Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit brands some whistleblowing as “Mickey Mouse” & “complete nonsense”

Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit brands some whistleblowing as “Mickey Mouse” & “complete nonsense”

Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit brands some whistleblowing as “Mickey Mouse” & “complete nonsense”


ED 26/11/14 15:16 – Following a complaint from Merseytravel received on the 26th November 2014, the word “some” has been added to the headline for the purposes of clarity.

Declaration of Interest: The author of this piece was years ago involved as the Claimant in litigation against Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority (defendant) and Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (defendant) that started and concluded in 2007 in the Birkenhead County Court. This was after first raising his concerns internally with its former Chief Executive Neil Scales and former Chair of Merseytravel Cllr Dowd. At this stage the matter could have been easily settled for £15 but Merseytravel chose at that stage not to.

Merseytravel’s legal costs in the matter were estimated at £thousands (which Merseytravel paid themselves and would have had to pay whether they won or lost). The increased legal costs of Merseytravel were partly because of what happened as detailed below.

During the case Merseytravel’s barrister (in my opinion a barrister is indeed slight overkill for a £15 claim in the small claims track in the county court, but I know now it’s common practice in the public sector to do this) had to (rather embarrassingly) ask for the permission from both the Claimant (myself) and the Birkenhead County Court to withdraw the first signed witness statement of their expert witness (a Merseytravel employee) after I pointed out a factual inaccuracy in their witness statement (that the witness (a Merseytravel employee) had indeed signed a statement of truth for).

Merseytravel also sought (initially but later changed their mind on that) in 2008 to withhold documents referred to from the Claimant that were referred to in their defence. If I remember correctly a Merseytravel employee stated to me at the time that such documents (which were details of their charging policy for lost Solo and Trio passes) were not for the public.

The final judgement in the case (by agreement by both Merseytravel and myself) was later modified by the Birkenhead County Court due to a factual error made by the Judge who had not taken into account an earlier application in the case and chosen to ignore me pointing this out to him at the time of the hearing.

Although the judge at the final hearing agreed with me that Merseytravel had discriminated against me three times because of a protected characteristic, the court accepted Merseytrave’s reliance on a statutory defence that discrimination on these three times was justified due to a “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” because of decisions by politicians.

The four councillors from Wirral Council at the time on Merseytravel (the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority) were:

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
former Cllr Denis Knowles (Labour at the time but switched to the Conservatives)

It is perhaps to be noted that as is relevant to how politicians and those in the public sector relate towards protected minorities (and this point here is obviously to do with attitudes towards a different protected minority) that Denis Knowles in 2012 later faced a Wirral Council Standards Hearing Panel hearing based on a complaint of Denis Knowles after a comment he left on Facebook about members of the LGBT community who were members of the Labour Party. He was suspended at the time from the Conservative Party.

former Cllr Jacqueline McKelvie (Conservative)
Cllr Dave Mitchell (Lib Dem)


A councillor asks a question about Merseytravel's whistleblowing policy at a public meeting of its Audit and Governance SubCommittee 24th November 2014
A councillor asks a question about Merseytravel’s whistleblowing policy at a public meeting of its Audit and Governance SubCommittee 24th November 2014

Cllr Steve Foulkes (Vice-Chair of Merseytravel’s Audit and Governance Sub-Committee) now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority sent his apologies to a public meeting to discuss Merseytravel’s whistleblowing policy and was not present.

Officers of Merseytravel were asking councillors for their comments on a draft whistleblowing policy which included such priceless paragraphs as:

“10.2 If you do take the matter outside Merseytravel, you should ensure that you do not disclose confidential information acquired during your employment unless it falls within the qualifying criteria for protected disclosures. Premature or inaccurate media exposure or adverse publicity may cause needless reputational damage, impede a proper investigation or cause unnecessary distress to individuals.”

I will translate those two sentences in the draft policy into what my interpretation of the intention behind it is and probably in much clearer English:

“10.2 If you rat on us to the press, not only will we [Merseytravel] start spinning to the press and refer to any damaging press report as “inaccurate”, we’ll go after you (despite what the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 c.23 states as we’re more bothered with our reputation and making sure that we control the flow of information about our organisation to both to the public and politicians.”

The references made during the public meeting itself to a hypothetical whistleblower as “Mickey Mouse” (whether made in jest or not) speaks volumes about cultural attitudes that still persist at Merseytravel.

However bearing in mind my unusually long declaration of interest made at the start of this piece, I had better not let how dysfunctional Merseytravel was in 2007 influence my reporting of it in 2014 as the Merseytravel politicians of 2014 are keen to put its somewhat chequered past behind it.

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Merseytravel’s (now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s) Audit and Governance Subcommittee public meeting of the 24th November 2014

The whistleblowing item (item 7) starts at 31m 48s into the meeting and can be watched above. The report and draft policy can be read on Merseytravel’s website.

Councillor Fulham at the meeting asked, “Thanks Chair. Errm, I appreciate that on page 48 of the agenda and at 7.4 in the policy, errm it says that this part of the that I’m looking at, I’ve found somewhere I’m looking at says this policy applies even if after investigation, disclosure is found to be incorrect or unfounded and there are statutory protections which the policy acknowledges for people who errm make a protected disclosure, that’s found out too. Well at the end of the process is found out not to be errm founded but it might be a reasonably held disclosure.

But what worries me is on page 46, where it says policy statement, under errm in chapter 4 “we will investigate all genuine and reasonable concerns”, but the way I would approach things, you can’t make an assessment whether it’s genuine or reasonable until you’ve investigated it? So it kind of precludes the investigation. So errm, why is that there?”

Stephanie Donaldson, Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit answered “OK, you’re absolutely right in so far as how can you tell that anything’s genuine or legitimate until you investigate it, so realistically everything will be investigated to a point.

However if something was found to be errm you know complete nonsense for want of a better word then that investigation would cease. We wouldn’t pursue investigating something which is you know completely unfounded or false then, but you’re right that there is the legislation requires that as long as it’s in the public interest it should still be investigated and that’s what the changes to the policy would fly at.

I suppose the purpose of that one in the policy statement and I will take some advice through you Chair from legal, is that errm, that if we received a complete nonsense of an allegation and it’s clearly complete nonsense from Mickey Mouse for example that we would not investigate that, there are boundaries aren’t there?

Errm, but you’re absolutely right to say that in a majority of I think all cases, it would be you have to undertake an investigation in order to assess its legitimacy.”

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Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 3/7/2012 Part 2 (2) Minutes, (3) Declarations of Interest

Standards Committee 3rd July 2012

Photo caption: From Left to Right
Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative), Cllr Les Rowlands (Conservative), Shirley Hudspeth (Officer – Committee Clerk), Surjit Tour (Legal Adviser), Malcolm Flanagan (Report author agenda item 5 & item 6), Unknown Labour councillor (1), Unknown Labour councillor (2)

This is continued from part 1.

Agenda Item 2 – Minutes 11:35 to 12:22

Agenda Item 3 – Declarations of Interest 12:22 to 20:29

Cllr Chris Blakeley declared an interest on Agenda Item 7 (Standards Complaints – Monitoring (Under the Old Standards Regime)) in relation to complaint SfE 2011/03 as he was one of the councillors complained about.
Cllr Ron Abbey asked for clarity.
The Chair asked the legal adviser for advice.
Cllr Ron Abbey said he was not privy to past cases he hadn’t been involved with, then asked a question.
Surjit Tour said a finding of “No Further Action” had been found and the regulations obliged them to issue a notice or press release unless the councillors concerned objected. He said this decision was on the public record.
Cllr Ron Abbey said he was happy with the process, but concerned.
Cllr Chris Blakeley said he wished to talk as he had some concerns and it would still be a matter of public record.
Surjit Tour reminded him not to reveal confidential information subject to caveats.
The Chair asked people to remember there were deputies here tonight and referred to the training of deputies and how the deputies should be trained.
Cllr John Salter said he was part of a complaint although he was unsure where it is. He asked Surjit for advice on whether he had to declare?
Surjit Tour said he didn’t have to as he couldn’t be identified.
Cllr Chris Blakeley said he’d been quite specific as to which one.
Cllr Bill Davies said something about legal advice
Cllr Les Rowlands asked for clarification, he said he had sat on some of these panels and made decisions. He asked if it was necessary to declare an interest? 18:00
Surjit Tour said, “The difficulty here is it depends on what is said … and this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation.” He didn’t want an inappropriate statement made. He went on to mention the question of confidentiality in place at the time. Any commentary would have to be factual. He said the press notice, would indicate the detail the nature of the complaint, parts of the Code [of Conduct] questioned, ultimately the decision of the panel and be very factual as opposed to comments.
Cllr Les Rowlands declared an interest of all the panels he sat on.
Surjit Tour said the difficulty was he was not able to determine which. The critical issue was other than fact he felt there should be no other comments made, any comments limited to within public notice which was governed by confidentiality rules.
Cllr Bill Davies declared an interest as he himself had been on many assessment panels so he was in the same position.

Standards Hearing Panel 24/1/2012 Denis Knowles Part 4

When Denis Knowles, Rosemary Lyons and the public returned the Chair thanked them. He said after “careful consideration” and receiving legal advice they had reached a decision.

Stella Elliott said that had carefully listened to the representations by Denis Knowles, but it was the final view that counts. She said it was “unacceptable” and they are thankful. In regards to respect, disrepute and the equality enactments. They had noted he had undergone training and his contrition. He had learned his lesson and they also took on board his prompt actions and self-reform as well as his full cooperation.

The panel had decided not to sanction him.

The Chair thanked the panel, officers and others and closed the meeting.

Standards Hearing Panel 24/1/2012 Denis Knowles Part 3

Continued from Standards Hearing Panel 24/1/2012 Denis Knowles Part 2

The Chair asked him if he had any other questions?

Denis Knowles said he had no questions as the report was mostly clear and accurate, he was happy to accept its findings apart from the minor issue.

The Chair said that was gracious. He pointed out that the Code of Conduct covered blogging, but he was not going to discuss potential remedies or people’s private capacity as there was a dividing line there.

Denis Knowles said he was grateful. The Chair thanked Denis Knowles. He asked Cllr Les Rowlands if he had any questions. Cllr Les Rowlands said no. He asked Stella Elliott if she had any questions. Stella Elliott said no. He asked Cllr Bill Davies if he had any questions. Cllr Bill Davies said no.

The Chair asked Denis Knowles if he had any other representations he wished to make?

Denis Knowles said “no, not really”, he said he had made an error of judgement and posted an apology and referred himself to the Standards Committee. He said he was horrified to think that he could cause offence and that it would bring the Council into disrepute, which was what he feared most. He had mixed with the people who were offended and he could see their views, he had even made some very good friends with people he would not normally associate with. It had been a political off the cuff jibe which was apparently offensive. Since it had happened he had received supportive emails which outweighed the people who had been offended. If he had offended one person it was bad enough. He had jumped the gun and done the right thing.

The Chair mentioned that Denis Knowles had been on diversity training and a course, he was willingly contrite and he felt he had learnt. He said his actions may or may not be different next time.

Denis Knowles said he had learnt by his mistake, which was not always easy. He had been suspended by the Conservative Party straight away, which was a political act, this had to led to him being “taken away”. He had learnt a huge lesson and hopefully would stand as a candidate for councillor again. If people never made mistakes they would be God-like. He was humble enough to accept and learn thing. The day people knew everything they would be in heaven.

Cllr Patricia Williams asked Denis Knowles what he hoped the outcome would be?

Denis Knowles said he hoped they realised he accepts the guilt and would accept any advice over his future conduct. It had been over his head for nearly two years and was a “black cloud” for so long. It was stressful for him but he had his head held high. He looked forward to the judgement and expected to be set on the right path.

At this point the Standards Review Panel asked Denis Knowles, Rosemary Lyon and the public to leave, but return when they had made a decision.

Continue to Standards Hearing Panel 24/1/2012 Denis Knowles Part 4

Standards Hearing Panel 24/1/2012 Denis Knowles Part 2

Continued from Standards Hearing Panel 24th January 2012 Member complained about: Denis Knowles Complainant: Denis Knowles Part 1


Standards Hearing Panel (5)

The Standards Hearing Panel
Independent Members
Mr. Ken Harrison (Chair)
Mrs Stella Elliott (Vice-Chair)
Cllr L Rowlands
Cllr B Davies
Liberal Democrat
Cllr P Williams

Wirral Council Officers
Surjit Tour, (Head of Legal and Member Services) representing Monitoring Officer (Bill Norman)
Shirley Hudspeth, Panel Clerk (Democratic Services Manager)
Rosemary Lyon, Investigating Officer

Subject of complaint
Denis Knowles, person complained about

John Brace (press)
Leonora Brace

The Chair asked for any declarations of interest. Cllr Les Rowlands declared an interest as he was a member of the Conservative Party and so was the person complained about. He asked for advice about if it was a prejudicial interest.

Surjit Tour said that Cllr Les Rowlands was there representing his political group.

The Chair agreed that the meeting was quorate. He said they would decide not to exclude the public from proceedings. He asked for a summary of the report.

Rosemary Lyons said she had been asked by the Monitoring Officer (Bill Norman) on a self-referred complaint which related to a comment on the Facebook site. She said Members had to comply with the Code of Conduct, if they claimed to act as a representative of the Authority or certain other types of business. She referred to Standards Board for England guidance, a copy of which was provided as appendix 2 to the report. The guidance was on blogging and social networking.

She realised that the Member meant no gratuitous offense by the comment and the timing of the comment was on the 27th March 2010. She had interviewed Cllr Knowles. She said that Cllr Knowles had put details of his councillor’s surgeries on his Facebook site. She said he had been completely honest and helpful. In conclusion she said it was in reference to leaflets delivered in Seacombe ward and could amount to a personal jibe due to the use of the phrase “limp wristed”. The relevant paragraphs of the Code were on respect, conduct bringing the Authority into disrepute, there was also a subset that said Members mustn’t do anything that could breach the Equality Act 2010. She mentioned the local elections in Seacombe ward in 2010 and said that it could be argued that Denis Knowles was acting in his capacity as a Member. She said he was quick to alert and the emails in appendix 2 set out the self referral. He had undergone training and activities, which he had not had before making the comments. Denis Knowles had accepted the findings of the draft report.

The Panel had to decide whether there had been a failure or not been a failure. She said there had been substantial mitigation in the form of an apology and removing the comment, she was happy to ask any questions?

Denis Knowles said he had no questions and had been as open and honest as he could be. He said he had been unaware of the Code of Conduct. He said the claim that he had surgery dates on the Facebook site was untrue. He said on second thoughts he realised his surgery dates were on the WordPress site and on the Wirral Council website. On reflection they had not been on Facebook. It was clear to him that Facebook was not being used by him for political purposes but for social purposes.

He said the WordPress blog was outside the jurisdiction of the complaint covered by the Panel. He said this dispute over whether the Facebook site had his councillor’s surgery details on was the only disagreement he had with the report.

Continue to Standards Hearing Panel 24/1/2012 Denis Knowles Part 3