Anna Klonowski leaves her commission at Wirral Council – and Michael Frater’s departure

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I received an email this morning from Local Government Consultant and external investigator Anna Klonowski, in response to an email I sent last night regarding years of disability discrimination at Wirral Council – as discovered by Mike Smith of the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

From: Anna Klonowski
Sent: 27 July 2012 08:58
To: Paul C; Michael Frater
Cc: Graham Burgess; Green, Jeff E.; Phil Davies; Joyce Redfearn
Subject: Re: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Cardin,

I am no longer a member of the Wirral Improvement Board and have no commission with the Council. As a result I am unable to assist you further.

Kind regards

Anna

Anna Klonowski
Managing Director
AKA Ltd

www.akalimited.co.uk

Office Tel: 07824 531919


I’ve now decided to raise the issue of historical disability discrimination with Michael Frater, the LGA troubleshooter.  He is unlikely to be told about it by anybody, so I see it as my duty to make sure he gets all the information, acts on it now, prevents it recurring, and earns his money.

From: “Paul C” 

Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2012 23:36:27 +0100

To: Michael Frater

Cc: ‘Anna Klonowski’; Graham Burgess [email returned – address not known]; ‘Green, Jeff E. [Councillor]; Phil Davies [Councillor]

Subject: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Frater,

Back in 2010, I visited one of Angela Eagle MP’s surgeries and raised the subject of Wirral Council’s unlawful charging policy.  This was something that I regarded as systematic disability discrimination.

This discrimination had been committed both prior to and since Social Services’ senior staff ignored the detailed submissions of a whistleblower (Martin Morton), who had told them it was wrong and unlawful.  But the Adult Social Services Department continued to deduct payments from the bank accounts of 16 learning disabled residents of three supported living accommodations in Moreton, Wirral.  It is believed this unlawful charging occurred for a period of up to 9 years, perhaps longer.  As you will be aware, Mr Morton, in return for his public-spirited actions was forced out of his job, and I believe he is now unemployed.

Quite apart from the proven bullying and alleged mobbing of Mr Morton, I viewed the taking of this money from vulnerable people as disability discrimination, as did Mike Smith, the Chair of the Disability Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  In addressing Angela Eagle’s initial query, Mike Smith had written to her on 29th December 2010, confirming this and I attach his letter for you to read.

Within the letter, Mike Smith states that this was disability discrimination, because he disagrees with Bill Norman’s opinion on it.  He goes on “…Mr Cardin’s concerns should be included in the inquiry (Anna Klonowski inquiry), in order to identify whether there are other issues or systemic problems that need to be addressed.”

In other words, disability discrimination was “a given” – and the inquiry should now focus on looking for other issues or problems needing to be addressed.

However, whether through breakdown of communication, malpractice or incompetence, the law firm assuming the “disability discrimination role”, DLA Piper UK LLP (see pp. 240 to 249 of AKA report), did not address Mike Smith’s concerns at all.  They were either instructed, or took it upon themselves to adopt a much narrower remit, determining whether or not there HAD BEEN disability discrimination throughout a number of different time periods, eventually deciding overall that there hadn’t.  Which flew in the face of Mike Smith’s opinion and failed to address his stated requirements.

Prior to this letter, the now suspended Director of Law Bill Norman had reached his own conclusion, in Mike Smith’s opinion wrongly, that there hadn’t been disability discrimination.  I am concerned that a reasonable assumption by any third party would consider this arrangement to be suspect, given that Mike Smith’s concerns weren’t addressed, and that large amounts of public money in the form of solicitors’ fees were involved.

As I’m sure you will appreciate, unaddressed disability discrimination is an extremely urgent, serious and compelling subject, and I would be very grateful if you could acknowledge receipt of this email and then make enquiries of Anna Klonowski, Bill Norman, Surjit Tour and any other officers who may have been in a position to allow sloppiness or malpractice to creep in where it should not be permitted to,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   27th August 2012

Although the above email, dated 26th July was sent into the ether over a month ago, I’ve had nothing back from Michael Frater.  I’ve decided to email Joyce Redfearn, the chair of the LGA Improvement Board instead, hopefully to shake things up and get them a bit more motivated.  This is after all an important issue.  We shouldn’t allow things to slide and permit DLA PIPER UK to get away with what many now regard as sloppy practice, possibly aimed at saving the Council (who commissioned AKA and presumably footed the bill for DLA Piper’s toil) a hefty compensation bill – yes – how shockingly cynical our world has become:

From: Paul C
Sent: 27 August 2012 22:20
To: ‘Joyce Redfearn’
Cc: ‘Michael Frater’; Paul Burstow; ‘Angela Eagle’
Subject: FW: Disability Discrimination

Dear Ms Redfearn,

There’s an important issue covered in the emails below; that of Wirral Council’s historical disability discrimination, carried out deliberately over several years – raised with the Equality and Human Rights Commission some time ago, and with Mr Frater last month.

However, despite being “remunerated” a reported £1,200 per day, he has failed to acknowledge the original email, nor the reminder sent recently.  I’d appreciate it if you could acknowledge receipt of this one with me, and then discuss and action the matters raised with Mr Frater, possibly during the Improvement Board sessions which you are privileged to chair.  You may wish to remind him that the issue has now been taken up again with my local MP Angela Eagle, in part due to his ongoing failure.

I was told today that Paul Burstow MP, the minister concerned, is writing to me this week to update me on the related issue of an ongoing threat of abuse to vulnerable people – on Wirral and further afield, created and enabled by Wirral Council’s quite calculated failure to safeguard their wellbeing,

Best regards and thank you in advance,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   2nd September 2012

I’ve received the following reply from Joyce Redfearn, chair of the LGA Improvement Board at Wirral Council:

Dear Mr Cardin

I am acknowledging receipt of your email as you requested.

The issue you raise is one to which Wirral Council should respond .  Mr Frater has now left the Council so I am forwarding your email to the acting Chief Executive Mr David Armstrong who will ensure that your email receives appropriate attention.

Best wishes

Joyce Redfearn


By my estimate, Michael Frater earned approximately £75,000 for his stint of 3 day weeks  at Wirral.  If you divide £75,000 by £1,200, you arrive at the number of days worked, which is…. 62 and a half.

It’s a relief that he wasn’t taken on for a whole year, because this would have translated to an annual salary of  approximately £313,200.

It’s also a pity he couldn’t respond to my July email (see above) and say, “This is nothing to do with me…. this is for the Council to address” – maybe because this would have flown directly into the face of just about everything those big names in central government e.g. Grant Shapps, Paul Burstow have been shouting… that the LGA has been sent in to sort the place out !

And alas, the Wirral public won’t get any answers from the troubleshooter.  Mr Frater has now packed up and gone…

Is this ‘death by bureaucracy’? Exposing Disability Discrimination at Wirral Council

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Two years ago, back in 2010, I approached my MP, Angela Eagle, with concerns that there had been systematic disability discrimination at Wirral Council.  She contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to pass on these concerns.  In December of that year, she received the following letter in response:

As is spelled out clearly in the letter, Mike Smith found that there had been Disability Discrimination committed by Wirral Council.  This discrimination was financial and it had occurred for a period of up to 9 years, despite whistleblower Martin Morton informing his seniors early on that it was going on and that it was wrongIn return for his good faith, public-spirited actions, he was bullied, allegedly mobbed and forced from his job.

In the West Wirral case, there were 16 learning disabled residents affected, who over the period in question, had approximately £500,000 deliberately and unlawfully taken directly from their bank accounts.  When referring to these issues, the council, the media and various “watchdogs” consistently use the word “overcharging”.  However this word is inappropriate, unhelpful and simply keys in with the desire by those still in power to minimise, deflect and dilute the seriousness of what happened.

Following the exposure of this discrimination, the council put in place a “retrospective charging policy” (in itself legally dubious) which was supposed to ensure that the affected tenants, five of whom have since died (their estates), would receive a proportionate share of £243,000.  Here is the original FoI request asking for a copy of the form that was sent to tenants for them to claim back the unlawfully deducted sums.  However the alarm was quickly raised that these sums were to be treated as “windfalls” by the Department for Work & Pensions, and would adversely impact on tenants’ existing benefits.

It’s now uncertain how much of this money has in fact been reclaimed or whether the tenants were made to suffer twice through no fault of their own.  I’m currently planning to contact LGA troubleshooter Michael Frater and / or Wirral’s new CEO Graham Burgess in order to discover the actual amount reclaimed.  If this isn’t successful, I’ll make another FoI request through the www.whatdotheyknow.com website.

Wirral Council’s Director of Law, Bill Norman, mentioned in the above letter – and since suspended from his job, before departing the organisation with a large pay off – believed that there had not been any disability discrimination:

…but Mike Smith disagreed with Wirral’s (now former) Director of Law, and requested that the issue be passed to Anna Klonowski Associates – the external investigator who had been commissioned to carry out an independent enquiry by one time council leader Jeff Green.  AKA in turn, commissioned a large law firm, DLA Piper UK LLP, to carry out the disability discrimination element of her investigations.  The full version of the Klonowski report was published in early January 2012.  It found that there was no disability discrimination.  Link to section on disability discrimination here:

AKA Discrimination issues

However, this issue is not dead, because the opinion of Mike Smith of the EHRC cannot be written off or sidelined in this way.  This sort of question is a regular consideration for him, is straightforward in this case, and does not allow for motive and intent.  He stated quite categorically that disabled people had been overcharged (and therefore had been discriminated against).

I believe on a clear reading of the above letter that Mr Smith established there was disability discrimination and went on to recommended that it was passed to the AKA enquiry to enable them to:

A. Assess how far it extended

B. Assess the impact it may have had

C. Assess how it could be addressed

But DLA Piper UK LLP somehow got hold of the wrong end of the stick, were badly instructed or completely misunderstood the contents of the Mike Smith EHRC letter, opting instead to pass a judgment on the “existence or otherwise” of disability discrimination, rather than establishing the true extent of proven discrimination, rooting it out and dealing with it.

The fact that Director of Law Bill Norman, who with then CEO Jim Wilkie visited the offices of the EHRC on 13th July 2011, was later suspended from his role casts further doubt upon the safety of the DLA Piper conclusion of “no disability discrimination”.

Councillor Simon Mountney had attempted to present copies of the above EHRC letter for consideration by the Council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee when it sat on 18th January 2011.  However this was blocked by the chair, Moira McLaughlin for the reason that she hadn’t been advised about it before the start of the meeting.  Upon taking advice from a solicitor seated next to her, and reading the contents of the letter, she was heard to say to the room in general, “You don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers  do you?”  This was a reference to the following news article, which had appeared in The Wirral Globe that week:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/8788691.Watchdog_accuses_Wirral_Council_of_discrimination_against_disabled_people/

I am hopeful that since the LGA have set up an “Improvement Board”, which is reportedly aiming to discover where it all went wrong, and to turn around the performance of this failed council, there may be a chance to:

A. Re-establish and re-invigorate Mike Smith’s original finding of disability discrimination

B. Dispense with the bizarre DLA Piper UK conclusion

C. Progress towards making the real perpetrators accountable

I made a serious and comprehensive standards complaint against Councillor Moira McLaughlin some time ago, but by the time these issues came up for consideration, she had become Mayor and the complaint was unsuccessful.  Here is a copy of the decision:

The now suspended Director of Law, Bill Norman played a leading role in this failed complaint.  Since his status and former position has come under question, I will consider applying to resubmit this complaint.  There is currently an anticipation of a number of separate serious charges being brought against him (now departed from the council) and his suspended colleagues, Ian Coleman (now departed from the council), David Taylor-Smith and David Green.  This will be in response to their potential involvement in massive failings in corporate governance, accompanied by huge losses of public revenue.

I placed an FoI request with Wirral Council in February 2012 asking for copies of all correspondence between DLA Piper UK LLP and Wirral Council, but it’s followed an identical path to that of numerous other requests, and has been added to a lengthening list of requests that are quite simply not being addressed or acknowledged.  These now have an average response time of over 6 months:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond#outgoing-193727

Here is a link to an associated Freedom of Information request made to Wirral Council, regarding law firm DLA Piper, which requests 8 separate and relevant pieces of information, but which has also run long overdue:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/he_who_pays_dla_piper_calls_the

The man previously in charge of Freedom of Information at Wirral Council is the now departed Acting Chief Executive Ian Coleman.

UPDATE   2nd August 2012

I recently sent an email to Wirral’s Director of Adult Social Services Graham Hodkinson to request figures for how many of the financially abused tenants of the three Moreton Supported Living establishments had received what was termed “reimbursement”.  Originally, approximately £500,000 was unlawfully taken, however only about half of this was returned due to the imposition of what many people regarded as a legally dubious “retrospective charging policy”.

Here are the figures, supplied this afternoon.  At this stage, it’s uncertain whether the tenants were ‘clobbered’ again by having their benefits reduced due to receipt of a so-called “windfall” (most people would regard this as outrageous, as the money was taken unlawfully in the first place – and why on earth should people be made to suffer twice through no fault of their own?)

I’ve thanked Mr Hodkinson’s staff for providing this information, and have asked for further information to clarify whether the recipients’ benefits were adversely affected.  I’ve been told that the information is held, and it is being prepared for publication in a report to the Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September, which will be made accessible on the Council website.

UPDATE   24th August 2012

Angela Eagle has been in touch today by letter:

Letter to David Armstrong, Acting Chief Executive of Wirral Council:

Letter to Mike Smith, Chair of the Disability Committee of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – most relevant letter with regard to the subject of Disability Discrimination:

In addition to the above ongoing threat of abuse, caused by the council’s concealment of identities within the AKA report, and its reluctance to discipline its own officers, in his letter dated 29th December 2010 (see above), Mike Smith of the Equality and Human Rights Commission asserted that there had been disability discrimination committed by Wirral Council when for a period of many years they unlawfully debited sums from the bank accounts of 16 tenants living in supported accommodation in Moreton, Wirral.

This conclusion was in my opinion inescapable.  Mr Smith then asked Anna Klonowski Associates to “identify whether there are other issues or systemic problems that need to be addressed.”

However, for whatever reason, Anna Klonowski may have been forgetful, negligent or may have instructed DLA Piper Solicitors incorrectly.  How is this even possible, given the subject matter?  They appear to have addressed this matter with entirely the wrong purpose; that of finessing a position where Mike Smith’s verdict of disability discrimination could be refuted – which ultimately, it was.

Within the AKA Report, DLA Piper Solicitors duly arrived at the opposite conclusion to Mike Smith.  Wirral Council have now breached Statutory Law in not responding to give a reason why they are not supplying copies of the correspondence that passed between DLA Piper Solicitors and themselves.

I am now hopeful that Mr Smith will re-read his original letter to Angela Eagle MP, and digest the relevant appendix to the AKA report, along with compelling evidence I am planning to supply, before reasserting his original finding – that there was disability discrimination committed by Wirral Council – and not just in Angela Eagle’s constituency.  It also occurred in a number of other Wirral Supported Living establishments.

I still await Wirral Council’s response to the DLA Piper freedom of information request, which was lodged back on 4th February 2012:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond

In it, I requested copies of all correspondence between Wirral Council and DLA Piper UK LLP Solicitors, but the Council have been dragging their feet for an awfully long time now.  I have been forced to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office once again.  I do wish the penny would drop, and Wirral Council would realise that their blanket refusals are only putting off the inevitable.

Smearing 10 members of the Wirral public in order to mask your own poor performance (which the council have now done in this report) won’t wash with the ICO.

UPDATE   30th August 2012

Email trail forwarded to Joyce Redfearn, chair of Wirral Council’s ‘Improvement Board’.  She passed this on in turn to the Acting Chief Executive at the time, David Armstrong – who failed to respond

From: Joyce Redfearn

Sent: 30 August 2012 15:07

To: Paul C

Cc: David Armstrong; Graham Burgess

Subject: Re: Disability Discrimination
Dear Mr Cardin
I am acknowledging receipt of your email as you requested.
The issue you raise is one to which Wirral Council should respond . Mr Frater has now left the Council so I am forwarding your email to the acting Chief Executive Mr David Armstrong who will ensure that your email receives appropriate attention.
Best wishes
Joyce Redfearn


On 27 Aug 2012, at 22:20, Paul C wrote:
Dear Ms Redfearn,
There’s an important issue covered in the emails below; that of Wirral Council’s historical disability discrimination, carried out deliberately over several years – raised with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission some time ago, and with Mr Frater last month.
However, despite being “remunerated” a reported £1,200 per day, he has failed to acknowledge the original email, nor the reminder sent recently. I’d appreciate it if you could acknowledge receipt of this one with me, and then discuss and action the matters raised with Mr Frater, possibly during the Improvement Board sessions which you are privileged to chair. You may wish to remind him that the issue has now been taken up again with my local MP Angela Eagle, in part due to his ongoing failure.
I was told today that Paul Burstow MP, the minister concerned, is writing to me this week to update me on the related issue of an ongoing threat of abuse to vulnerable people – on Wirral and further afield, created and enabled by Wirral Council’s quite calculated failure to safeguard their wellbeing,
Best regards and thank you in advance,
Paul Cardin


From: Paul C

Sent: 23 August 2012 14:26

To: ‘michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk’

Cc: ‘graham.burgess@blackburn.gov.uk’; ‘Green, Jeff E. (Councillor)’; ‘phildavies’; ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’

Subject: FW: Disability Discrimination
Dear Mr Frater,
We are approaching a month since I sent the email below, but I haven’t received a response.
When you have the opportunity, I would very much appreciate an acknowledgment and response,
Many thanks,
Paul Cardin


From: Paul C

Sent: 26 July 2012 23:36

To: ‘michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk’ Cc: ‘Anna Klonowski’; ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘Green, Jeff E. (Councillor)’; ‘phildavies’ Subject: Disability Discrimination
Dear Mr Frater,
Back in 2010, I visited one of Angela Eagle MP’s surgeries and raised the subject of Wirral Council’s unlawful charging policy. This was something that I regarded as systematic disability discrimination.
This discrimination had been committed both prior to and since Social Services’ senior staff ignored the detailed submissions of a whistleblower (Martin Morton), who had told them it was wrong and unlawful. But the Adult Social Services Department continued to deduct payments from the bank accounts of 16 learning disabled residents of three supported living accommodations in Moreton, Wirral. It is believed this unlawful charging occurred for a period of up to 9 years, perhaps longer. As you will be aware, Mr Morton, in return for his public-spirited actions was forced out of his job, and I believe he is now unemployed.
Quite apart from the proven bullying and alleged mobbing of Mr Morton, I viewed the taking of this money from vulnerable people as disability discrimination, as did Mike Smith, the Chair of the Disability Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In addressing Angela Eagle’s initial query, Mike Smith had written to her on 29th December 2010, confirming this and I attach his letter for you to read.
Within the letter, Mike Smith states that this was disability discrimination, because he disagrees with Bill Norman’s opinion on it. He goes on “…Mr Cardin’s concerns should be included in the inquiry (Anna Klonowski inquiry), in order to identify whether there are other issues or systemic problems that need to be addressed.”
In other words, disability discrimination was “a given” – and the inquiry should now focus on looking for other issues or problems needing to be addressed.
However, whether through breakdown of communication, malpractice or incompetence, the law firm assuming the “disability discrimination role”, DLA Piper UK LLP (see pp. 240 to 249 of AKA report), did not address Mike Smith’s concerns at all. They were either instructed, or took it upon themselves to adopt a much narrower remit, determining whether or not there HAD BEEN disability discrimination throughout a number of different time periods, eventually deciding overall that there hadn’t. Which flew in the face of Mike Smith’s opinion and failed to address his stated requirements.
Prior to this letter, the now suspended Director of Law Bill Norman had reached his own conclusion, in Mike Smith’s opinion wrongly, that there hadn’t been disability discrimination. I am concerned that a reasonable assumption by any third party would consider this arrangement to be suspect, given that Mike Smith’s concerns weren’t addressed, and that large amounts of public money in the form of solicitors’ fees were involved.
As I’m sure you will appreciate, unaddressed disability discrimination is an extremely urgent, serious and compelling subject, and I would be very grateful if you could acknowledge receipt of this email and then make enquiries of Anna Klonowski, Bill Norman, Surjit Tour and any other officers who may have been in a position to allow sloppiness or malpractice to creep in where it should not be permitted to,
Best regards,
Paul Cardin
<AngelaEagle1.pdf><AngelaEagle2.pdf><AngelaEagle2a.pdf>

<<<<<<<<<<18th November 2012 Annotation: David Armstrong has NEVER responded, to this or any other email I’ve sent with the subject line “Disability Discrimination>>>>>>>>>

UPDATE   25th September 2012

This afternoon, I rang The Information Commissioner’s Office for an update on the above freedom of information request.  I was told that the case was escalated in July 2012, but the team dealing with such cases are currently dealing with those escalated in May 2012.

So, given this rate of progress, in another two months’ time, my case will be dealt with.  Not exactly heartening is it, given the subject matter?

I will ring the senior ICO manager in an attempt to get him to promote it and have it dealt with quicker.  This is unaddressed disability discrimination after all.

UPDATE    26th September 2012

Email to Complaints manager, Information Commissioner’s Office

Case FS50445302
FAO [Manager’s name redacted]
Dear [Manager’s name redacted],
I spoke with your colleague [investigating officer name redacted] yesterday regarding this case.  It is another one in which Wirral Council, through unexplained delays, appear to have breached Statutory Law.
The case relates directly to disability discrimination and to the finding of Mike Smith of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that the Council discriminated against at least 16 learning disabled people across an 11 year period, the result of which was £700,000 plus being unlawfully debited from their bank accounts in charges.  This finding was reached in early 2011.
The independent Anna Klonowski reported in January of this year, finding that there was no disability discrimination – however, in my opinion, it was not within the remit of the law firm DLA Piper UK LLP, the firm assigned to this area of work, to arrive at this conclusion.  I complained to my own MP, Angela Eagle originally in late 2010 about disability discrimination and I am hoping to have Mike Smith’s finding verified in order that the council can be made legally liable to recompense the recipients of what was calculated discrimination.
I am aware that the ICO complaints department is extremely busy and under-resourced, but in order to bring a decision about as soon as possible, expediency in aiming to access the important correspondence between the council and the law firm is crucial, and I would be very grateful if you could use your power as complaints manager to advance the case and have it dealt with more quickly.
If you need to discuss this issue my mobile phone contact number is [contact number redacted]
yours sincerely,
Paul Cardin
UPDATE   4th October 2012
Good news.  I’ve had an email from a senior case officer at the ICO:

PROTECT

 4 October 2012

 Case Reference Number FS50445302

 Dear Mr Cardin

Further to our letter of 9 July 2012, I write to inform you that your case has now been allocated to me to investigate and to inform you of how I intend to resolve the matter.

It is clear that Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council have failed to provide a response to your request despite the ICO’s intervention in June 2012. I therefore intend to issue a decision notice requiring Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council to provide you with an adequate response in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I hope to issue the decision notice within the next 2 weeks. 

I trust this is satisfactory.

Yours sincerely

[Name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

It’s not the required outcome, at least not yet…. but it’s another Decision Notice (which is a legal document) to add to the ever-growing pile.  This is likely to shine the spotlight onto Wirral Council’s methods, and is potentially another nail in the coffin of the disability discrimination, perpetrated for over a decade by this council.
UPDATE 10th October 2012
The decision notice FS50445302 was received today and is reproduced below:

This Decision Notice is now up on the ICO website, and can be linked to here:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/decisionnotices/2012/fs_50445302.ashx

I noticed today that Wirral has received 17 Decision Notices so far.  For comparison purposes, Birmingham City Council – the largest UK Local Authority – has received only 10.  Kent County Council, another biggie, has received only 6.  This would seem to indicate Wirral are getting something wrong.

Another telling area is that of “complaints”.  An appeal can form 1 complaint, or if more complex be broken down into a number of separate ones.  Wirral’s 17 Decision notices make up a total of 38 complaints.  36 of these have been upheld or partially upheld on behalf of the complainant.
Turning to the subject matter, once again Wirral haven’t responded since February this year, and are in breach of Statutory Law, having failed to meet their obligations under the Act.
I suspect they will eventually plead legal privilege on this. (Did you know that data controllers are allowed to change their reasoning for withholding information as the process pans out?  That’s right.  If the first, second or third excuse doesn’t fit the bill, let’s try a fourth)….. is it any wonder the process can become SO painful and drawn out for requesters?  The chances are Wirral will soon end up back under the Information Commissioner’s own particular version of  ‘special measures’, having learned nothing since the last time this happened.
They now have until 14th November 2012 to provide the information or issue a valid refusal notice under Section 17(1).
UPDATE   14th November 2012
Nothing in yet.  Tomorrow, I’ll pick this up again and take it on to the next stage with the ICO.
UPDATE   9th November 2012
the following link contains some rather disturbing news about the Disability Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Mike Smith’s future as chair:
UPDATE   18th November 2012
Second emailed reminder sent this morning to David Armstrong, former Interim Chief Executive.  He was contacted in August on my behalf by Angela Eagle MP, but has never responded:
From: Paul C

Sent: 18 November 2012 09:54
To: ‘davidarmstrong@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘joyceredfearn@gmail.com’; ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’; ‘Tour, Surjit’
Subject: RE: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Armstrong,

Have you responded yet to my local MP’s urgent letter, dated 23rd August 2012, sent to you months ago?

This ongoing lack of response doesn’t bode well and is not in keeping with your role / responsibilities as a senior public servant.  Please check again the subject matter of this email.  Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council are entrusted with important obligations where the welfare of vulnerable and disabled people are concerned.  However, all the evidence taken together seems to point to them being near the ‘bottom of the pile’ where the council’s priorities are concerned.

I look forward to hearing from you this coming week,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 22 September 2012 23:25
To: ‘davidarmstrong@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘joyceredfearn@gmail.com’; ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’
Subject: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Armstrong,

I still await some acknowledgment or response to the issue that was raised with you recently in a letter from Angela Eagle and also in an email from Joyce Redfearn (both attached).  If the matter has been passed onto somebody else, please advise who,

best regards,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   19th November 2012
Email in today from the ICO:

PROTECT

19 November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50445302

Dear Mr Cardin

I am writing in response to your email of 15.11.12.

I have called the council today to enquire why it has not yet complied with the decision notice dated 16.10.12. This will be looked into by the council and it will get back to me later today or tomorrow.

The Commissioner has discretion as to how to deal with public authorities who have not complied with a decision notice and whether to deal with such a failure as contempt of court pursuant to section 54 of the FOIA. Once I have heard back from the council I will contact you again to inform you how ICO intends to deal with this matter.

Yours sincerely
[officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer
____________________________________________________________________

This refers to the FoI request FS50445302 (asking for correspondence between Wirral Council and solicitors’ firm DLA Piper.  This one is now 9 months old and the process of extracting responses and answers has become slow and painful.

Recently, the Council finally did come up with a Section 41 Exemption (Protecting the confidentiality of information belonging to a ‘person’ (DLA Piper)).
However, I believe this exemption to be inappropriate and unsatisfactory – and also not engaged as regards correspondence which the Council has generated (which is simply not covered by a Section 41 exemption).
The Council’s attempt to engage Section 41 is detailed here:

Link to this

My response was as follows:

From: Paul Cardin

23 November 2012

Dear Lyon, Rosemary A.,

Firstly, please provide all correspondence generated by yourself
(under the terms of the original request).

I don’t believe the information that the council generated with
regard to this can be covered by a Section 41 Exemption. Having
already travelled as far as the Information Commissioner’s Office
and received a legal document in the form of a ‘Decision Notice’
instructing you to act, I look forward to receiving this forthwith,
without any need to internally review or put any further obstacles
in the way (I don’t think the FOI Act permits an internal review
AFTER a decision notice has been sent.)

Secondly, as for the information generated by DLA Piper UK LLP, I
believe there is an overriding public interest attached to the
release of the information.

• Wirral Council has a statutory duty to protect its vulnerable
people – for the good of society. It has quite deliberately failed
in this through unlawfully taking at least £700,000 from the bank
accounts of many disabled Wirral people over a period of many
years. When informed in great detail about this internally by
Martin Morton, the council failed to stop it, bullied him out of
his job, and carried on doing it – see the findings of the Martin
Smith and Anna Klonowski Independent reports. The Equalities and
Human Rights Commission found that this amounted to disability
discrimination – the very subject matter of this request

• As a result of this disability discrimination, vulnerable members
of the public have had their wellbeing adversely affected. Flowing
directly from this, their ability to defend themselves against the
threat of abuse has been severely diminished, because their
confidence in their statutory protector – the local council (who
now deny them access to information) – has been so badly damaged.
The council itself has been forced to admit to abuse of learning
disabled tenants

• Despite this admission, there has been no reckoning or
accountability yet for any of the councillors or senior public
servants directly involved in these scandals – indeed currently,
there is a drive (originating with the Council’s legal head) to
keep the names within the investigation reports hidden. The public
are still waiting for ‘right to be done’ – for the good of society.
But whilst they wait, there have been pay offs and there have been
gagging clauses, used to stop former employees talking, concealed
within compromise agreements. And there have been six figure sums
paid to silence people who were found by independent investigations
to have been connected to abusive behaviour towards vulnerable and
disabled members of society

• Given the history of failed governance, which has also spread
into other council departments, vulnerable people and their carers
now need to be able to seek redress and rebuild their confidence in
the body which is entrusted with looking out for their welfare.
They can do this by gaining access to information and to areas that
appear to have been deliberately closed off through confidentiality
– the written exchanges between the council and the law firms whose
services are continuing to be purchased with large amounts of
public money. Confidentiality is a factor; I don’t deny this; but I
believe it is dwarfed by the urgent need for transparency, for the
legitimate and compelling public interest to be satisfied, and
ultimately for the good of society

• I don’t believe in this case that confidentiality can be a
justified obstacle to openness and transparency and the good of
society. There are now some very compelling questions that need to
be asked of the law firm DLA Piper. Such as, how they arrived at a
finding that there was no disability discrimination? How did the
EHRC suggestion that disability discrimination, once confirmed, and
investigated to see where it occurred, and how far it spread –
become completely subverted – and changed to a remit which failed
to acknowledge and recognise the EHRC finding, and looked simply
for whether disability discrimination had occurred or not – only to
find that it “hadn’t occurred”?

• On Wirral, where so much suffering has been caused over such a
long period of time (10 years plus). I don’t believe that grave
matters such as systematic abuse and disability discrimination, and
the correspondence surrounding this, can be blocked through a
Section 41 exemption on the grounds of ‘confidentiality’. The good
of society is paramount and needs to be served in this case

I will be contacting the Information Commissioner’s Office for
further advice,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   25th November 2012

Updating email sent to the ICO this morning:

From: Paul C [mailto:info@easyvirtualassistance.co.uk]
Sent: 25 November 2012 07:30
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: Response to email of 15.11.12[Ref. FS50445302]

Dear Deborah Clark,

Thank you for your email of 19th November 2012.

On 22nd November 2012 I received a response from Rosemary Lyon, a solicitor at Wirral Council, who informed me that the council was relying upon a Section 41 Exemption within the FOIA.  Whilst I regard Confidentiality as an important factor, given the circumstances, I do not accept this as adequate justification to continue withholding the information in this case.

In accordance with ICO Awareness Guidance 2, I also believe Wirral Council is incorrect in applying Section 41 to information generated by the council itself.

 

“The exemption does not cover information which the public authority has generated itself, although it may cover documents (or parts of documents) generated by the public authority if these contain confidential information provided by a third party.”

The ICO Advice note clearly disallows the blanket withholding of this information.  Section 41 is therefore not engaged with regard to the majority of the content of this correspondence.  I would now like you to enforce my subsequent request and require Wirral Council to publicly disclose their own generated correspondence in accordance with ICO Awareness Guidance 2.

As for the correspondence generated by DLA Piper, I have advised Wirral Council that I am not happy with their response and that I plan to return to the ICO for advice.  I have set out my reasoning in a reply which is reproduced on the WhatDoTheyKnow website at the following link.  This reasoning is also provided to the ICO in order to help you further my case for disclosure:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond#outgoing-193727

In light of the ongoing controversy surrounding two independent investigations which found bullying; abuse of power; abuse of disabled people; serious failures in corporate governance, but no accountability for those involved – followed by the subsequent attempted suppression of information, my justification for disclosure of this correspondence is set out in the terms:

“The need for Confidentiality v The Public Good”.

Disability discrimination by Wirral Council (who have a statutory obligation to protect the welfare of disabled people) was originally found by Mike Smith, Chair of the Disabilities Committee of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in December 2010, and has been taken up on my behalf by my representative in Parliament, Angela Eagle MP.

I look forward to receiving your advice on this matter in the near future,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   26th November 2012

An answer has arrived and its not good news!  This looks like ‘back to square one’.  Is this what’s known as death by bureaucracy?

PROTECT

26 November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50445302

Dear Mr Cardin

Further to your email of 25 November 2012, as the council has now responded to your request but applied an exemption to withhold the information, a new case will be set up to deal with the complaint and you will be contacted by our First Contact department in due course.

Yours sincerely

[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer
_____________________________________________________

I recently received a response from James Baldwin, who appears to be Angela Eagle’s parliamentary assistant.  He sent me a letter he’d received that day from Vivienne Stone of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Here is the letter:

29 11 12 - Vivienne Stone EHRC page 129 11 12 - Vivienne Stone EHRC page 2

29 11 12 - Vivienne Stone EHRC page 3

What’s really perplexing about this letter is in the underlined section above, Vivienne Stone appears to be denying the contents of Mike Smith’s original letter, sent in late December 2010 (see the top of this post).  Mike Smith’s letter never advised Wirral to appoint anybody to ‘look for disability discrimination’.  It had already been found.  We also can’t satisfy ourselves on what transpired between Sheila Kumar, Jim Wilkie and Bill Norman on 13th July 2011.  Are there any minutes for this meeting?  Was Mike Smith’s opinion ignored or overriden?

There is no absence of detailed information – because Mike Smith received enough information in 2010 to confirm that there had been years of disability discrimination towards learning disabled Supported Living tenants.

It was then a case of Anna Klonowski going away, investigating and seeing how this had impacted and how far it extended.

Chief Executive Jim Wilkie was later forced to leave the council.  Bill Norman was later suspended, along with three of his colleagues and, although ultimately he had ‘no case to answer’, I believe that from this point, his historical opinion that there was ‘no disability discrimination’ became tarnished.

It is time to reaffirm Mike Smith’s original findings,  and act upon over a decade of disability discrimination, carried out by Wirral Council, a body which has a statutory obligation to protect the welfare and interests of its own disabled people.

UPDATE   6th December 2012

David Armstrong replied today to the letter that Angela Eagle sent him on my behalf back in August.  Remember August?  No, thought not.

My comments are in black.

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your emails.

My understanding is that the new Chief Executive wrote to you in October advising that there would be a single point of contact with the council, Surjit Tour, the Acting Director of Law in order to provide a focused point of communication on the matters you are raising with the council.  (But did the new Chief Executive write to Angela Eagle, to acknowledge the original letter? If not, why not?)

Prior to ceasing to be the Acting Chief Executive on September 3rd and reverting to my base position in the Children and Young people’s Department I tried to deal with the outstanding matters from my period in the Acting Chief Executive post.  I can only advise you to raise outstanding matters with Surjit as requested by the Chief Executive.  (Why didn’t you advise both Angela Eagle and me of this course of action back in August?) I will also speak further with Surjit on this matter.

I felt that the new Chief Executive’s email was very clear re future contact.  If you felt it needed additional confirmation of the position from me and I did not provide that, then I apologise. (Thank you.)

In respect of the matters raised, I feel that only Surjit can answer the question from yourself and Angela Eagle, MP re the redaction of some names in the AkA report,.  I was present when this matter was discussed at council and my recollection is that some changes were made to redacted material following consideration of the report. (Surjit Tour has not made any attempt to answer this point.  It is preventing those complicit in abuse / disability discrimination from being identified.  Do I have to send all my emails again or being met with a wall of silence, somehow fathom their whereabouts and exactly whose in-tray they may be sitting in?)

In respect of your allegation re council staff, current or former being a threat to people with disabilities and represent a threat to their safety, Angela Eagle MP asked you to share the evidence you had with her and the Police.  In your reply of the 25th August you said you would need some time to gather evidence together.  I am not in a position to know whether this has happened but it does seem to be the logical next step in relation to the situation as you set it out in your emails. (It has happened.  I am waiting for Angela Eagle to respond and have been since September.  So much for ‘urgency’.)

I will discuss the matter further with Surjit Tour and am sharing this reply with him and Angela Eagle, MP.

Tina Lloyd on behalf of

David Armstrong

Deputy Director CYPD and

Assistant Chief Executive

Wirral Council

UPDATE   13th January 2012

Reminder to the ICO:

From: Paul C [mailto:info@easyvirtualassistance.co.uk]
Sent: 13 January 2013 22:52
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: RE: Application of exemption[Ref. FS50445302]

Dear [Senior officer name redacted],

I have not been contacted in a very long time by your ‘First Contact Department’.

Please can you re-acquaint yourself with the issues and respond, with advice on what is happening?

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

Site Meter

OUT NOW – on ICO website – ‘Personal Privacy’ trumps the wellbeing of Wirral’s learning disabled citizens

This site is moving to a new web address.  If you’re a follower, please browse to the new site and register again to continue to receive updates or email notifications.  The old ones will cease to work in around a month’s time, when the old blog is taken down.

All the old content has been moved across and nothing else has changed.

Thanks for your time, and for following and I’ll see you there soon:

www.wirralinittogether.wordpress.com

UPDATE   24th January 2013

My appeal is now registered with HM Courts & Tribunals Service under case number EA/2012/0264

UPDATE   23rd December 2012

An appeal has been lodged today with the First Tier Tribunal.  More updates will follow in the New Year

UPDATE   3rd December 2012

Four months on, the ICO Decision Notice which began its painful journey towards me back in August, finally landed on the doormat.  As expected, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth –  for anyone who’s vulnerable, a disabled person, and living on Wirral.  To sum it up in a sentence, it effectively found that the public interest was served through two officers not being held to account, receiving six figure sums in return for their silence, and being allowed to move on.

Just to update everybody, the two officers referred to, rather than being disciplined, were paid off a total of more than £220,000 in public money, and were allowed to leave the council in January 2012, the day before the release of the ‘full’ Anna Klonowski report.  They were both gagged, and seem to have received what looks like a ‘clean bill of health’.

So, when you’re a prime mover at the heart of abuse towards learning disabled people, the consequences of which was their bank accounts being stripped of a total of £700,000+ and you work for Wirral Council, you have very little to fear, knowing you can move on, avoid sanction, and potentially feel free to abuse again, with your pockets stuffed with public cash.
It seems you also have nothing to fear from the Information Commissioner’s Office who, unlike investigator Anna Klonowski, have bizzarely summed up the very calculated and lengthy abuse which saw whistleblower Martin Morton being bullied and driven from his job, as ‘mistakes and errors’.
Is the law itself wrong here?  Or is this decision to place ‘personal privacy’ above the wellbeing of disabled people just incidental to the day to day work of career bureaucrats, who seem to have no inkling into how their decisions affect the lives of our most vulnerable people?
All UK Councils do after all have a statutory duty to protect vulnerable people within their jurisdiction.  What happened to that?  How on earth did those people become the targets of over a decade of abuse – from the very body entrusted with protecting them?  Are we witnessing the deliberate covering up of Misconduct in Public Office?  I will be appealing to the First Tier Tribunal.
The Decision Notice below is a legal document.  Please read on….
2 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - cover page
2 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page12 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page22 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page32 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page42 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page52 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page62 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page72 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page82 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page42 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page92 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page92 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page102 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page112 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page102 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page122 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page13

hands grabbing money uid 1342954

BREAKING ~ 2nd November 2012

Wirral Council have finally confirmed the size of the pay offs to Mike Fowler and Maura Noone, who left the Council under gagging clauses, within compromise agreements in January 2012:

Good Morning,
With regard to your complaint with the ICO, please find below the information the Council can disclose to you; this relates to the 2 payments made by the Council.
There was a total payment made in each case which was severance pay + notice + 3 months pay.
Head of Support Services   Finance Department
109,496.45 which compromised:
74,276.52 (Severance)
16,881.93 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)
18,338.00 (3 months salary)


Assistant Director, Head of Wellbeing DASS
111, 042.95 which compromosed
75,823.95 (Severance)
16,881 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)
18,338 (3 months salary)


The Council remains of the opinion that other information requested is exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2) of the FOIA as it contains Personal Data.  The council considers that it would be unfair on the individuals concerned to disclose this personal data and therefore would be in breach of the 1st principle of the DPA 1998.
I have copied the ICO into this response. Kind Regards
Jane Corrin
Information Manager
Wirral Council

TOTAL = £220,539.40 

Please read to the end of this post.  A very dangerous situation is developing on Wirral.

The following is an FoI request I placed with Wirral Council back in January 2012:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/dass_recent_departure_of_two_sen

It’s been attracting so many hits lately, if you type into Google the two word phrase “Officers Departure”, it comes out top.

The background to the request is a very controversial and rather sad one.  Wirral Council has now been exposed as an abusive and failing organisation and its current Chief Executive Jim Wilkie (Departed Wirral on 7th June 2012) even had to admit publicly that this was the case – after a whistleblower, former Wirral social worker Martin Morton, blew the whistle on outrageous conduct by senior Department of Adult Social Services staff.  This involved in part, the taking of £500,000 over a period of up to 9 years from the bank accounts of 16 learning disabled tenants of Council Supported Living accommodation in the Moreton area of Wirral.  Reportedly, five of the recipients of this financial abuse have since died.  Martin Morton had been trying for years to have the unlawful process stopped, but to no avail.  He quickly became the target of intense bullying and alleged mobbing, before being forced from his job.  There were also suspicions of a similar unlawful process applied to council tenants in Balls Road, Birkenhead, and beyond – now confirmed as the total “reimbursed” rises to £700,000.  Jim Wilkie’s admission is buried inside the following document.  See clause 7.1:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=21125

Two independent investigations followed; the first into bullying and abuse of power, carried out by Martin Smith of North West Employers), and the second, far more wide ranging, looking into corporate governance, the way the Council had set up and monitored Social Services’ contracts within its own jurisdiction, and much more, within a broad remit.  It seems that neither of these investigations were documented adequately and that interviews were not tape recorded or minuted.  Due to this apparent sloppiness, which I’m led to believe was hard fought for by the CIPD accredited investigators, convenient “escape hatches” may subsequently appear for the investigators and the investigated to clamber out of as and when required.  AKA Associates no longer have any ties to Wirral Council.  The reason for this remains unknown.  Link to Anna Klonowski Associates report:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxrkIjRDgrB-OGE5YzZiNWItMjQ4Yy00NDU2LTk1NDAtMTQxYmRhN2FjODhh/edit?pli=1

The findings of the AKA report will not be explored here, suffice to say they uncovered serious failings in Corporate Governance and outrageous, abusive conduct by senior officers of the council (Employees 13 and 22) and some of the appointed care contractors.  The public have yet to see a fully open and unredacted copy of the report, revealing names.  Despite hollow assurances of a new found “openness and transparency”, only a limited number of officer, councillor, contractor and advisory bodies’ names have been made viewable within it.

Many months on, the Wirral public are also patiently waiting for some semblance of accountability.  It would normally follow that a discovery of proven abuse, carried out over a period approaching a decade, and which has been thoroughly investigated – with many of the perpetrators exposed – would be acted on.  However, it seems things are done differently on Wirral, and they may not be prepared to carry the process through to any form of public reckoning or accountability.  There seems to be little desire to satisfy the growing public need for action against the abusers.  The detailed findings of the 250 page report seem to be clear and conclusive, but many of the names still remain coded to hide the real IDs, and there’s no willingness as yet to follow through on previous promises to discipline the guilty, clear out the abusers and start afresh.

So, accountability-wise, nothing much has happened, save the issuing of strings of empty words, and the calling in of LGA / SOLACE colleagues at massive expense, to ‘put things right’.  As time drags on, and fine words are trotted out in place of action, the Wirral public are becoming concerned that:

1. They’re being taken for fools

2. Those in power are not going to risk letting go of it without a fight. (Remember, this council has been found to have abused its power repeatedly over many years.)

The above FoI request aims to get under the skin of the reasoning for the council doing what they did.  Here’s what they did:

1. Suspended two senior officers named by the whistleblower in 2008.

2. Investigated them under two nom de plumes; “Employee A” and “Employee B” (See this link to an excellent and very comprehensive website):

http://blowingthewhistleonareallyrottenborou.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/%22Employee%20A%22

3. Exonerated one, sent a letter to the other, before reinstating both.  The recently new in post Council Leader, Phil Davies chaired the meeting which allowed this at the time, back in 2008.

4. Suspended the same two officers again in 2011 following the release of the supplementary AKA report.

5. In January 2012, came to an agreement with both of them, allowing them to leave by “mutual consent” the day before the full AKA report was released to the waiting public.

When things came to a head the second time around, absolutely no disciplinary process appeared to be followed by those with the power to level gross misconduct charges.  Instead they deviated from the norm and pursued what appeared to be a fully choreographed “kid glove” approach, allowing the pair to leave, paying them an as yet unknown amount of public money (UPDATE: the total shared between the two was £220,000), perhaps with a “clean bill of health”, all wrapped up in a compromise agreement, potentially with a “gagging clause”.  This clause will almost certainly specifically disallow the signatories (including potentially the issuing body) from talking about any of the circumstances which led to the officers’ departure and the issuing of the agreement, beyond a close knit circle including legal advisers, unions, the tax people and members of the signatories’ immediate family.

The wider effect of this is that any and all references to learning disabled abuse as regards these two are very effectively concealed and put to bed; right here – inside a legal document.  The legitimate and compelling public interest into the council’s hidden workings (and the decisions made) which ended in learning disabled abuse, becomes frustrated and stifled.  It’s a perfect example of a “democratic deficit” – an obstacle to openness and transparency, and a means of sidelining any chance of justice – no more, no less.

How on earth did this situation come about?  And what are the consequences?  Worryingly for everybody on Wirral who has a vulnerable relative or friend, this abusive Council happens to be the very organisation entrusted with stamping out hate crime and disability abuse.  Incidents of hate crime within the UK are on the increase, and the issue is currently more prominent in the British media and psyche, and often  flares up in areas where the responsible authorities are known to be weak or abusive.

Perhaps one has to approach this from a different angle and ask, “If the two officers weren’t directly involved in proven disabled abuse, why were they hurried out of their jobs just one day before the full version of a damning independent report was to be issued?”

Those with the power to time the issuing of the report, and to time the disposal of “Employee A” and “Employee B”… are the same people.  They work(ed) at the very top; and are found and known to have abused power in the past.  But who can step in and do something?

Although this could very easily have been predicted, it’s now become clear that one of the dismissed employees doesn’t want to rest on his laurels and go into early retirement.   Strong suspicions continue that he will have been handed a tidy sum of public money.  But he is now setting out a “well-stocked stall” on the “LinkedIn” website, hoping perhaps to pick up a senior role at another public organisation e.g. another council; a health trust; a private care provider…

Wirral Council continue to drag their feet with the above FoI request and there’s no end in sight.  The Information Commissioner has been made aware of the dangers; Tim Kelsey, now formerly the Cabinet Office Transparency and Open Data Czar knows the dangers – these people and organisations have been informed.

I hope to hear from them soon, before it’s potentially too late……..

UPDATE    4th June 2012

Council Chief Executive Jim Wilkie has applied for early retirement.  See the following item from the Wirral Globe:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9740932.Wirral_Council_chief_asks_for_early_retirement/

It appears Mr Wilkie may be the next person to bail out.  His application is being rushed through with what looks like indecent haste, and he will most likely be allowed to go, with many benefits, and without facing accountability for his part in allowing the above dangerous situation to come about.  The Employment & Appointments committee will consider his application in just 3 days’ time.

We still cannot see who did what within the Anna Klonowski report because it remains redacted, with the important identifying details protected and hidden from public view.  It’s possible that the Chief Executive too will leave under the cover of a compromise agreement with a “gagging clause” – a legal document which will draw a veil over any malpractice.  This document will represent a “full and final settlement”.

We only have three days (until 7th June) to alert somebody with the power to step in and prevent this happening.  On 3rd June, the following updated message was sent to the DCLG; Grant Shapps; Francis Maude; Baroness Hanham and Tim Kelsey (Transparency & Open Data Guru):

Dear Sir,

There is a dangerous situation developing in my borough, which has been created by the failure of a council to apply disciplinary sanctions and make senior officers fully accountable following learning disabled abuse, and an ensuing failure to release vital information around this in the legitimate public interest, and in the interests of transparency.

One of two senior officers who left this council through “mutual consent”, potentially paid off, and almost certainly under a compromise agreement with a ‘gagging clause’ is now looking for work on the LinkedIn website.

(Link removed to protect person’s privacy)

Although the council’s CEO has admitted to learning disabled abuse; see 7.1:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=21125

…there has been zero accountability to follow.  Moreover, it looks as though the above two departing officers have been rewarded and had their activities effectively concealed.

I tried to notify the Council’s Monitoring Officer on 17th May 2012 of this danger, but without success.  I have very briefly notified Tim Kelsey at @tkelsey1 of this on Twitter on 17th May 2012.  A consultant, name of Michael Frater, is currently being paid £1,200 per day to sort this place out following the Anna Klonowski report, however the public have no idea what he is doing, what’s been achieved and whether he has the power to prevent those who should be held accountable from departing and being pensioned off,

best regards,

Paul Cardin

PS The Chief Executive, who I believe is responsible for the above situation coming about has applied to leave the council and his application is due to be heard on 7th June. I believe urgent intervention is required to prevent this happening.  See here: http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50004413/EVR%20Report.pdf

UPDATE   10th June 2012

Mr Wilkie was granted permission to leave on 7th June 2012, just hours before the release of a damning Audit Commission report into the conduct of  Wirral’s £multimillion highways contract.  In quite hideous fashion, and apparently in complete defiance of the compelling public interest, one of the individuals who voted to allow the Council’s most senior officer to leave was the new council leader, Phil Davies.  He had recently been making promising public pronouncements about “getting to the bottom of all this”, however in this case, it seems actions speak louder than words.

Link to Freedom of Information request asking about circumstances of Chief Executive’s departure:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/agreed_departure_of_chief_execut

Despite early notifications of this situation to those in power, no full response has yet been received from Tim Kelsey, Grant Shapps, Baroness Hanham, Francis Maude, or any person in central government with the ability to “call in” the decision and ask some searching questions.

Link to the blog of John Brace, local campaigner, with further details:

http://johnbrace.com/2012/06/07/employment-and-appointments-committee-wirral-council-762012-item-12-early-retirement-request-jim-wilkie-chief-executive/

UPDATE 29th June 2012

Wirral Council suspends three senior officers:

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2012/06/29/exclusive-wirral-council-suspend-three-senior-officers-including-acting-chief-executive-100252-31287051/

The three are:

Bill Norman     Director of Law

Ian Coleman    Director of Finance (Acting Council CEO)

David Taylor-Smith     Former Deputy Director of Finance

UPDATE   3rd July 2012

Response in from the office of Grant Shapps MP.  Typically of central government, and officialdom in general, the letter answers a point not asked in the first place, and glosses over the crux of the letter – the threat of disabled abuse.  It opts to minimise and describes the issues as “accountability… transparency… pay and workforce… human resource” matters, and not “threat of disabled abuse”.

UPDATE   12th July 2012

A disappointing response has been received from a senior case officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office.  The personal privacy of two ex-employees, widely believed to have been actively and cynically involved in protracted learning disabled abuse, which is known to have involved the unlawful deduction of £500,000 from Supported Living tenants’ bank accounts over a period of up to 9 years, has been placed above the welfare of disabled and vulnerable people in the north west.

Here is the response in full (My working notes are in blue):

“12th July 2012
Case Reference Number FS50438500
Dear Mr Cardin
I am writing to you concerning 2 complaints which you have made to the Information Commissioner regarding Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.
FS50416628 – Your request for information on the records of senior officer’s personal interests which are held by the council
FS50438500 – Your request for information on two senior council officers Council who left their posts by mutual consent following the findings of the AKA report
Both of these cases have now been allocated to me to investigate.
As regards FS50416628 I have written a decision notice which is currently with the signatory for consideration.
As regards FS50438500 I note from the wdtk website that the council has now responded to your request, albeit by repeating its initial response to you of February 2012. (In February 2012, the Council stated that it was an ‘exceptionally complex’ request and that Section 40(2) may apply to my request but they had not yet reached a decision on whether an exemption would apply.  They then requested additional time.  It is therefore erroneous to place on record that the Council “repeated a previous response”.  This appears to have been plucked from the air and has the unfortunate effect of mistakenly adding credence to the council’s response where the is actually very little or none.)
Having looked at this request I have to say that I do not believe that you will be able to obtain this information from the council. If your assumptions are correct then the information relates to potential disciplinary matters. (In part, the request asked for “details of any disciplinary charges either planned or levelled against the two officers”.  I never requested closer details of disciplinary mattersThe ICO are therefore mistakenly or deliberately misrepresenting some of the true purpose of the original request).  At the least it relates to employment matters relating to the two individuals, and how it came about that they left their positions with the council. This is, for the most part, a private matter between the council and the individuals’ concerned. I will explain further.
I have noted that concerns have been raised about the possibility of compromise agreements being paid out by the council.  (Compromise agreements are not ‘paid out’.  They are issued.  However, public money was paid out by the Council to the two departing officers.  The compromise agreements used here, through the use of a “gagging clause” serve to conceal the amount of  public money that was paid, which was most likely very large and which evades the public interest.  This very issue goes to the heart of the request.  The legitimate and compelling public interest demands that Wirral Council adhere to their public proclamations which promise a new, enlightened approach, based around openness and transparency.  Sadly, the recurring preference for “concealment at all costs” continues to fly in the face of that.)  You have also suggested that the timing of the individuals’ departure has left questions about their reasons for leaving their posts and whether this relates to the Anna Klonowski Report findings. (The two officers departed the day before the full version of the AKA Report was finally released.  Any competent person would conclude that once they were no longer employed by the council, they could escape any sanction suggested or resulting from the content of the AKA report.  Over six months on, the general public still don’t know who did what; who the abusers are.  Also, given that the now ex-Chief Executive who authorised these departures left the council himself the day before a highly-critical Auditor’s Report on a Highways Contract (finding that a director had probably broken EU contract rules) was released.  One can reach a safe conclusion that the timing of such departures is not coincidental.) I note that questions surrounding their departure have also been asked in the media.
You have said to the council that you are happy for it to anonymise the information before disclosing it to you. (I said that way back in January, over six months ago.)  It seems likely however that a motivated individual could obtain that information by various means should they decide to do so (Which only became apparent later (the Council decided to sit tight, hold onto the information and allow events to overtake them) – the names gradually crept out long after the request was placed). My initial research also suggests that it is fairly widely assumed who the two individuals are and that these assumptions are available on the internet. (They are now, but they weren’t in January, when I first asked the question.  “Late on parade”, the ICO only decided to investigate this last week, and the Senior Officer who did the investigating told me on the phone he had only spent a paltry 5 days on it.I also note your further comment to the council that one of the individuals concerned has now advertised on “Linked in”. Clearly therefore you already know, or have assumed who this person is, and so any redaction of identity alone would not be sufficient to anonymise the information (presuming that your assumption is correct). (This is a very recent development.  I asked in January.  But I am not the issue.  I know who it is, but the public do not, and did not in January.  If and when the Council responds, the information becomes global, when everybody gets to know.  Wirral decided to prevent this from happening.Given this I do not believe that the council can anonymise the information by merely redacting the names or the job roles of the individuals concerned. (Not now they can’t, but they could have if they’d obeyed the law and provided the information at the time, or else given a reason why they weren’t providing it.)
This means that the information would be personal data for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 1998 and that the data protection principles would apply to the disclosure which you are asking the council to make. (The amount of public money they received is a compelling matter for the public interest.  Private Eye suggest that the amount is in the region of £200,000, although I don’t know how accurate this is or where the information originated.  Jim Wilkie, the last Chief Executive’s pay off figures were released.  The CEO before him, Steve Maddox, received £157,000, which only became apparent following a grinding, intensive year long battle to gain access to the information.  (UPDATE: See the ICO Highlights for the Year 2012 – NORTH WEST)Judging by this particular case, it appears lessons have not been learned.)
Where personal data is under consideration the first data protection principle requires that the disclosure of the information is ‘fair and lawful’. In general this relates to whether the individual would expect information about them to be disclosed. In the case of a disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act this would be an expectation that information about them might be disclosed to ‘any member of the public’. This is because a disclosure under the Act is considered to be global rather than just to the applicant. When making this decision the Commissioner can consider whether any of the other circumstances of the case would make a disclosure of the information fair.
The Commissioner therefore needs to consider whether the individuals would expect that detailed information about the circumstances which led them to leaving their positions within the council would be disclosed to any member of the public. If that is not the case I must consider whether the circumstances of the case would make that fair in any event. (Can it be “fair” to protect e.g. the amount of public money two people widely thought to be abusers have received, whilst knowing that this protection is likely to result in placing a large number of vulnerable/disabled people into danger?)
The first thing to consider is that, in general, employers are under an implied duty of confidence to keep personal information on their personnel confidential. Assuming that your presumptions are correct, this information may relate to the individuals disciplinary history or records. The First-tier Tribunal has provided strong guidance in relation to the disclosure of employees’ disciplinary files. (I never asked for disciplinary files!!) In many cases in the past they have found that it would be unfair to disclose such information. For instance I would draw your attention to the Tribunals decision in Waugh v ICO & Doncaster College (EA/2008/0038) available at
http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DB…(EA-2008-0038)%20Decision%2029-12-08.pdf
Similarly, in Lord Dunboyne v IC (EA/2011/0261 & EA/2011/0303) the Tribunal stated that:
“The Tribunal has – and will continue to – recognise the strong expectation of staff members that disciplinary matters are personal and to be kept private.” (As I did NOT ask for information on disciplinary matters or closer details, but merely “details of any disciplinary charges either planned or levelled against the two officers” – the above link is completely irrelevant to this case.  It is a false, “straw man” distraction and does not relate to my request.  The council website shows that two officers, (Employee A and Employee B) known to be these two, went through a disciplinary process in 2008 and were ultimately reinstated by a board which was chaired by the current Council Leader, Phil Davies.  There is no information on the council website to show that they went through any subsequent disciplinary process in the lead up to the release of the full AKA report in early January 2012.)
This is of course working to an assumption which you raised that their reasons for leaving relate directly to the findings in the Anna Klonowski Report. That is not a proven fact however and you recognise this within your request for information. The alternative is that the individuals left for entirely other, unrelated reasons.   If that is the case there appears to be a lesser argument for the employees’ expectations of privacy to be overridden. A disclosure of the information under those circumstances would therefore be even less likely to be ‘fair’.
Presuming that your assumption is correct, the wider issues surrounding this case can be taken into account in balancing whether a disclosure of the information would be fair. In some circumstances the legitimate interests of the public (Clearly present and growing fears about the likelihood of forseeable and avoidable disabled abuse actually coming to pass due to the authorities’ inaction would be a case in point) in having access to particular information can make a disclosure fair in spite of an individual’s general expectations that that information would not be disclosed. The arguments for this do need to be strong however due to the strong counter arguments supporting the privacy of the individuals. (I don’t think they trump the threat of abuse though do they?)  I actually asked for the following…..

1. all information you have which is connected to the
departure of the above two senior members of staff. This will
relate to meetings, hearings, discussions, and may be stored in the
form of recorded minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails,
letters, memos, aide memoirs, whether electronically or manually.

2. details of the existence of any payments
made to the two members of staff in relation to their departure,
collectively or individually. This will include precise amounts,
the method of payment and the budget from which the payment was
derived.

3. details of the existence of any “compromise
agreements” signed by the two members of staff. This will include
confirmation of any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive /
neutral / negative reference was provided regarding potential
future employment.

4. the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to the two departing
officers. Please also provide details of meetings which occurred
including times, dates and matters discussed.

5. details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against the two officers in relation to the
failures which brought about their departure from the Council.

6. If either or both of the two officers were provided with a “clean
bill of health” regarding their time served at the council, please
provide a copy of this / these document(s).
It is suggested that these individuals are relatively senior council officers. This can also be taken into account in the balance. In essence, where a senior officer is concerned they should have a greater expectation that a disclosure of information about their actions may be necessary in order for the authority to be transparent and accountable to the public. This extends to any severance payments that the council made to them given that this would be paid from public funds. These are not of themselves overriding factors however and the decision still needs to be balanced and based upon all of the circumstances of the case.
However I must also bear in mind that the information that you requested does not specifically relate to the council’s actions or inactions which led to the Anna Klonowski report findings. You have asked for detailed information about the individuals leaving their posts. The information therefore relates more to the private lives of those individuals rather than to the council’s accountability. (My italics)

(I believe this last statement to be a direct kick in the teeth to the whole concept of public accountability – what hope does ‘the public good’ have with these as regulators???)
…Details of the council’s response and the actions it has taken following the report would attract a much stronger public interest argument towards disclosure. The release of the Anna Klonowski report has to some extent already opened the council’s actions to scrutiny, (nobody knows who did what.  The AKA Report remains redacted with no identifying names ascribed to the commission of the foul behaviour described within.  Wirral Council’s preference, whilst owning and controlling the report, is to continue concealing identifying names.  Officers & Councillors therefore continue to remain beyond the reach of effective scrutiny.however there is a public interest in the disclosure of the actions it has taken in response to that report (This is an extremely vague statement.  There has been no recognisable accountability to date; just gags; pay offs; more concealment, and even the broadcasting of another whistleblower’s name on the council websiteSome further senior officer suspensions are qualified as “neutral acts”.) so that the public can be reassured that this will not occur again. (What will not occur again?) The issue is where this impinges on personal privacy.
Although the council needs to be transparent and accountable for its actions, it also needs to comply with its legal obligations as regards the privacy of the individuals concerned. The information you have asked for goes to the heart of the individuals’ personnel matters with their employer. (The two officers appear to have been protected, gagged and paid off.  The problem with this is that Wirral Council may have enabled potential disabled abuse in the future, which was both forseeable and avoidable.  Nobody has yet been made accountable for abuse which has actually been admitted in writing and the person at the helm of the Council who allowed all this to occur has now left, leaving a “ticking time bomb” as a leaving present.) In effect, your request was widely drawn and encompasses the entire personnel process which led to the individuals’ leaving their posts at the council. As a result, any disclosure would be much more intrusive into the private lives of the individuals concerned. (What about the “ticking time bomb”?  What about the large, undisclosed amount of public money, apparently handed over as a reward in return for up to nine years of learning disabled abuse?)
I note your argument that one of the individuals concerned now appears to be advertising on Linked In’ however this not an issue which we are able to consider as relevant to the disclosure of the information that you have asked for in this case.
Balancing the above, I do not believe that a strong enough case can be made for the disclosure of the information to be ‘fair’ to the individuals concerned. In the terms of the Data Protection Act, the legitimate interests of the public in having access to that information do not override the fact that a disclosure would be an unwarranted intrusion into their private lives and affairs. (What about the “ticking time bomb”, the vulnerable/disabled people under threat?)
I realise that you will be disappointed that you are not able to obtain all of the information which you have asked for. Whilst I accept that if your analysis is correct there are certainly legitimate public interest arguments for some information to be disclosed, there are however also very strong arguments for information relating to an individual’s performance, personal privacy and their personal, private dealings with their employer which counterbalance, and override these interests in this case. (An employer in the care sector may take on one of these senior people unwittingly, and vulnerable / disabled people, expecting their welfare and wellbeing to be looked out for, may come under threat of abuse – far more serious than the privacy / private dealings justifications listed here, which pale by comparison)
Having said this, there may be a stronger case for the council to disclose any severance payments which it has made. The Accounts and Audit (Amendment No. 2) (England) Regulations 2009 require local authorities to publish severance payments for staff earning over £50,000, and in respect of those earning over £150,000, to publish both the amount and the name of the individual. I have therefore written to the council and asked it to let me know whether it is obliged by these regulations to publish any amounts paid to the individuals as severance payments, and if so, when it intends to make this information available. I will write to you again regarding this once I have received the council’s response.
Yours sincerely
[name of public servant removed]

Senior Case Officer

I placed a phone call with the above Senior Case Officer yesterday morning, during which he justified the ICO stance, claiming that his remit did not allow him to place the welfare of vulnerable and disabled people above that of the personal privacy and private dealings of these two ex- employees.

I told him I knew these two employees were employed by the Adult Social Services Department of a council which has independently been found to have abused power and has itself admitted to committing learning disabled abuseRather than provide accountability or some sort of reckoning, it has gagged and paid off suspected abusers and has independently been found to have engaged in the bullying of staff, including whistleblower Martin Morton.  Mr Morton was deliberately isolated in the workplace, allegedly mobbed and became the recipient of a calculated attempt to assassinate his character in a secret report, drawn up by senior officers.  Martin Morton’s health was severely damaged as a result of what most people would regard as behaviour verging on the criminal.

All this occurred despite the employer’s declared statutory duty of care for its employees’ health, laid out in the Health & Safety at Work Act.  Following this, in order to conceal the sordid details the council drew up the most draconian of compromise agreements, which included a £500 gagging clause designed to prevent Mr Morton from taking independent legal advice – a statutory human right, “set in stone” which cannot be taken away.  It also attempted to subvert article 43j within the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which provides whistleblowers with statutory protection.

A depressing by-product of the ICO erecting another obstacle to justice is that it provides much-needed succour to Wirral Council and to those potentially abusive senior members of staff still in office and still bent on evading accountability Despite the LGA Improvement Board’s welcome involvement, and “troubleshooter” Michael Frater’s extension until October 2012, the unaddressed failures can be laid at the door of the Council’s reluctance to openly identify the abusers and link them to the disgraceful malpractice discovered and described, but yet to be identified within the AKA report.  The suspension of three senior officers, and their “banishment from the workplace” may provide a ray of hope, as it’s possible their presence may have been creating obstacles beyond which accountability, co-operation and the public interest could not travel.

This weak and disappointing ICO approach, laid out by the Senior Case Officer above, seems particularly cold-hearted, with its blinkered failure to recognise or acknowledge the threat of disabled abuse, and its unwillingness to apply any pressure onto the council.  The ICO’s bureaucrats are effectively endorsing Wirral Council’s  “straight onto auto-pilot”, power abusing tactics of cover up; minimisation; denial; gagging; pay offs; obfuscation, with their dismissive, kneejerk trashing of the legitimate public interest.

Also effectively endorsed are the “information and data” failures, in the shape of Wirral Council’s entrenched and ongoing disregard for statutory law, in the shape of its historic reluctance to comply with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

The senior officer at the helm of Freedom of Information for Wirral is Ian Coleman (Director of Finance, now departed in controversial circumstances…. via “the Wirral Way”).  Here is a link to more details regarding the “Statutory Investigation Process” and a preliminary investigation currently being mounted into the three Statutory Officers at the top of the council – all suspended (two of the three are now in the clear and have left…..)

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50005267/Statutory%20Investigation%20Process%20Report.pdf

UPDATE 27th July 2012

I appear to have been fobbed off by the Department run by Paul Burstow MP.  They’ve assured me that the LGA Improvement Board are there to address any issues (Nothing specific, you’ll notice, such as the threat of disabled abuse that I warned them about).  As for the LGA Improvement Board, I’m still waiting for Michael Frater to get in touch and reassure me that he is actually doing anything at all about the imminent threat of disabled abuse.  So, lots of talk, no action.  All commitments to the need for “safeguarding” have been completely trashed by Wirral Council, the Information Commissioner’s Office, now followed closely by central government:

From: DoNotReply@dh.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:DoNotReply@dh.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 27 July 2012 12:24
To: [Mr P Cardin]
Subject: Response to your Query : – Ref:DE00000712327 – Reply to your email to Paul Burstow

Our ref: DE00000712327

Dear Mr Cardin,
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 5 July to Paul Burstow about adult social services in Wirral Council.  I have been asked to reply.

Safeguarding people in vulnerable situations from all forms of abuse is a key priority for this government.  The Department is aware of the issues you raise and the investigations which have taken place locally.  Paul Burstow met with the local MP Esther McVey to discuss this matter in March.

I understand that Wirral Council has taken a range of steps in response the report prepared by Anna Klonowski.  The Council has said that new safeguarding procedures have been devised and implemented that focus on partnership working and quality.

The internal Improvement Board established in response to the Klonowski report, with the support of the Local Government Association, will monitor progress against the council’s improvement plan.  The appointment of a social care challenge director has also raised the level of internal scrutiny and challenge.

Strengthened internal governance is bolstered by external challenge and scrutiny.  The agreed peer review of adult social care has now taken place.  Timing of the corporate governance review is still subject to active consideration by the council, and is likely to take place in September.

Paul Burstow will continue to take a close interest in progress at Wirral Council.  He is currently satisfied that progress is being made, and that the right mechanisms are in place both nationally and locally to ensure that this progress is maintained.

I hope this reply is helpful.

Yours sincerely,
 
Peter Wozniak
Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries
Department of Health

UPDATE   31st July 2012

Email to Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, Wirral:

From: Paul C
Sent: 31 July 2012 00:41
To: ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’
Cc: ‘michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘m-thomas@audit-commission.gov.uk’; ‘grant.shapps@communities.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Threat of disabled abuse

Dear Angela Eagle,

There is an ongoing threat of disabled abuse developing in the North West of England, possibly on Wirral.  All the details are here on my blog:

http://wirralinittogether.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/departure-of-two-senior-officers-and-now-a-chief-executive-officer-from-wirral-council/

This situation was both foreseeable and avoidable, yet Wirral Council went ahead and did it anyway.  I have contacted Michael Frater, the LGA ‘troubleshooter’, who is yet to acknowledge the threat.  I have also contacted Mike Thomas, District Auditor, who is looking into it, but only from an auditor’s point of view.

I asked a question at 22nd June meeting of the LGA Improvement Board meeting, and made all the officials present aware of the danger.  The minutes have now been released for this meeting, but the details of my question are NOT recorded, which I find very frustrating:

http://www.wirral.gov.uk/downloads/4431

Contact has been made with Central Government in the shape of Grant Shapps and Paul Burstow.  Also Tim Kelsey, ex Cabinet Office transparency guru, who has since moved onto an NHS role.  None of these officials has been able to address the problem and Shapps and Burstow have passed me back to the jurisdiction of the Council, who cannot in my opinion be trusted to take the required action.

A freedom of information request was placed with Wirral Council back in January 2012, which was not acted upon until very recently (breaching the FOI Act).  The council are refusing to release the information and as you can see, the Information Commissioner’s Office are frankly useless:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/dass_recent_departure_of_two_sen

I would now like to call upon you to raise the issue of potential disabled abuse, due to the council’s failure to discipline its officers, in Parliament and sound the alarm bells for this on my behalf,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   1st August 2012

Email received from Michael Frater today:

Frater, Michael michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk

13:59 (1 hour ago)

to grant.shapps, eaglea, me, m-thomas

Dear Mr Cardin

I write to advise you that the issue you raise is one of a number of what I term ‘unresolved issues from the past’ that I have arranged to discuss with the new Chief Executive and the Acting Director of Law next week.

Yours sincerely

Michael Frater

….Note: The new Chief Executive is Graham Burgess.  See following link to the Liverpool Daily Post:

http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/politics/politics-news/2012/07/20/the-big-interview-wirral-will-improve-i-promise-vows-new-chief-executive-graham-burgess-99623-31422641/

UPDATE   12th August 2012

As Wirral Council haven’t denied it, and the Information Commissioner has acknowledged that their identities are now in the public domain, it is safe to conclude that the two senior officers who were paid off with a very large and undeclared sum in public money, then allowed to depart Wirral Council under a compromise agreement and “gagging clause” the day before publication of the full Anna Klonowski report are:

Mike Fowler (Employee 13 in AKA Report)

Maura Noone (Employee 22 in AKA Report) (The Council in its reply corrected requester Pete Sheffield’s typo (Moira) , and helpfully gave the correct spelling)

Fowler is still looking for further work on the LinkedIn website.  But if he discloses to his employers any of the circumstances which led to his departure from Wirral (unlikely), this could be a breach of a gagging clause within his compromise agreement.  His former employer would then be free to take him to court to seek to recover a proportion of the public money that was paid to secure his departure.

16th August 2012 ~ Angela Eagle is yet to respond to my email of 31st July 2012 (see above), despite the compelling and urgent nature of its contents.


UPDATE   16th August 2012

Tim Kelsey, former Cabinet Office transparency guru and someone who initially appeared to display a keen interest in doing something about this has now decided to unfollow me on Twitter.  I’ll assume that threats of learning disabled abuse are no longer a priority, and something he no longer wishes to be updated on.

As for Wirral Tories, I think I can live with their decision, although their claim to be “listening to our communities” seems questionable.

UPDATE   27th August 2012

An exchange of tweets with Lib Dem care Minister Paul Burstow MP:

https://twitter.com/PaulBurstow/status/240113431590608897

Ironic & insulting: http://yfrog.com/odj87evj

UPDATE    24th August 2012

Angela Eagle has been in touch:

Letter to David Armstrong, Acting Chief Executive of Wirral Council:

Letter to Mike Smith, Chair of the Disability Committee of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – most relevant letter with regard to the subject of Disability Discrimination:

(As of 14th November 2012, three months on, these letters have not been answered)

UPDATE   31st August 2012

Email received from Senior Case Officer at Information Commissioner’s Office:

From: <casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk>
Date: 30 August 2012 08:23
Subject: re your freedom of information complaint about Wirral Council[Ref. FS50438500]
To: Paul Cardin

PROTECT

30th August 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your email. I have been waiting for a copy of the withheld information from Wirral Council. I received a response on 21 August 2012 and am therefore currently drafting a decision notice on your complaint.

I hope that this is helpful to you.

Yours sincerely

[Name removed]
Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   15th September 2012

Time drags on.  A couple of emails I’ve sent:

From: Paul C
Sent: 06 September 2012 00:09
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Departure of two Senior Officers from Wirral Council FS50438500

FAO [name redacted]

Dear Mr [name redacted],

Please advise on progress with the Decision Notice you are drafting for this case.  It’s been well over two weeks since I received the email below,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 15 September 2012 23:46
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: Departure of two Senior Officers from Wirral Council FS50438500

FAO [name redacted]

Dear Mr [name redacted],

As requested over a week ago, but without response, please advise on the progress with the Decision Notice you are drafting for this case.  It’s been well over three weeks since I received the email below, which itself wasn’t sent until 9 days after you’d received notification from Wirral.  We’re now approaching the month mark.

Can I remind you that this is an urgent situation, where should either of the individuals, who weren’t disciplined, be re-employed elsewhere, vulnerable and disabled people may once again be put at risk?

To answer your original point, it has not been helpful at all, given the urgency, that you are not updating me and taking so long,

Regards,

Paul Cardin

Public servant and senior officer [name redacted]’s phone is switching to “answerphone” immediately, without ringing…. and has done for the last 2 days.

UPDATE   20th September 2012

Email received yesterday from ICO officer dealing with this:

PROTECT

19th September 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your emails regarding your complaint about Wirral Council. I’m sorry I missed your call today.

As an update, I have just completed the draft of your decision notice today.  From this point the notice will go into a validation process which can sometimes take a number of weeks.  Notices can sometimes be issued faster than this however it is dependent upon the workload of the signatory, the complexity of the notice and whether the notice needs to go through a review by the Commissioner’s policy department.  It is therefore possible that the notice will be issued shortly however I am not able to specifically confirm that that will be the case.

I’m sorry that you have not received the notice earlier than this however decision notices are legal documents and therefore require careful thought and analysis. They can therefore take some time to complete as we need to be sure that we are fully aware of all the facts and that we apply the law carefully to those facts.

As regards the response to your earlier emails we try to respond to all requests for updates on complaints within 14 days.  I hope that this is helpful to you.

Yours sincerely

[Officer name redacted]

Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   11th October 2012

PROTECT

11th October 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin
 
I am writing concerning your freedom of information complaint about Wirral Council relating to a number of senior officers who left the council by mutual consent.  
 
As an update on your complaint, I have recently written to the council asking it to clarify one aspect of its arguments further. I am therefore waiting for a response from the council before the notice can be assigned to a signatory. 

I hope that this is helpful to you. 
 
Yours sincerely
 
[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   15th October 2012

PROTECT

15th October 2012

Case Reference Number FS50416628 and FS50438500 [THIS MATTER]

Dear Mr Cardin
 
Thank you for your emails. 
 
We confirm that based upon the evidence we have seen the council has complied with the decision notice.
 
As regards your question concerning FS50438500 [THIS MATTER], I wrote the council on 2 October 2012 and have asked for it to respond by 17 October 2012.  
 
I hope that this is helpful to you.
 
Yours sincerely
 
[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

28th October 2012

Nothing heard from Angela Eagle with regard to the two letters she kindly sent to David Armstrong and Mike Smith back in August (see the top of this blog post).  It’s now two months.  Where is the urgency?

I’ve sent the following email to her:

From: Paul C
Sent: 28 October 2012 00:42
To: ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’
Cc: ‘grahamburgess’; ‘Tour, Surjit’
Subject: Your letters to David Armstong (Wirral) and Mike Smith (EHRC) – Threat of disabled abuse

Dear Angela Eagle,

Threat of Disabled Abuse

Over two months ago, you wrote on my behalf to Interim CEO of the Council David Armstrong and also to Chair of Disabilities Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Mike Smith.

I have not heard anything from you since then.  Presumably the two correspondents will have been in touch by now, and I would be very grateful to be updated on what they’ve said.  I’d appreciate it if you could check your records and see whether they’ve responded.  Whether they have or haven’t, can you get back to me with an update?

Internally at the Council, the new CEO Graham Burgess has officially made Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour the contact point for this important issue.  However, due to lack of any correspondence from Mr Tour over many weeks, I’m forming the strong impression that despite a clear and present danger of further disabled abuse, addressing this threat is not high on the list of priorities for this council,

Many thanks in advance,

Paul Cardin

BREAKING ~ 2nd November 2012

Wirral Council have finally confirmed the size of the pay offs to Mike Fowler and Maura Noone, who left the Council under gagging clauses, within compromise agreements in January 2012:

Good Morning,

With regard to your complaint with the ICO, please find below the
information the Council can disclose to you; this relates to the 2
payments made by the Council.

There was a total payment made in each case which was severance pay +
notice + 3 months pay.

Head of Support Services   Finance Department

109,496.45 which compromised:

74,276.52 (Severance)

16,881.93 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)

18,338.00 (3 months salary)

Assistant Director, Head of Wellbeing DASS

111, 042.95 which compromosed

75,823.95 (Severance)

16,881 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)

18,338 (3 months salary)

The Council remains of the opinion that other information requested is
exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2) of the FOIA as it contains
Personal Data.  The council considers that it would be unfair on the
individuals concerned to disclose this personal data and therefore would
be in breach of the 1st principle of the DPA 1998.

I have copied the ICO into this response.

Kind Regards

Jane Corrin

Information Manager

Wirral Council

UPDATE   14th November 2012

Latest email follow up to Angela Eagle, who, since she sent the above letters to Mike Smith of the EHRC (breaking news on him here) and Graham Burgess’ temporary predecessor David Armstrong at Wirral Council, has gone silent.

Dear Angela Eagle,

Threat of Disabled Abuse

Over two months ago, you wrote on my behalf to Interim CEO of the Council David Armstrong and also to Chair of Disabilities Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Mike Smith.

I have not heard anything from you since then.  Presumably the two correspondents will have been in touch by now, and I would be very grateful to be updated on what they’ve said.  I’d appreciate it if you could check your records and see whether they’ve responded.  Whether they have or haven’t, can you get back to me with an update?

Internally at the Council, the new CEO Graham Burgess has officially made Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour the contact point for this important issue.  However, due to lack of any correspondence from Mr Tour over many weeks, I’m forming the strong impression that despite a clear and present danger of further disabled abuse, addressing this threat is not high on the list of priorities for this council,

Many thanks in advance,

Paul Cardin

As a reminder, here are the issues Angela Eagle raised in each letter which remain unanswered, months on….

Letter to David Armstong

  1. Whether the council intends to continue to redact information within the Klonowski report
  2. Whether there is a need for more transparency about what has taken place
  3. Whether you and your successor would advise me ‘regarding the issues raised by my constituent’

Letter to Mike Smith (EHRC)

  1. Any observations you may have to make on:
  • Vulnerable people remaining at risk
  • Discrimination towards vulnerable residents with disabilities
  • The potential threat of further abuse
  • Following my representations to the EHRC, the issue of disability discrimination being included in the [AKA] inquiry

23rd November 2012

Response in from the ICO regarding the ‘Departure of Two Senior Officers’ aspect – the original FoI request numbered FS50438500:

PROTECT

23rd November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin
 
Thank you for your emails. 
 
The decision notice for case FS50438500 is currently awaiting allocation to a signatory [my annotation – the officer began drafting this decision notice in late August, almost 3 months ago]. As you know, after completing the first draft of the notice I went back to the council to check on the legal aspects of some of the arguments it had submitted. As a result the council has recently disclosed details of the severance payments made to the individuals to you. I am sorry for this delay however the notice needed to take into account the councils response regarding the requirements of The Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2011. 
 
As regards the councils response to decision notice FS50416628 [Register of Senior Officers Interests] I have been in correspondence with the council regarding the disclosures it has made and am currently considering its response. 
 
I hope that this is helpful to you. 
 
Yours sincerely

[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   6th December 2012

Email received from former Acting Chief Executive David Armstrong:

From: Lloyd, Tina A. On Behalf Of Armstrong, David
Sent: 06 December 2012 15:11
To: Paul C
Cc: Tour, Surjit; angela.eagle.mp@parliament.uk
Subject: RE: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your emails.

My understanding is that the new Chief Executive wrote to you in October advising that there would be a single point of contact with the council, Surjit Tour, the Acting Director of Law in order to provide a focused point of communication on the matters you are raising with the council.

Prior to ceasing to be the Acting Chief Executive on September 3rd and reverting to my base position in the Children and Young people’s Department I tried to deal with the outstanding matters from my period in the Acting Chief Executive post.  I can only advise you to raise outstanding matters with Surjit as requested by the Chief Executive.  I will also speak further with Surjit on this matter.

I felt that the new Chief Executive’s email was very clear re future contact.  If you felt it needed additional confirmation of the position from me and I did not provide that, then I apologise.

In respect of the matters raised, I feel that only Surjit can answer the question from yourself and Angela Eagle, MP re the redaction of some names in the AkA report,.  I was present when this matter was discussed at council and my recollection is that some changes were made to redacted material following consideration of the report.

In respect of your allegation re council staff, current or former being a threat to people with disabilities and represent a threat to their safety, Angela Eagle MP asked you to share the evidence you had with her and the Police.  In your reply of the 25th August you said you would need some time to gather evidence together.  I am not in a position to know whether this has happened but it does seem to be the logical next step in relation to the situation as you set it out in your emails.

[My comment: There may be gangsters involved – Currently, I do not feel in a position to jeopardise mine and my family’s personal safety by approaching the police]

I will discuss the matter further with Surjit Tour and am sharing this reply with him and Angela Eagle, MP.

Tina Lloyd on behalf of

David Armstrong

Deputy Director CYPD and

Assistant Chief Executive

Wirral Council

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