The chief executive of Flintshire Council has accused an anonymous letter writer of ‘cowardice’ after a police investigation into his appointment did not find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.
An inquiry was carried out by North Wales Police centred around the manner in which Colin Everett was given the top role at the local authority in 2007.
It came after a covert recording of a conversation between councillors Aaron Shotton and Bernie Attridge was handed to the force in which a number of defamatory allegations are said to have been made.
However, officers decided to take no further action after interviewing those concerned.
Mr Everett has now written a stern note to all 70 councillors in Flintshire asking for assistance in revealing the author of a recent letter sent to politicians and the press.
The claims about his appointment were among several unsubstantiated rumours about officers and councillors detailed within it, but with no name attached.
Addressing the allegations directly, he said: “Some of you will be aware that my appointment to this role back in 2007 has recently been investigated by North Wales Police.
“The police received a tape recording of an old conversation among councillors, held on council premises, about my appointment.
“The conversation, now in wider circulation, includes false information and it undermines my reputation and standing.
“The police investigated the issue thoroughly and are not taking any further action.
“Not only do I expect to have your trust and confidence, I do need to make it clear that any perpetuation of these false statements by a councillor could lead to legal action against both the individual and the employer itself.
“The duty of care you have as an employing body extends to myself.”
The anonymous letter included reference to the public falling out between Cllr Shotton and his former deputy, which resulted in both men leaving their posts in the Labour administration during the last fortnight.
The leaked recording, which is said to date back more than ten years, is understood to be part of the cause for the spat between the two former allies.
Mr Everett said officials believed they knew the identity of the letter writer, but did not have proof.
He told councillors it was their ‘duty’ to report the person responsible, before raising suspicions that a senior councillor had disclosed confidential information to them.
He went on to say the allegations against officers were without basis and some had been given counselling because of the upset caused.
Mr Everett added: “The anonymous letter in question includes false and defamatory material.
“The letter writer has no interest in assisting the council and is clearly motivated by malice.
“In this instance for the letter writer to conceal their identity is cowardice.
“The wide circulation of a letter of this type has caused untold damage to those to whom it refers.
“We have spent much of this week offering support and counselling to the officers referred to.
“Gareth (Owens, monitoring officer) and I can give you a firm assurance that any allegations, where there is legitimate cause for concern, have already been investigated and found to be without substance.”
Following the police investigation, it is understood Mr Everett has now raised a grievance against some of those involved.
A special committee of councillors was convened to discuss it during the private part of a meeting held today.
Confirming details of police inquiries Detective Inspector Chris Bell of North Wales Police said: “We received a report of alleged misconduct in public office at Flintshire County Council.
“A number of individuals attended voluntary interviews under caution and following a thorough investigation it was concluded that there was not enough evidence to proceed.
“The investigation has closed and no further police action taken.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Shotton has backed calls for the author’s identity to be made known.
He said: “For any public servant to work in a climate of secret illicit recordings and anonymous letters is simply untenable.
“I’m pleased that the council is now looking into this matter and I’d urge anybody with any information in regards to the source and motive of this behaviour to report it to the council’s monitoring officer.”
Cllr Attridge has been asked to comment.
Colin Everett’s letter to councillors:
You will have received a letter of advice from Gareth Owens as the Monitoring Officer. Some of you will have received the offending letter, from an anonymous source, to which his letter refers.
It is with great sadness that I have to address councillors, as those with responsibilities for corporate governance and as members of the employing body, in this way.
The anonymous letter in question includes false and defamatory material. The letter writer has no interest in assisting the Council and is clearly motivated by malice. We have received previous correspondence of the same typeface and with similar material from an anonymous source. We assume this is the same letter-writer. Had they had any true interest in the Council they would have reported these allegations through a proper route and, confidentially, would also have revealed their identity. As it is we cannot assist the letter-writer, ask for more information, or give them any reassurances as we do not know their identity.
I respect the right of genuine whistleblowers to anonymity. This letter writer is not a whistleblower for the reasons I have already given. In this instance for the letter writer to conceal their identity is cowardice. Further, for a letter-writer to moralise about councillors and officers whilst behaving in this way is hypocrisy.
We believe we know the identity of the letter-writer but do not have proof. If any member knows the identity of this person they should advise Gareth Owens and myself immediately. It is your duty to do so. Based on the content of the letter we have grounds for suspicion that a senior councillor has aided the letter-writer by disclosing confidential and privileged information to them. If we are able to identify this councillor then immediate action will be taken against them. Again, you have a duty to act if you have evidence that can help corroborate that suspicion.
The wide circulation of a letter of this type has caused untold damage to those to whom it refers. We have spent much of this week offering support and counselling to the officers referred to. The distress is considerable, and we have had to clear our diaries of important appointments as our duty of care to employees had to come first.
We have reviewed the letter in detail. Gareth and I can give you a firm assurance that any allegations, where there is legitimate cause for concern, have already been investigated and found to be without substance. Any agreed actions have already been implemented. In most cases the allegations are false and/or there is no cause for any action. I should remind you that the personal lives of officers are private, and beyond our reach, provided that the Officers’ Code of Conduct is observed. For example, unless they have a direct managerial or supervisory relationship, or work so closely that they could collude in a fraudulent way, it is not a legitimate concern of the employer if two employees are in a personal relationship. We are no different to any other employer. That we are a public body does not give the letter-writer the right to question in this way or to damage the reputations of employees in this way.
The letter makes personal and defamatory comments about myself as your Chief Executive.
Some of you will be aware that my appointment to this role back in 2007 has recently been investigated by North Wales Police. The Police received a tape recording of an old conversation amongst councillors, held on Council premises, about my appointment. The conversation, now in wider circulation, includes false information and it undermines my reputation and standing. The Police investigated the issue thoroughly and are not taking any further action.
A number of members have had access to this recording. This recording has also been shared with the media by an unknown source in the past week.
Equally, I have the right to privacy. Not only do I expect to have your trust and confidence, I do need to make it clear that any perpetuation of these false statements by a councillor could lead to legal action against both the individual and the employer itself. The duty of care you have as an employing body extends to myself.
The circulation of this letter is restricted to councillors. It should not be shared with any other party or published.
We appeal to all councillors to act with honesty, integrity and moral conscience at this difficult time. Group Leaders recently reaffirmed their commitment to high standards of conduct. They, and their members, need to abide by that commitment.
Thank you for your understanding and support.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).