There was a collective scratching of heads and dropping of jaws at Leaky Towers when we read highly concerning local press reports about the appointment of a retired judge to undertake “an informal review ” of an infamous and seemingly neverending Wirral Council whistleblowing case. We at Leaky Towers shall henceforth be calling this review “The Warren Commission” – a title which conspiracy theorists will no doubt appreciate.
We consider that Wirral Council’s press release and subsequent statements given to the media by local politicians about this review are highly dubious, open to serious question and much closer scrutiny.
Therefore it is left to Wirral Leaks to deconstruct these press statements in the name of openness,transparency and most importantly the PUBLIC INTEREST – all of which seem to be alien concepts to some of our most prominent so-called public servants……
Let’s start off with excerpts from the Wirral Globe : HERE
Firstly we are grateful that they have corrected the description of “Nicholas” Warren as a retired high court judge. How remiss of the Globe’s sources not to seek to immediately correct this description, especially when they’re not usually backward in coming forward when it comes to anything they believe to be misleading or inaccurate (or more usually embarrassing or incriminating).
No – this is Nick Warren – a Birkenhead solicitor who chaired benefit tribunals…..and has been personally appointed by Birkenhead MP Frank Field to box this little local difficulty off once and for all . To which all we can say is : in your dreams Frankenfield.
Now this particular Mr.Warren is very much part of Wirral Labour’s Inner Ring ( a phrase we’ve picked up from Morton’s Open Letter to Wirral Council sent to us just before Christmas and which is suddenly beginning to make more and more sense and which we will be following up at a later date. ) We understand Old Nick is very much an old friend of Frankenfield and they go back a very long way indeed. There are unconfirmed reports that Frankenfield is Godfather to one of his children.This may or may not be true but in every other sense Frankenfield seems to be THE Godfather round here. A source writes: “Apparently Warren used to work for Frank at the Child Poverty Action Group before either of them came to Birkenhead. Stinks to high heaven.”
Let’s just hope all the right declarations about conflict of interest have been made. For example what are Nick Warren’s links to the local Labour group?
The Globe helpfully clarifies that The Warren Commission is to lead an inquiry into the way a group of Wirral whistleblowers have been treated by the council – and decide whether they should receive compensation.
Wirral Leaks comments : This particular group of Wirral whistleblowers have been known by various names – HESPE/Colas whistleblowers and more recently in the Patricia Thynne report involving allegations of misconduct concerning Councillors George Davies and Steve Foulkes as “The Group” ( a term of reference that we have adopted at Wirral Leaks).
Wirral Globe :Nicholas Warren will carry out the review once the scope and terms of reference of the inquiry has been agreed by council leader Phil Davies.The move comes after Birkenhead MP Frank Field met with the authority’s now-retired chief executive Graham Burgess in November, demanding that a sum of £48,000 in compensation given to an unnamed senior council officer should also be paid to the whistleblowers.
Wirral Leaks: Now Wirral Leaks devotees will know that this alleged payment of £48,000 has always deeply troubled us. But what troubles us even more is that Frankenfield thinks he can stroll into a Wirral Council Chief Executive’s office and demand the same kind of compensation for The Group without due legal process. Of course “now-retired” Graham Burgess has left Wirral Council so Frankenfield doesn’t have quite the same leverage he once had in negotiations as we understand that Burgess was very much compromised with regard to this £48,000 pay-off (in more ways than one).
Wirral Globe : Mr Field said the group are suffering severe hardship and are “on the point of bankruptcy” after raising their concerns over a multi-million pound outsourced highways contract. He claimed the payment to the anonymous officer, who it is understood had suffered at the hands of town hall bullies, was the least the council do in the circumstances.
Wirral Leaks : We do hope that Frankenfield and The Group are able to evidence that they are “suffering severe hardship” and “on the point of bankruptcy” especially when we understand that they may have all been continuously and gainfully employed and there may have already been compensation payments made (although not by Wirral Council). What we’d particularly like to know is how Frankenfield thinks there is any equivalence between these two cases. Did The Group “suffer at the hands of town hall bullies”? – reading The Thynne Report it makes it sound it was the other way round! Could it be that the compensation payment of £48,000 was also made without any evidence that the recipient had suffered any financial loss as clearly they are still in post as Head of Neighbourhoods and Engagement?
Furthermore if Wirral Council taxpayers have had to stump up just under £50,000 (thereby evading any public scrutiny as we understand the Chief Executive has the authority to sign off anything under £50K – no questions asked) can we state that we make these claims in the PUBLIC INTEREST. We firmly believe that when public money is given to public servants because of the alleged malpractice of other public servants this should NOT be hidden from public scrutiny under the guise of confidentiality and privacy.
This then becomes a COVER-UP and Frankenfield seems curiously anxious not to challenge this precedent but to replicate it !….and we think we know why!
Wirral Globe: His (Frank Field) demands led to agreement that Mr Warren should carry out an informal review and that his findings will be binding to both parties. Mr Field told the Globe: “I am delighted that Nick Warren has agreed to take this review.He has one of the finest legal minds in the country and if anyone can get to the bottom of what has gone on – and decide whether the whistleblowers have been fairly treated or not – he can.
Wirral Leaks: Hang on – if this is an informal review with no legal standing how can findings be “binding on both parties” ? We presume that this statement heralds the potential return to the bad old days of pay-offs and Compromise Agreements to hide malpractice and misconduct. Frankenfield seems very selective about making “demands” doesn’t he ? and the making of such demands also suggests his baleful influence extends way beyond that of being the MP for Birkenhead. Furthermore we’re absolutely sure Frankenfield is “delighted” about The Warren Commission being undertaken by “one of the finest legal minds in the country”. You’d certainly think that someone who fitted such a description would have a much bigger public profile or perhaps Warren is just very modest and keeps his legal wisdom within the confines of Houlihan’s……
Wirral Globe :The added advantage of Mr Warren leading the inquiry is that he has no connection with the ongoing case and can approach it with a completely clear and unbiased view.
Wirral Leaks: Oh I think we know what the “added advantage” of the Warren Commission to Frankenfield is don’t we boys and girls?
To reassure the Wirral public that this review is unbiased we request that any prior connections and affiliations to any interested parties is openly and publicly declared or we’re heading for the same sort of outcry that accompanied the short-lived appointments of Judge Woolf and Baroness Butler-Sloss to head up a national Child Abuse Inquiry because of their prior connections and affiliations.
Actually – who are we kidding – there will be no such outcry. This is Wirral where political apathy rules and therefore the abuse of power will probably continue unchecked .
Wirral Globe : His review will get underway as soon as Phil Davies, who is extremely keen for a fair and equitable outcome, signs-off the terms of reference.
Wirral Leaks: Well this is an interesting (but entirely understandable) turn around. Didn’t Council Leader Phil Davies state that “The Group were trying to use the content of the phone conversation to pressurise him into settling their claim” . The phone conversation to which Davies refers is of course contained on the infamous Wirralgate tapes – which of course is what we think this little circus is really all about.
Are we to assume then that the Wirralgate tapes have been handed over and will be part of the investigation about how the whistleblowers were “treated by the Council”. It’s the only way to counter allegations that the tapes are the real means to a “fair and equitable” outcome. Otherwise it looks suspiciously like Quid Pro Quo ( a legal term which Mr.Warren will no doubt be familiar with) – we’ll sort you out if you bury the tapes (which is similar to the tapes themselves which were concerned with sorting The Group out if they provided incriminating document about a political opponent)
Wirral Globe : Mr Field has been battling to reach a settlement with the authority for several years after a group of former council employees – acting under whistleblowing law – voiced concerns of alleged “irregularities” in a £40m contract with highways maintenance company Colas.
Wirral Leaks: And of course a subsequent investigation conducted by Richard Penn concluded there was “no case to answer” with regard to alleged “irregularities” . We seem to remember there have been at least 5 investigations regarding The Group’s case and we are still are none the wiser about the extent any malpractice (or indeed if there was any) . This begs the question as to why Frankenfield has been battling to reach a settlement for The Group if there was no foundation to their claims. Now either he knows more than he’s letting on and that the Penn report was a stitch up or he has an ulterior motive in pursuing this settlement. Which is it?
Wirral Globe : In November, he (Frank Field) told the Globe: “Their whistleblowing resulted in an almost clean sweep of senior council officers.
Wirral Leaks : This is simply untrue. No disciplinary action of any senior council officer ever took place as a result of The Group’s “whistleblowing” and former Chief Executive Jim Wilkie went off sick ,never to return just after the publication of the damning AKA report in January 2012 – 10 months before Penn published his report .
Wirral Globe : ( Field ) – “The debt Wirral owes to those who blew the whistle is considerable. And yet they gained no compensation for the damage that has occurred to their careers.There were last year carried information (sic) that a senior officer of the council was paid a fraction under £50,000 after allegedly being bullied by an even more senior officer. Surely the case of the whistleblowers is more deserving than the case of this officer, who is still in post”.
Wirral Leaks : We note that Frankenfield provides absolutely no evidence to support his allegation that Wirral Council’s head of Engagement and Communities was bullied by an even more senior officer (can he, in the public interest , name the officer involved and identify whether he is aware of any disciplinary action that resulted from Wirral Council having to shell out nearly 50K because of such unacceptable conduct).
We do know that Graham Burgess claimed that the payment was a result of “corporate failure” to respond to an allegation of bullying. Corporate Failure we presume being a euphemism for the Leader of the Council – who at the time the allegation was made was…..Councillor Steve Foulkes!
It’s all beginning to fit into place isn’t it ?- unless Wirral Council would like to publicly deny any of these claims.
The Liverpool Echo also seems to have based it’s story on press release statements from the same sources. HERE
Liverpool Echo : The whistleblowers had highlighted concerns about the authority’s former multimillion pound highways contract.
Wirral Leaks: Which up until now appear to be unfounded. What has never been revealed is that the whistleblowers themselves had also bid for this particular contract …….
Liverpool Echo : But several have since lost their jobs while in July 2012 the then acting chief executive of the council, David Armstrong, was forced to issue an “unreserved apology” after a blunder allowed one of them to be stripped of his anonymity when his name was published on the authority’s website.
Wirral Leaks: As we have always been led to believe that The Group comprised 4 whistleblowers how can it be said that “several have since lost their jobs ” when we know that contracts of employment would probably have been transferred from Wirral Council to Colas to Bam Nuttall in accordance with employment law.
Once again this statement is inaccurate. What is true (and the only example of mistreatment of The Group that we actually know about) is that indeed the anonymity of one of the whistleblowers was compromised by Wirral Council.
But can anyone remember the name of the whistleblower involved ? – it’s on our blog somewhere but we simply can’t be bothered referencing it and anyway we can remember a time when the whistleblower involved was quite happy for his identity to be revealed or we simply would not have printed his name. Once again we’re wondering how this whistleblower is going to demonstrate how this cock-up has adversely affected their career.
Liverpool Echo: At a meeting with council chiefs last year Mr Field called on the council to act quickly to compensate the whistleblowers who he says have suffered since highlighting their concerns.
Can Frankenfield please describe the nature of their “suffering” exactly…. ?
Liverpool Echo : The MP said the debt Wirral owes the whistle-blowers “is considerable” and yet they gained no compensation for “the damage, or potential damage” that has occurred to their careers.
Wirral Leaks: After at least 4 previous investigations can the”influential” MP explain exactly what Wirral owes these whistleblowers? Eldritch rather succinctly if crudely states that it is : “Fuck all….”
That’s not to say we don’t think The Group should not be compensated. We wholeheartedly do ….but simply not from dwindling council funds.
We think Wirral Labour need to be dipping into their fighting fund as it is they who have ruthlessly played cat and mouse with The Group and have engaged them in a dangerous double bind from which they seem to be trying to extricate themselves by means of a pay-out from the public purse.
Liverpool Echo: The group of whistleblowers were told by the council in 2012 to employ lawyers, Mr Field said, to obtain compensation but he said they have “nearly bankrupted themselves in the process with mounting legal fees and with no compensation package being offered”.
If The Group has been paying lawyers for over two years might we suggest no compensation package has been offered to The Group could it be because a) lawyers have been leading them up the garden path and/or b) they do not have a legitimate legal claim against Wirral Council …..they cannot take their case to an Employment Tribunal,they don’t seem to be able to bring a claim for bullying – so what is the basis of their claim ? (other than 1 person’s confidentiality has been breached ). All we know for sure is that they have a series of taped recordings which incriminate Wirral’s leading politicians in acts that could be interpreted as criminal.
Liverpool Echo : Mr Field said: “I met with the former chief executive Graham Burgess before Christmas with the whistleblowers to seek some way of settling in a fair and equitable manner their grievance. They said I could suggest a chair to review how the authority behaved. I suggested Nick Warren, who is just retired and lives in Birkenhead, but has no knowledge of the case.”
Wirral Leaks : Lady W spluttered out her sherry on reading this : “Where’s Old Nick been – living in a cave? Are we really expected that someone who should be so well informed about the local political scene would have no knowledge of the case? Poppycock!”
Liverpool Echo : Mr Field said the retired judge would have access to the whistleblowers, council and documentation and said: “I’m hoping we might now get justice, a settlement that is fair and just to the whistleblowers.”
Wirral Leaks : And of course Warren will also get access to a bumper pay-cheque Who knows , if he plays his cards right , he can spin it out as long as Anna Klonowski. Unless of course he’s doing the work pro bono or donating the cheque to charites fighting poverty…….
Liverpool Echo: Council leader Phil Davies said: “We have agreed that the review will go ahead and we will await his report.I know Nick quite well and he is a very distinguished judge and I’m sure he will do a thorough job.”
Wirral Leaks : All of us at Wirral Leaks are in complete agreement with Pip ,especially when he knows him “quite well” and that indeed Warren will do a thorough job (wink,wink nudge nudge)
A council spokesman said: “Terms of reference have yet to be agreed regarding the proposed review so it is not possible to confirm timescales or exactly what form any subsequent report might take.”
Wirral Leaks: Ok we’ll do it on behalf of the highly paid council spokesperson – we anticipate the report won’t be completed until after the May elections and will then be exempt from any Freedom of Information requests on the grounds that the report contains legally privileged information.
Let (another) cover up commence !….