply with the Code of Conduct of Wirral Borough Council.

    Trudie Odaka
    Investigator
    10th March 2014


    17 | Not for distribution. This report is confidential and must not be disclosed
    =======================================================================================================

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    Responses

    1. How many ways can Foulkes spend OUR money?
      Lets see all the other reports (Foulkes has covered up) that are more important and not just the ones for someones ‘upset feelings’.

      • Well if you have a year or two you can make Freedom of Information requests to Wirral Council for them, be turned down, request an internal review, be turned down, appeal to ICO, probably be turned down and have to appeal ICO’s decision.

        Which other reports are you referring? To give one example the redaction of the names/job descriptions in the Martin Smith report into the bullying of Martin Morton was done by officer (or officers) at Wirral Council before it was published. I asked for the names of heads of service and above to be unredacted at the November Improvement Board and the answer of the Chief Executive was … I’ll seek advice followed by a no, see here for his complete answer.

      • Absolutely
        I cannot believe this was really done for £1,500 by CWAC. Perhaps WBC did a report for CWAC both charging this sum, or promise to do the same for them, to avoid showing they spent £4,000 to £5,000 on someone’s hurt feelings.

        • Well the invoice doesn’t give an hourly rate. CWAC may have just charged however many hours it took to write the report and conduct the interviews multiplied the hourly rate of the employee that wrote the report.

          I’ve no idea how CWAC came to the figure or whether £1500 + VAT was agreed at the outset to be the price charged.

    2. “Culture has changed” my left buttock.

      “Improvement journey complete” my right buttock.

      “Lessons learned” both buttocks in Unison.

      Only today, the message is very clear that councillors are having messages from their paymasters (the public, constituents) screened and / or blocked by Big Brother at Brighton Street.

      Are the 66 nodding dogs aware of this, how the totalitarian system is interfering with their freedoms?

      • Well what’s interesting is if you read the report in the blog post and the legal references by the CWAC officer to freedom of speech & Wirral Council’s legal obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998 it would seem to suggest that such censorship (especially when it comes to political speech) is not lawful.

        My worry would be how far does this go at Wirral Council? Do officers read (or receive copies) of censored (or even uncensored) emails to councillors? What criteria do officers they use for blocking? Is it just on request done by automated means eg councillor x requests no more emails from joebloggs@joebloggs.com or is the censorship more sinister? Is there any official policy on this? It all sounds very 1984 doesn’t it?

        I know in Camarthenshire Council it caused a bit of a scandal when it became known in public that senior officers had been getting copies of emails between politicians and residents (but that was in relation to the libel legal case).

        If somebody wrote an email to a councillor saying “I think Graham Burgess is the best Chief Executive ever, please tell him!” I doubt it would be censored though…

    3. The emails sent by Nigel Hobro and James Griffiths to all councillors were blocked on the 17th April 2014 following a particularly revealing sequence following the 1000th day anniversary of James Griffiths whistleblowing on BIG and ISUS to Ms Basnett and to Kevin Adderley.

      I am led to believe that the traffic was stopped at source and released only to those councillors that requested its continuation.

      The better route would have been to request councillors if they wanted them stopped individually.

      As to officers reading them it has long been the case that Garym Lambert , Counter Fraud WBC, comments to me on these emails the morning after..

      The officers knew as did the Cabinet, the contents of those emails long , long ago and it is our earnest wish that Councillors just apprised of the facts be rather miffed at the way the seriousness of the fiasco has been concealed for so long from them.

      • An amendment to my posting. I have learnt that the stoppage of email traffic to Councillors affected James Griffiths’ emails and not mine, unless of course he responded to my emails to “all” recipients. Even that is not clear.

        WBC objected to the tone of James’ emails whereas mine contained data.

        I am grateful to James for his adding the human touch to the dry data {however damaging the data was to WBC’s reputation) that I was despatching. I could not wear two faces at the same time and chose the dry dissecting tone and not the tone of outrage.

        I do share James’ outrage and, increasingly not towards the original perpetrators, but now towards the incompetence of the council, its original huffiness and high tone of detachment which is now pricked by laughter at its failures.

        WBC has spent £50,000 and large tracts of expensive officer time, to effect nothing but the obfuscation of the issues. The latter to little effect given my recent exposures to all councillors..

        The attention given to the Blakeley / foulkes affair seems preposterous given the fundamental issues of efficiency faced by the Council. Mayhap it was another diversion of attention from the central issues rather like the admonitory warning the J Wilkie wrote me in February 2012 after my meeting with Surgit Tour, Wilkie and Adrian Jones. He warned me of sexist remarks-complimenting his secretaries in the antechamber to his office “the CEO has the best looking women in the building- in a clumsy attempt to intimidate me,

        The latter showed the priorities of WBC and my response at the time was as contemptuous as it would be now

        “This won’t work Mr Wilkie

        Political correctness does not answer the questions I have raised.

        The matter is the questions I have raised the rest is a sideshow

        Sent from my iPhone

        On 2 Mar 2012, at 18:14, “Wilkie, Jim D.”

        • “The attention given to the Blakeley / foulkes affair seems preposterous”

          Probably my fault for mentioning it on this blog. There were internal discussions here as to whether to leave publishing that story until after the elections.

          Neither Cllr Foulkes or Cllr Blakeley are candidates in this election but the report highlighted the culture existing within their respective political parties.

    4. G’day John

      Just read the seven principles of public life and Phil the Dill and his gang just want to make me puke.

      Sorry John but they are just an absolute disgrace. (Including their little gang of Council Officers)

      I presume Lyndale will be saved just before the election like everyone in Liverpool is getting a new football stadium this week.

      Off to vomit, keep up the great work John.

      Karma is a beautiful thing.

      Ooroo

      James

      Ps If I could Blakeley would get my vote and that is from a Labor man of 44 years…Never again in the UK

      • Ahh “bread and circuses” eh?

        No Lyndale won’t be saved just before the election, the consultation will carry on and then report back to a future Cabinet meteing. We’re in a period of purdah now so such dramatic policy shifts can be made as it would unfairly enhance (or diminish) the prospects of certain party’s candidates being elected as councillors.

        As to the seven principles of public life, I had them drummed into me at training sessions when I held public office for two one year terms in my mid-20s.

        The seven principles of pubic life also form part of the current Councillors Code of Conduct which all councillors have signed up to, see here for the link to the Code of Conduct on Wirral Council’s website.

        Abiding by the seven principles of public life used to be a legal requirement on councillors, but that was all changed in the last few years by legislation changes. There is a criminal offence though if councillors don’t declare a pecuniary interest that is punishable on conviction in the criminal courts of a fine of up to £5,000 and/or disqualification from being a councillor (or co-opted person on a committee) for up to 5 years.

    5. G’day Again John

      Tell me more, tell me more…..

      You know you want too……You really want too….Go on John I dare you.

      Like does he have a car.

      Tell me more, tell me more.

      Was it love at first sight.

      tell me more, tell me more.

      How much dough did he spend.

      Tell me more, tell me more.

      Summer dreams ripped at the seams,
      bu-ut oh, those su-ummer nights….

      Ooroo

      James

      • Tell you more about what specifically?

    6. G’day

      The non-declaration of the pecuniary interest of a certain individual that you and others are obviously aware.

      You don’t really have to tell me John but I do hope that ‘orrible specimen knows you know.

      Karma is a beautiful thing.

      Ooroo

      James

      • Oh sorry if I was unclear, I wasn’t referring to something that had happened, just that if it did happen that’s what could happen.

    7. G’day John

      Sorry about the misunderstanding.

      I was told a crime had been committed but as I found out 1,032 days ago Wirral is not the place to tell, or, the local paper, or, the local police.

      On another subject the infamous Nokia will be unlocked in the next seven days, finances permitting.

      Ooroo

      James

      • Well sadly we don’t live in Gotham City so you can’t ask Batman to sort it out, but there’s always the Merseyside Criminal Justice Board whose vision is “In partnership provide a fair, efficient and effective Criminal Justice System, which reduces crime and re-offending and focuses on the needs of victims and witnesses”

        Yes, try not to laugh too hard at that. Their Chair is the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy who can be contacted using the contact details here.


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