Former Flintshire County Council deputy denies any involvement with anonymous letter
The former deputy leader of Flintshire Council has denied involvement in an anonymous letter containing ‘malicious’ allegations against senior officers.
Bernie Attridge was recently sacked from the authority’s cabinet by former ally Aaron Shotton after he was accused of a breach of confidentiality.
It sparked a chain of events which led to the Labour leader himself stepping down from his post.
In the wake of the fallout, chief executive Colin Everett issued a stern letter to politicians in which he accused a senior councillor of feeding information to the author of a note which has been circulated to MPs, AMs and the media.
It included reference to a police investigation into Mr Everett’s appointment to the role in 2007, which is believed to have been sparked by a leaked recording of a conversation between Cllrs Shotton and Attridge.
He accused the people involved in the letter of ‘cowardice’ and said it contained ‘false and defamatory’ information after North Wales Police decided to take no further action.
Cllr Attridge has now spoken out to deny any part in it, but expressed concerns about what he described as an attempt to ‘silence whistleblowers’.
He said: “I fully supported the police investigation into misconduct in public office and would welcome any further independent investigation into the anonymous letter and the releasing of the tape.
“I had no involvement in either and have nothing whatsoever to hide.
“There appears to be a conflation of the facts and I am being subject to smears and innuendo and spurious claims of breaches of confidence by people seeking to retrospectively justify my removal from cabinet.
“We are all publicly accountable and I find it shocking that there appears to be a strategy in play which is designed to suppress the facts, stifle debate and intimidate legitimate whistle-blowers.”
He added: “Now that Cllr Shotton has resigned, I think it would help the healing process within the Labour group for the truth to come out, however uncomfortable that might be for Cllr Shotton and others.
“I advocate a process which is thorough and transparent and if wrongdoing is exposed, those responsible should be held to account.”
The anonymous letter included reference to the public falling out between the two Connah’s Quay representatives.
The leaked recording dating back more than ten years is understood to have played its part in the spat between them
Mr Everett said officials believed they knew the identity of the letter writer, but did not have proof.
He also raised suspicions that a senior councillor had disclosed confidential information to them, leading to unfounded allegations being made against officers and causing them ‘considerable distress’.
He added that he did not believe the author to be a genuine whistleblower.
Mr Everett said: “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.
“In most cases the allegations are false and/or there is no cause for any action.
“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.”
Cabinet member Ian Roberts was appointed as Cllr Shotton’s successor on Tuesday.
During his speech, he called for unity across the council chamber and for people to draw a line under recent events.
Cllr Shotton has supported calls for the letter’s author to be identified.
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.”
In response Flintshire County Council has issued a statement:
The letter circulated by the Chief Executive makes a number of points about the anonymous letter that has been sent to selected councillors and others and seeks to place this anonymous letter into the correct context to remind recipients that it contains both factual inaccuracies and matters that have been investigated and closed. The Council’s Monitoring Officer had earlier also written to Members highlighting his concerns about the nature and motivation of the author of the anonymous letter.
The Council respect the right of legitimate whistle blowers to raise issues in the public interest and there are clear and specific procedures in place to ensure such issues are properly investigated with appropriate support, advice and guidance provided to those raising concerns. The content of the anonymous letter and the circumstances surrounding it make it clear that the author was motivated by malice, not fact and that this anonymous letter should not be considered as an act of a legitimate whistle blower.
Neither communication names the suspected author of the anonymous letter nor do they name the councillor suspected of providing the author with information.
The then Leader of Council, Cllr. Aaron Shotton, has previously made clear his reasons for dismissing Cllr. Attridge as Deputy Leader of the Council. They are a separate matter not related to the anonymous letter or the existence of the Police investigation.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).
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