How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?
In late May of 2011 Simon Holbrook wrote an email to Councillor Pat Williams (in her capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Chair) and Councillor Alan Brighouse (in his capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Secretary) to their Wirral Council email addresses. What that email said (despite having a court order for the email to be produced to me from Deputy District Judge Ireland granted in the Birkenhead County Court the next year) is unknown to me as it was never shared with me.
What I do know was that based on the contents of this email (that was never shared with me), Councillor Pat Williams and former Councillor Ann Bridson proposed and seconded my suspension from the Liberal Democrats at a meeting of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Constituency Executive based on its contents in early June 2011. The next day (4th June 2011) I made a subject access request exercising a right I have under s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 for “a copy of the complaint made against me by Simon Holbrook”.
The constitution of the Liberal Democrats stated (and still does) state
“7.9 When the grounds cited in the charge are those specified under Article 2.6 (a), (b) or (d), the Disciplinary Procedure may proceed as follows:
(iii) The original complaint, the charge, copies of any written statements obtained and details of the Disciplinary Meeting shall be provided to the person being complained against and to all members of the Disciplinary Meeting not later than four weeks before the date of that meeting. ”
7.3 “If the procedure is not completed within that time, then the suspension shall automatically cease unless an extension of time is granted by the English Appeals Panel in accordance with its procedures. The person being complained against shall be notified of the suspension and the reasons for it.”
When it came to the disciplinary meeting fourteen weeks later in early September 2011, the original complaint had not been shared with me within the ten week time limit. The forty day limit to respond to my subject access request had passed. I’d written a further letter giving an extra fourteen days to share with me the original complaint otherwise I would sue, that too had passed.
By the date of the disciplinary meeting I was in the frankly ridiculous situation of having been suspended based on a complaint that had never been shared with me (and which I’d sued both the local party and the party nationally to get a copy of) and basically stated that because of this abuse of process the constitution said that because this mandatory requirement of the constitution hadn’t been followed that the suspension had therefore automatically expired and the disciplinary panel therefore didn’t have the power to reach a decision.
The disciplinary meeting made up of Roy Wood (who later stood against me as the candidate in Bidston & St. James the next year), Anna Blumenthal (the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat President at the time since deceased), Allan Brame, Cllr Mark Clayton and some member from Ellesmere Port I forget the name of didn’t see it that way and decided to punish me by deciding that I wouldn’t be allowed to be a Lib Dem candidate in any public election or hold office within the party for five years. This decision could then be appealed within a month to the English Appeals Panel (which I did).
However the English Appeals Panel told me they couldn’t accept the appeal as I didn’t have the original complaint made against me!
The next year in April 2012 (after an unsuccessful attempt in October 2012 by the Liberal Democrats to switch the two defendants in the case to a former Chief Executive of theirs called Chris Fox) there was a hearing in the Birkenhead County Court in front of Deputy District Judge Ireland. One of the two defendants was Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Roy Wood also turned up to help him. There was nobody appearing for the other defendant which was Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of Liberal Democrats (that defendant was the Lib Dem headquarters down in London who had also ignored the subject access request).
Deputy District Judge Ireland agreed with me that s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 that Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats had failed to comply with my subject access request made the previous year in contravention of s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. She granted me a court order ordering the two defendants to comply with the request.
On May 25th 2012, after mentioning to Councillor Alan Brighouse at the local election count on the evening of May 3rd or early morning of May 4th Councillor Alan Brighouse wrote me a letter. A copy of his letter is below with a scan of the original handwritten letter.
31 Grosvenor Road
May 25, 2012
Attached is a hard copy of Simon’s initial complaint against you.
As I told you at the election count, I was hoping to find the original e-mail to which it was attached.
I think you are aware that, subsequent to sending the complaint to Pat and myself, Simon modified it, leaving the two items that were eventually considered by the panel.
So what was Simon Holbrook’s original complaint? My comments are in italics and I link to the relevant documents mentioned.
Appendix – Case against John Brace
1. Smearing of Sitting Councillors
This allegation was withdrawn by him in advance of the disciplinary panel meeting.
In an email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 at 09:59, John Brace did link the Standards investigation into Cllr Williams’ and Cllr Bridson’s part in the “special charging policy” with that of the recent investigation into the way in which Martin Morton had been treated, despite the fact that these are two totally separate matters.
Cllr Williams and Cllr Bridson are not and were not under investigation with respect to the independent investigation into the alleged bullying of Martin Morton. This investigation, which was instigated by former Cllr Holbrook has now concluded and reported. It never was and never had been a matter for the Standards Board of England.
My email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 is rather long, however the three sentences referred to here are “Morale in the party is extremely low, the Chair and the Vice-Chair of the local party are currently (according to the Wirral Globe) under investigation on standards grounds following a decision by Wirral Council’s Independent Assessment Panel to refer the matter to Standards for England regarding their roles in the Social Services “special charging policy” and how Martin Morton was treated. This independent report (by now read by councillors but currently exempt) will be published within 2-5 months and will lead to a public discussion of their roles in this saga. Both are likely to be candidates in 2012 and the full reasons how and why they did things will have to be made clear to the public and party in the spirit of openness and accountability if we are to move on.
That email was sent to nine people, seven of whom were councillors. The Wirral Globe article referred to was Town hall blunder: Wrong paperwork sent to local government watchdog inquiry. The Chair of the local party at that time was Cllr Pat Williams and the Vice-Chair former Cllr Ann Bridson. The independent report I was referring to was the Anna Klonowski Associates report published in January 2012. My estimate of it being published between July and October of 2012 was a little optimistic. The key to the individuals mentioned in the Anna Klonowski Associates report shows that “Councillor 1” is Councillor Pat Williams. The decision to commission Anna Klonowski Associates Limited to write her report into “an independent review of the Council’s response to the concerns raised by Mr Martin Morton under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), in relation to the application of a Special Charging Policy for Adult Social Care service users at Supported Living Units in Wirral between 1997 and 2006” was made solely by Councillor Jeff Green (the leader of the Conservative Group) when he was Leader of the Council in July 2010.
Simon Holbrook probably thought I was referring in my email to the heavily redacted Martin Smith report (of the North West Employers’ Organisation into “Mr Morton’s allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse of power by Council Officers”.
2. Disclosure of Confidential Information
John Brace did disclose on the Wirral Globe website blog, discussions that took place within the Birkenhead Executive Committee. Meetings of the Birkenhead Executive Lib Dems are internal party matters and therefore as such confidential to members of the Liberal Democrats and not for general publication.
These disclosures resulted in a senior Councillor from outside Birkenhead (Phil Gilchrist) being sufficiently concerned to raise the matter with the Constituency Chair (Cllr Williams).
The comments were made on this Wirral Globe article on the Wirral Globe website “Jubilant Labour leader invites Lib Dems to unite”, my comments were comments 5 (which it seems nobody had a problem with), comment 16 (referred to above), comment 17 (which nobody had a problem with), comment 22 (which nobody seemed to have a problem with) and comment 24 (which nobody had a problem with).
This was what Councillor Phil Gilchrist (before I was suspended) put in an email dated 19th May 2011 sent at 6:47 from firstname.lastname@example.org to myself Cllr Pat Williams, Cllr Alan Brighouse, Alan Brame, Cllr Kelly, former Cllr Bridson, Roy Wood, Cllr Tom Harney and Cllr Dave Mitchell about it
Thank you for the detailed comments and background.
I had seen the matters referred to on the Globe website during my trawls for information, following the ‘initiative’ announced by Cllr Foulkes.
I mentioned my concerns to Pat as Chair of Birkenhead. It is not my place to comment on internal arrangements in Birkenhead.
My concern is and was that the detailed information supplied to The Globe covered ‘internal workings’ that were being made public. .
I have no information on the matters you referred to, just a desire that we avoid sending out information which has the potential to be used or misused by others.
I do see that you have mentioned taking on board the points raised .
I am grateful that you appreciate that comments can have an impact on the rest of work.
This was the only allegation upheld by the disciplinary panel. The disciplinary panel met on 6th September 2011 and in a report sent to me on 28th September 2011 said what is below on the matter.
“The panel felt that revocation of membership was too harsh a penalty for a single transgression on a little read “blog”, although it was made clear that Mr. Brace should not publish anything on behalf of the party in future unless properly authorised.
Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(ii) – that John Brace be barred from any elected office in the party for a period of five years.
Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(iii) – that John Brace be barred from seeking any elected public office for the party for a period of five years.
This was the unanimous view of the panel.
The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.”
In summary then, the disciplinary panel report found that I had been right that candidate selection hadn’t been done according to the party’s constitution and therefore agreed with my version of events but chose to punish me for making it public.
3. Making False Allegations in Public
The matters disclosed in point 2 above questioned the eligibility of Simon Holbrook to have stood as the Lib Dem Candidate in Prenton at the recent local elections. John Brace also questioned the appropriate of Cllr Ann Bridson signing Simon Holbrook’s nomination papers. The allegation is that there was a denial of the democratic process to Birkenhead Party members.
The same blog also contains a statement insulting to all Wirral Lib Dem Councillors which said that when Simon Holbrook says “do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.”
This was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. However as mentioned earlier the disciplinary panel report stated “The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.” The second part is a partial quote. The whole quote is “However when Simon Says do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.” which was comment sixteen if you follow that link.
4. Making an Unsubstantiated Allegation of a Complaint
In an email to Cllr Pat Williams dated 19 May 2011 at 00:05, John Brace did allege that former Cllr Simon Holbrook had made a complaint about his conduct, when no such complaint had been made.
In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.
This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary meeting.
The email referred to stated “Although I have not been made aware of who is making this complaint, I suspect it is from the former constituency exec member and Prenton candidate Simon Holbrook as that was who my comment mainly related to.”
In other words I didn’t allege he had made a complaint about me I just stated that I suspected he had. At this point I hadn’t been made aware of who was making a complaint to Cllr Pat Williams, but as the complaint was about a comment I’d made about Simon Holbrook I suspected that he was the one who had made the complaint (which is ironic as within a fortnight he went onto make the long complaint that this blog post is about).
The other reference referred to in the email was this “Simon Holbrook (issued by a press release on the Lib Dem website) has stated he will not to stand as a candidate in 2012 and is to concentrate on his Environment Agency. I do not know whether this is connected with my comments made or not. That is his personal choice to make.”
The press release was on the Wirral Lib Dem website and is copied below.
Issued by: Simon Holbrook
Date of Issue: May 9th 2011
Statement by Simon Holbrook
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people, council officers, political friends and foes alike, who I have worked with and who have helped me during my 12 years as a Wirral Councillor.
“I am proud to have served as Councillor for Prenton Ward, and thank the many local residents who have supported me and the Liberal Democrats during this time. I would particularly like to thank those people who have stuck with the Liberal Democrats as we have attempted to do difficult things in difficult times.
“For most of my time, Wirral has been a Council where political